In Venice, ancient city of mariners and merchants, we rented a second floor apartment facing Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. This wide avenue, once a waterway, now a canal of stone and cement, swirls with grandmothers pushing children too old to be in umbrella strollers (but in them anyway), schoolchildren, businesspeople. Here, the tolling bell of a neighborhood church awakens us each morning, calling parishioners to mass. We hear the creaks and groans of shutters pushed aside, the metallic grate of gates opened in front of tiny shops and markets and bars.
Men set up temporary market stalls, hawking cheeses, bread, fish—and enormous piles of fresh, rose-colored shrimp. One vendor teases/taunts us, tearing off the raw crustacean’s head and legs in a practiced move and offering it to us as a sample. To see if they’re fresh? Or merely as a dare? I smile and shake my head and point back to the vendor, taunting him in turn. He shrugs his burly fishnet-hauling shoulders and sucks it out of the shell—like a pimento out of an olive—raises an eyebrow and nods in exaggerated appreciation. I laugh and purchase a mound for dinner.
We move on to the small grocer, pointing to cuts of meat and gesturing with our hands to show the butcher how much we want. He chuckles at our clumsy efforts, and we all wish we knew more Italian, but we muddle through. We return home to deposit our culinary treasures—crusty bread, garlic, olive oil, fresh, bulbous mozzarella, fat bell peppers, wine—all we need to make a wonderful local meal in our tiny kitchen. We take the afternoon to tour in relaxed fashion, off the beaten path, stumbling into tiny churches that smell of beeswax and feature soot smeared oil paintings, winding through alleys and over countless bridges. As the shadows grow deep, we return to the apartment and swing open the shutters, watching as the locals gather.
Across from us, five small, round tables are set up each eve in front of a small bar. Old women in stockings that cut into fat calves—far below the hems of their skirts—deliver tiny glasses of grappa to their silent, grumpy looking counterparts. All sit, facing out to the street, watching the next generation return home from work, teens rollerblade by, a team of young men in bright blue soccer uniforms pass a ball back and forth. Four men gather in a tight circle, gesticulating in the unique way of Italians, alternately laughing and shouting. A trio of women hover over a young mother, cooing and smiling at her infant. Another frowns at a couple of young lovers walking by. They shrug off her disapproval and move on.
It’s clear that there isn’t a stranger among them and that if we joined in, we’d disrupt their evening gathering. So we find contentment in simply being near enough to feel the ebb and flow along this stone canal, lifting our glasses and silently toasting our temporary neighbors. Salute. Cin-cin.