We spent the day wandering today. Some direction, but not much. Early, we walked to San Marco to see the rare sight of an empty piazza. A friendly local chatted with us about the how the tidal alarm works, the chance of high tides tomorrow, and about his travels with his choir. The Basillica was stunning in the early morning light, and locals veered across the piazza to check the tide-measuring machine on their way to wherever they were going. After our chat, we wandered through the San Marco shops, still closed tight, but with beautiful window displays, until we stumbed onto the temporary pontoon bridge set up for the festival of Sta. Maria della Salute. We crossed to the church, where locals were streaming in for 9AM mass. So many women wear furs here. Such a strange sight for this Californian. We lit a couple of candles for Lisa's grandma and our families, then wandered through the festival area behind the church just setting up. We bought some fresh fried treats from a young man who spoke little English, but who was fascinated/shocked by Lisa's piercings, especially the one in her tongue. Hot fried snacks in hand, we walked down to the Accademia. I'm such a sucker for the renaissance works, and I loved the Titians, but I didn't much care for anything painted after 1700. There was a really interesting temporary exhibit of still life works ("natura morte" or "dead life" literally) through time, but Lisa was pretty much done by that point. She's very patient with my desire to see *everything* in museums, but she does have her limits.
We headed back to the hotel, where we'd been told of a nearby grocery where we could get picnic foods (straight accross the square and down a block, past the osteria on the corner). Lisa was more adventurous than me and managed to order us cheese, meat and olives from the deli counter, in a combination of Italian and sign language, jostling for space with the neighborhood women. "Un etto" (100 grams, a common unit of measurement for a picnic's worth of meat or cheese) would have been a useful phrase to have, but I didn't look that up until later. Excellent provolone and fontina toscana with crackers and incredible olives. A bottle of wine for later. I was cold and climbed into bed, then napped for two hours, until is was starting to get dark. Whoops.
Too late to catch the Guggenheim today, we decided to do a walking tour in the Rialto from the Rick Steves' book instead. The vaporetto we caught was a short line (toward the end of the day, the boats thin out by only running part of the route, then docking for the night, but we didn't quite understand that until we got on one of the short lines...), so we walked from San Toma to the Rialto market (the opposite direction of the walking tour), window shopping down the Ruga, then scarf shopping for Lisa in the teaming Rialto. Then we re-traced our steps back with the guidebook. It had been dark since we left the vaporetto, but the streets are well-lit, full of people, and felt entirely safe. Back to the Rialto *again* (third time through this neighborhood!) in search of the hot chocolate we'd seen last night, with a slice of pizza eaten on foot on the way. I'd written down how to find the little osteria La Brasiliana: Straight through the shops from the No. 1 Vaporetto stop, then continue down the alley Marzaria San Salvador. When the crowd turns right at "Bata," continue forward. But there was more than one No. 1 stop, depending on the time of day and direction of travel, and I must have left out the detail of where we turned in from the canal exactly, because it wasn't so easy to find. We did find it eventually (this is becoming a theme of our Venice explorations), and although the shop was just closing up for the night when we arrived, he let us in and served us up amazing hot chocolate that was entirely worth the trouble. The young guy behind the counter even brought us an extra pitcher of hot milk, because the chocolate was so thick. Yum. I'd drink cioccolata caldo every day, if it was the Venetian kind! The amazing Sofia chocolate at the bookshop cafe in Santa Cruz doesn't hold a candle to it, though that was the best chocolate I'd had until this moment. Sated and sleepy, we wound back through the shops to the slow No. 1 back to Arsenal, our "home." It had warmed up a bit mid-day and was even fairly comfortable in the shelter of interior neighborhoods, but back our on our quay - BRRR! Now we are curled up in bed, English newspaper for Lisa, journal for me, wine for both of us.
We woke early today - 4AM, and have had a leisurely morning in the room getting arranged and oriented and planning what we want to do. Now, 7AM, we're about to walk down the quay to Piazza San Marco for the early morning light. The festival of Santa Maria della Salute is today, I think, so we'll wander by that church, too, then go to the Accadamia and the Guggenheim museums near there. Tomorrow, the lagoon islands, Wednesday, just wandering around. Maybe the ghetto area, etc. Time to go, before I miss the dawn...
AirFrance is one of the ritziest airlines I've been on. We flew non-stop from SFO to Paris CDG on huge airbus plane. Economy class was cramped as usual, bot worse because our seats were in front of the restrooms, so didn't recline all the way. But the food was excellent, the wine was free, and I did manage to sleep a few hours. I loved the little TV in the seat in front of me where I could watch movies or other entertainment and get details about where we were in flight. I'm such a geek. 36, 000 feet cruising altitude, almost 60 mph ground speed, -77 degrees F outside. We did get rather chilly shortly before arrival in Paris, but that may have been an intentional cabin adjustment to wake us all up for landing. We negotiated the transfer to our flight to Venice successfully - all the way from one end of the huge CDG airport to the other - with a tiny bit of time to spare. The flight to Venice was short and over gorgeous countryside. We flew up through clouds covering the city that looked like the sea from above, then broke over the mountains of southern France and northern Italy. Dark rocks stabbed up through pools of brilliant snow and I imaginined the characters in "A Thread of Grace" living in those hills and valleys. It is so amazing having that particular story fitting into a real context. First, Grandad mentions his trip to Venice on leave in 1948 (part of the Allied troops), and then we fly over these very mountains.
Public transportation is confusing in Venice, though I think we have figured out the vaporetto pretty well. We negotiated trip from the airport by bus to the vaporetto, then vaporetto to the stop near our hotel without incident, despite our extreme exhaustion. We arrived just at sunset and the sky behind Santa Maria della Salute was incredible. My camera was still buried for safe travel in my luggage, but I snapped a quick shot with Lisa's little camera. It didn't capture the picture I wanted, but I have that image saved in memory as one of those ephemeral moments. It is very cold, and it got dark fast. They are very nice at the hotel, and we have a quiet little room facing out onto a small piazza with a private entrance. The hotel clerk recommended that we head back to the area near the Rialto bridge for dinner. We wandered, dazed, through the maze of brightly-lit and crowded shopping area, and stumbled onto a tiny, osteria hidden down a little alley that ends at a canal. One way the bustle of shopping, the other way the quiet of ancient Venice. I love it here. We get pizza - an entirely different matter in Venice than in Florence - and envy the diners at the next table who order cioccolato caldo that put to shame anything the chichi coffee shop in Santa Cruz serves. We are entertained by the animated conversation of the obvious locals who stand to drink their wine at the bar, but we are falling asleep over our plates, so we cross our fingers that we can find this place again tomorrow and bundle up to head back. We only got on the vaporetto in the wrong direction for one stop and when we get back to the hotel we crash, exhausted.
I can feel the slow of winter coming on. I want to sleep. Curl back up in our new luxurious plum-colored sheets under the down comforter with Widget purring against me. I want to knit, if only it didn't make my body hurt. I want to go for walks in the chill with my camera, wrapped up in scarves and fingerless gloves, capturing the rich decay that is California in winter. I want M. to come back to work, so we can play hooky at a cafe with coffee and knitting and journals and dish on our co-workers. I want to make a fire and toast my toes on the hearth. I want to drink steaming tea and fall into my book. I want my studio to be clear of all the accumulated crap and to spread out with paper and glue and pens (but I don't want to clean my studio myself). I want to make all-day stew and fat loaves of whole wheat bread. I want to make pumpkin muffins and persimmon bread and hot mulled cider. There's nothing wrong with molasses. It is great in cookies and oatmeal.
I got one of two new lenses in the mail yesterday, and wandered around the house this morning taking photos of random things to try it out. Random things that look more beautiful photographed than in real life - I think I'm going to like this lens. It lets in a lot of light - it was actually pretty dim in the house when I shot these, but they make it look like our kitchen is positively sunny. When I first bought my Digital Rebel, I wimped out on buying good lenses, because the camera itself cost so much. But I'm starting to upgrade, and I can really see the difference in the photos. This is a Canon 50mm. It will take some practice to learn to use it, as I'm used to focusing in really tight. There is no focusing in with this lens, and I kept having to take a step back to let it focus. But I really like the photos. It will be great for portraiture.
The Clapotis, she is done. With just a bit of knitting elbow to show for it.
I admit that I planned my outfit around this scarf today. And that I wore it around the house last night, after sewing the ends in.
I love wearing handmade things. Made by me or someone else - doesn't matter. The other day we had a conversation on my vanpool about the difficulty of finding ready-to-wear clothing that actually fits properly. We're all too wide, too short, too varied. "It was better," I said from my perch in the front passenger seat, needles sticking in all directions from a pair of fingerless gloves in progress, "When everyone made their own clothes." Silence from the van.
Then from the back, "So says the woman sitting up there knitting her own socks."
Whatever indeed. I'll keep making my own things, thank you. Once in a while for others, but this scarf is all for me.
Early this morning I had the thudding realization that we are leaving for Europe in less that two weeks and I'm so not prepared. No reservations made other than the plane tickets, no real idea about what we want to see and do while there, no lists started to prepare for packing small. We spent several hours today pouring over guidebooks and maps, looking up hotels and schedules and fee charts online, and generally planning our trip. I feel much less panicked now.
We are going to Venice first. I have wanted to go to Venice for as long as I can remember. I have been enchanted by the canals, the idea of boat as a primary means of travel, the flamboyance of the art and architecture, the mystique of the place. But when I read the beginning of the Lonely Planet guide this summer, I wondered if I'd fallen in love with the idea of a place that doesn't exist. The guidebook described it as a place that was dying, unfriendly, closed to non-Venetians but still overrun with tourists. And ominously, sinking. Dire warnings of floods during November, side remarks about this or that area best skipped. Disappointed, I stalled out on the rest of the trip planning, no longer excited at the prospect of the place I'd most wanted to see. But my excitement is returning now. I've been talking to people who have been there (all but one who were utterly romanced), reading other literature, falling in love with the idea of the place again. The thing that turned me around was the book "A Thousand Days in Venice" by Marlena Di Blasi. It is a small book, charmingly square. And a beautiful, etheral photo of a gondola on the cover. Marlena's voice is all that I wanted to love about Venice. Sensual, textural, musical, mysterious. I've been rationing out my reading, so not to reach the end too quickly. This is how much I am enjoying this book.
Reading about this intriguing city, reading the names of places and their history, hearing the beautiful lilt of Italian in my mind, imagining us walking down ancient streets, eating pizza and wine standing at the bar with locals, visualizing the pictures I will find and bring home... I'm in love with Venice again.