Thursday, June 8, 2006

You don’t need fava beans and chianti to enjoy fegato.

Okay. So who goes to Italy to eat liver and onions?

I know, I know, my odd tastes are nothing new. But for years I’d read (again, damn you, La Cucina Italiana, for getting me so obsessed) about the utter delicacy with which Venetians prepare calves’ liver. So one evening, I dined at a little trattoria in Venice with Sanni, Barbara, Beverly and John, with Blaine and Sandy at the next table. I ordered fegato alla Veneziana.

I made sure my dinner companions all got a taste. The verdict: very positive.

The liver was tender and mild, thanks to an overnight soak in milk. It was sliced thinly, the cipolle (onions) sautéed to just the right degree of caramelization, and the pan deglazed with a good white Veneto wine. Mine came with a side of Arborio rice, a perfect foil for the rich pan juices.

My dinner was made so much better by the fabulous company. We laughed and roared, and giggled when the suave, charming, devilish waiter Lucio decided to anoint us with new names: Barbara rose to canonization immediately as “Santa Barbara,” Sanni was “Sonia,” and John was “Don Giovanni!” I was dubbed Giulietta. (Beverly – I can’t, for the life of me, remember what he called you!)

As the plates were cleared away, I introduced the group to the joys of caffe corretto, or ”corrected coffee,” set right with a little splash of spirit. That night we chose Sambuca. And why waste an evening with a devilish waiter without introducing flames? So in broken Italian I asked for “sambuca la fiamma.” Float a few espresso beans in a shot of the sweet anise liqueur, then flame it. I had my saucer in hand, ready to snuff the flame, but we were having such an animated conversation about sambuca that I failed to actually put out the flame. Our glass broke – in a perfect straight line around the circumference of the glass. Italian crystal, man!! It even breaks with style.

Oh, sambuca la fiamma? A big hit with the group. Almost as much as Lucio.

Finding the REAL Venice. (You have to look for it!!)

Venice can be hard to take, especially if you go to THE tourist areas.

Piazza San Marco is a surging throng of tourists pushing their way to the Palazzo Ducale, or the Basilica, which dates to the 9th century.

I found it absolutely impossible to take in the Basilica treasures. I'd been waiting decades to see the mosaics and sculptures, but a few minutes is all one can get. You are part of a continuously moving line which begins at one door, snakes its way through the immense structure then ushers you out through another portal. The whole experience lasts just a few minutes. Even though Mass was in progress in one of the chapels, the constant hum of a thousand whispers never subsided. In fact, it was even punctuated by ringing cell phones. I was really annoyed by the lack of respect.

However, there still is a lot to enjoy in Venice, far from the madding crowd. Having grown up on a small island, I adored the ubiquitous proximity of water. As you probably know, there are no streets in Venice (well, there are streets in parts of Venice, such as Lido, out of the main tourist thoroughfare.) Instead one gets around on foot and by boat.

Above: pull your boat right up to your doorstep!

One evening, I saw a couple of men standing by water's edge with a leather sofa and love seat. They were obviously waiting for transportation to take their newly-acquired furniture to their home. Venetians probably wouldn't do well with massive Costco shopping trips.

Above: one of the larger canals in a busy area.

The next two shots, though, show a very different canal scene - one I loved. A narrow little canal in a residential area, at dusk. All the boat motors were silent, and the only sounds I heard were of peoples voices - talking, laughing, some singing in the distance.

(Love that laundry line hanging out ACROSS the canal!)

This is another little canal, in daylight. I took this picture while riding the back of a private "taxi" to a great glass factory on Murano Island.

Here's the audio spot I sent from Venice about the difference between San Marco and the quiet areas.

I was last in San Marco at the height of tourist season, in July 1971. I don't remember it being choked with people. Arianna told me that these days, the Piazza is just as busy in January as it in July. And Niccola (a local) told me that Venice can accomodate 20 thousand people a day, according to environmental studies....yet there are at least 40 thousand visitors daily! No wonder it's sinking.