Saturday, September 29, 2012

Venice: Harvest from Land and Sea

It was a frantic week, searching Venice in vain for things that are VIOLA.  My mistake?  I didn't wake up early enough!  A plethora of purple is to be found at the marketplace, but you have to catch sight of it before it's cooked and eaten.

We'll start before the bounty reaches the marketplace, on the tiny Island of Burano, where the fishermen get up before dawn...

For centuries, the small community of 450 fishermen on the island of Burano (situated in the lagoon north of Venice) have provided fresh fish for the famous Rialto Marketplace in Venice.  The women of Burano, since the 16th century, have been renowned for their lace-making, a trade introduced from Cyprus, which was then ruled by Venetians. 

The bright colors of the Burano houses follow a special system originating from the golden age of its development.  If someone wishes to paint their home, they must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of certain colors permitted for that lot.  It is said that the colors were useful to delineate the properties, and also so that fishermen could see their homes from the sea. 

Burano's boats, parked along the edges of the canals, are as colorful as their houses.  There is a small, open-air fish market on Burano, but most of the catch is delivered to the famous, bustling Rialto Market in Venice.

On his way to the market, here is a typical Venetian shopper.  Try to picture carrying home heavy bags of groceries, over bridges and up flights of stairs, without this wheeled carrier.  When entering a grocery store, many of these personal carts are parked in rows near the checkout stand, waiting to be filled up by shoppers.

We're at Rialto's Pescheria, or fish market.  Along with fruit and vegetable stands, and kiosks of cheeses, the Rialto Market is one of the liveliest spots in Venice.  The Pescheria has been located in this commercial section of Venice since the 14th century. 

According to the book, Secret Venice, the ancient trade of comprovendi pesce, or fishmonger, was restricted to elderly fishermen who had worked at least 20 years at sea, and were over the age of 50.  As a reward for their hard work, the Venetian Republic set aside this trade exclusively for them, allowing the men to end their working life away from the risks of the sea.

This is fresh tonno, or tuna from the northeast Atlantic for €17.80/kilo.  The Italians use tuna in many of their delicious sauces for pasta.

These are spada, or swordfish, fillets, and pieces of salmon.  On a building near the Pescheria, is an old, marble plaque that displays the regulated lengths each type of fish must have before it can be sold.  These "rules-of-length" were rigorously enforced and were intended to protect the fish during breeding season.  The rules still apply today.

Here is a whole pesche spada, or swordfish, along with some shrimp and losters.  Behind, you can see the columns of the open-air Rialto Fishmarket building.  At the tops of each column are beautiful capitals decorated with sea creatures such as crabs, lobsters, squid, octopus and seahorses.

The purple eye of a swordfish.

Octopus flowers.

Calamari Freschi Vivi, or fresh live squid.  Creepy eyes.

Next to the fishmarket, on a building occupied by the State Courts, is a wrought iron gate with a Latin inscription that reads "piscis primum a capite foetet" which means "fish begins to stink from the head".  As the Secret Venice book says, "this could be a warning to the inexperienced customers buying fish, or it could be a metaphorical warning against the dangers of power corrupting those who possess it, with the 'head' being the first part of the body politic to go rotten".  

One of the artists here at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica has fig trees, and she would bring in baskets of delicious ripe figs for everyone. 

Uva Fragola, or grapes with a strawberry flavor, can be purchased from any fruit vendor here.  They are used to make the famous Fragolino dessert wine.  There is a monestery within the city of Venice that grows Uva Fragola grapes that possibly decend from vines dating back to 1253.

The Rialto marketplace.  Beyond this stall, you can see the pallazi that line the Canal Grande.

Nostrani means home-grown, which likely refers to being grown in small farms on outlying islands in the Venetian lagoon.

Purple eggplants.

Purple lettuce.

And finally, a purple garnish.  The sign says that the rosmarino (rosemary) and the salvia (sage) are grown on the neighboring island of Sant' Erasmo, from where Venice receives much of its local fruits and vegetables.  We have rosemary and bay growing right in the garden of the Scuola.

Venetians are people of the sea - fishermen and sailors.  My friend, an instructor at the Scuola, gave me a tour of her friend's boat, moored at a marina on the north side of the Castello district.  The pride in the owner's eyes spoke of an ancestral connection to the sea.  After seeing the boat, we went on to a lovely, quiet restaurant to dine on fresh, fried calamari, zucchini, cauliflower,  and sweet, white wine.  Buon appetito!  

VERDE = Giardino 
Venetian gardens are primarily secret, but perhaps I can get a peek during the week...


  1. You've done it again, Wendy!! Fabulous photos.
    Remember this time last year at Bowen Barn? They (Jody and Brian) are hosting another musical gala this Sunday and it's making me think of the super time we all had then.
    Enjoy every minute of your last month in Venice !

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