WordPress brought us together…
I met Elizabeth Salthouse when she reached out to me after reading my blog here on WordPress. In fact, we met up in Venice, checked out some Casanova sites together, had a spritz, and hit it off! Lucky Liz found a way to live in Venice for over a year, and she continues to write about it on her blog and for various publications about Italian culture. She also contributed to last year’s book First Spritz Is Free. Check out Liz’s responses to see how Venice has seduced her.
How has Venice seduced you?
Venice seduced me slowly and from a distance at first.
I love reading biographies and years ago bought a copy of Giacomo Casanova’s memoirs on a whim. There were pages and pages of buxom conquests, as you might expect, but there was much more to life in the lagoon city. So although he wrote about the ladies, most of Casanova’s memoirs talk of his extraordinary Venetian life outside the bedroom. And it was fascinating.
From delicious dinners to tales of travel, from his clothes bill to the books he read, from gambling and casinos to medicines and his health, Giacomo described life in full, even naming the streets he walked, the canals he navigated, and the palazzi where he lived.
As I read the 1200-page life story, I wondered if any of the places were still there; could I walk in Casanova’s footsteps, could I enter the rooms he once occupied? So I set out to find out and the answer was life-changing as I fell madly and deeply in love with La Serenissima!
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
Apart from catching up with friends, there are lots of favourite things to do – eating cicchetti and tramezzini by the plateful, gelato every day, and taking my camera out for a walk to name just three — but the main thing I insist on is travelling by water at every chance and taking as many boat trips as possible!
Whether I’m arriving by Alilaguna ferry, travelling by vaporetto, crossing the Grand Canal by traghetto gondola, or touring on the Burchiello to Padova, I have to be on the water! And Venice lives on the water so all its services come by boat, which I love. From market deliveries to house removals, hotel laundry to the emergency services, water buses to refuse collections, it’s all by boat.
For me, the gentle rocking and slapping of water on wood dissolves stress like few other things. Even just sitting on the gently rocking, floating water bus stops, watching the world go by as the vaporetti ferries slowly hove into sight brings me such enormous joy that I make a point of staying on the island of Giudecca whenever I can so my first and last trips of the day are always the number 2 vaporetto. I miss the watery commute terribly when I’m not there, and just thinking about it makes me yearn to return!
What is your Venice soundtrack?
The city boasts one of the world’s most respected opera houses: La Fenice, near St. Mark’s Square. And I love the weekly baroque opera concerts of the Venice Music Project too, listening to pieces that Venetians would have heard in the 17thand 18thcentury. But for me the true soundtrack to Venice is much less obvious.
It’s the clickety-clack of supermarket stock cages juddering along canal sides into stores each morning. It’s the church bells chiming across the rooftops. It’s the soft thrum of motorboats, instead of motorcars, reverberating through the narrow waterways. And it’s the nighttime silence, muffling the city like a duvet, broken only by the occasional stony footsteps of a late reveler or early riser. It won’t top the charts or sell thousands on iTunes, but it’s music to my ears.
Walk or take a boat?
Boat, boat, and more boats, even if it means it takes longer! And not just because it’s more refreshing than the hot, sticky summer streets but because travelling by boat is the best way to see Venice as it was intended to be seen.
From its earliest foundations Venetians have moved around the low marshy lagoon by boat. As Venice grew, newly rich merchants built along the main canals. Their palaces were both their shop front, with warehouse space and trading on the ground floor, and also their home, with grand reception, dining, and bedrooms on upper levels. And with imported goods, buyers, friends, and family all travelling by boat, it made sense to build the front doors and fanciest façades facing the canals, leaving the rear plain and mundane as no-one would ever see it.
For me, travelling by boat is a way to get a little bit closer to Venice, to peek through the extravagantly glazed windows at the high-ceilinged reception rooms still adorned with frescoes, wood paneling, and twinkling Murano chandeliers. One particular pleasure is floating down the Grand Canal after dinner as the chandeliers light up –- it can be quite a light show now, but just imagine how mind-blowing it must have been in days gone by.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
139 churches are packed into Venice, and they range from quiet, little chapels to the gloriously glistening Basilica of St. Mark. I don’t think I’ve even found half of them, but there’s one that’s stuck in my memory since the first time I clapped eyes on it.
It takes a few seconds to adjust to the gloom that cloaks quiet worshippers in the church of San Pantalon, Dorsoduro. Six deep chapels line the nave and artwork covers the walls, but it’s the ceiling that I love as it’s an immense optical illusion painted by Gian Antonio Fumiani sometime between 1680 and 1704.
To get the best view, feed a few coins into the church lights machine, take a pew, and lean back. I’m not sure it epitomizes me, but it’s definitely worth a look!
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
That is a tricky question! There’s the winter Festa della Madonna della Salute where Venetians light thousands of candles in thanks for deliverance from plague. Or the springtime Festa della Sensa that weds the city to the sea in hope of another year of prosperity. But my favourite is the Festa di San Martino in November.
As the festival approaches pasticcerie launch their San Martino specialties — cotognata sweets made from quince jelly and decorated biscuits shaped like St. Martin on horseback available for a couple of short weeks each year. Children paint pictures of San Martino, and in the afternoon they march through town banging pots and pans, singing to shopkeepers asking for treats. It’s not a big, flashy festival but it’s one of the few local traditions still marked by Venetians for Venetians.
Spritz or Bellini?
If I could only choose between these two I’d go for the Bellini as I love peaches, but actually my drink of choice in Venice is the lesser known Hugo.
A Hugo cocktail is light, refreshing, and absolutely perfect for the hot, humid summer months in Venice. All you need are –
- 3 cl. Elderflower syrup
- 7 cl. Prosecco or sparkling wine
- 2 cl. Sparkling mineral water
- Ice cubes
- Some gently crushed mint leaves
Put the mint leaves in the bottom of the glass, pour over the elderflower syrup, prosecco and mineral water and garnish with a slice of lemon. Absolutely delicious! Salute!
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Get lost! Get off the beaten track! Sure, see the main attractions, but explore wider than St. Mark’s. Look out for where the gondoliers are eating and drinking – chances are it’s a tasty place to stop. And don’t feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square!!
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
It would have to be Giacomo Casanova, no question; he’s the reason I fell in love with Venice in the first place, and I’d love to hear the rest of his life story as his memoirs stop long before he died.
Casanova: genius or cad?
Definitely both and that is why he’s so fascinating.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
Find a little apartment in Giudecca or San Polo and immerse myself in Venetian life, volunteering for organizations and charities that keep Venice alive as a living, working city free of cruise ships, not just a tourist day trip destination.
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
If money were no object I’m not sure that I’d buy a palazzo at all.
For one, I’d rattle around it all on my own; for another, I’d hate all that cleaning and I hate the dark! But I would love to find a cosy little apartment overlooking the Grand Canal with a roof terrace, a Pug or Dachshund for company, and a little motor boat moored outside so we could explore further afield in the lagoon. That, for me, would be priceless luxury. Magari! If only!!
Which gelato flavor are you?
I’m most definitely Amarena as I’m quite down to earth (aka the creamy, vanilla base) with touches of fruitiness (aka the cherry pieces and sauce that swirl throughout the vanilla)!
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
I indulge my obsession with Venice and Italy by writing a blog called DreamDiscoverItalia.com. It concentrates on festivals, historical events, and old traditions mixed in with travel inspiration and Italian language tips. If you prefer books, why not check out my chapter in the recently published First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, a compilation written by 35 Venetians and Venetophiles telling of childhood memories, first impressions, and falling in love. I can also be found on social media and occasionally contribute to L’Italo-Americano, a U.S.-based newspaper so do pop by to say ciao! Grazie mille!