Invisible City pt. 3

“In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no-one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away” – Calvino, trans. William Weaver

They drink quite a lot, in Venice. In the south of Italy, alcohol seems confined mainly to the aperitivo and the wine with dinner; too hot, too sluggish perhaps to drink your way round the dusty streets of Naples or through the shadows of Palermo, especially filled with spaghetti or the fat doughy pizza of Sicily. The south runs more on their oily thimbles of coffee than anything else.

That’s not to say that Venice is constantly sloshed, awash with binge-drinking gondoliers, fishmongers, restaurateurs, wine merchants, sellers of glass and tat, although the pre-Lenten carnival presumably affords some opportunities for public drunkenness; although (relatively) northern and seafarers to boot, their drinking is restrained in comparison to your Dane, your German, and your Swagbellied Hollander, let alone our own fair nation.

It’s more that Venice affords so many different opportunities for drinking; every hour of the day and of the night seems to have its own particular drink, whether a little shadow of wine, a good, cooling beer, an expansively refreshing spritz or a glass of medicinal bitters. At one or two in the afternoon the bars around the Rialto market are full to bursting; the butchers, the fishermen and the greengrocers have all been up since the very early hours of the morning, and they need a drink.

This is good; obviously, it’s good, but it’s especially so because a lot of the best (and certainly some of the best value) food in Venice is found in bars, in the form of cicheti, little snacks on toothpicks or rounds of toasted baguette or, very often, squares of grilled white polenta; more substantially, you might have slices of good, dense sausage or halves of sandwiches, with tuna, egg, creamed radicchio, salami or bresaola stuffed between the cheapest white bread.

You finally see where all those artichokes from the market go; they end up here, trimmed and simply cooked, between the frittata and the crostini, in the glass case on this small bar in this long, narrow room, hung about with pots and lined with barrels and bottles, which contain sweet honeyed whites, inscrutable reds, and, of course, the abundant and quite surprisingly cheap prosecco. Apparently it even comes defizzed.

Although expensive, crowded, prone to flooding, trashy, smelly, labyrinthine and the rest, it is hard not to love a place which revolves so closely around this daily cycle of eating and drinking; where Fernet Branca is an acceptable breakfast food, and where there is always time for a snack and a little glass of something, out of the shade.


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