Chapter 4: Gondola

Nobody ever teaches blind kids how to ride bikes. It’s assumed they’ll crash and hurt themselves. Whereas other kids crash too. If you let a blind kid try, he or she will figure it out. This is how she felt about her lack of Italian. Her eyes were wider. She smelled everything and noticed the sound of the birds, the boats, the laughter, the cries….

“Gondola, Gondola”

A young stag chirped, whilst leaning upon a bridge smoking, his traditional straw hat with a navy ribbon drooped over his, oh too cool sunglasses. No, Thank you. But she was appreciative of his tight, striped T-shirt as she caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye.

She had finally reached the Grand Canal and knew where she was. She was walking the underbelly of the fish, along the Zattere.

Zattere - The name comes from the original rafters that shored there.

On the other side of the shore, Giudecca. Another bridge and another turning. She took a left. There was a canal lined with a narrow shaded walkway. The walkway was completely blocked with people huddled at a bar. She walked up to see what all the kerfuffle was about. They were just all eating and drinking. I guess this is aperitivo? She ‘scusi-ed’ her way through the crowd and into the tiny hole in the wall. Il Squero. Wooden panelled walls with Venetian paintings and a tiny angle in the corner for a bar. One girl was pouring wine, one girl plating crostini and the third frantically producing food in the corner. She was slicing all sorts of cheese and meats and scooping out various delights onto tiny slices of bread. The display window held at least twenty different wooden boards, all full of crostini. People were ordering 10-15 pieces at a time. An old school sign hung on the wall.

Cichetto 1,50,
Ombra 2,0
Prosecco 2,50

The crowd had pushed her all the way to the front and were still pushing from behind.
“Dimmi” The assertive girl insisted with plate and tongs in hand. She pointed at the only two things she recognized. Prosciutto, Pancetta..then she froze.
“Oki, try these” the girl could see she was scared and was trying to use her initiative to speed up the line. She added another two crostini. One simply with a hard cheese dribbled with honey and the other with a creamy purple puree.
Pecorino and Radicchio Trevigiana”  Hearing the hard roll of her ‘R’s mixed with the soft ‘gi’ made her giddy.

Pecorino means small sheep, a hard cheese similar to Parmesan but milder. The trevigiana was a bitter creamed chicory from the neighbouring town of Treviso.

Like a conveyer belt, she was shifted towards drinks girl.
“Er, Prosecco?” She smiled hard.

Prosecco = Life

The girl smiled back, she looked at the plate she balanced in her hand and held up eight fingers and then sliced the air with her hand, implying a half.


She shuffled through the crowd and finally found fresh air. Like everybody else, she rested her plate on the marble wall and stared at the seagulls bobbing along in the canal. They flew away as a Gondola crept through. On the other side of the canal, there was a Gondola workshop. San Trovaso. There were two of the eleven metre long boats turned up in the yard. The gondolier yelled over to the older man who was tarnishing the underbelly of the boat. Was he trying to fix a tune-up appointment?

A gondolier can drive any Gondola. However, each one has his own personal oarlock, a Forcola, crafted by Venetian artisans to reflect the gondolier’s back, legs, movements and rowing technique. This they take home every night and treasure.
She enjoyed being in a crowd and simultaneously at peace. Each bite had a different sensation. The creamy yet firm Pecorino, the grainy, chewy bitterness of the Radicchio, the cardamom from the Pancetta and the richness of the prosciutto. Each bite accompanied by the cute bubbles of her Prosecco. A light breeze passed her nose and topped off her contentment. She was done. Time to move on. It seemed there was a similar situation going on up the street. Fabulous! Round two. She almost felt like she was getting the hang of it. Also, she felt a slight buzz. Was it joy or Prosecco?

The next place seemed like a shop. The window was full of wine bottles with fluorescent cut out stars for prices. Il Bottegon. It definitely was a shop. She entered and one side was wall to wall wine bottles and the other side was a bar. There was a display window up front. A short busty woman, with white hair, pulled back into a demure bun, a pale pink shirt and a striped apron looked after the crostini. She would have been the sternest dinner lady but here she was a Mother Hen. There were another sharp dressed middle-aged man and a guy with an awkward cardigan and long dark hair yet a receding hairline. They all looked mildly disgruntled. The crowd seemed local and intellectual, mixed with a few foreigners or tourists, shall we say. Low and behold, there was also that quite good looking gondolier with his coworker. Although the coworker wore red stripes. If only she could sneak a picture! But no, she would not be a tourist.

She figured out of all three behind the bar, she might gain most empathy from Mother Hen. She went up to the counter….smiles a blazing. Everybody seemed to be eating the tuna with leek, so she pointed to that, then a pretty one with flowers, one with pumpkin…my oh my. Then she saw one with Pecorino.

She pointed saying “ I LOVE Pecorino…Io AMO pecorino” Still smiling hard.
The gondolier next to her spat out his wine and started choking laughing. His friend had tears and patted him on the back. Mother Hen lowered her glasses and glared at them.

“Stati Buoni…siete veramente bambini”

Great, her first attempt at Italian had caused raucous laughter and even worse from a young good looking male.
“Tutto ok Tesoro, Bon appetito” Mother Hen gave a warm smile but didn’t lift her glare from the boys.

“I’m Sorry” The gondolier gasped regaining his composure. “Someday you find good Italian man and he explain you…it just means little sheep”
He made a circle with his finger above the bar and three Proseccos appeared. Awkward cardigan pushed the Proseccos towards them and looked at her with a hapless sigh. “He no good Italian man…he is only silly gondola man with tiiiny brain.”

The gondoliers clinked glasses with each other, with her and tapped them on the bar whilst giving a nod to the unimpressed bartender. They knocked it back in one gulp.

“Grazie Marco!” He cried with gross intonation. Then he turned to her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“E Grazie a te, davvero” He grabbed his friend around the shoulder and they giggled out of the door into the dusk.

All three barkeep looked back at her with a mutual shrug implying uselessness.



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