Shots of Everyday Venice

Venice is not only St. Mark's Square and the Rialto. It's a living, breathing city. Here are a few images of everyday life.


Trip to Poveglia

My Trip to Poveglia

There’s a group of three small islands in the Venice lagoon known as Poveglia (po-VAYL-ya), which is supposed to be one of the most haunted places on Earth. It was used as a place to bury the dead during the plague, and later was used as the location for an insane asylum. One of the islands is said to be composed of about 50% human ash, as they burned thousands of corpses of those who died during the plague. 

Venetians are generally afraid of it, and few people will take you there. It’s long abandoned, the buildings are in a state of severe decay, and the island is covered in trees and a thick growth of vines and blackberry bushes. It’s impenetrable, except for a few narrow paths.

I met a nice young couple who had found a tour company to take them there. Actually, there was no tour, and no guide, and we never saw a representative of this company. When we showed up at the appointed place, which was one of the taxi stands near St. Mark’s, there was only a taxi driver waiting for us.

We got into the boat and introduced ourselves. I told them I wrote horror novels. I hadn’t thought about the affect this might have, but immediately the young woman became apprehensive. Maybe even downright afraid. She was heading to an abandoned haunted island with a man they didn’t know, who writes horror. It would have scared me, too.

She said it was a great start to a novel. The nice innocent twenty-something couple from Canada go to the most haunted place in the world with the old horror writer guy. She told me that it would have to have a happy ending, so far as they were concerned. I told her that that’s not how it works.

We had a lovely ride across the lagoon. Then in the island came into sight, marked by a bell tower, and a thick growth of vines, bushes, and trees. The driver dropped us off at a pier at about 8:30 am, and promised to come back at 1:00 pm to get us.

The girl took comfort in the fact that there were several sail boats moored near the island. They often go there because it’s quiet and out of the way. So, she could scream for help should the need arise.

We began our exploration by walking about the perimeter. We soon came to a building and went in. It was full of old abandoned equipment, and we determined that it had been the laundry.

After exploring several spooky and debris-scattered rooms, we ventured off into the jungle that makes up most of the island.

For an abandoned island where it’s technically not legal to go, the paths through the bush are well defined, for the most part. There were a few places where I had to use my little Leatherman scissors to cut blackberry vines, but we generally found decent paths.

As we walked, hundreds of little lizards scurried out of our way, making an eerie rushing noise through the underbrush. A little before noon we were tired and hungry, and stopped in a shady brick boathouse to have lunch. I had brought a bottle of wine, some cheese, bread sticks, and prosciutto. We sat and ate and drank and had a very nice time.

I was impressed that this young couple came to Venice and found the most unusual thing to do you could think of. No one else they know, or I know, will have done it. Most importantly, they love Venice. 

All in all, I didn’t find Poviglia all that spooky. I was more concerned with being injured by the debris on the floor, or by part of the ceiling falling on us. I didn’t feel any presences, and was never afraid. The scariest thing that happened was when a young man who was part of a group filming a music video jumped screaming out of the bushes with two machetes. He thought that was pretty funny.

I’ll let the photos say the rest.

An Owl in Venice

When one thinks of Venice, one does not think of Owls. Yeah, we got pigeons, rats, seagulls, and even scorpions. But owls?

Late one morning as I came home from meeting friends for coffee, I walked off the vaporetto and across the grassy lawn of Sant’Elena toward my house. Something sitting in the grass caught my eye. I walked over to see what it was. There in the hot sun sat a baby gray (or brown) owl. Cute as hell.

I approached it to see what it would do. It looked at me with large yellow eyes, and opened its mouth as though to screech, or something, but made no noise.

I went home wondering what should be done. There are a couple of cats around here, and a lot of dogs. And the poor thing sat in the hot sun, apparently unable to fly.

I went out with a large plastic shopping bag from the local grocery store. When I first tried to get him in, he flew about ten feet.

I was encouraged by that, and thought about leaving him to his own devices, but a kindly old man thought that he was not able to fly well enough. So, we herded him into the bag, and I took him to my storage room where he would be safe, and in the shade.

After checking around, we decided that it would be best to release him into a tree after dark near where I found him.

When I went out to get him, he was not in the bag. After a search of the storage room, I found him perched on a metal frame we had against one wall several feet from where the bag was.

I coaxed him into the bag (surprised that he didn’t fly away), and took him outside. The closest to where I found him is very tall, and the nearest branch is about twenty feet off the ground. Recently, the city had planted a group of small pine trees to replace ones taken out by a tornado a couple of years ago. The wooden poles attached to the trees to hold them up was a perfect perch. Karen and I went to the one nearest where I found him, and released him onto the perch.

That night, I went out later to look for him, but couldn’t find him. The following night, we heard him calling. I went out, followed the sound, and found him sitting on a branch about thirty feet above the ground. We’ve heard him every night since.

Shots of Venice June 29, 2014

This is a handful of shots I took this morning.

Early Morning, Afternoon, and Night

The light in Venice is great all the time, but particularly in the early morning and late afternoon. It's also wonderful at night. Here is a collection of shots from all times of day and night.

I've said it before, I'm sure, but one of the most interesting images to capture is the reflections in the canals. Sometimes the water is like a mirror. Other times, there are ripples of color and light.

As you go around Venice you never know what you're going to find. In this series is a picture of pigeon feathers spread on the pavement, in the midst of which is a splatter of blood (look carefully). I know that Sea Gulls have a taste for pigeon, so I figured that this poor creature met its end at the beak of a Gull.

A few yards up the street my suspicions were confirmed, as you can see from the pictures.

A Trip to the Islands

Today Venice had a special event whereby one could take a special boat to the various islands in the lagoon. We took the boat to the island of Mazzorbo, which is connected to Burano by a wooden bridge. On Mazzorbo is a wonderful bed and breakfast and restaurant known as Venissa, which sits on a property containing a vast garden and vineyard. We've eaten at the restaurant a couple of times. It's world class. But today, we simply walked through the property.

Burano is one of my favorite places around Venice. It's a pain to get there, but it's very interesting. The houses are small and brightly colored, with all sorts of fascinating things here and there. I've tried to capture some of these in the pictures below.

We ate lunch at a restaurant on Burano called Riva Rosa. I give it five stars. The service was some of the best I've had anywhere, the food was quite good, and the surroundings were very nice. They have a number of tables outside, but I felt they were too close together and too public. One table actually sits on a corner that is heavily traveled by tourists. So, we sat inside.

The walls and floors are bare brick, which is lovely, and the ceilings bare wooden beams. We had a special fixed-price menu, available as part of the special island day. It consisted of an appetizer of the Venetian specialty known as Sarde in Saor, risotto made with gho fish broth, fried calamari with vegetables, water, prosecco, and coffee. All for 45 Euros each. The Sarde and calamari are pictured below.

Sarde is fresh sardines that have been marinated in sweet and sour onions, with raisins and pine nuts. In this instance, it was served on a slab of white polenta. A gho fish is a small brown creature that's used to make the broth for seafood risotto. The fish itself is not part of the dish. It is used only to flavor the broth. If the fish breaks open, the broth is ruined because of the bitter flavor.

After lunch we took a traditional Venetian boat to the island of San Francesco del Deserto, known for a convent and monastery from the 12th century. In my opinion, it's not worth the trip for the average traveler. It has a beautiful grounds, and an ancient church, but it's not all that interesting considering the effort it takes to get there. 


More Random Shots of Venice

When you travel, you certainly need pictures of all the major sights. But in a place like Venice, which on the one hand has become (in some parts) a kind of Disney Land, there is an undercurrent of everyday life that is very interesting to photograph. Most of Venice is not inundated with tourists. It's a city where everyday life rolls along a bit differently than most other places. 

Night Shots of Venice

For me, one of the more enjoyable things to do in Venice is to go out at night taking pictures. The city is mysterious and quiet, and is perfectly safe. My favorite night shots are light trails. I put the camera on a tripod, put the camera in manual mode, set the iso at 200, and set the shutter speed to "bulb." I use a remote shutter release so I don't jiggle the camera. With the bulb setting, the shutter is open as long as I press the release. 

I may have adjusted the exposure of one or two of these in post processing, and I obviously cropped one of them, but that's it. There is nothing "photoshopped" here.

Random Shots around Venice

Here are some interesting and unusual things I've photographed over the past several days. Venice is packed with fascinating things and places, particularly if you get away from the maddening and soul-crushing crowds. Many of these places are on our Backstreets Tour.

Wagner and Verdi



At the edge of the public gardens, along the Riva dei Partigiani, facing the lagoon, stand busts of the German composer Richard Wagner (ri-KARD VAHG-ner), and Italian composer Giuseppi Verdi. Both were composers of opera, though of very different sorts, and both had a connection to Venice. Wagner died in Venice at what is now the Casino.

An interesting story is that Wagner, as a foreigner, went to the Café Lavana, and Verdi, as an Italian, went to Florian, but neither would consider going to the other café.

As I now live on Sant’Elena, I often walk past these busts. They are very well done and I like to look at them, and I’m a fan of their music. A couple of months ago I noticed that the noses on both busts had been broken off. I was horrified.

First, I noticed Wagner. Why would anyone do that? Well, Wagner’s views on race were pretty much along the lines of the Nazis. He hated Jews, and wrote essays to that effect. He was Hitler’s favorite composer. I’ve heard that his music is still not played in Israel.  I don’t know that to be a fact, but it makes sense. So, I thought that someone making a political statement might have done it. The youth of Italy often do so by vandalizing other people’s property, usually with graffiti.

Then I noticed Verdi, whose bust stands about fifteen feet away. His nose was broken, too. At that point I knew it was an act of pure vandalism. But who would want to hurt Verdi?

I went to the busts and looked around. Maybe there were bits of the noses. They are surrounded by thick bushes, and I didn’t find any. A bit further into the park, I noticed that one of the statues there had likewise been hit with a hammer. Bits of it were on the ground.



Who would do such a thing? Of course, I can only speculate. But I can’t imagine anyone other than a teenager doing it. The bushes surrounding these statues are large enough where the enterprising youth and several of his friends could fit under them and be out of sight of the rest of the world. There they could drink and smoke weed. Then what? One just happened to have a hammer and, being hammered himself, thinks it a good idea to bust up statues? Has he nothing better to do? 

Attention drug and/or alcohol impaired minors: By all means, destroy your mind and health with drugs and booze in preparation for your careers in menial and low-paying jobs. Do poorly in school, it’s a professional requirement. But kindly redirect your creative energies away from destroying national treasures to other, less reprehensible things. Shoplifting or purse snatching, for example.

Update with Photos

A lot has happened over the past year that I failed to blog about. This will be a short summary with photos and videos.

The bad news is that both of our dogs died. Sam, who was seventeen, died while we were in Portugal. Leopold, who was ten, died ten days later. We don't know why. That's all I want to say about that.

Because we no longer had the dogs, and because the rent was getting rather high, we decided it was time to move. We lived there in the first place because they took our dogs, and the apartment had a 600 square meter garden. Without the dogs, we were free to look around. We found a wonderful place on the island of Sant'Elena.

We also did some traveling. We went to Portugal, Turkey, and China.

I wrote a novel that is being published by a small publisher, Gemelli Press, that puts out books relating to Italy. the novel is a horror novel set in Venice. You can learn more about it here. I have another novel currently available on Amazon, which you can learn about here.

Anyway, here are some photos and very short videos relating to some of the things I mentioned above.

View looking down from our new terrace. It's hard to seem but there's a ladder with a lift platform on it. The platform is the light-colored thing right next to the house at the base of the ladder.

View looking down from our new terrace. It's hard to seem but there's a ladder with a lift platform on it. The platform is the light-colored thing right next to the house at the base of the ladder.

Deep Freeze in Venice

You may have read about the extremely cold weather hitting Europe. It even snowed in Rome. Venice is no exception. Although we have had a fall and winter relatively free of high water and bad weather, it is now quite cold. If you came here during the summer when the weather is akin to Houston or Miami, you may not believe it. But here are a few pictures to prove it. I took all these the day before yesterday, except for the ones of the canal, which I took this morning.

Cooking Triglia (Red Mullet)

All Cleaned and ready to go. (I apologize for quality of the pictures, I took them with my iphone in dim light)
One of our favorite fishes normally consumed here is Triglia (pronounced "Trillia," also known as Red Mullet). Unlike the Bronzino (Sea Bass or Striped Bass) or the Orata (Bream or Gilthead), the Triglia has a firm and tasty flesh, similar to Cod. It would stand up in a stew, for example, when Bronzino or Orata would disintegrate.  

It's quite easy to cook a whole fish.

Make sure the fish man cleans and scales them. Wash them thoroughly before cooking.

Thyme, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper.
I mix the salt and pepper together because my
hands will get covered in fish gunk. I don't want
to be going back and forth between the shakers.
I stuff them with a bit of lemon zest, sliced garlic, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil. You could put orange zest, onions, peppers, or whatever, and it all could go outside the fish in the foil, rather than inside, because you make a little semi-airtight packet for each fish. You could even put white wine in there.

Once they are stuffed, I wrap them in foil, or in oven paper. Foil works just as well, it won't burn, and Giada says that she prefers it. That's good enough for me. 

I wrap them up, pinch the edges to seal it, and put them in an oven at about 350F. The great part is, they will steam in their own juices (although you can add water or wine) and it's nearly impossible to over-cook them. These are small fish, so I bake them for about 20 minutes. That may be tool long in some people's book, but I like them to fall apart.

All stuffed and ready to go.
With it we served steamed  broccoli, but that's what we saw good at the market. You could serve about any vegetable. It would also be good with rice, but we didn't serve a starch.

Let it sit for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven, and be careful when you open the package, that steam is hot!

The fish all wrapped in their foil packets, ready for the oven.
We plated it up with the broccoli with grated parm, and that was dinner. I drank a dry white wine, and Karen (hold your hand over your mouth, or get to a sink) drank tea with milk.
Plated, with some parm grated over the broccoli.
The after picture

These are peppers I grew in the garden
(They have nothing to do with this recipe)

Motor Covers in Venice

Bed sheet boat cover

Yesterday I went for a walk to the Rialto area to visit a bookstore where they sell used books in English. They also take books in trade, giving you credit for so much per book. It's a nice system, and we have a fair amount on account, but the store is seriously over-priced. They took my books and I picked up another used book.

On the way to the store I noticed a boat covered in what looked like a bed sheet. That gave me the idea to take pictures of boat covers. Then I saw a cover of an outboard motor that convinced me to take pictures of them. There turned out to be many more interesting motor covers than boat covers, so I decided to dedicate a blog to them. 

Indian blanket motor cover
I find it amazing in general the poor condition of many of the small private boats in Venice. They cost money to buy, they cost money to maintain, and they cost money to park on a canal. Many of them are in deplorable condition caused purely by neglect (subject for another post). You would not expect a Venetian, a member of a culture built on the sea (literally and figuratively) and on seamanship, would allow his boat to go into disrepair. Even to the point of sinking at the pier. 

I asked my friend Guido why they covered the motors in things like T-shirts, that had no apparent function in protecting the it. He said that they are to keep people from stealing the cover of the motor. I admit that it might slow a thief down, but none of them look, I don't know, impenetrable. In any event, I didn't realize that the covers, rather than the motors themselves, were of any value, other than as a cover of the motor to which it is attached.
Raggedy motor cover
Tank top motor cover

T-shirt motor cover
Gramma's tablecloth motor cover

Early Morning Shots in Venice

Yesterday I caught some sunrise shots at St. Mark's. This is a great time of year to get early morning shots in Venice because the sun comes up just before 8:00 across the basin from St. Mark's, just to the left of San Giorgio Maggiore. In the summer the sun comes up two hours earlier and behind the buildings that run along the Riva degli Schiavoni. Also at this time of year the sky is clearer because of lower humidity. But no matter what time of year you come, very early morning is the best time to be at St. Mark's, because there are no crowds. You nearly have the place to yourself. These pictures are just as they came out of the camera, I didn't make any adjustments or cropping.

"Why is your wife better than you?"

I have been told at least three times in the past four days that my wife is better than I am. A waiter, the Pharmacist, and a friend come to mind immediately. There may be more, but you’d have to ask her. Sometimes the statement was couched as a declaration, and sometimes as a question, as in “why is your wife better than you?” (which assumes that it’s true and that I know it, in contrast to the statement, which means “you may not know it, but . . .”)

My answer is usually something like, “that’s what everyone says,” or “that’s because she’s smarter.” (me being funny). The statement that she is better than I is made in the specific context that she speaks Italian better than I do, not that she is better in general. For that reason, what they say is true.

We have been here for four years, and struggle still with Italian. I bought medicine for the dog today, which is done at a regular pharmacy. I asked for it in Italian. The head pharmacist corrected my pronunciation of the name of the medicine (although I could discern no material difference between what she said and what I had said). The assistant pharmacist told me the price in Italian, which I fully understood. The head pharmacist repeated the price in English. I told her (in English) that I knew the numbers in Italian. She said “yes, but you prefer to speak English.” Yes, I told her, because then I know what I’m saying. This is when she enlightened me as to my wife’s superiority in speaking Italian. She’s much more fluent, she said.

There is a profound but very simple reason she is better than I am at speaking Italian: she works at it. She studies books, conjugates verbs, writes stuff in a notebook, watches Italian TV. I don’t do any of that. When I see a newspaper headline, I think to myself “I wonder what that says.” I can pick out some of the words, but not the words that give material meaning to the headline. I might take a picture with my iPhone and try to translate it, but that is only if I’m feeling extraordinarily ambitious.

Another problem is, as the episode with the pharmacist illustrates, even if I speak to them in Italian, they answer me in English. I have more than once found myself in the absurd situation of being the only one speaking Italian. So, I don’t need it day-to-day. And to the extent that I do need it, I know it. For example, I can order a meal, red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, regular beer and dark beer. I can say “this,” “that,” “those,” and “these,” and I know the numbers and most of the weights. I know the names of many vegetables and some meat. I can tell someone to keep going straight, turn right or left, and stuff like that. What else is there?

Yes, as you say, I might want to carry on a nuanced philosophical discussion but, for the most part, I haven’t found anyone to do it with. (and those with whom I might like to carry on such a conversation would, necessarily, need to be highly educated and, therefore, more fluent in English than I’ll ever be in Italian). I can’t stand TV, even in the US, and I don’t read the papers, though I should, I suppose.

The other day the doorbell rang. I went down to see who it was, and there was a man with a clipboard who started to talk real fast in Italian. I don’t like guys with clipboards. They are always trying to get something, usually money, or they are some government weenie coming to bust my chops about something. As he jabbered, I thought I understood what he was saying, but I couldn’t believe it. I thought he said there was a new restaurant in town, and they are giving out free bottles of prosecco (white sparkling wine), would I like one? He stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. I thought he was taking orders on his little clipboard. Or maybe he really asked me how many TVs were in the house (they tax those things, believe it or not). I didn’t know what to do. Is it possible he wants to give me a free bottle of wine? Nah. I looked out the door behind the man, and there was a lad pushing a big cart stacked with cases of prosecco. The man held out a bottle for me to take. By God! I understood him at native speed! Of course, I took the wine in disbelief, thanked him, and went upstairs.

So, I am not as bad as everyone says. But for now, I am willing to admit that my wife is better than I am. Anyone who has talked to the two of us together knows that. When that changes, I’ll write the blog in Italian. Ciao.

One of the most interesting things about Venice is that it is a mixture of the old and new. That is, old buildings are used for new purposes. The Dogana point (the old customs house) and the Palazzo Grassi are used as contemporary art museums. The schools in Venice are located on fourteenth century Palazzi. Here are a couple of photos of a school, and through the window you can see a basketball hoop hanging in the gym.

Some Random Shots

It's fun to walk around Venice looking for random stuff to photograph. 

In the photo to the left, the sun lit some stars and flags.

Near the Rialto is a small bar that is literally a hole in the wall, open to the outside with about enough room inside for two people. Yet, they have a big TV on the wall and a rather elaborate stereo system.

 One of the local grocery stores had these salamis shaped like my dog Leopold, which the Italians call Leopoldo. We sometimes just call him Pold. They not only look like him, they have his name.

One of the specialties of Venice is a dish called "Sepia Nero," which is a sauce made with the ink of the cuttlefish, which the Venetians call "Sepia." It takes some getting used to because it is black. Sometimes served with spaghetti, sometimes rice, and sometimes just polenta, the cornmeal staple of Venice. Here are some Sepia in their natural form. You must try it, though, because it's usually quite good, an the effects on your teeth are amusing and temporary.

These are some random fish that seemed to be calling to me for help. I believe they are beyond saving.

Right: one of my favorite watering holes decorated for Christmas
 Roasted pork at a stand in Campo San Polo

Even kids have to wear boots during high water.
How not to park a boat

Rosary for the really bad kids -->

What's for dinner, mom?

One of my local heroes. Them's big jugs of wine.

An out of the way shrine

                             Raw licorice 
 Did you know that an artichoke is merely the flower of a thistle?

Everything in Venice comes in by boat, even cement.

Creative fish display at the Rialto Fish Market

Chinese art installation during the Biennale

A view from my dentist's chair

I didn't know you had to use any gimmicks to get kids to eat baloney

In Venice when you graduate with their version of a doctorate  you may go through a hazing ceremony where they dress you up funny in something related to your degree, make you read horrible things about yourself, throw gunk on you, and make you drink. I have seen these people not able to get up. The bottle is usually taped to a hand.

The street lamps in Venice are tinted rose and make great shadows

There are scorpions in Venice

This is one of the most interesting vegetables I have ever seen. It is a green cauliflower, and is a big point, which is covered in smaller points, which are covered in smaller points, ad infinitum, all of which are identical. 

On of the more interesting (and hard to find) wells in Venice. It is in a public space, but not exactly on the beaten path. If you ever find it, send me a picture.

My fish guy in Campo Santa Margherita is cleaning one of the other treasures of the sea eaten in Venice. Unlike the Greeks, who generally grill the tentacles, the Venetians usually eat it cold chopped up in a salad with celery. I don't know what it is about celery and octopus, but they go together like peaches and cream. A delicious combination.