“Every time someone does this, a Venetian dies”
November 29, 2018
On the evening of our arrival in Venice in late November, we were asked for directions three times by other visitors. After all this time, we must be beginning to blend in.
From the Vaporetto No 1, I was struck by the swathes of residential properties in darkness on the Grand Canal, apparently unoccupied.
They are interspersed by lavishly lit palaces, which are mostly hotels.
Festa della Salute (the feast of health)
On 21st November each year, a temporary bridge is constructed across the Grand Canal between Santa Maria del Giglio (next to the Gritti Palace hotel) and the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, where mass is said hourly, from morning to night.
Venetians cross the bridge, buying candles from stalls set up outside the Basilica, then they gather in their hundreds inside the church to light them, in an emotional and devout commemoration of the souls of their dead. It was a privilege to be present at this profound and memorable act of remembrance, as the community gives thanks for its deliverance from the plague in 1631.
Afterwards, every restaurant in the city prepares the traditional Castradina, a hearty soup of shredded smoked mutton and cabbage, which is only served once a year, for the festival. It’s a restorative and satisfying dish that transcends the simplicity of its humble ingredients.
(Castradina Sciavona, in Venetian dialect, Schiavoni in Italian, is named for the Slavs who historically imported meat from Croatia and Slovenia, which were part of the Venetian Empire).
Returning to our hotel after dinner one evening, the receptionist made us aware that the water level was expected to rise by 100 cm the following morning. “Not enough to cover your shoes”, it would be worse in St Mark’s Square and other low-lying districts. After 120 cm it becomes more problematic, he said, but still nothing like the 160 cm the city had experienced in October.
The next morning, three hours before the expected surge, a siren sounded, followed by three eerie blasts. At the appointed time there were gasps and laughter from a group of guests in the hotel, when one of their number looked out of the window and reported that water was rushing into the Calle below.
Acqua Alta is a severe inconvenience for Venetians, but what irritates them more is the inaccurate media coverage of the phenomenon, and the tourists who regard it as just another photo-opportunity.
However, some visitors take a more practical approach to the conditions….
In almost thirty years of going to Venice in every season, this was the first time we experienced a downpour. It’s as beautiful as ever in the rain.
“Every time someone does this…. a Venetian dies”
What heinous act has this effect? I found the answer on the blackboard in Basego, a bar on Campo San Toma serving a good selection of cicchètti.
“Ogni volta che mangi una sarda in saor con un cappuccino, muore un veneziano”.
“Every time someone eats a sardine in saor with a cappuccino, a Venetian dies”.
I will be writing more about cichèti (the Venetian spelling, or cicchètti in Italian) in another post; they are an emblem of the resurgence of the city’s food culture.
Also emblematic is the Venetian gentleman’s winter cape, worn here almost as an act of defiance….
The Festa della Salute, the eating of Castradina, and even the wearing of a cape, do not take place for the benefit of tourists; they are symbols of the life that continues to be lived in this unique, proud city, “the most beautiful city in the world”.