Saturday, May 28, 2005

Day 12: Venice

Another early morning watching the Campo wake up....this is one of the great pleasures of our location and the balcony. After breakfast, we walk over to the synagogue for Saturday morning services that begin at 9 am (or so we were told by the guide on our synagogue tour). At 8:45 am, there is no one around except for us, a older man in a red baseball hat and a man and wife...the man carrying a tallis. We wonder if we have the time right when....precisely at 9 am....the doors of the synagogue are opened and we go in. Our documents are scrutinized by one of the security staff (he asks where we have come from, Diana answers Washington DC but he wants to know where we are staying in Venice) and Diana has to leave her pocketbook at the entrance.

The synagogue is up one flight of this orthodox synagogue, they don't use the regular women's gallery located near the ceiling but they have sectioned off one half of the main floor behind a screen for the women who come to pray. The room is very large with extremely high ceilings. There are large arched windows on three sides; as the service begins they are being opened to let in some air. This synagogue--called the Levantine--is used in the summer; the German synagogue across the campo is used during the winter, because it has a heating system.

We are there at the very beginning of the service...the rabbi sits in a chair to the right of the ark and chants very rapidly in Hebrew. At the start, there are just over 10 people in the congregation but during the half hour we are there, the number grows to about thirty men and five women. As people arrive, some go to the front and shake hands with the rabbi as well as greeting other members of the congregation. There is a lot of participation by the congregation as the rabbi flies through the service. Most of the men are middle aged or older; there are only a few in their 20s and 30s and only one teenager, who marches around the synagogue as if he owns the place.

For me the service is impossible to follow. Diana who knows the service much better than I does a bit better (and her prayerbook has some Italian in it) but it is very moving to see the enthusiasm of the congregation and to think about the history of the Jews in Venice and their struggles. One interesting thing is the way that the men put on their tallis, not merely draping it over their shoulders, but dramatically unfurling the cloth and wrapping it around their heads (not unlike an Arab head covering) before putting it on over their shoulders. (D: They pray in the Sephardic mode, with no "tunes" that are recognizable to me. The rabbi has a nice voice and two other men also take turns in leading the chanting. The congregation chimes in loudly at the end of prayers and in the ones that are done responsively. Next time I or we will stay longer.)

We leave after about a half an hour...we are not sure if the security person is disapproving as he returns Diana's pocketbook...but we have an appointment at the very luxurious Hotel Cipriani to meet the marketing manager and have a tour. I have two clients staying there in the next month so I want to take the opportunity to check it out. The Grand Canal vaporetto takes about 45 minutes to reach Piazza San Marco (the #1 boat makes every stop and there are lots of tourists getting on and off and much jockeying for position). There we have to pick up the Cipriani private launch that takes guests to the hotel on the Giudecca Island about five minutes away from San Marco. The Cipriani is a park like oasis in the crowded city....beautiful gardens, comfortable public rooms, lots of staff ready to help you and an Olympic size swimming pool.

The marketing manager, a very pleasant young woman, takes us around the property apologizing, since the hotel is full, that she can't show us any rooms. But we do see the dining rooms, the tennis courts, the private apartments, the new reception area and the spa. finishing off with cool drink near the pool. The launch takes us back to San Marco and to a sort of different reality...if you can characterize Venice as "reality".

We return to the jewelry shop near the Accademia to show the owner the necklace that Diana bought there on a previous trip....he explains that the reason that the price was so much lower is that it was made from broken pieces of glass and the most recent purchase is made from intact pieces. We then ask him for a recommendation for a place to eat in the neighborhood and he recommends the Ristorante San Trovaso which has just opened a new place with a garden. We take his advice and have a pleasant lunch though, even in the shade of umbrellas in the garden, it is still quite warm. I have a wonderful plate of spaghetti alle vongole, these clams bigger and meatier that those usually used in the dish in Italy. Diana has her standard prosciutto and melon, the melon not quite as good as previous ones but the prosciutto is delicious. We have dessert at the gelateria on the Giudecca Canal....very good ice cream at a table with a view of the Giudecca Canal. It is only steps to the vaporetto dock and we have a pleasant ride on an empty vaporetto with a cool sea breeze back to the stop near the hotel.

While Diana reads, I head out to look at one more hotel, the Locanda del Gaffaro, where I have booked a room for a client later in the month. The hotel is not far from the Piazzale Roma and the train station in an area that I don't know very well. I am surprised how quiet and peaceful it is, being within minutes of the hustle and bustle of the station and the entrance to Venice. I find the hotel and have a brief chat with the owner who also can't show me any rooms because of the hotel is fully booked. I pick up a few brochures and start wandering in some of the back canals of the area. I suddenly find myself back near the Rialto and as I cross the bridge, the heat finally gets to me and I choose to take a vaporetto back.

After a shower and a rest, we have to decide about where to go to dinner.....and we both agree that we don't have the energy (the heat has taken its toll; it has been at least 85 degrees every day) to go too far afield or to have too elaborate a meal. We head to the neighborhood restaurant around the corner--Al Faro--where we had eaten pizza two days before. On this Saturday night at 8 pm, we are surprised to see that the place is packed and there is not one outside table free. Many of the tables are filled with families with young children and the kids treat the outdoor dining area as their personal running track. But the wait staff and the other customers are very tolerant of children (as we have found all over Italy). We wait for about ten minutes for a table and then wait for a much longer time for our pizzas...but we have wine and are in a relaxed (or exhausted) mood. We both order the same kind pizza that I had enjoyed on our previous visit, topped with sausage, cheese and arugula--and the pizza is good again. We get the check and return to the Campo for our last night in Venice.

Tomorrow we head north and west for Trento and the Dolomiti and hopefully some cooler temperatures.


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