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Sunday, 30 August 1998

Our last full day in Venice. We slept well behind closed windows, and went down for the breakfast which was included in our room rate. They couldn't seat us all together, so A and I sat by ourselves at a table. The breakfast was not very good, but the kids liked the idea of choosing between tiny containers of jam, and having cookies after their rolls.

N and I had independently come up with the same idea for the day: we would get one-day excursion tickets for the vaporetto, and go more or less where we pleased. It being Sunday, opening hours were quite unpredictable. First was the ride down the Canal Grande before the boats filled up. It was cool, almost gloomy outside. We walked down to the Piazzale Roma stop, and were the first ones on the next boat. We snagged the front seats along the left side of the vaporetto.

As we moved down the canal, the kids would spot building they liked, and N would wind their cameras and hand them over. I didn't think any of these would turn out, but they had to use up the film anyway. Later, I was surprised at the quality of the shots. People piled on behind us, but standing was forbidden in our section, so we were protected from the crush.

We disembarked at the San Marco stop and walked past the touts offering "free" trips to the Murano glass factories, into the Piazzetta for one last pigeon-feeding. After a few handfuls, though, the kids had had enough, and I poured out the last of the bag of corn in a line. A brief swarming of pigeons, and it was done. A announced that she had to pee, so I took her to the pay facilities in the little park by the vaporetto stop, where L500 got us into what looked outside like those plastic portable toilets for music festivals, but with a very clean porcelain basin inside.

After discovering it cost L8000 to go up the Campanile (and I remembered my disappointment at the view in 82, mostly a sea of terracotta tile), we decided to take the boat to San Giorgio and go up the campanile there. But when we got there, and explored the Palladian church, the campanile lift was mysteriously "chiuso". So we caught the next boat west, disembarked at the Zattere ("There's Nico!" hinted A), and walked up roughly following the curve of the Canal Grande, through Campo San Barnaba and along Calle Foscari, to Campo San Polo. There the kids did some running about, and we walked around the edge of the campo, circumnavigating the open-air movie theatre (where I had seen "On The Waterfront" in 82) and reading from Lorenzetti about the buildings we passed.

Le Carampane was somewhere to the north, and we now tried to rediscover it. "I think it's this way," I said. We were in a part of the city inadequately covered by the map in our Eyewitness Guide, whose sections did not quite overlap. "You should have taken A with you," said N, "she'd be able to find it again." "I'm not sure," I said, "since I came at it from the other side." But, in the end, I got us there without too much difficulty. The people in the restaurant took no notice of us. There was a handlettered sign outside pointing the way to the train station and Piazzale Roma, for the benefit of lost tourists. When we finally asked about lunch, we were told to come back in half an hour.

It was easy to kill half an hour in that area, and we returned to the restaurant at 12:30 and took up the corner table on the patio. Once again, we had an oral recitation of our options, delivered formally and without flourish by the imposing woman server; we ordered two risotto with scampi and two spaghettini with granseola (crabmeat). The "scampi" were actually small shrimp, but both dishes tasted great. For secondi, A opted for "branzino", Z for a frittura mista, and the three of us for "rombo per tre". I had seen rombo on the menu at da Remigio but had forgotten what it was, and my photocopies had been left in the apartment (to join those of previous tenants). We ordered it, and then I pulled out my Newton and got the translation: turbot. The Newton also helped me to translate the handlettered sign on the door: "We don't know how to make pizza correctly. We swear!" This was milder than what was scrawled on the brief posted menu: "No pizze. No lasagne. No menu turistico." We decided that, even if the reception was somewhat overly correct, we liked this place.

As we finished up the primi, A's sea bass was presented; then our turbot, indeed rhomboidal and nearly a foot on each side. Then they disappeared again. I thought they were giving us space to eat the last of the first courses, but the fish returned completely deboned, anointed with oil and parsley, and served out on plates. This was the only time in Venice that we had this service done for us, perhaps because we were ordering more than usual.

The fish was excellent, and not an excessive amount. Z's frittura included many tiny schie (much better deep-fried than boiled) and canestrelli as well. But now came the hard part. We had been cash-poor all day, and couldn't find a bank machine in the San Polo sestiere when we remembered to look for one. Would we have enough? The bill, when presented was L241500. I did a mental calculation and figured that between K and I we would just barely have enough, if we emptied our pockets of change. But N thought to ask if they took cards, and though they didn't look like they would, they did.

Since the churches we still wanted to see (the Frari and Madonna dell'Orto) opened at 3:30, we decided there wasn't time for Z's nap, and we would attempt to keep her awake. For the postprandial gelato, we wanted to return one last time to Paolin. But we were on the wrong side of the Canal Grande. No problem; we walked down to San Toma and took a traghetto. We were the only ones in the boat; the kids sat, we stood, facing backwards initially so that we would face forward when they swung around just after pushoff. It was K's first traghetto.

After our gelato, we took what might appear to be a roundabout way to get to Cannaregio; we walked south over the Accademia bridge. But this was only to get to the Zattere, catch a vaporetto to S. Zaccaria, and then take the 52 from there. The object was to give K a look at the inside of the Arsenale, the only way to see it due to military restrictions. We had to change boats again at Fondamenta Nuove and take the 52 one stop to Madonna dell'Orto. The kids were in good spirits through all this, sitting at the back when they could and watching the waves.

As we walked down from the vaporetto stop, K remarked on how un-Venetian the neighbourhood looked; rectilinear streets and campi, private gardens, trees. The church was indeed open, and in addition to the many Tintoretto works inside (for this was his parish church, and he lived and worked just around the corner from our 96 apartment), we enjoyed Titian's "Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence". Or perhaps enjoyed is not the right word for a painting showing the Saint being grilled over a wood fire.

We reboarded the vaporetto, went around to Piazzale Roma, and walked towards the Frari, stopping for a snack at Pasticceria Gilda Vio on Fondamenta Rio Marin. This was recommended by Faith Heller Willinger as her favourite breakfast place in Venice; the pastries were quite good, but the service was so cold as to be offputting. I had a coffee, which was okay.

As before, the kids showed K their favourite parts of the building, and I read details out of Lorenzetti. Both kids wanted to look at the Bellini altarpiece again with binoculars; Z spent quite a long time at it, so while the others went on ahead I read about the chapel, and discovered that a rather bizarre wooden clock on one wall was carved by the same Pianta who did the work in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

We were in the Frari until it closed, and then we headed up towards San Giacomo dell'Orio for our last meal of the trip, in the pizzeria Alle Oche. Since there were five of us, we sat inside, in a room that was an odd imitation of an American college hangout, and for a change ordered draft beer instead of wine. Unfortunately, the pizzas were soggy this time, though still tasty, and the bill was a quarter of what we spent at lunch.

Paolin was supposed to be our last gelato, but the kids asked for a return visit to Il Gelatone. So we took the vaporetto one stop to cross the canal, and walked easily to the shop. Afterwards, walking ahead to the Pala d'Oro stop, we took the #1 vaporetto for our evening cruise down the Canal Grande. Unfortunately, Z fell asleep after two stops; A snuggled into my lap to stay warm, and kept awake despite yawning. We decided to cut it short, and took the faster boat, the 82, back from S. Zaccaria, sitting inside.

I had Z asleep on my lap, but could see out the open window. The Salute looked like a garish wedding cake; the stretch from the Accademia to where the Rialto could be seen was dark. I have always advocated taking travel slowly, getting to know a place rather than flitting about, but the price paid is that some part of each place becomes ordinary. The average stay in Venice is seven hours, time enough for a coffee in Piazza San Marco and a gondola ride, then away with illusions intact. Had Z been awake at that moment, I would have explained to her the real story of the Garden of Eden: that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they saw the place for what it was, and left of their own accord.

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