I don't know if these are the first signs of 'ageing' and acquired wisdom, but over the last years I seem to find great pleasure in small and simple things. Almost every morning, I wake up before dawn, have a first breakfast by myself and head out to jog while the city is still sleeping. When I run, I follow two main routes, but the most frequent is Riva degli Schiavoni, Riva dei Partigiani, Sant'Elena and back, never failing to pass by Piazza San Marco. At that time it is marvellous, especially if I get to arrive soon enough to assist the moment when the lamps switch off and the soft morning light illuminates the stolen marbles, stones and statues that populate the square. During the day, particularly from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, I hardly ever walk along Riva degli Schiavoni, too full of huge groups of 20, 30, 40 + people that arrive by boat, invade the city for a couple of hours, and leave in the evening (not seeing the best that Venice has to offer...).
During the day, in fact, I live like an outsider. I wouldn't want you to think that this fact is a problem for me, because it isn't. I've never been a socialite, I have my very good friends that I'm always happy to see, my students (who -although sometimes drive me crazy- I just love), my family, my brother, now 16 years old and really handsome, and -of course- my husband. Besides, as you may have already heard me say, in Venice one is never really alone, as we all know each other and the moment we step out of our door, someone will offer coffee. Let's say it, one really has to search for peace, but thank goodness, the city offers plenty of beautiful spots where we can recharge our batteries. Residential areas, maybe not as fancy as Rialto and San Marco, but that shine of a magical light of their own, given by the faded hues of the walls, the unique textures of the old wooden window blinds and the colourful laundry hanging from the houses.
This is my Venice, the Venice of the simpler people. A city of dark narrow calli and hidden corti and campi, a city of rotten benches and crumpling walls, of sincere smiles or grimaces (depending on the mood of our interlocutor), and -the bast part- of inviting aromas coming from private kitchens and osterie. Last week I was so lucky to have two free mornings and, both days, the weather was amazing. On Thursday, I slept longer than usual and when Vito kissed me goodbye and left for the office, I decided to treat myself to a special day. I didn't want to cook, but just enjoy the sun and wander around, as if I were a visitor willing to get lost. Because -using Heraclitus' words- If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
So I went towards Celestia, which until a few years ago was seen by us Venetians as a place with cheap housing for workers and lower classes (although now, some families are evicting old ladies to make a profit and transform their properties into airbnbs...). To go there I passed in front of Laboratorio Occupato Morion and under the colonnade in San Francesco della Vigna. By the way, have you ever visited that church? It is absolutely breathtaking and I highly recommend to go and walk around the cloisters. Then, it is a 5 minute walk from the church to Campo della Celestia. The place has nothing, only two benches and one of the two State Archives we have in the lagoon. When I arrived, there was an elderly lady sitting on the bench under the sun, so I sat on the other, which was half in the shade but still resembled perfection. It was then that I realised I had my camera, but hadn't brought anything to read...
After a couple of minutes, I proceeded towards Campo Santa Ternita, got really lost (yes, you heard me... I took the wrong calle) until I remembered the way and reached Campo Do Pozzi, San Martino and Arsenale. Sometimes it seems to me that I always take the same pictures, that the web is filled with images of Venice... but then I remember the movie Smoke, with super sexy Harvey Kietel (nicknamed by my mother call of the wild...), the scene when a client of the Tobacco shop recognises his wife (gone in heaven) in a picture. Precisely, in one of the pictures that Kietel would take every morning at the same hour, from the exact same place, thus in theory all identical. But the reality is that no day is like another and every photo says something unique. Representations of how the photographer sees the subject and the world.
Anyway, at that point I decided to buy some jam-filled cookies, a light-hearted magazine and go home for a second breakfast. I know some of you will find this a little arguable, but I made myself a drink with a base of dark cocoa powder, hazelnut milk and coffee. Fatty, nutty and delicious. The cookies, instead, I got at the supermarket. Normally I would go to Panificio Emilio Colussi, which is the best when it comes to biscuits and fresh pasta, but last Thursday I didn't feel like going to the centre of town.
Once home, I took my time and laid the table as if I was expecting a guest. I watered the plants and changed carafe to the flowers Vito had bought on Tuesday in Campo Santa Maria Formosa (every Tuesday and Saturday morning there is a wonderful couple from the mainland that sets-up a small flower stall, just next to Codussi's tower bell and the not so-ugly Mascaron, from which the name of the restaurant). Then I leafed through La Cucina Italiana, getting some inspiration for my recipes, until the door bell rang and the postman delivered my new ceramics bought on Etsy! I know and realise that global platforms like Amazon and Etsy are spoiling the business for small producers, but some things I cannot find anywhere else. Besides, they returned the pleasure of receiving post (which otherwise would only be made up of utility bills!).
After unwrapping my beautiful purchases, I cleaned up and went out again, this time to meet a dear friend and have a small bite and a glass together, but mostly to chat. An easy day doing nothing but unwinding.
So, if you ask me, even doing nothing special can be amazing in a city like Venice. And remember that beauty or ugliness are often in the eyes of the beholder and that even when life keeps challenging you, we can decide to look at the world with shimmering eyes...
Have a great week and talk to you soon!