I had passed the place a number of times, it being on my walk to the language class I took a few years ago. Da LeLe, the little bacarò wine bar, couldn’t hold its patrons in its 4 x 4 interior, so they always spilled out onto the fondamenta and the campo at Tolentino. I always felt like I didn’t belong there, like I couldn’t just walk in and order an ombra, a little wine, because it looked like a place only the initiated would know. So I always passed it by.
But now I was invited to join my friend Piero Bellini there. Piero is a native Venetian, one who never has wanted to leave his lagoon city. In fact, in his chapter for First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, he writes,
“My first goal has always been to not leave the lagoon. At the end of high school (Liceo Classico “Marco Polo,” difficult to imagine something more Venetian…) when I had to choose which University to enroll in, I almost automatically applied to Ca’ Foscari, Economia e Commercio, here in Venice, avoiding Medicine, Law, Engineering etc., … for which I would have had to go to the nearby town of Padua. At the end of my university studies in 1984, I had received interesting job offers, for example at Fiat in Turin, but I preferred more simply to be content with a job at the local Cassa di Risparmio (savings bank), and not to detach myself from my beloved city. When I was looking for a house, it would have been easier and cheaper to move to Mestre, on the “mainland,” though still the City of Venice. With my wife Lorenza we preferred to initially live in a smaller house that needed to be restored, but in the historic center. Lorenza, in fact, thinks like me. She is also Venetian and so, too, logically, our son Oscar. My deeply Venetian choice may seem very conservative. Actually I love traveling, also because I know where I want to come back to: here to my lagoon! And anyway there is the whole world (lately becoming more exaggerated!) that comes to visit us.
I’ve known Piero for so many years now that I’ve forgotten when we met. Painter and musician Tony Green, who knows Piero because they sometimes make jazz music together, introduced us, and now I see Piero every time I return to his city. He always sends me tidbits to feed my addiction: the view from the church tower of the Frari; a picture of snow atop a cistern in an empty campo; Santas rowing Venetian style; even sandcastles at the island of Iesolo. So of course I invited him to contributed to First Spritz. He shares three anecdotes from his family’s business, the Hotel Bisanzio near the Riva degli Schiavoni, its name all glittery gold above its doors. In anecdotes lie the microcosm of Venetian life, and thus, its heart.
So for under three euros, Piero and I enjoyed our ombre of red wine and a plate of salami, pecorino cheese, and thumb-sized breadsticks. Now I’ve been initiated into Da LeLe. And now I know I’ll go back.
You can download the ebook of First Spritz Is Freefor free! Click here, and if you find that you’re inspired to protect Venice’s unique culture, the contributors encourage donations to Save Venice, Venice in Peril, or Comitato No Grandi Navi.