I was twenty minutes late when I found my fellow bacari crawlers. Giordano, Clara, Michael and Katherine were talking amongst themselves when I approached them. “I can’t believe I found you,” I said. “I told you it would be easy,” Giordano replied. I looked at him incredulously. “It’s hard to get lost in Venice,” he added, believing wholeheartedly what he had just said. “As long as you can find the Grand Canal, you’ll always be OK,” Clara said in agreement with here boyfriend. “It’s like a great big maze out here . . . and we are all little mice attempting to find the center and a treat . . . in this case little Venetian edibles,” I said honestly.
Giordano and Clara were the proprietors of the Bed and Breakfast A Le Boteghe, where I was staying, along with an Australian couple, Michael and Katherine,. Giordano, Michael and Katherine are all architects. Clara runs the day-to-day operation of the B&B. With my passion for Venetian art history (as well as her food), I fit right in. We hit it off immediately and agreed that the eating and drinking should begin ASAP.
Giordano, a bit of a Venice historian, led the way. The number of people: Italians and “stranieri” alike, impressed me as they gathered in the square, conversing, laughing, and gesticulating. Many couples, young and old, were holding hands and kissing and stroking each other adoringly. As we walked, I immediately felt at home as I heard the dulcet sounds of Vivaldi and then Albinoni. I love Venetian music. After all, it was a Venetian- Claudio Monteverdi, who invented the modern opera and orchestra. Vivaldi never fails to uplift me. Albinoni’s music relaxes and enchants me.
“I’m really here,” I said to myself, still not fully comprehending that I had at long last realized my dream to know Venice. I had heard the same music back home but now, to be in the composers’ birthplace, to hear their music where it was created during the wonderful Baroque, I was nothing short of enraptured. The Venetians are mighty proud of their musical heritage, despite the fact that in Piazza San Marco Viennese- waltzes are often heard: Venice pandering to the tourists, something at which she excels.
We walked to a destination known only to Giordano and Clara. We passed countless restaurants, trattorie, osterie, enotechi, etc. as we ambled through the dimly lit, narrow back alleys of Venice. I wondered what it must have been like before the advent of electricity. There must have been very little visibility, as it was difficult to navigate today. That didn’t deter the masses from coming out and partaking in the evening’s passegiatta (the stroll that Italians take before eating dinner), and it wasn’t going to stop me, either, as I was determined to actualize my goal and have something uniquely delicious about which to write. At last we found ourselves standing at a counter in a cozy little pub-like bacaro, Antico Dolo.
“This is our first stop,” Giordano informed us. “This is a very popular bacaro. I come here all the time.” We approached the counter. I covetously eyed the generous array of cichetti on display–some recognizable, others utterly foreign–and had to struggle to keep from salivating. “This is one of my favorites,” Giordano said as he perused the plates of little bites before him. “You must try the baccala mantecato,” he urged excitedly. “It is fantastic ” I had read about this dish, which is salt-cod whipped with a little olive oil, milk and a hint of garlic. “Here they spread it on little polenta squares,” he added. He then ordered for us. My stomach continued growling in both anticipation of what was to come.