Friday, March 22, 2013

Le Flirt

A man from our building flirted with me MOST severely last week. 
He was a clean-cut, good-looking fellow - the sort who lifts weights six times a week and wears a sleeveless t-shirt to prove it, and carefully gels his hair so that when your eyes finally drift away from his biceps and wander up to his face, you are assured that he takes care of the rest of himself, too.

He caught me in the lobby.
          "Well, helloooo." He said to me suggestively, catching at my purse. "Didn't  we run into each other yesterday?"
Polite confusion.
           "The day before, perhaps?  Oh, come.  I know YOU Remember. There was  a - "
           "Of course!  There was that - "
           "Yes, the baby!!  You DO remember!" 
How could I forget?  The two of us coming in the front door, and across the lobby a baby in a pram doing its level best to level the building through sheer acoustical horror.  The howls echoed off of the polished stone floor and the polished plaster walls and we had waggled our eyebrows at each other, attempting to convey our mutual dismay and horror and headache and then we'd each gotten the hell out of there. Separately.
            According to this fellow, what we'd had was a deep, intellectual meeting of minds and souls and the loss was mine - a deep, soul-bending, heart-scaring loss -  that I had not recognized the communion we had shared.  It was very moving.   He flexed his biceps for me and tilted his head so that light glinted from the windows and off of his white teeth.
          "It's nice and quiet here, now that the... babies... are all upstairs, don't you think?"  He asked with a polite leer.
I nodded in agreeable assent.  
He pursed his perfect lips.  "And now that it's just us - "
The  door to the parking yard opened and our concierge walked in.  
          "Were you needing anything?"  He said, and tilted his head quizzically at the beefcake.
My swain darted a trapped look at the concierge, then at me, then back to the concierge and mumbled  "M'toilet's backed up again."
And blushed deep red and fled.

O Varlet! Base Coward!  When two Souls are met in Communion, surely they can overcome the ignominy of sewer backwash and know that base matter is but a Proving Ground for Souls!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We go Shopping.

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in back in Holland.

They day after our boat trip we flew back to Holland - out of a cozy little airport called Treviso about 40 minutes by express bus from Venice.* The airport is small and charmingly built, but the staff there wrapped up every single stereotype you have ever heard about the Italian civil service and tied it with a ribbon.  I’ve never been so glad to get onto a budget holiday airliner in my life.
            We had saved the last treat of our holiday for the every end of it.  Back in Leidschendam we went grocery shopping. We’d brought an extra suitcase along with us to Europe, and on our last day in Holland we stuffed it with Dutch licorice and Dutch chocolate sprinkles and aniseed powder and jam and cookies and blended spice mixes and breakfast cereal (it’s called Brinta, and it looks, tastes and smells like home-made papier-mâché, and don’t ASK what the leftovers do to steel spoons, but Mr Tabubil grew up on the stuff, and I gave up commenting years ago) - exactly 23 extra kilos of comestible stuff.
            At the airport, we discovered that we’d forgotten to pack the curried ketchup. But with two kilos of salty Dutch licorice in our hand luggage to sustain us, we weren’t exactly hurting.

We flew home.

*That day we traveled by foot, by boat, by bus, by plane, by train, and by automobile.  Mr Tabubil was openly regretful that he hadn’t found a way to fit a hydrofoil and donkey-cart into the list.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sandwiches in Venice

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Venice.

Food in Venice is uniformly expensive and almost entirely terrible.  With so many tourists passing through the island city, there’s no expectation of repeat custom, there’s no need for competitive pricing, and, frankly, there’s more than a touch of ‘sticking it to the foreign hordes’ going on in the front rooms AND the kitchen.
 Finding good food requires a supernatural level of luck – or much prior research and excellent map-reading skills.  We had done our due diligence before we arrived, and on our first evening, we ate a very good meal in a cozy little joint off of the Campo San Maurizio where the prices were only slightly stratospheric – but after that, we reckoned on mostly doing our own shopping.

Two streets further back from the Campo San Maurizio we walked into a little grocery store to buy yogurt and breakfast cereal, and were sidetracked by sandwiches. 
A pile of new rolls sat, steaming gently, in the middle of the deli counter, filling the whole shop with the round, full smell of fresh bread. 
“Prosciutto.”  The grocer said to us.  He wasn’t asking.  We nodded, wordlessly, and watched while he reached for a great haunch of ham, grunting as he lifted its massive weight, and loaded it onto the meat slicer.
And sliced.

And sliced.
A mound of translucent leaves – milky white and pink, built up underneath the blade – and he went on slicing, reaching out occasionally to push the pile aside when it pressed up against the blade.
The leaves of prosciutto were so thin that you could have read the morning newspaper through any one of them, and the smell -
High and salty and singing – it butted up against the full smell of fresh bread and we swallowed, involuntarily.
Reaching beneath the deli counter, the grocer lifted up a wedge of crumbling parmesan cheese – old cheese, with grains of calcium crystal glittered in its folds and creases, and broke off a knob half as thick as my fist, crumbling it with his fingers onto the mountain of prosciutto. Breaking open a bread roll with his hands, he pressed the mountain of ham and cheese between the two halves of bread, catching up stray crumbs of cheese and pressing them in with his fingers, and twisted up the whole thing into a square of greaseproof paper.

It was a primitive, overloaded proto-sandwich, and it was so sweetly, saltily, fresh-in-the-morning GOOD that we went back.  And back again.  Twice a day.  THAT is how you eat in Venice on a budget.  The cafes and Pizza joints can go stuff themselves with their own fish.  Go to the grocery and buy fresh sandwiches.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lunch In Venice

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Venice.

The kind tour-tout had given us directions to a quiet piazza where we could wait under a tree until the tour began.  Half-way there, the skies opened up and it began to rain. Not rain – pour.  It was a proper storm – an avalanche of water, falling onto a flooded city out in the middle of a lagoon. The effect of all that water on the tourist psyche was colossal. We felt six-feet under and waterlogged.
            We ducked into the doorway of a little café to wait out the weather, but the weather wasn’t going anyplace, and rather than be brave and stride about the flooded streets, soaked to the skin, we went inside and had lunch.
            It was a dreadful lunch. Venice is a city famous for terrible tourist food, but the owners of this little joint were pushing the boundaries of the possible and all by themselves, managed to lower the standard at least three orders of magnitude.
            A crowd of damp tourists was squashed, soggy and steaming, around rows of narrow yellow tables.  The menu was mostly fish.  Of a sort, via the bits most discerning restauranteurs would reserve for pussy-cats hanging around the back door softening up the cook.  As I was finishing up my fresh filet de blubber, an almost-elderly British couple burst, dripping, through the door and squeezed in next to us. 
"Bit of a squash, what?"
"Oh, but I say, darling; it's a lovely thing on a day like this.  Jolly good, really."
"Too right, too right, darling.  Nothing for it on a cold day like a good mucky bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese, what?"
"Ooooh, yes!  Hey, Garkon!  Parlez-vous English?  Don't need a menu, gracias; just two plates of Spaghetti Bolognese over here, eh?"
"Jolly good, darling."
"Oooh, do you know what?"
(she lowered her voice slightly)
"I'm going to have a beer."
"Naughty naughty!" He chuckled back at her, waggling his finger back and forth and winking his left eye.
            For one delirious moment, I wondered if they were part of the set dressing but they were so jolly and kind and so clearly thrilled to be in that sweaty steaming hole because outside was the glittering city of Venice, that I loved them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Burano and Torcello Don't Wear Gold Chains

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Venice.

Burano turned out to be charming.  The rains stopped as we motored out of the Murano canals, and by the time we’d reached Burano, the clouds had lifted above her church towers and let through a little watery sunlight.  We could see clear across the island.
            Once upon a time, Burano was a fishing village. Today the Buranese commute to the mainland, or make lace and bake shortbread cookies, and live in square houses painted bright primary colors. 

It appeared that nobody on the boat was collecting commissions from the lace factories – on shore we were let loose to walk through the little town. The lace was impressive, but we decided that the cookies were an elaborate practical joke on the tourists.  We fed ours to a flock pigeons.  Who hiccuped and gave us looks of deep distaste.  

Because of the wet, the streets were mostly empty and we were mostly alone – the colors of the houses were extraordinary – 

Pink, and purple, and yellow, and blue, and green, and orange, and bright red and bright yellow.  Alone in the damp streets, with the rain  to muffle our steps, it was none of it quite real, like walking through a stage set after  the set-builders have left and before the cast has come on stage –

And then we went to Torcello.  Torcello was the first island to be settled in the lagoon. In the tenth century there were ten thousand people living here, and the island was a bright and dynamic trading center with a forward looking future ahead of it. In the 12th Century the harbor silted up and the population decamped to the islands that are now Venice.  Today the island is a long, empty stretch of tidal marsh, with a ruined 11th century basillica on the west side of the island (currently undergoing restoration) a small museum with a guard who liked his wet afternoons sleepy, thank you signori, and hid behind his desk when we knocked, and a few small houses with vegetable gardens alongside.  
            Sic transit gloria mundi, but after the close quarters of Venice, it was fresh and pleasant and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  And I fell down the rain-slick steps of an iron bridge and sprained my shoulder.  It's mostly better now.