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|Written by D.W. Richards|
|Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00|
On my first visit to Mexico, I read in a tourist guide that Mexican hotels don't provide face-clothes. Admittedly, it was a very gay tourist guide, but it none-the-less gave some valuable guidance by providing information that wasn't readily available elsewhere, facecloths included.
In the spirit of that guide, I've put together a list of helpful tidbits regarding life in Venice that I've managed to pick-up while visiting my partner Robert at his Italian Palazzo. These are useful little nuggets that you are not likely to find in a guide book. (Even a super-gay one.)
Locals - There is Venice, and there is Italy. They are not the same, so don't confuse the two. (When Venetians go to the mainland, they say that they are "going to Italy".) Venetians are conservative in dress and reserved in social decorum. They resent people walking around their city without shirts and shoes; after all, the City of Venice is not a Club Med resort. The following could have also gone under the "food" section, but it is really more a matter of local etiquette: never, ever, touch the fruit and vegetables sold at stands. Also, whatever else you do, when in public, do not put your feet up - you heathen.
Public Transit - In Venezia "proper", public transit (there are no roads) consists of Vaporetti (the 'ti' ending is plural form) which ply the canals. Vaporetto (the 'to' ending is the singular form) means little "steam-boat" There is Venice, and there is Italy. They are not the same.and is a legacy term harkening back to an age when they really were little steam-boats (as seen in the 1971 movie Death in Venice). On the Lido Di Venezia island there are standard city buses. Without a pass, it's two Euros to travel by either boat or bus. You can get a pass at the bus terminal, load it up, and use it like a swipe-card. Then it's only one Euro per ride, but, in the absence of transit authority, only the tourists pay.Food - It is Venetian food, not Italian food (see the section on "locals" above). Contrary to expectations, Venetian restaurants tend to favour fish and meat over pasta. The few pasta offerings available are accompanied by anything but a tomato-based sauce.
Cafés - In the daily flow of Venetian life, it is cappuccino in the morning, espresso mid-afternoon, with the late afternoon reserved for Campari soda, or an Aperol sprizz (both reminiscent cough medicine gone sour). Wine and prosecco are for a little later. Tourists often mess up the whole time-honoured order of things. Whether at a café, an osteria, a trattoria, or a ristorante, there are three price options. Listed from most expensive to least expensive, they are: 1) you pay by credit card, 2) you pay cash, 3) you're a regular (local) who pays cash.
Public Restrooms - There appears to be two schools of thought in Venice about what constitutes a toilet. There is the familiar 'throne' that North Americans are accustomed to, but there is also something I will call the 'Euro-hole' (thankfully, they are becoming more rare, I'm told). It is a porcelain basin fixed to the floor, which rises up to just above ankle height. I There appears to be two schools of thought in Venice about what constitutes a toilet. have never been happier to be a man. I can't imagine being a woman and negotiating the use of this spittoon, all hunkered down like a sumo wrestler and totally undignified. My recommendation for women tourists is that they include a washroom check as part of the restaurant selection process. Man: "Awe babe, I really feel like fish tonight, and the view here is fantastic." Woman: "Well, I feel like being able to sit when I pee."
"La Serenissima" - Venice is also known as La Serenissima, meaning 'the most serene'. This is not a name used on a daily basis by locals or tour providers. It is, rather, held in reserve by a certain class of people for 'proper' usage at the 'proper' time and place. I first came across it on the preliminary program for the Save Venice Society's Carnival Gala - the sort of event that finds its way onto the pages of Town & Country (I know this because an excerpt from the November 2006 issue of the magazine, showing the likes of actor Michael York and Prince Aminone of Savoy in attendance, was included with the program.)
Wildlife - The seagulls in Venice are much bigger than their Canadian cousins. And by that I mean Canadian gulls are something Venetian gulls cough up in the morning before starting their day. One afternoon Robert and I happened across a couple of friends in Campo Saint Barnaba (the location where Katharine Hepburn, as Jane Hudson, fell backwards into the canal in 1955's Summertime, and where leading man Rossano Brazzi, as Renato de Rossi, had his shop.) No sooner had we sat down, then we were all startled by a loud crack. I looked around, and came across a large fleshy bone the size of a woman's fist under my chair. In the time it took me to find the assailing bone, the gull who had dropped it managed to track it back down. The bird landed a few feet away and stared at me with its good eye. Where Canadian gulls can have a little attitude and that mischievous glint, this giant feathered terror was giving me an evil glare, as if to say: Just kick it over here - punk. I did. Some Venetian is missing a cat, I'm sure of it.
Come to think of it, I only saw two cats the entire two weeks I was in Venice. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but they did seem to be looking up a lot. On the other hand, small dogs abound (possibly outnumbering pigeons). Not uncorrelated, I am sure, the dogs are always fastened down by a leash, or, in the absence of a mooring line, the owners stayed rather close.
Children - A somewhat related observation: infants in strollers are also strapped in. I had assumed this was due to parents having to navigate the stairs of the bridges over the canals, and not wanting junior to bounce out. After my little run-in with the gull, I rethought my hypothesis. It seems anything less than 30 pounds and not tied down is fair game - just something to keep in mind!
Keep these tips and observations in mind, and I'm optimist you too will enjoy a wonderful visit to Venice!