Venetian and Italian vibe

Venetian and Italian vibe

Venetian and Italian vibe

Reuters photo

I step into the little shop, calling: Ciao Alberto!

He freezes for a moment, puzzled, shocked. At an instant we are in an embrace. We hold each other for a while. Time stops, or in better words, time comes back. It is a big step for me. A step 20 years back. 

Here I’m in Venice after almost 20 years of absence. My big step is to my past, to my city, to my beloved friends in Venice. I used to live here for a while, and some unfortunate twist of fate set me apart from my city of dreams for a long, long time. I made a wild decision to make a comeback to my dear old city as a gift to myself for my birthday. Last minute tickets purchased at the last moment, and here I’m back again. 

Alberto Valese is one of the best, for me undoubtedly the best ebru artisan in the world. He is the king of the art of marbled paper. Marbled paper or Carta marmorazzita is one of the Venetian arts clearly having deep rooted links with the Ottoman world. Ebru, deriving its name from the Persian word for cloud, was one of the most important minor arts in the Ottoman Istanbul. Alberto was interested in this craft as a young student in Venice, and later he mastered the art by paying several trips to Turkey.
His talent was even recognized by Mustafa Düzgünman, the legendary Ebru master of all times. He has modestly but steadily improved his art ever since then. I knew about him even before I came to Venice in the 1980s, when I had a UNESCO scholarship to study stone conservation. Before my arrival in Venice, Alberto was in my top list of persons to meet. However I was too shy, I remember making several passes by his shop watching him, but too timid to introduce myself. Eventually, fate intervened, and we met at a dinner party. It was a wonderful Venetian table of all the good things from the lagoon, wonderfully cooked by Laura Balich. 

Now another story unfolds. Laura has been my key to many good things in Venice. We met at a bar, introduced by my course assistant Paolo Panin. The bar where we met had no name but was known as Lily’s by the locals. It was a meeting point for all, open till the late hours through the night. The place no longer exists but the Venetian vibe lingers at many other locations. My first night out in Venice after 20 years is all about discovering new places that are carrying on the spirit of the good old days. I still recognize faces in the city, and even better people remember me, sometimes by my face, sometimes by my smell! A couple of times I was asked “Patchouli?” It has been 20 years since I wore the scent, but remembering my days in Venice, I tucked a small flacon in my purse before hopping on the plane. After all, it was what I was wearing when I met Alberto and Laura…

Laura hosts the vocalist Pau of the rock group Negrita. After their concert in Teatro Malibran, we take a tour in the canals of Venice by Tomaso’s boat. Under the full moon I recall a song of Negrita: “Forse é un sogno brutto; Passerá!” (Perhaps it is a bad dream; It will pass!”) 

It might be true, may be it was a bad dream, it never happened, I never left Venice, and Venice stayed with me. It is as if some magic unwound the clock, taking me on a journey to the past. I repeat to myself, “Passerá! Passerá! é stata un sogno brutto”...

Recipe of the Week: Another typical thing Venice and Istanbul have in common is the “fondi,” or artichoke bottoms. The “fondo” is the bottom of an artichoke and, like in Istanbul, they are sold readily cleaned in a pool of acidulated water. In Italy, it is only in Venice that the tender base part of the artichoke is used, just like we do in Turkey. Rialto market is full of artichoke bottoms these days, and this recipe is so irresistibly delicious but easy to make. It is from the book “Venezia e suoi sapori,” my birthday gift from Laura. 

Take a large pan enough to have 8 artichoke bottoms in a single layer. Pour about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Heat the oil and add 2 cloves of garlic, smashed but left whole. When you start to feel the smell of garlic released, take the cloves off the pan. Arrange the artichokes in a single layer in the pan, add salt and pepper and 3 tablespoons of finely chopped flat leaf parsley. Put just a little bit of water and cover the pan, cook for about 15 minutes or until the artichokes are tender. This may take a little bit longer with Turkish artichokes, which are bigger and have thicker bottoms. Serve at room temperature as “chicheti,” (meze), with a little bit of cooking liquid drizzled over.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Around Rialto there are many nice places to have a bite with your drink.“Cicheti” is the Venetian translation of Turkish “meze,” the little titbits of delicacies to enjoy at the bar counter, just as meze used to be taken in the stand-up meyhanes of Istanbul. The good old “Do Mori” established in 1462 is still a favorite, but there are new spots like “al Mercà” just near Rialto. They have nice little  buns stuffed with prosciutto, lardo, mortadella, etc, but it is their top quality wine selection that draws in the crowds. For real delicacies head for “All’Arco” where you can have the most mind blowing “crostinis” with astonishing artisanal cheeses.

Cork of the Week: My daughter asks me: What on earth is that strange looking orange colored drink that people have all the time? It looks horribly artificial, yet it seems so natural here in Venice. I order a glass for her, and she’s instantly hooked to the sweet bitter taste. Spritz is the name! Every visitor to Venice must have a Spritz, it is inevitable. It is easy to make: Just splash a dose of Aperol, or any other bitter like Campari, fill half the glass with white wine and fill up the rest with sparkling soda. Don’t forget to garnish with a slice of orange and an olive stuck in a “struzzicadenti” (a toothpick). The moment you manage to say the word, it means you have mastered the Italian language. However, you won’t be able to pronounce it again after a couple of Spritzes.