I was in Venice for the weekend recently with the Upstairs Vegetarian and her friend from Canada, Erin the Anglican Priest. We also met up with Annie, the UV’s former colleague, who was in Venice studying beads for her PhD. It’s more interesting than it sounds. Venice is a magical wonderful city. It’s the kind of place — as my brother once observed — where you keep expecting men in masks and capes and brandishing rapiers to pop out of alleyways and start with the stabbing. That may be because it’s often foggy and because the scariest movie in the history of the world took place in Venice. At any rate, the atmosphere is very — as the Italians would say — suggestive.
What can I say about Venice? The Biennale is still on and I could tell you about that. But who wants to hear about a bunch of bad art? Empty bleach bottles tied together with bits of string? What’s that all about? Me, I went to Venice mostly for the moeche.
Moeche are tiny soft shell crabs from the Venetian lagoon. They are only available for a few months every year (March-April and September-October) and I’ve been dying to try them ever since I heard about the Italian system for preparing them. They put the live crabs into a bowl filled with a batter made from egg and corn meal. The crabs eat up the mixture, effectively battering themselves from the inside. Isn’t that clever? I love soft shell crabs. And these ones are tiny so you can eat lots.
A big Venetian deal are cicheti, which are basically fancy bar snacks. While there are many different kinds of cicheti available, you will nearly always find the big three on offer: sarde in saor (fried sardines covered in sweet and sour marinated carmelized onions), baccalà mantecato (pureed dried codfish whipped with olive oil) and insalata di polpo (marinated octopus salad with lemon, parsley and celery).
We visited the Venetian Ghetto, which dates back to 1516, making it the oldest one in Europe. In fact, the word ghetto comes from the Venetian word ghèto, which means slag, because a foundry was located near the area of Jewish confinement. There is a small museum and five synagogues in the Ghetto and you can take a nice tour of the ones not currently in use. There was a very prominent (and somewhat snippy) sign hanging in the synagogues we visited announcing that the ‘so-called’ kosher restaurant on the main square was a fraud and not officially kosher at all. Methinks therein lies a tale. As elsewhere, the Venetian Jews were rounded up when the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943. The President of the Jewish Community at the time — a doctor and professor named Giuseppe Jona — killed himself rather than hand over a list of the names of Venetian Jews. Figures differ, but probably about 200 Jews were taken and (mostly) sent to Dachau. There’s a stark and somewhat gruesome memorial in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, which is topped with barbed wire.
Hmmm. I somehow feel that this post needs to end on a lighter note.