Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Motor Covers in Venice

Bed sheet boat cover


















Yesterday I went for a walk to the Rialto area to visit a bookstore where they sell used books in English. They also take books in trade, giving you credit for so much per book. It's a nice system, and we have a fair amount on account, but the store is seriously over-priced. They took my books and I picked up another used book.


On the way to the store I noticed a boat covered in what looked like a bed sheet. That gave me the idea to take pictures of boat covers. Then I saw a cover of an outboard motor that convinced me to take pictures of them. There turned out to be many more interesting motor covers than boat covers, so I decided to dedicate a blog to them. 

Indian blanket motor cover
I find it amazing in general the poor condition of many of the small private boats in Venice. They cost money to buy, they cost money to maintain, and they cost money to park on a canal. Many of them are in deplorable condition caused purely by neglect (subject for another post). You would not expect a Venetian, a member of a culture built on the sea (literally and figuratively) and on seamanship, would allow his boat to go into disrepair. Even to the point of sinking at the pier. 


I asked my friend Guido why they covered the motors in things like T-shirts, that had no apparent function in protecting the it. He said that they are to keep people from stealing the cover of the motor. I admit that it might slow a thief down, but none of them look, I don't know, impenetrable. In any event, I didn't realize that the covers, rather than the motors themselves, were of any value, other than as a cover of the motor to which it is attached.
Raggedy motor cover
Tank top motor cover




T-shirt motor cover
Gramma's tablecloth motor cover

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Early Morning Shots in Venice

Yesterday I caught some sunrise shots at St. Mark's. This is a great time of year to get early morning shots in Venice because the sun comes up just before 8:00 across the basin from St. Mark's, just to the left of San Giorgio Maggiore. In the summer the sun comes up two hours earlier and behind the buildings that run along the Riva degli Schiavoni. Also at this time of year the sky is clearer because of lower humidity. But no matter what time of year you come, very early morning is the best time to be at St. Mark's, because there are no crowds. You nearly have the place to yourself. These pictures are just as they came out of the camera, I didn't make any adjustments or cropping.










Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Why is your wife better than you?"




I have been told at least three times in the past four days that my wife is better than I am. A waiter, the Pharmacist, and a friend come to mind immediately. There may be more, but you’d have to ask her. Sometimes the statement was couched as a declaration, and sometimes as a question, as in “why is your wife better than you?” (which assumes that it’s true and that I know it, in contrast to the statement, which means “you may not know it, but . . .”)


My answer is usually something like, “that’s what everyone says,” or “that’s because she’s smarter.” (me being funny). The statement that she is better than I is made in the specific context that she speaks Italian better than I do, not that she is better in general. For that reason, what they say is true.


We have been here for four years, and struggle still with Italian. I bought medicine for the dog today, which is done at a regular pharmacy. I asked for it in Italian. The head pharmacist corrected my pronunciation of the name of the medicine (although I could discern no material difference between what she said and what I had said). The assistant pharmacist told me the price in Italian, which I fully understood. The head pharmacist repeated the price in English. I told her (in English) that I knew the numbers in Italian. She said “yes, but you prefer to speak English.” Yes, I told her, because then I know what I’m saying. This is when she enlightened me as to my wife’s superiority in speaking Italian. She’s much more fluent, she said.


There is a profound but very simple reason she is better than I am at speaking Italian: she works at it. She studies books, conjugates verbs, writes stuff in a notebook, watches Italian TV. I don’t do any of that. When I see a newspaper headline, I think to myself “I wonder what that says.” I can pick out some of the words, but not the words that give material meaning to the headline. I might take a picture with my iPhone and try to translate it, but that is only if I’m feeling extraordinarily ambitious.


Another problem is, as the episode with the pharmacist illustrates, even if I speak to them in Italian, they answer me in English. I have more than once found myself in the absurd situation of being the only one speaking Italian. So, I don’t need it day-to-day. And to the extent that I do need it, I know it. For example, I can order a meal, red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, regular beer and dark beer. I can say “this,” “that,” “those,” and “these,” and I know the numbers and most of the weights. I know the names of many vegetables and some meat. I can tell someone to keep going straight, turn right or left, and stuff like that. What else is there?


Yes, as you say, I might want to carry on a nuanced philosophical discussion but, for the most part, I haven’t found anyone to do it with. (and those with whom I might like to carry on such a conversation would, necessarily, need to be highly educated and, therefore, more fluent in English than I’ll ever be in Italian). I can’t stand TV, even in the US, and I don’t read the papers, though I should, I suppose.


The other day the doorbell rang. I went down to see who it was, and there was a man with a clipboard who started to talk real fast in Italian. I don’t like guys with clipboards. They are always trying to get something, usually money, or they are some government weenie coming to bust my chops about something. As he jabbered, I thought I understood what he was saying, but I couldn’t believe it. I thought he said there was a new restaurant in town, and they are giving out free bottles of prosecco (white sparkling wine), would I like one? He stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. I thought he was taking orders on his little clipboard. Or maybe he really asked me how many TVs were in the house (they tax those things, believe it or not). I didn’t know what to do. Is it possible he wants to give me a free bottle of wine? Nah. I looked out the door behind the man, and there was a lad pushing a big cart stacked with cases of prosecco. The man held out a bottle for me to take. By God! I understood him at native speed! Of course, I took the wine in disbelief, thanked him, and went upstairs.


So, I am not as bad as everyone says. But for now, I am willing to admit that my wife is better than I am. Anyone who has talked to the two of us together knows that. When that changes, I’ll write the blog in Italian. Ciao.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



One of the most interesting things about Venice is that it is a mixture of the old and new. That is, old buildings are used for new purposes. The Dogana point (the old customs house) and the Palazzo Grassi are used as contemporary art museums. The schools in Venice are located on fourteenth century Palazzi. Here are a couple of photos of a school, and through the window you can see a basketball hoop hanging in the gym.



Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Random Shots


It's fun to walk around Venice looking for random stuff to photograph. 


In the photo to the left, the sun lit some stars and flags.



Near the Rialto is a small bar that is literally a hole in the wall, open to the outside with about enough room inside for two people. Yet, they have a big TV on the wall and a rather elaborate stereo system.



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beethoven Concert

Knowing that I am a Beethoven fanatic, my wife saw this sign on the door of the church of Ognissanti (all saints), and took a picture of it so we would have the information at hand. It was a beautiful little sign drawn on a typical yellow paper place mat used in restaurants in Venice. A small orchestra was to play one piece at 5:30 (17:30 on the sign). This sign was the only notice of the concert in all of Venice (so far as we know).


Ten minutes before the appointed hour (there's no reason to be there early) we were walking along the side of the church, and could hear music coming from inside. They had already started. We went in, sat down, and listened to the performance. It was quite good. I am very familiar with the work and would have noticed any irregularity. It was nearly perfect.


When we left we were still puzzled by the early start, and looked at the sign again. Someone had crossed out the "17:30" and replaced it with "17:00," or 5:00. They just went ahead and changed the time by marking it on the sign. You can't get much more Italian than that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cotechino (or How Karen Came to Eat Cheerios for Dinner)




Just after Christmas I went to the butcher to pick up a turkey, as we had decided that we would have turkey and all the fixin’s for New Year’s Eve dinner. We were on a river cruise on the Danube on Thanksgiving, I think in Germany, eating sausage and drinking gl├╝hwein. 


The tradition in Italy is to eat fish for this meal, but it was just the two of us, and Karen had bought a tiny jar of cranberry sauce for about seven dollars, so I picked up the turkey. As a gift, the butcher was handing out a traditional New  Year’s  sausage known as cotechino, pronounced cotta-KEY-no. It was a large fat sausage about six inches long and two or three inches in diameter. It actually did not look that good, but he had a big pile of them, he had given one to the old lady in front of me, and she seemed quite happy. He gave one to me.


When I got home I showed it to Karen. She said “throw it away.” Oh no, I couldn’t do that. It was a gift. I didn’t know the significance of it at the time, but she did. (I don’t know how she knows all this stuff). She told me it was for New  Year’s , but that it looked horrible, and it was made from various pieces parts of the pig, including something from the head. “Well, what do you think a hotdog is?” I argued. “It’s a slurry of pig parts mixed with spices. This is just a big, rustic, hotdog. And what do you think sausage in general is? It’s stuff you can’t eat if you see it the way it is, so you grind it up, mix it with fat, and stuff it into a casing.”


Yesterday I decided to cook it. We were at the point of either tossing it, or cooking it. I did some research and found recipes for it, and Italian people acting like it was a wonderful thing. All you do is boil it for a couple of hours (this one was uncooked) and serve it with lentils. Karen does not like lentils, so I made borlotti beans.


The recipe in The Silver Spoon, which is the only cookbook anyone ever needs, called for its skin to be pierced, and then wrapped in foil and simmered for two hours, or so. As it cooked I noticed that the smell was not that great, and that the foil had turned black. It did not smell rotten, but it did not have the wonderful smell of pork sausage. Karen kept quiet about the smell and let me do my thing.


We are into trying Italian and Venetian traditions, including the right food at the right time. Everything I read said that this was a big deal all over Italy for New  Year’s . I even found a few instructional videos on YouTube. So, I insisted on cooking it.


When the time was up I took it out the water, unwrapped it and cut into it. Looked just like the pictures. I had read one description of it, though, that gave me some concern. It was described as “sticky.” I didn’t know what that meant in the context of sausage, but I was about to find out. The stuff has a thick and indeed sticky texture that can best be described as gelatinous. As soon as I tasted it I knew that the meal was doomed, but I wanted to give Karen the chance to enjoy a traditional Italian food. I also knew that there was a reasonable chance she would barf.


I cut off a little piece and brought it to her in the bedroom, where she sat looking at the iPad. She immediately covered he mouth, jumped up from the bed, and ran into the bathroom to get the stuff out of her mouth. Thankfully, she did not puke. I must say that I do a lot of the cooking, and there have been times when she did not like what I made, but she never had to run to the bathroom and spit it out. 


“Have some borlotti beans,” I suggested. “No,” she said, “that’s all right, I’m gonna eat Cheerios.” So, it came to pass that the cotechino went into the trash (after I choked down another piece to give it a fair shake) and Karen ate Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner. I can still smell the thing.