Following a wonderful month in Italy, I'm enjoying reminiscing. Here are a few special memories of the madonnelle, people, dogs, and gelato of Venice. I can't wait to go back!
Street shrines are scattered throughout the towns and cities of Italy: on street corners, built into facades, above doorways, and at the end of alleys. For me, they served as little reminders that we must take time out to show gratitude, and that if we fail to look up, we miss many special things.
While trying to identify the name of these little shrines, I found that although they were used many centuries before, by the 12th century they had very popular as Christian shrines. Madonelle and Edicole are my two favorite of the many names they are called. Some have Madonnas with child, some simply have Madonnas watching over the passers-by, and others feature saints, crosses, or other deities.
Each sends a well wish to the passerby, a hope they are noticed or prayed with, or simply acknowledged for their intention of good will. Someone noted that the Madonnas without child stare right at you, as if to say that only you are their focus for that moment in time.
Imbedded in the façade of a home looking over the Ponte Storto (crooked bridge) in San Polo is a very worn raised stone lion head. I passed it several times each day, often joyful that I had found it after being lost (again). I thought of C.S. Lewis’s Aslan, written centuries after this lion was created. My Venice Aslan had significance, as I fought the daily mental battles writers fight, giving me symbolic confidence and reassurance.
Sometimes the street shrines were adorned with bows, flowers, or votive and protected by an iron grate or glass.
Discovering each shrine brought me joy; I believe that is one reason they were there. I gratefully acknowledged the kindness of those who placed them.
In Venice, so many of the people you encounter are tourists. Although they were likely passing the shrines for the first time, most did not stop and look. Most often, they were attached to their phones (sometimes with the voice of Google Maps blaring directions in assorted languages) or were simply too intent on getting somewhere else to notice what was right in front of them. Look up. You may be surprised at what welcomes you.
A primary school was near our palazzo. We often saw the students coming and going with their parents and occasionally saw some of the nuns who worked there. In the mornings, parents dropped students at the door; in the afternoon the children played games in the campo outside our palazzo. It was a lovely brief glimpse of real life in a city where visitors may never encounter anyone who actually lives there.
One morning, when getting coffee at a nearby shop, I watched two families with children in the familiar school uniform stopping to get their own coffees, and pastries for the children, before hurrying to school and on to work.
Through the windows of the palazzo, I heard singing coming from the campo below. The students were performing for their parents and instructors.
Artichoke hearts are very popular at the Rialto Market and the artichoke man was busy every time I walked by. He quickly sheared off the leaves and pared down the hearts, depositing each in a large bucket that was quickly emptied.
Artichoke hearts, smothered in olive oil, and flavored with salt, pepper, herbs, and garlic, were one of the specialties prepared in our palazzo. Carciofi alla Romana presents a rich and delicious burst of flavor reminiscent of the Rialto Market and the perfumes that exit the kitchen windows of Venetian homes near dinnertime.
Marcella was the lovely cook and housekeeper at our palazzo (she also made delicious Carciofi alla Romana). At the Rialto Market, she negotiated with the pleasant fishmonger who allowed me to take photographs despite a sign disallowing them. She bought fish, with which she made divine, fragrant ceviche At the produce stand, she responded to my enthusiastic gestures at the display of figs by making a generous purchase, resulting in a lovely and delicious table display.
On my last day in Venice, Marcella posed on the palazzo’s rooftop patio where she grows vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs. This photo captures her dynamic spirit and cheerful nature. She was an important part of my Venetian experience because she gave me a glimpse into a real life and shared everyday experiences with me. She also made amazing tiramisu.
This gondolier was on the phone but he had passengers in his gondola. Maybe this is the new generation of gondoliers: never to be disconnected from social media yet a wee bit disconnected when at work. I didn’t get the impression that he was one of the singing gondoliers but perhaps he was looking up the words to O Sole Mio?
Venice is a popular place for family members of all ages. While the narrow streets were not easy ones for maneuvering strollers, young children accompanied parents and grandparents, in arms, asleep on shoulders, and pressing noses into windows filled with chocolates, toys, pastries, and vivid color glass figures. This mother and daughter pair at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was obviously enjoying one another's company.
Venetians love their dogs While most seemed to be little dogs, some larger ones were obediently walking next to their people in the crowded streets. Our campo was a popular place for dog exercising. Although absent of grass or trees, it provided unobstructed room for running and chasing balls and other dogs.
Dogs were frequently on boats. This dog was unhappy to be left behind, parked at the Rialto Market where his people were presumably doing some shopping. He seemed jealous that the seagulls were finding dead fish treasures and he was unable to chase them or enjoy the spoils himself.
Peggy Guggenheim was one of the most famous dog-loving Venetian residents. In the garden of her former residence, now one of the most visited art museums in Venice, she is buried with her fourteen dogs. Click here for a photograph of Peggy Guggenheim on the Byzantine throne in her garden, with two of her beloved dogs.
When in Italy, every day is even better when you have gelato. On some of the very warm days in Venice, it seemed that every child had a cone or cup of gelato. And they all looked very happy!
Gelato is Italian ice cream that comes in many flavors. In Northern Italy, it is made with cream, eggs, sugar and flavor. Churned at a slower speed than ice cream, it is dense and more like frozen custard than the ice cream from the supermarket. In Southern Italy, it is often made with water and more sugar - closer to what we call sorbet. Most of the gelato in Venice is cream-based, although there are vegan varieties. It comes in many flavors and there is no shortage of opportunities to purchase it. My favorite flavors? Vanilla, lemon, lime, and stracciatella (cream based vanilla with chocolate drizzles mixed in). With a gelato store on almost every corner, how do you choose one?
Not all gelato is the same. Here are some things to watch for:
What is the color? If it isn't something found in nature you probably don't want it in your gelato. Most good gelato is a muted color.
Fruit gelatos should be made with seasonal fresh fruit. In January, strawberry is not your best choice.
How is the gelato stored? The best gelato is in round cylinders with tops, not in displays, piled high like a salad bar. It stays fresher when it is covered.
I found that shops with fewer flavor choices made excellent gelato.
You get what you pay for. The better gelato costs more. If it costs less than 2 Euros, it probably isn't very good. Shops swarming with lots of young children may be popular because of the price, not the quality.
It should be spooned into your cone or bowl with a paddle, not a scoop.
Shops that post their ingredients are generally proud of them. If you don't see anything posted, ask or move on.