Piazza San Marcos and Pink Drinks: Venice Part II

Piazza San Marcos, Venice- Chris Ciolli

About Venice: Stretched across a group of 118 small islands in Northeast Italy riddled with canals and linked by bridges. The city and marshy lagoon where it is located are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here Antonio Vivaldi was born, and Casanova wrote about his romantic escapades.

At the crack of nine, Jesus and I are clambering down dozens of stairs guided by our noses and the buttery smell of freshly baking croissants. We sit down in the hotel’s breakfast nook and I try to wait patiently for the waiter to take my coffee order. Mornings, even in beautiful Venice, are only livable with my minimum dose of caffeine. I request two cappuccinos, one for myself, and another for Jesus. I would like to ask for three, so as not to have to wait for my second one later, but stifle the urge as inappropriate.  From a long table spread with breakfast goodies, I grab some ham and cheese and a croissant and navigate my way back through the crowded room to our table.
As we walk among Palazzos in varying states of disrepair, I think, Venice is like a beautiful old Granddame. She may be rougher around the edges than in her youth, but her superior bone structure prevails. Come flood, come foreign troops, Venice has survived and triumphed, and seduced people from all walks of the life, the world over.

Vegetable Stand in Rialto Market,
Venice -Chris Ciolli

On our way to Piazza San Marcos, Venice’s most famous landmark, we happen across its well-known Rialto Market. Amidst strings of dried hot peppers and braided garlic, artichokes bigger than a closed-fist, and olives painted in rich hues of golden-beige, violet –black and yellow-greens, resistance is futile. I whip out my camera and start snapping pictures and ignore Jesus’ quiet sigh. “Despite those pesky rumors about Venice sinking into the sea, Piazza Sant Marcos isn’t going anywhere,” I tell him in Spanish, with a wink. For good measure, I add, “at least not today.” He rolls his eyes, but smiles and patiently follows me around on my hunt for the perfect picture of Venetian produce.
Post-market, we catch a garbage-man on his daily round, but fortunately, Jesus is just as fascinated by this Venetian curiosity as I am. In Venice, trash is collected on foot. Winding through narrow streets and scuttling across arched bridges, we follow the swarthy trash-collector for a while as he hefts garbage into the large wheel-barrow/trailer he pushes in front of him.
Finally, we stumble our way into Piazza San Marcos, after following signage in blind faith through streets so narrow my hips almost brush the sides of the buildings and climbing steps across footbridges crowded with tourists stopping for a photo op (in Venice, beautiful pictures are a ten euro-cent a dozen).

Basilica San Marcos, Venice- Chris Ciolli

Faced with the Byzantine splendor of St. Mark’s Basilica, my trigger-happy-camera-fingers release my picture-maker into my coat packet as I take a moment to digest the visual feast before me. Piazza San Marcos defies description. Despite its perpetual crowd of tourists, and aggressive packs of greedy pigeons, fighting for crumbs and attention, its charm will not be denied. Gilded Byzantine mosaics, majestic silver-blue domes, golden winged lions and Greek horses make it hard to take my eyes off the basilica, but Venice’s main square has more to offer, so I make an effort.
A teenager sits down, and covers his long legs with bread crumbs, a few dozen pigeons alight, and his female companion (sister, girlfriend, cousin?) giggles and takes his picture. An orchestra plays an old-fashioned waltz, and a lone couple circles and steps to the music among the tables on the terrace. I hold out a hand in invitation to Jesus, and he laughs, before taking it, and pulling me along behind him until we get to a bacaro (a typical Venetian bar) on a side street.
Surely it’s late enough in the day for a cocktail and a cicchetti (the sophisticated Italian equivalent of bar snacks).  Jesus settles on a Spritz(white wine, soda water and Campari liquor) and I take the plunge and order a Bellini, an orange-pink concoction of Prosecco sparkling wine and peach puree I’ve seen people around town drinking.

Detail, building on Piazza San Marcos
-Chris Ciolli

To keep our drinks company, we order castraure, fresh young artichokes, and sarde in saor, sardines marinated in vinegar and sugar, with pine nuts, onions and raisins. The artichokes are amazingly tender, richly flavored with garlic and olive oil. The curiosity that compelled me to order fresh sardines prepared with raisins and pine nuts, is more than satisfied with oddly sumptuous dish. 

The fish is salty and sweet, nutty, and fresh, quite unlike the sardines marinated in olive oil and topped with garlic and parsley I enjoy in Barcelona. Jesus, on the other hand, makes a face upon first bite. This dish has officially been declared not a favorite. I smirk and whisper in his ear, “here’s to strong flavors in small servings,” raising my glass to my lips. He tries to frown but the smile comes through, anyway. My grin only gets wider, as I fork in another bite of fish, shoving the tiny plate of baby artichokes towards Jesus. Venice, like all my favorite things, never ceases to amuse.
Fresh Peach Bellini Recipe (serves 8):
4-5 medium-sized fresh ripe peaches
1 bottle of Prosecco, or other sparkling white wine
  1. Wash and pit peaches.
  2. Cut into large chunks
  3. Blend thoroughly until pureed.
  4. Pour the peach puree into a champagne flute.
  5. Slowly pour the Prosecco over the top.
Note: For a sweeter cocktail, use a sweeter sparkling wine like Asti Italian wine, or semi-sec Spanish Cava. Another option is blending some sugar or honey into your peach puree. Also, if ripe peaches are not available, a good option is frozen peach puree.

Copyright 2010-2012 Chris Ciolli. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce texts or images without written consent. First published in the Tipton Times unless otherwise noted.

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