The Salt Bae of Venice
Updated: Nov 3, 2018
Venice has plenty of centuries-old buildings to explore, from churches to basilicas and palaces (and sometimes all three in one). But what I’m even more interested in is the culture of its people today. We examined both on Tuesday, with Dan being more invested in the former and I the latter.
First stop, after our hotel continental breakfast (I had my first scrambled eggs in a week!) was St Mark’s Basilica. We joined a mob of tourists to admire the gold ceilings with mosaic Jesus scenes and geometric patterned floors that would look great in Dan’s kitchen. We learned that the building and the square is named for the guy who wrote about Jesus and whose bones are underneath the basilica. Apparently Venetians took him to their island after sneaking his bod in with pork.
Despite the fact that signs indicated taking photos was frowned upon, people took them. And it made sense: The building was elaborate, filled with only the most expensive (stolen) materials and rainbows of mosaics.
Later, we went to the Correr Museum and Doge Palace all on the same square: More gold, more statues, some coins thousands of years old and an exhibit about what people read hundreds of years ago. Surprise: The most popular book subject was theology.
In the Doge’s Palace, we saw the obnoxious way the Doge himself greeted guests. He had them see his grand building (photo attached) and come up stairs between a giant Neptune and Apollo statue (with pubes). Unwelcome guests, aka future prisoners, saw a not-so-nice view. After getting one last peek of outside civilization in a window down the steps known as the Bridge of Sighs, they were jailed in a basement.
Even one Doge met a terrible fate: He was beheaded and his image was literally blacked out from history. The painting that would have been his face is blank, among the other dozens of doge paintings.
Also in St Mark’s Square are cafes, people watching and outdoor orchestras. We grabbed some sips at the famous Cafe Florian, where Dan shared notes on Venice. It was very lovely. One Southern-sounding woman even approached us: “You are so sweet reading to her. Can I take your picture?”
Re the topic of current Italian culture, I studied two servers in particular.
The first worked at a place where we got cicchetti with a ridiculous view. We arrived at a perfect time, when a couple had just left a prime spot. So the server gladly seated us near the water and took our order.
A woman there did not have such good timing.
This middle-aged woman tried to take the table of a lady with another good seat. Apparently, waiting woman hovered at the table before the sitting lady had finished. Our 40-something-year-old server friend was not happy. He shooed hovering lady away.
“She hasn’t even paid!” He yelled at her. “Ma’am, leave her.”
So the ma’am, embarrassed, did leave for a few minutes. She kept eyeing the table long after the lady had left. Finally she asked the server if she could move to the table.
So she left. Without paying, I think. He yelled at her as she crossed a bridge away from the restaurant: “Don’t come to Venice. Respect the city. We live here!”
Respect the Italian way.
Here, guests aren’t rushed; but encouraged to hang out (and sometimes remind the waiter numerous times for the check).
“Respect Venice” is written on several signs throughout the city that is crowded with visitors. Dan and I tried hard to not be the obnoxious Americans that we heard around us. He thinks we succeeded because locals kept giving us restaurant tips and good tables.
Our server for dinner who I loved, named Stefano, was so authentically Italian. The middle-aged guy with an aquatic tattoo, slicked down salt-and-pepper hair and a strong upper body (from years of rowing I’m assuming) was like the Salt Bae of Venice. He filleted a sea bass right at our table, and drowned it with olive oil, salt, pepper and prosecco(!). After trimming fat off the fish, he twirled the extra pieces into a spiral and made a “lemon rain shower” (a dramatic lemon squeeze move). It was easily the best carpaccio I’ve ever had.
Dan saw photos of Stefano (I asked his name because I just had to know of it was Mario or something) on the way to the bathroom, doing the same fish-serving decades younger. Stefano told us about how his restaurant had won the Regatta Storica boat many years in a row—there were first place flags on the wall— and I liked him because he didn’t pressure us to order the typical zillion-course Italian meal. Our incredible (shared) salad and seafood pasta made the dinner at Do Farai my favorite meal yet.
Things I’ve learned in Venice:
In the bathroom, finding the flusher is not always easy. It may be on the ground. It may be a little button. It may be the same color as the water thingy up high and not even appear to be a flusher. Same goes with the sink: It may be turned on by a button or a pedal.
Also: The house red wine is always good. And a glass can be as cheap as 1 euro.
Venetians play a lot of samba music late-night.