Spring is at the door, or at least so it seems. There are rumours that awful Burin will return next week, but I am just so happy to see the sun that I have no intention of believing the forecast! When I went jogging early this morning I could feel the air had gotten warmer and I recognised that very unique odor of dampness, heat and changing weather typical of spring. Well...I couldn't resist temptation, so I postponed all the computer work to the afternoon and went out for a walk to get the most of it.
I live in what we Venetians call Castello alta (high Castello), which is the part of the neighbourhood closest to Saint Mark's, maybe a little bit posher but definitely more crowded and sometimes overwhelming. Castello bassa, instead, offers real peace and corners of incredibly normal everyday life: loud families with 2 or 3 kids, dogs, cats, pensioners that spend the day walking up and down Via Garibaldi, old-fashioned shops and plenty of wine-bars and bacari. Needless to say, I LOVE deep Castello and, trust me, once passed the Ponte di Ca' di Dio, no more big groups of tourists, no more confusion and stress, but just the view of the lagoon on your right and of colourful buildings and houses on your left.
Today's itinerary starts from Riva dei Sette Martiri. The name of this street means seven martyrs and it was established after 1944, when a very sad episode happened. Venice was under the German nazis and the night between the 1st and the 2nd of August a German soldier fell into the water and drowned. The Nazi troops immediately thought that it had been a Venetian partisan fighter, so they picked seven Italian partisans at random from the jails of Santa Maria Maggiore and Ca' Littoria and shot them on this riva. Not just this, they even obliged a significant number of Venetian families to assist the hideous show, which took place at 7 am in the morning. In reality, it came out that the nazi soldier was drunk, thus when he fell he must have fallen asleep or, anyway, was unable to save himself (source: Resistenza Veneziana Blog).
The names of these men were Bruno De Gasperi (20 years old), Girolamo Guasto (25 y.o), Alfredo Gelmi (20 y.o.), Luciano Gelmi (19 y.o.), Gino Conti (46 y.o.), Alfredo Vivian (36 y.o.) and Alibrando Armellini (24 y.o.). I think it's right to remember them, especially in changing times like the ones we are experiencing, when way too many politicians use hate to address the fears of their peoples.
Anyway, Riva dei Sette Martiri is a stunning place offering a magnificent view and lots of history. As soon as you cross the bridge, the first house you see has the shape of a cruise and is dedicated to Giovanni and Sebastiano Caboto (father and son) who had discovered Canada, then there is a small green area and one of the most photographed buildings in the city: the Sotoportego de le Colonne. This is where we're stopping for a while. As you can see from the above picture, this building is characterised by very strong and bright colours and two porticos. A place that is already amazing from the outside, but that once you see from the inside, well... I can only say wow!
The first thing I want to underline is that there is a sign in three languages in which the locals kindly ask visitors to respect those who live there. They ask things that one would consider obvious (don't leave trash, don't use this place as your home toilet, please don't make loud noises from 1 to 3 pm and after 9 pm, etc.), but with about 30 millions of tourist a year, here in Venice we have understood that it is better to repeat and underline things continuously and nothing can be taken for granted.
Beware that when you walk under one of the two porticos, you will be entering an ancient little world, made magical by the beauty of everyday life. The laundry hanging outside, the stone well, the flowers and plants and the -patient and kind- elderly people living there that offer you a warm smile. I had forgotten about the huge bright blue devotional capital I imagine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, I had also forgotten about the colourful houses and details and I have to confess that I felt like a tourist in my own home, so much the amazement in my eyes.
When I left the area, I kept walking along the riva and passed in front of the CNR (National Research Center) building, founded in 1946 and dedicated to talassographic studies, therefore focused on applied and pure biological oceanography, lagoon and marine studies. The garden on its right is often used during the Biennale, so if you happen to be in Venice from may to November you might want to stop by and have a look!
Once crossed the bridge on your right, you will officially be inside the Giardini Biennale area. So elegant. Yes, we have to thank Napoleon for these gardens... by the way, even if the man was negative for the city, personally I don't feel like blaming him! We Venetians stole so many things and have made our city so unique thanks to the several spoils of wars that...really, if it weren't for Napoleon poor people like me (I mean of poor/extremely popular origins. My surname -for example- suggests that I descend from a baker, which would explain my addiction to bread) would have never had the chance to study and pursue a better life.
The gardens have an ancient breath, the atmosphere is almost metaphysical and the views are for those who appreciate fading pastel colours and like the idea of being part of a painting. There is a tiny playground for kids and a small wooden table. In summer this is a perfect location for an easy-going picnic with children. When the weather gets hot, the old trees offer shade and a bit of breeze and the sight of the water in front of you will be enough to make you forget about humidity!
For drinks and food, in less than 3 minutes you can reach Caffè La Serra and in 5 minutes you're back in Via Garibaldi where, as I may have already told you, I suggest stopping at El Refolo and Salvmeria for cicheti, at Le Spighe for vegan/vegetarian food and at Ai Nevodi for a tasty, filling and delicious traditional meal. Last but not least (not in Via Garibaldi, but just behind Caffè La Serra), for a budget but quality pizza try Ai Tosi. Tosi means boys/kids in our local dialect and in that street there are two pizzerias with the same name: one is Tosi Grandi (the big boys) and the other is Tosi Piccoli (the small boys). I go to the second because I'm a friend of the owner's son, but they are both good so just opt for whichever you prefer!