Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pas de gâteau

On the bright side today I had a plan.

Of sorts.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, the details were inevitably sketchy but they involved watching the sun rise over the Adriatic, breakfast at Florian, lunch at Harry’s Bar and dinner? Well I’d let dinner take care of itself, three vague details are more than enough.

Naturally this meant that I had to be up at stupid o’clock to be on the Riva degli Schiavoni whilst it was still dark. Though I had to take the short cut of not mucking about with a shower and pulling on what I’d been wearing the night before. It would be dark after all.

If you want to see Piazza San Marco then get prepare to pad silently through the streets of Venice scaring the indigenous wildlife in the first twinkling of morning light. Seeing the streets so quiet reminded me of just how close I was to San Marco, this would be no major battle through hoards of  selfie stick touting brownian tourists. It was quick, direct and pleasantly cool.

And the piazza was gloriously empty. In another 30 minutes there would be many others, predominantly people touting large cameras and slender tripods all working to capture the splendour without the masses.

Pity it was dark.

As the midnight blue of the sky gradually lightened people began to appear, not just the photographers, but street cleaners, the insomniacs and delivery boatmen expertly driving their vessels in to Rio de Palazzo o de Canonica.

And then I felt like a bloody idiot. The trouble was sun rises take a surprising amount of time and there was a lack of places to sit and watch the world go by so instead I had to stand like the elderly plank that I was. Excellent.

So I went for a wander in the gathering light.

Tourists truly are disgusting. Having just watched a Croatian throw a cigarette in to the perfect waters rather than use the ashtray is proof if I ever needed it. In Venice their are epic numbers of them so the rubbish is suitably proportioned. It’s everywhere. During the day it’s less noticeable as you can’t see the ground for the selfie sticks. Talking of which, I do wish they’d make them to a higher standard so they don’t break so easily, I lost count of how many cheap, nasty and discarded sticks there were.

49. Not out.
You might recall from previous blogs that I like to see with my ears. Now this isn’t always possible when there are people around jabbering away about absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I crave conversation but talking for talking’s sake just fills the head with none and blocks thought. This morning though it was quiet punctuated by the occasional roar whoosh of a delivery boat positioning itself. But there was something else. Like a mosquito on speed and certainly moving at a speed given the doppler shift I kept hearing. What the actual? It took me a while to locate the sound, mostly because I realised it was high above me. A drone. I’ve never actually seen one of these in the wild - so to speak - and I was fascinated to watch it scurry to a new position, hoer for a while and then scurry back. Presumably somewhere in the morning light there was a pilot standing there controlling the device and - also presumably - taking photographs of the sunrise over Venice.

From a vantage point you’d struggle to match without a drone.

I’ve since looked for people that do this kind of thing and what they achieve is quite impressive. I never did see where the pilot was.

Walking back through Piazza San Marco I stopped to watch the professional photographers on shoots with a few models and an entourage of helpers. They seemed to be all over, taking the opportunity of both the morning light and no crowds of tourists doing the brownian thing in front of a perfectly arranged scene. My favourite set were the ones working on - presumably - a shoot for something like a wedding magazine. The “bride” and “groom” were both impossibly perfect and had zero chemistry between them. Inevitably the photographer was trying to get them to do various things that owing to the lack of chemistry just didn’t work. So they did it again. And again. And again. Until he gave up in frustration and tried something else.
As I resumed my journey back to bed I had a maudlin moment as I came across a discarded rose laying on the ground. It was simply perfect in every way but was no longer wanted and left to its fate. I couldn’t help feel it was a metaphor for life.

Four hours later I was back in Piazza San Marco, showered, dressed in something suitable for morning tea and ready to set up court in Caffè Florian. Or at least sit writing. The place is reputedly the oldest in Europe having been established in 1720. The style certainly matches the reputation with faded painted panels hiding behind some kind of glass surrounded by gilt frames that have perhaps seen better days. And I really was dressed for the venue. Think faded lady of a certain age who refuses to let standards fall and you’re pretty close.

As I had the iBastard with me for writing I could drag out the amount of time taken to drink the tea - lovely - and eat an apricot croissant. Yes it was eye wateringly expensive but unlike most people I enjoyed spending an extended period of time there. There seemed to be a constant stream of people sticking their head through the open window and taking a snap of the inside of the salon, goodness knows how many pictures I will appear in, and yes whilst I guess they will have a picture of a famous place - though the ones done by professional photographers are far better - but what they won’t have is a feel of the atmosphere. Even those that had a drink and then scurried off complaining about how expensive it was wouldn’t have got the benefit of savouring the ebb and flow, the drama of the endless waiting staff in their beautifully tailored white jackets and the unhurried peace you gain by simply sitting quietly and thinking.

I headed to Harry’s Bar.

Whilst Caffè Florian was faded grandeur, Harry’s was shabby chic. There were yet more white jacketed staff quietly going about their business in the peaceful interior. Inevitably I ordered a Bellini as I think this is a local by-law before once more getting out the iBastard for yet more writing. I imagine Hemingway would have looked on in disdain.

Following a second Bellini I requested the lunch menu and found that the advantage of being there at she’s-going-to-the-dogs o’clock is that I got to have lunch at my table in a prime spot. I could eat, drink, write and people watch the stream of those coming in for a quick look at the famous place - snap, snap, snap - or have a Bellini - drunk too quickly, snap, snap - or better still the smaller number of beautifully dressed and predominantly gentlemen coming in to discuss urgent matters of the day.

I suspect Harry’s is a Marmite sort of place and I can assure you that I loved it.

Being in a) Italy and b) contrary I ordered the most obvious thing on the menu. Chicken Curry. I’m sure there is a very good reason why it’s on the menu and listed as one of the specialities but I have no idea whatsoever what it might be. With the food ordered the drama begin, three staff came to me in their white jacketed glory and whilst two removed the items from the table the centre one carefully laid the table cloth before they replaced the items exactly where they had been.

Toasted bread and breadsticks joined the olives and chicken & mushroom delicacy that had previously been offered. I nibbled on olives, adored the chicken and mushroom, and savoured the now buttered toast. It was simply perfect. As the Bellini continued to wave it’s magic wand I felt at peace for the first time in an age, I felt I could stay in this spot forever. If it wasn’t for the fact it would bankrupt me, obvs. After a short while the waiters re-appeared en masse, one to set up a portable trestle, one to carry a tray and one that would actually perform the silver service.

Silver service curry. What. A. Win.

With a suitable plate-filling quantity served the food disappeared, I wrongly presumed this would be to never see again, or maybe it would be for somebody else. I ate slowly savouring each mouthful, the chicken was simply perfect, the sauce sublime and the rice perfectly cooked. This place was fantastic. As I cleared my plate I realised the error of my presumption as my food reappeared for another serving. And another. Oh. My. God. I was actually going to explode. Don’t be put off by the prices, you won’t have to eat again for a week.

In time I left and walked for a while to justify the magnificent lunch I’d just devoured. When I say walk for a while I mean back to my hotel. For a nap. A proper one.

It was glorious.

Some hours later I stumbled back in to the light. I knew where I would spend the evening now but I did have to be sensible and make sure I had a back-up plan. Just in case. With this in mind it was back on with the lady-of-a-certain-age frock for a walk with the intention of ending at the Rialto Coop for Prosecco and picnic provisions. Perfect.

Goodness did I meander, astonishingly I didn’t get lost and after reaching Campo Sant’Anzola I headed back, via my hotel to get the provisions. Now this took longer than expected and - rather disappointingly - the Prosecco wasn’t chilled, but heh, I had now had cheese and sausage for later. Oh and a deep loathing of people that are incapable of using self checkouts. Seriously, it’s not that difficult.

Finally back at the hotel I put the fizz in the fridge, showered and dressed for the evening. I’d decided what was needed was my favourite red dress and heels, if I’m going to grow old disgracefully I was going to do so properly. The interesting- or alternatively the dispelling of myths - thing is that I arrived back at the hotel at 19:31 and was out, showered, changed, legs shaved, by 20:10. Thirty-nine minutes.

I’m definitely of a certain age.

Off I wandered once more to Piazza San Marco only to be stunned by an Italian gentleman - in purple glasses - passing what sounded seriously like positive comments. Now I’d seen this chap several times over the last couple of days and been utterly blanked but now… Got to love a red dress. I talk often about being invisible. I am. But for one night Matthew I will be… THERE.

To be fair. In a place full of tourists in shorts and t-shirts with loose tops the woman in heels and a decidedly flattering dress is queen. It reminded me of Gerrad Depardieu in some film or other talking about opening a restaurant in New York. In France I am nothing, but here with my accent I am Superman.

My cape is red.

The routine was repeated many times as I crossed Piazza San Marco. In a throng of tourists my pearls glistened, the red attracted and the comments flowed. It was my moment. My fuck-yes-I-feel-old-today-but-sod-that-as-I-look-great moment.

God it felt good.

49, now in my fiftieth year and I was getting positive comments. As I sit in a bar in Lupud drinking a Casanova Sling looking at the sea, islands and my best friend swimming with her family I can tell you it’s the best feeling in the world. Who gives a stuff that it might only happen once. For that moment I shone.

And then descended in to Harry’s Bar.

Dress is a wonderful thing. It sets the context, the mood. Earlier in the day I dressed not-like-a-tourist. On purpose. I wanted to stand out. And I was rewarded with being remembered and greeted like an old friend. Inevitably the bar was busy but this wasn’t a problem as I slid on to a single bar stool - remember the advantages of travelling solo - and ordered a martini. Because *everyone* was drinking Bellinis. Of course it turns out that Hemingway would now smile. He did rather like a gin martini.

And goodness do I.

As the evening wore on I engaged in conversation with an American couple sitting to my left. They were pondering over the menu and - frankly - the cost. At which point gin-soaked-me pointed out that it if they really wanted to enjoy a meal here - and let’s face to the food is astonishing - they should come in during the day, 11:15 is a good time, get a good table, relax, enjoy the grandeur and theatre. We talked of this and that and eventually it dawned on me that they thought I lived in Venice. And you know what, I didn't want to rain on their particular belief and spoil the image. They also had gathered that I have a place in London, they talked of places they’d like to visit, and I could point them at alternatives with clear critique. It was wonderful and I hope that couple enjoyed their stay in London and have a truly happy life together.

Back in reality I was three martinis down and no sign of a table as frankly there were lots of groups, I’d not booked ahead and who cares about a single gin soaked old dear at the bar.

It was time to go home. And eat cheese, bananas, ham and… Drink prosecco.

I got in, kicked off my Mary Janes, put in my cute little bluetooth headphones and listened to Pink as I danced ate and solo partied my way out of this first day of my fiftieth year. I might not be able to be disgraceful but hell I could do a half decent facsimile of it. In its own way it was magical and whilst I thought too much and was struggling with the contrary emotions of being-alone-but-not-wanting-to-be-but-hey-it-was-my-choice-to-be-here-alone-anyway I received a whatsapp message from the #hotperm to wish me a happy birthday. I never did take kindness well. I broke down.

Really broke down.

It was all too much and again I know it was all my choice but goodness I was lonely. Heart breakingly, painfully lonely. I’m now sitting on a ferry from Lupud to Sudurad and earlier I talked with my best friend about this very thing. The reality is this: it’s a case of how ever difficult it gets, however painful it is, however strange and perverse a decision may seem.

It’s still better than the alternative.

Happy Birthday me. Actual happy birthday. Pas de gâteau.

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