03 March, 2010

last day in Venice

But first.

The reason I will never have a Kindle. (There are many reasons, but here is just one GOOD one).

I picked up a book to read tonight, and on the flyleaf, completely ruining any resale value, I know, is a notation, dated October 25, 1999. Avery was just shy of three years old. It runs like this.

I close her bedroom door.

"Wait, wait, "Avery says, "don't close it yet. I have to say 'sleep well' to you."

I open her door again.

"Sleep well, darling," Avery says. "Good night, darling."


Tell me what Kindle will ever have THAT written on its flyleaf, for me to find on a chilly London night, and you're sold. Until then, I'll stick with my bookshelves full of treasures, unsaleable to be sure, heavy to lug around yes, and all the more LOVED for that. Grocery lists for birthday parties, ideas for exhibits at my old gallery, notations of nightmares (involving raw chicken and futons?? don't ask), memos to thank someone for a dinner party. I could not live happily without this flotsam and jetsam of my past, thank you, not even for a slim, convenient plastic thing full of words.

Speaking of jottings, I've simply got to jot down the adventures of our last day in Venice before they are all permanently replaced in my brain by by the flurry of activity here: a very late-night, luxurious dinner out with a girlfriend visiting from the States, "Cinderella on Ice" at the Royal Albert Hall (production closed now, but look out for it next year: magnificent!), John's birthday, and my obsession with homemade pizza! Isn't this the most gorgeous pizza you've ever seen?

It's kind of a garbage, clean-out-the-fridge dinner, with homemade crust (the easiest thing in the world to make) tomato sauce from a jar (my only requirement: no sugar!), pesto, leftover artichokes, half a leftover red pepper, sliced really thin, leftover Giggly Pig sausages, some slightly shrivelly baby tomatoes, red onions, mozzarella, a handful of olives stolen from John's martini stash, and after it's all cooked, a handful of rocket scattered on top...

Heaven. The dough recipe makes more than twice what you need for two pizzas, but trust me, you want that leftover dough. Nothing makes Avery and John as happy as that dough, rolled out super-thin, baked on a red-hot pizza stone for 10 minutes with some slices of buffalo mozzarella and a sprinkle of parsley and garlic salt. The most wonderful, cheapest, easiest little slice of paradise, perfect little side dish for pasta.

So Venice, Day Three. We started out at simply the most beautiful market I have ever seen: the famed Rialto Market of all the guidebooks and novels. I thought all the descriptions were completely over the top: how wonderful could it be? Well, as you see. And dear readers, the tragedy was that I could not buy anything! Never again will I stay in a hotel in Venice; we need a flat with a kitchen. The crispest looking fennel, the firmest onions, beautiful baby artichokes (I adore them now, want to put them on everything but ice cream), and the fish? Don't even get me started! I don't particularly love squid, but it was magical-looking. And cuttlefish and live prawns (these creeped Avery out, "Somebody get a bowl of water for these poor gasping fish!") and scallops in the shell... I did buy two heart-shaped salamis from a gorgeous charcuterie (or whatever the word is in Italian), reluctantly leaving behind the salame in the shape of a dinosaur, seriously.

And there was a horse butcher. I mean, horse meat, not a butcher who was a horse. Don't ask Avery about that, either. The Rialto Market is not for the faint of heart.

From there, we hopped on the vaporetto and headed for the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and there, I saw my entire career as an art historian flash before my eyes. My field was international art from 1900-1940, and that... is the Guggenheim Collection. Boccioni, Brancusi, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Mondrian... I found myself smiling like a silly ass as the memories of my teaching days came back: my lectures linking the earliest Mondrian paintings of light dancing on water, through the classic red, blue, black and yellow geometric works, to the ultimate, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, that paean to New York city culture...

We played our usual "what would you buy" game, and I came down unable to decide between Brancusi's Bird in Space and Boccioni's Development of a Bottle in Space. John fell in love with a Giacometti group of walking men, or maybe a Joseph Cornell box, and Avery went back over and over to a drawing by an artist I'd never heard of, a British documentary filmmaker named Humphrey Jennings. A lovely little Surrealist piece.

An unforgettable place.

From there we wandered to lunch at the nearby Al Vechio Forner, a tiny osteria devoted to... lasagne! Of every description. It wasn't the most brilliant lasagne I've ever had, but it was homey, warm and tasty, and the staff were lovely to us, letting me speak my slow, basic Italian. I had scallop and artichoke lasagne (I know, artichokes again), John had raddichio and Fontina, and Avery had what we decided was the best, a simple bolognese.

We stumbled upon the world's best marbled paper shop! Alberto Valese Ebru, tucked away, just waiting for Avery to relinquish her gelato to John and slip in with me to find presents for Anna whose birthday is coming, I get a photo album for the hundreds of photos I've managed to get printed but not put in albums... I also manage to say "Thank you so much, no, we don't need a bag, we can put everything in this one I have HERE!" Totally thrilling.

As we stood on the Accademia Bridge, admiring the view, suddenly there was a flurry of boats below, all containing people in black brandishing enormous cameras with telephoto lenses. "It's the paparazzi," John said wisely, "Let's wait to see who it is." And it was the ultimate, if you like that sort of thing: Brangelina! Stopping at a gorgeous palazzo, Brad emerging first, then reaching down into the boat to hand out child after child after child! Finally, Angelina stepped up to the dock and they rushed inside, not even stopping to give their adoring fans, who had gathered in the dozens on the bridge, a smile. Ah well, our brush with fame was sort of fun, in a shame-faced way.

We crossed the bridge finally and went into the Istituto Veneto where there was an exhibition of the paintings of Venetian artist Zoran Music. I am not even normally very enthusiastic about figurative art, but this man's work was overwhelming. A survivor of the Holocaust, he painted landscapes, self-portraits and Venetian cityscapes for 25 years before his experiences resurfaced and demanded to be expressed... and the resulting series of paintings was very, very difficult to look at. I can only imagine if one had actually experienced the Holocaust oneself, what it would be like to look at those paintings.

Strangely, John had decided earlier in the day that he wanted to visit the Jewish ghetto and museum, so, our minds still filled with Zoran's work, we went off to drop our parcels at the hotel and head off on foot. Such an innocent-looking little square, housing the synagogue (which was closed) and the museum, under renovation. So hard to believe there was ever a mass exodus, a rounding up of all the Jews in the quarter, only 8 of whom ever returned. Children were racing around the square in a burst of energy after school, I suppose, and a tiny wet dog raced with them, chasing a tennis ball. How bizarre to think what the place had been like 70 years before.

The most lasting result of our visit to the ghetto was our discovery of the restaurant where we had the best meal of our stay in Venice! And it was kosher. Gam-Gam, down a tiny, dark street off the ghetto square, where we passed the only man I saw in Venice wearing a yarmulke. Oh, the food! An Israeli tapas (weird fusion name, that) platter of housemade pita bread with at least 8 salad-y bits: hummous, cucumbers in oil, beetroot roasted and cubed with parsley, a sort of egg salad with paprika, roasted red peppers, a mixed bean dish. Avery had matzo-ball soup and it was the absolute best we've had since we left New York. I had moussaka, lovely with velvety aubergines and a creamy bechamel sauce. John had wiener schnitzel which was sort of average, but then we all shared a lovely platter of latkes. Just gorgeous. And the staff were beyond friendly and helpful, speaking to each other in Hewbrew and to us in Italian and English.

And that was Venice. Well, except for our horrid departure. We got up early to take the water bus to the bus station, and stood at the stop, chattering about our adventure and watching the rain begin to fall. And we waited, and waited and waited. Finally a woman standing nearby answered her phone and said, "Sciopera!" Oh no! A bus strike! Just going in the direction we wanted to go, just announced that moment. What to do! We walked.

And walked, and walked, in the pouring rain, pouring so hard that when we got home, five hours later, the clothes and books INSIDE the suitcases were wet! Just awful. We attached our duffel to Avery's wheeled luggage (we may never again be able to make fun of her for succumbing to function over form: John usually hates wheeled luggage! but it saved our life), and simply ran and walked the 40 minutes or so to the bus station. Jumped on for the wildest ride of our lives, at excessive speed through massive throwings-up of pooled rain water at the side of the road. Avery simply closed her eyes. A freezing cold airplane ride in our soaking wet clothes, and home.

Well, my friends, I must close because we have a concert at Avery's school to go to, and then guests for dinner, and I've committed that sin that people always warn me never to commit: I've cooked something I've never cooked before, to offer to guests, and it's really scary-looking. I'll tell all when the worst is known.


Bee said...

I'm sorry to hear that your trip ended so damply! Cold wet clothes; ugh.

I was fascinated by the little glimpse of the Rialto Market. Yesterday I was reading an obituary for Rose Gray and it inspired me to go off and buy the latest River Cafe cookbook. (Italian is the only cuisine my husband cares to eat.) Scanning through the recipes I've realized that I would need to have those artichokes and that calamari to really make them come alive. BTW, I looked at your pizza crust recipe with great interest. (Always on the look-out for the ultimate recipe.) What kind of flour do you get? I mean: brand and location of brand.

This summer I read a rather strange book called Good Plain Cook -- I bought it for the title -- and it was about Peggy Guggenheim. Well, really it was about a fictional young girl who works as a cook for Peggy Guggenheim when she spends a year in England. Sussex, I think it was?

Bee said...

I always cook new and untried things for guests. Risky, I know.

Kristen In London said...

Let's see, Bee, I buy Allinson's, "strong white flour" for perfect bread and pizza dough, they say. And I've used fresh yeast (which is fun because you mix it with sugar and it turns LIQUID before your eyes!), and dried yeast, and had perfect success with both. 800 to 500 is the key: 800 g flour, 500 ml water with a bit of milk and a bit of olive oil. Feel free to add any herbs to the flour: it's LOVELY. We are devoted.

I shall look this minute for the Good Plain Cook. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I want to take a bite of that pizza (not so much the squid)! I love arugula and greens on my pizza.
PS Angelina's lips pale in comparison to Avery's--she is a gorgeous girl.

Kristen In London said...

Isn't Avery pretty, Min? I know it. I stare at her all the time... and rocket on pizza rocks. I've stopped just randomly strewing the pizza with olive oil at the end since I read how many calories are in olive oil! But make some, do.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

What beautiful photos! I am ready for Venice now. Er, minus the wet part. I will definitely take the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

Well, I admit to owning a Kindle. I probably wouldn't have bought one except I have a terrible book habit and I live in the Netherlands... very few English books! Here's one good thing about the Kindle: you can change the text size ;-)

Kristen In London said...

Plane Ride, I am sure your Kindle brings you great joy! I'm just being a Luddite and a curmudgeon. But I can understand how hard it is to get what you want in a foreign land.

Bee said...

Thanks for the tip about the flour.

I will bring/send Good Plain Cook to you if you'd like.

Kristen In London said...

I just sent you a message, I think, about Good Plain Cook: thank you for the recommendation!

Here's an important tip for the pizza dough: cover it with cling film, properly COVER it, as it rises, so nothing hardens. The hardened bits, should they occur, rather ruin the dough.

When are we getting together??