Posted by: jeanne | January 27, 2015

being in venice

they don’t do things here the way we do them at home.  you can take that for granted, but i’m always struck by the differences, and there’s a definite learning curve.

first there’s the house and its contents.  it’s smaller than we’re used to in the states.  let’s say cozier.  nothing gargantuan about living here, considering we’re not staying in a palazzo, which is what mcmansions aspire to be.  the eat-in kitchen is just big enough to fit us all around the table, the cabinets and shelves big enough to hold loads of food,and the fridges are smaller than we’re used to, but since nobody shops at costco there aren’t huge spaces for thousand-roll toilet paper packages or cases of soft drinks.  it’s possible, and practical, to shop every day for what you need for that day.

the utilities are exposed.  that’s another great thing.  when i was in college, my architecture student boyfriend was working on a project to un-hide the furnace and water heater, so americans could be more conscious of their support systems.  it never caught on, of course.  everything is hidden in america.  the water heater, the furnace, the pipes, the electrical conduit – they’re all hidden behind the sheetrock walls.  here, with walls of stone, that’s not practical, and so the water heater (which is the furnace too, because they use radiators instead of forced air heating) is mounted right onto the kitchen wall, pipes and switches and all.  and it’s good to know that’s where our water heater is.  like knowing where the fusebox is gives you a sense of security when the lights go out.

in the grocery there’s another learning curve.  all the produce and meats are labelled with their country of origin, and except for ingredients that start with E and a number, completely safe to eat.  no GMO foods here in europe, one of the many things i’m grateful for here.  i don’t have to worry, don’t have to avoid foods i like because they’ve been poisoned.  but for some reason i can’t find certain things.  like peanut butter.  i don’t know why; they have peanut oil and peanuts in the shell, peanut candies, just not peanut butter.  and when i went over to lido to the big billa grocery store, they only had jiffy, which has too much sugar.  i’m on the search for a healthfood store here, and might be able to find it there, along with molasses.  i had a hell of a time finding yeast, which my danish friend living in iceland finally clued me in on.  the milk comes in quarts, so we buy it every day, and the cream comes in pints, which ditto.

we try to buy things from smaller shops, rather than getting everything in the supermarket.  there are several excellent fruit and vegetable stands, and some wonderful butchers and fishmongers, and we get our veggies and meat from them when at all possible.  i am still intimidated by the language, and so sometimes it’s easier just to pick up a sanitized plastic package of veggies, but the guys at the fruit stands are getting used to me coming by and asking how do you say whatever.

we found a tiny little espresso maker when we got here, and for several days were panicky about our coffee, because we like regular weak caffe americano.  i even bought a french press at a store on the way to the train station, but it broke on the way back, so we bought a larger espresso maker to replace it, and have been trialling and erroring our way to drinkable coffee.  at this point we make up a batch of espresso and then water it way the hell down with water from the tea kettle, and that works.  but i had to look up how to make espresso with one of those makers – the type with the upper chamber and lower chamber and filter insert.  i don’t know how they work, but you put clean water in the bottom and decant finished coffee from the top when it boils dry.  the real trick is to screw the top down well enough that all the water doesn’t escape as steam before rising to the top.  the first few tries gave us coffee syrup, which was a bit thick even when diluted.

the windows are another thing.  here in italy everybody closes their shutters when the sun goes down, or when the sun comes in the window, or whenever.  at dawn and dusk there’s a clatter from all over as the shades are pulled up or down and the shutters opened or closed.  the shutters are wood, the venetian blinds are on the outside of the windows, and the windows themselves open up two different ways.  if you put the handle halfway up, so it’s horizontal, the window opens the way you’d think, swinging inward.  but if you continue putting the handle all the way up, it opens only at the top, venting instead.  which is cool when you get used to it, but disconcerting until.

there are vents in the walls, holes covered by a grate that go all the way thru the walls and vent the house to the outside.  in america we like to have our houses tightly sealed, but that’s not healthy, especially in the kitchen.  i’ve seen these vents in ireland, too, but didn’t notice them in iceland.  actually, in our house back home we have considerable drafts, and we prefer it that way.

getting around is a trick, as well.  no cars, no bikes.  you either walk or you take a boat to where you’re going.  when connor and i went over to lido this morning to try out the big grocery store, we took a boat.  we stood in the wind (i held his hand the whole way), and then since lido has cars, i put him in the stroller and made him stay there until we got to the store.  when we went off to the department store the other day (he needed more nonskid socks for the really slippery tile floors in our house), we took a vaporetto up to rialto and walked from there.  it was a three hour tour.  even going up to via garibaldi, our local shopping street, takes a 15 minute walk and most of an hour to saunter back the back way.

and the stores aren’t open all day long like they are at home, either.  everything opens up early, and stays open until lunchtime, and then they take a good long break, say from 1:30 to 4, and all the shutters are rolled down and the shop people go home for lunch and perhaps a nap.  i know we’re taking naps.  connor’s getting to the point where he doesn’t need a nap, and thankfully plays quietly in his room until we get up, because we sure need our naps.  we’re totally exhausted come lunchtime, and need an hour or so in bed to recoup our strength.

it’s not the work schedule we’re used to.  we’re still sleeping late, and getting going around 10, which is when we need to go out and do the shopping if we hope to find the good stuff still on the shelves (like bread, which disappears fast).  and so jim might get a morning session of painting in, but i rarely do, which makes taking a nap rather guilt ridden for me.  and we go to bed soon after dinner, which is about 7 for us.  so the days are very short and we’re not getting tons done.  but we’ve only been here 2 weeks, and are starting to ramp up our production.

we had thought we’d have to put connor into childcare or get babysitters for him, so that i could work, but he is much less trouble than he could be.  we stuck the tv away the moment we got here, and so far he hasn’t noticed, or seem to care.  he’s happy playing with his toys, and when he’s rambunctious, we send him out into the back yard, or take him outside to the kids’ playground that we can see from our front windows.


garbage is collected every day but sunday.  there’s a schedule – trash and food waste gets collected every day, paper on odd days, plastic/bottles/metal on the other odd days.  you’re supposed to put the trash out in the morning between 6 and 8, and there’s a chance that the birds will get to the trash before the trash collectors, who are out first thing in the morning, collecting the trash from everybody’s front stoop, putting it into handcarts, and then trucking it to the canal, where a trash scow picks it all up and takes it up to near piazzale roma where trucks with wheels hauls it away to wherever trash goes.

it seems everybody has dogs here, which makes us miss ours.  the dogs are mostly small, and they tend to go with people when they go shopping.  sometimes you can see women with large handbags stuffed full of dog, and sometimes they go on leashes right up to the doors of the shops, where they are then left outside.  you see dogs loyally waiting for their people, sitting on the pavement, looking attentively at the front door of the shop.  sometimes dogs run free, often in our neighborhood, which is where many of them are walked.  it’s about even whether people pick up after their dogs or not, and you need to watch where you walk.  yesterday while i was in the store, jim found a dog who brought him a tennis ball, and he and connor had a great time throwing the ball for him over and over.

when the tide washes in over the banks – acqua alta – it brings trash, cigarette butts, bits of seaweed.  it seems half the people smoke, and they all discard their butts, and these float, so it’s one of the hallmarks that the tide has been higher than usual that day.  it’s especially notable near san marco, which is a low spot in the city.

i guess that’s enough for now.  i’m on my way to bed now, after putting connor in bed, he who never wants to go night night. carnival starts this weekend, and we will definitely take in the daytime events, but because we have connor, and because we don’t stay up late, we’re going to avoid the nighttime scrums.  i’ll post pictures.SONY DSC



  1. Sound lovely except for the trash in the water. Do not feel guilty for taking a nap, after all taking care of a small child is quite a job.


    • i should post a picture of the trash in the water. it was almost lyrical. we are very happy to take naps in the daytime. the only thing is that it diminishes our painting time…


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