Usually I interview one person at a time, but this month I have something special–a couple who fell in love with Venice years ago. I was introduced to them by Piero Bellini, who often gives me good things to blog about. All three of them have contributed to First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, the new free ebook you can download here.
Edith retired after twenty-five years of teaching English as a Second Language to adults at Georgia Institute of Technology. After earning a Ph.D. in Elizabethan Drama, Bob lectured in Modern and Contemporary British art as well as performed as a concert folk singer, including a weekly TV show on the BBC. Enjoy this interview with Bob and Edith’s fun responses!
How has Venice seduced you?
Bob: With its constancy. It always seems wonderfully the same, from year to year. Much as we don’t notice our children and friends gradually growing older, there are changes in Venice, of course, but gradual. It always seems fresh and beautiful.
Edith: Venice is a beautiful, aging woman: the decay only adds to the sense that this was, and is, the most beautiful city in the world.
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
Bob: Eat, drink, and be merry. So many lovely restaurants, staffed by so many lovely people that we have enjoyed for years.
Edith: There are many “must-dos” for us each time we return to Venice. We must make the rounds to see our friends, and that involves baking batches of chocolate chip cookies to take along. I learned long ago that being “la senora delle biscotti” was a good thing.
What is your Venice soundtrack?
Bob: Church Bells, suitcases rolling on the cobblestones, tourists singing drunkenly in the restaurant downstairs, raucous tourists at 3 a.m.
Edith: See my essay in First Spritz Is Free!
Walk or take a boat?
Bob: I much prefer the boat. Even after all these years, I still marvel at the trip up and down the Grand Canal. And because I am an old gink, I always get a seat.
Edith: When we first started staying for months at a time, we were young(er) and fit, so there was never much question about this: if if was possible to get there on foot, we walked. In these later years, we have mobility issues, so we have learned how to get from point A to point B with the fewest possible bridges. The opening of a stop for the #1 bus for the Market was a huge boon for us.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
Bob: Campo Santa Maria Formosa: it is out of the way but very much alive with both local and tourist life. And I can sit and sip and feel local and still fill with awe at the Venezia of it all. And we often get a free spritz.
Edith: Our favorite campo is “our” campo, Santa Maria Formosa, because that is nearest us and we have multiple occasions to cross it in the course of a week—trips to the best butcher in town; visits to Bar Orologio for a sit-down and a spritz; off to Palazzo Cavanis for free concerts twice a week; and many other excuses. My husband used to go there to sit and smoke a cigar, but the elderly ladies grab the benches early in the afternoon and made it quite evident that he (or his cigar) was not welcome! (When I win the lottery, I will gift the square with multiple benches, one of which will have his name inscribed on it!) As for churches, we have two: the Frairi, which is one of the most extravagantly ornate churches in the city, with the most gorgeous Titan over the altar, and the other end of the spectrum, San Giovanni e Paolo, which is vast, spare, and inspiring.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
Bob: I don’t seem to make it to festivals, unless the Biennale is one. Although I am involved in the art world, the Biennale is more of a Venetian event than an art exhibit. It is wonderful and frustrating at the same time to wander through, trying not to miss any of the almost hidden crannies. I always leave utterly exhausted and wondering if it was worth it.
Edith: We love the Regatta Storica because of the wonderful colors and energy.
Spritz or Bellini?
Bob: Spritz Campari. However, I prefer straight Bitter Campari. I have ordered it for years and almost always am cross-examined as to whether I really mean Bitter Campari, and not the soda-diluted sissy-stuff.
Edith: Easy—spritz, but Campari, not Aperol. The bitter edge and bright color epitomize all things Venetian.
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Bob: Go to the Basilica and move through very slowly. Go behind the altar and go upstairs, and take your time. Then go out and buy a drink and look at it. And then come back at night and listen to the music and look some more.
Edith: It is a cliché, but we tell people to get lost! In the best sense of the word! Wandering the streets is the perfect ways to see the city, and while one is bound to dead-end at more than one canal, there is always a way back to a place that is familiar. Even after some forty years of walking the streets, occasionally I take a wrong turn and find myself in yet another magical neighborhood that I have never seen before. There is no end to the adventure.
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
Bob: Difficult. Famous artists abound, Doges hip-deep. It would be nice to brag that I had met one. But I suspect that the going would be rather dreary. For a dinner I would be likely to enjoy, Casanova. It would be lively, and there are many things I’d love to ask. If someone else is paying, lots of Foie Gras. But unless they spoke Italian, how about Fabrizio Plessi?
Edith: I would choose to revisit the wonderful dinners that we have had with our dear friends Edda (alive) and her husband Antonio (dead) Bellini, often with another wonderful friend who left us some years ago, “Captain” Georgio. We had all the classics, prepared by one or another of us—sepia nere, zambone, tiramisu (Edda’s special recipe was published in a cookbook!). They were long, noisy, convivial dinners where we felt like family. I miss those times and those people, very much.
Casanova: genius or cad?
Bob: Mostly a remarkable person. He led a rather spectacular life, always seeming to land on his feet. One of his recent biographers calls him utterly useless, but he produced strong memories and excitement as he went. To be a cad requires innocent victims — few of his were.
Edith: Genius, undoubtedly. No real cad would have endured with such admiration through all these centuries.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
Bob: I would give a wonderful party for my Venetian and American friends. Put them up at the Londra Palace, reserve a big chunk of La Madonna for a long dinner, and kiss all the ladies.
Edith: This is a tough one, but I think I would spend a few days (and it would be very few for that amount of money) at the first place I ever stayed in Venice, the Hotel Danieli. It is one of the few places that has retained its original splendor, and while it is outrageously expensive, morning coffee on the roof terrace is not to be missed.
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
Bob: How about the Guggenheim? Whichever, it would have to be all mod con. Including a clothes dryer. And a large staff.
Edith: We have dear friends who owned a Paladian Villa north of Venice for 28 years. Having shared some of their experiences, I would pass on owning a palazzo, even for ready money. The bureaucratic headaches involved in keeping such a place in shape are horrendous.
Which gelato flavor are you?
Bob: So many favors, so little capacity. Chocolate to start. For the pre-dinner gelato, perhaps pistachio.
Edith: Unquestionably, noccioloso, sold, as far as I know, only at Boutique Gelato on San Lio. It is hazelnut gelato swirled with Nutella. Heaven.
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
Bob: Alas no website, no blog, the last book was a study of Elizabethan stage conventions –very little clamor for it.
But of course readers can also read more of Edith and Bob’s writing in First Spritz Is Free. Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know this fun couple. (And thanks to Piero Bellini for the lovely photo of the spritz!)