the gondolier

The twenty year veteran Gondolier whistled, I just called to say I love you, as we floated down the Sansiere san Polo.

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This boat really is romantic, travelling between the water corridors around the Grand Canal tipping to the hard right when floating under the bridges at high tide.

Venice is not a tiny island; it is 114 islands and 450 bridges.

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Before 1800 there were no bridges. It originated when Romans were fleeing the Barbarians on the mainland. It is easy for me to get lost, which really doesn’t take much. Even Jim got lost, which is really hard to do since he has an inborn GPS.

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Today the city is populated with 70,000 permanent residents; that’d be about the same size as our hometown.

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This town makes Toronto look unicultural.

We have the Bay and Sears, while Venice has Gucci, Prada, Armani, Armani Jr…better get school shopping done, hee hee.

What our towns have in common is industry, primarily government, if you consider that industry (BTW I really don’t). There is also tourism, he says. No kidding. This very city’s tourism makes the entire country of Italy look like a village.

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The gondolier explained different buildings that individual families lived in these massive homes. He knew the architectural periods, which ones housed scuolas, which were apartment buildings, which ones were too cold and too rotten to inhabit.

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He explained to me that this church was named after Santa Lucia. He had to prevent himself from rolling his eyes when I asked who she was, one of the major patron saints.

He explained that Angelina Jolie filmed in that building for Accidental Tourist. The Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, is obviously situated here. Popular place!

If you want to eat well, ask a local. The gondolier directed us toward the Il Migliore.

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Prosecco (a bubbly white), risotto with scampi, crunchy bruschetta, and zuppa de verdure were divine.

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Atmosfera: sitting alongside the canal, fishing boat resting beside me, Hispanic quartet of accordions, mouth accordion, and guitar playing When the Moon Hits the Sky, like a big pizza pie…ah, yes, I AM in love.

the jewish ghetto of venice

No one wanted to plan for pesce…the Adriatic sea offerings. But when in Rome… The cuttle fish ink pasta wasn’t in any of our repertoires. The antipasto plate was perfetto: sardines, escargot, octopus, oysters, something resembling an oversized shrimp that covered the length of my plate, calamari (not breaded), and octopus, of course. There was also a mound of tripe? in the center of the plate…if you like fishy-flavoured connective tissue, this is the fish for you. My favourite was the white fish mush…I asked what they called everything, but I didn’t understand all his explanations…But the cod? mashed in a slurry: molto bueno!

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We had to wait till seven, as this is Italian custom (and the ristorantes aren’t open). Combine the fish plate with the verdura—which really was the funghi plate, and the kids were a little underwhelmed at our final dinner in Venice. Papparedelle was an easy winner. With an afternoon gelato around our typical dinnertime, we can accomplish a late dinner though. With all the walking we’ve done, I actually don’t think our waists have absorbed the consequences. The vacanza di camminare.

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Instead of a game of Where’s Waldo, the kids have been seeing a common thread from our culture: Rick Steves’ guidebooks. Take a glance at the book someone is carrying, and you know what country they’re from. They are everywhere. Rick Steves should be proud.

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Today we headed to the museum of the Jewish Ghetto. The holocaust has always been of interest to me, but listening to the tour reminded me I didn’t have my history straight. When the tour guide talked of Napoleon leading the Jews into a few months of segregational freedom, my mind was whirring.

Hannah saddled alongside me: Napoleon wasn’t in World War II mom.

Venice was the site of the first Jewish Ghetto (or foundary) in Europe, in 1516; consequence of the Spanish Inquisition. Gates and bolts were formed around this tightly housed neighbourhood of low-ceilinged apartments on the Easternmost side of this island. Ghetto residents could only leave for short periods with an armband of a yellow circle or heart. For a very few short months, Napoleon Bonaparte declared equality for all mankind; some left that ghetto.

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Twelve years later, they were allowed to build their synagogues; we stood in three of them. They are as ornate as any Catholic duomo, but the Roman Catholic church didn’t give them permission to use the gold that their churches used. There were tiny frescoes crowning the windows, stories in the Book of Exodus. To this day, weddings still take place in the tiny synagogue, reminder that God will maintain his people, no matter how many persecutions they face.

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There was no ghetto in World War 2, of course…not in Venice anyway; 1,200 Jews were already living in Venice at the time. Twenty five percent of them, 246 of the mentally ill, sick or uncared for, were deported: they first travelled to Bologna by train, then sent to Auschwitz. Only eight returned home.

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Today, 504 Jews live in Venice.

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The best place to purchase books for the kiddos on history or science is in these museum bookstores. Of course, this one is primarily Italian, but there is a small section of Inglese, where I found the Jewish approved Diary of Anne Frank. Hannah and I are both engrossed in this adolescent tale. A very different flavor from the recent adolescent hit, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

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Probably I didn’t get enough museum exposure when I was a kid, hence the passionate interest. My curiosity piques as I see the world through my children’s eyes.