Recently I have been accepted into small group of men about my age who own or hang out in the handful of cafés I frequent in Campo Santa Margherita. I call them “my crew.” I’m not sure how this happened. I did not apply for it, as there is no application, and it was not sudden, but happened slowly. The butcher and fish guy I go to are in this campo, and there is a grocery store there that sells the
bread we like. So, when I go out to these shops I invariably stop in some or all of my haunts for a coffee, wine or beer. I discovered that this group of men meet informally sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 in the evening, at which time some or all of them can be found either in Millivini or next door at Osteria alla Bifora. They just happened to be there when I was, on several occasions.
There is Davide, who runs the Millivini in Campo Santa Margherita. By the way, the food there is excellent. It’s a cross between a restaurant and a café. You can always have just a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, but they also serve a pretty extensive menu of items prepared by Fulvio, an excellent chef. Give it a try. The service is good, they have a great selection of wine and beer, and the prices are quite reasonable for Venice.
There is Sakar, who owns and operates Mi and Ti, which produces an excellent selection of Middle Eastern dishes at a reasonable price.
There are Guido, who does I don’t know what, and Tullio, whose trade I also don’t know.
Davide is perfectly fluent in English, and Sakar and Guido are fairly good at it. Tullio does not seem to know any. This is important, because even after being here for four years, I’m not that conversant in Italian. But I am using these guys to try to learn.
The other day we decided to share the cost of a bottle of wine at Millivini (a thousand wines). First off, there were four of us splitting a twelve Euro bottle of wine. We were able to easily determine the share each should pay, but after that, it got complicated. I had only a twenty. So Guido and Sakar each gave me three. I gave Davide (who was one of the four and also the seller of the wine, as it’s his shop) the twenty. It took us fifteen minutes and a scientific calculator to figure out what my change ought to be. I don’t know why. We owed Davide twelve Euros, less his three, making it nine. Nine from twenty is eleven. Sakar had decided that it should be eight. I was so confused at this point that I had no idea, but remind me to count my change next time I buy something from Sakar. In the end Davide, who is the business of giving proper change, figured it out and I got back eleven. That left me with seventeen out of twenty, which is correct.
|The Nativity Scene at St. Mark's Square|
With that out of the way, the subject of Christmas came up, and of the nature of the characters in the Nativity scene. In St. Mark’s Square is a large Nativity scene with what I think are the ugliest characters I have ever seen. I hate it. I showed a picture of it to Guido and he exclaimed that it was horrible. Horrible! I had made the same comment to my wife the previous day, and she pointed out that it is supposed to have been made by some fancy porcelain factory. I told her I don’t care if Christ himself carved it out of ivory, it looked like hell. I have included a picture of it for you to make your own judgment.
Then Guido mentioned that Jesus in Europe is always shown with light hair and blue eyes. Yes, I said, we created him in our own image. He then told us that he had painted the eyes of his baby Jesus brown, because he was a Jew born in Palestine. Of course, he would therefore be unlikely to have blue eyes.
Another thing that struck me about our conversation was that here in a place where Catholicism is a way of life, where in Venice, a place that would fit inside of Central Park, there are 151 churches, they expressed doubt about the virgin birth. I thought that in Italy if there is one universally accepted fact, it is that Mary was a virgin. But we were pretty far into the bottle. I guess the old quote that “in wine there is truth,” (In vino veritas) is true.
So, if you get to Campo Santa Margherita between 4:30 and 6:00, look for a group of wise old men standing (or sometimes sitting) around waxing philosophical. We’ll let you buy us a round. (Which reminds me, it’s my turn to buy the next round. Anyone have change for a 500?)