- 'Have you ever asked yourself why Venice has such a melancholic beauty?'
- 'Well... uhm...'
- ' Yes, because, I was thinking, there are many other beautiful cities that have experienced natural tragedies, but none, at least to my eyes, look as romantically melancholic as Venice'
- 'Maybe it's due to its metaphysical aspect, to the fact it becomes one whole thing with water and light and because of the faded colours of her Palazzos' I hazarded.
- 'No, I don't think it's that. For me, I figured, it's because Venice every now and then incarnates its own death, as if she attended her own funeral, just to check on who's there and with the curiosity to see what on earth would happen if she was truly to disappear forever'.
I remained silent for about a minute. I hadn't seen my friend Marina for a long time and this was her first question. A tough one, a question about the city we both love and that lately has been causing us quite a number of preoccupations. Thank goodness I had made a batch of Madeleines to accompany our afternoon tea, small sugary bites that would provide us with oblivion and sweet remembrances at the same time.
Her observation caught me by surprise, and I was finding it fascinating and wise. When Florentine river Arno flooded in 1966, it was a real catastrophe and the damage immense, but the thought that the city could be one day entirely submerged by water hadn't crossed anyone's head, whereas if we think of Venice, the comparison with Atlantis is the first that comes to mind. The Venice Acqua Granda of 1966 was worse than the one we had this year from the people's point of view, because no one was prepared and there were no HiTide apps to monitor in those days, but the one of November 12, 2019 was worse from many other points of view, especially the one related to human (administrative/political) faults, which keep threatening the city.
Consider that if ever the MOSE were to work (but of course it never will...), the barriers would rise at 110 cm from sea level, while Piazza San Marco gets flooded at 90 cm above sea level... As you surely know by now, I go jogging almost every morning and never like these last two months I had witnessed the rapidity with which the water rises. Forecasts have often been imperfect and some mornings I literally had to change my route if I wanted to arrive home without getting my feet wet, despite having checked the App before leaving the house. Consider also that one of the reasons that makes running so addictive for me is that for those 50 minutes I have no phone and can enjoy my city in total emptiness, kissed by the warm colours of dawn and populated only by a few locals, but this year the relaxing benefit of running have been spoilt by the sight of increasingly bigger monster cruise-ships entering the San Marco basin already early morning...
In summer the cruises were so frequent that I had even thought of shooting a short video with me in profile wearing a long red dress with a long silk train blowing fast due to the strong wind provoked by a cruise coming against me, while images of Venice would fade in at the notes of Lana del Rey's song 'Ultra Violence'... Yeah, I know... you are probably thinking what a weirdo I am, and you are right, in fact, in the end, I never actually shot such video, but this is just to say how much witnessing all the wrongs my city is inflicted has been affecting me (and many other Venetians).
The funny fact of our conversation was that while chatting about the death of Venice, outside the sun was shining, the sky bright and blue and all the bell towers in their place. Yes, because my friend lives in a beautiful top floor from which she and her cat see practically everything (while the pics in the post were taken at the Correr Museum), from the Rialto Bridge to the domes of the Doges Palace and the San Marco Campanile. While we were speaking of her death, Venice was showing us how alive she is, as if we were living a joke.
The tea was ready by then, so I proudly took out my citrus scented madeleines and put them on the table, eagerly awaiting for the first bite to bring me back to happy childhood memories and forget for a moment, like Proust in his La Recherche, about all worries and problems. Oblivion and sweet remembrances, the perfect match! By the way, it was my first time making madeleines and they turned out very well! Just for your info, I had looked up a couple of recipes and ended up mixing two. The ingredients were the same, but the difference regarded the baking method: one recipe said to bake the madeleines at 220° for the first 4 minutes and then at 180° for another 4/6 minutes, while the one I followed said to bake at 220° for 8/10 minutes. It worked perfectly for me, but -depending on your oven- I advise to check after 4/5 minutes and decide what option is best for you. A trick I found quite useful was to grease the baking tin with butter and leave it in the freezer a couple of minutes before flouring it and spooning in the batter.
So...Hope you will enjoy some Madeleines too and I wish you a Happy New Year! See you in 2020!!!
CITRUS SCENTED MADELEINES with CHOCOLATE AND NUTS
For 16/18 small Madeleines
120 gr sugar
2 free range eggs
100 gr Italian 00 white flour
3 gr baking powder
100 gr melted butter
50 gr dark chocolate
a dozen nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts)
1. Melt the butter and keep aside
2. Whip eggs and sugar with an electric hand mixer for 5/6 minutes. This is the most important step, the batter must be nice and airy.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the sifted flour, baking powder and citrus zests and gently add to the batter. Stir and slowly add the melted butter.
4. Amalgamate well, cover the batter with cling film (or a pot cover) and let sit in the fridge for two hours.
5. Pre-heat oven at 250°, grease your Madeleine baking pan and put in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Remove, flour the tin and spoon in the batter.
6. Lower the heat of the oven to 220° and bake the Madeleines at 220° for 8/10 minutes. When ready, remove immediately from pan and let cool.
7. Meanwhile melt chocolate in a water bath and mix hazelnuts and almonds until they become flour-like.
8. When the Madeleines are ready, dip the top into the chocolate, sprinkle over the nutty mixture and serve.