Therese and I woke up on our morning in Venice, Italy feeling excited about having two weeks to explore this amazing city. But did we jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and run out to start sightseeing, to cram as many sights into our first day? No, we didn’t. We gently eased into the day.
It was worth it just to gaze out the window at the amazing view from our apartment in Cannaregio. Just a picture postcard, almost too perfect a vista to be real. But it was real.
So we had a relaxing morning, and when we were ready, we headed out to see the main sight in Cannaregio (or at least one of the main sights), the church of Madonna dell’ Orto. The church is just a block from where our apartment lay, and walking there, we were thrilled all over again to be staying in such a great location.
The interior of the church is beautiful – it felt quite peaceful when we walked in there. In one of the side chapels lies the tomb and a monument (and bust) to the painter Tintoretto (who was born Jacopo Cimon).
And of course the artwork that fills the church makes it quite wonderful to explore. There is the late 14th century sculpture after which the church is named. There are altars in side chapels and other paintings by artists like Palma the Younger and Titian and Tintoretto’s son, Domenico.
But the true centerpieces of the church are the paintings by Tintoretto there. Yes, there is the Annunciation by Palma the Younger at the center of the back wall of the sanctuary. But it is surrounded by Tintoretto’s works – The Decapitation of St. Paul and The Apparition of the Cross to St. Peter flank the Palma Annunciation, while above are representations of attributes like Fortitude and Prudence.
As you move further away from the centerpiece, you encounter two monumental Tintoretto paintings – a Last Judgment on the right side, and his Worship of the Golden Calf on the left. But the most impressive painting of Tintoretto may be his Presentation of the Virgin that is a little further away from the altar, above the entrance to one of the chapels. I marveled at this painting, finding it hard to take my eyes off of it, even as I pondered the title (which is the virgin, the girl at the bottom of the painting/stairs whose has the adult woman’s hand on her shoulder, or the girl at the top of the stairs who is poised to enter the temple?).
When we left the church, I thought it would be fun to walk one block further north and see the Vaporetto stop which is also called Madonna dell’ Orto. That would give us the chance to see the lagoon, to experience the fact that Venice is, in fact, surrounded by water and at a distance from the landmass of Europe. Also, we could get a first glimpse at the smaller islands that lie not far from Venice, Murano and San Michele.
We did not have plans to visit either one of these islands, but we would visit two others that we just a bit further out from Murano, namely Torcello and Burano. As for these former two, San Michele is covered almost completely by a cemetery and looks quite verdant from the Venice mainland, with its lovely church (also called San Michele) apparent to our left.
We stood there on the dock of the Vaporetto stop and gazed at the water and the islands. It was refreshing, and we looked forward to riding out to the islands a week from then.
By then, we were feeling quite famished. Where should we eat lunch? I thought we would surely find someplace that appealed to us if we walked to Fondamenta Misericordia, a block south from the street of our apartment, and just three blocks in total from the water. We might have eaten at the very popular Paradiso Perduto (more than one friend had recommended this restaurant to us), but when we walked by there (really every time we walked by there) it was so crowded that we surely thought we’d have to wait a long time for a table. So we walked a little further, and found many tables available in front of Ristorante Diana.
For a long time, I have been a fan of squid ink pasta, pasta that is made black by the addition of the ink. In Venice, one of the specialties is something a little different, what they call linguine (or spaghetti) al nero di seppia. The pasta itself if just regular pasta, but what makes it black is actually the sauce they add, made with the black ink. Further adding to the flavor are chunks of the cuttlefish which is the origin of the ink.
I was blown away by the linguine I ate at Ristorante Diana. The sauce was luscious and rich, not overly seasoned. And the pasta had a bit of tooth to it, i.e., it wasn’t overcooked to the point of being soft, but neither was it al dente (i.e., undercooked). And the great thing about this dish is that it is not made with any dairy – the sauce is made with olive oil I am guessing. And in Italy it is anathema to put cheese on a dish with seafood, so even though I cautiously asked for my pasta “senza formaggio,” I was absolutely safe.
For dinner that night, it was my ambition, for my first meal prepared in our Venice apartment, to tackle a dish that seems rather legendary, chicken with forty cloves of garlic. I have heard people like Jacques Pepin mention it in hushed tones of reverence. I just thought, why not make a fairly simple but satisfying dish with the nice chicken legs that I bought at Prix Discount the night before? Now I will confess that from 3 heads of garlic I only got 34 cloves of garlic, not 40; but this did not turn out to be the greatest obstacle to making the dish.
When I got to the apartment and peeled the cloves and started assembling my dishes, I realized that there was a sign on the oven in the apartment’s kitchen instructing us that the oven was broken and should not be used. I couldn’t believe it! I had plans to back pies and do any number of things for which I would need the oven, but now, I had to abandon all those plans.
Most obviously, I was going to have to adjust my plans for that evening’s dinner, since chicken with 40 cloves is usually prepared in the oven! I decided I would use the largest skillet in the kitchen, add some broth to the skillet along with olive oil and garlic (and other seasonings), bring it to a simmer and then cover the skillet and let it cook that way until done.
Meanwhile, I did some stove-top grilling of sorts of slices of zucchini and eggplant – I brushed them with olive oil and then put them in a dry hot pan and let them get browned on each side.
Generally, the dish turned out really well. It was a bit too much on the oily side, with the fat from the chicken mixing with the olive oil. If I were to do it again that way, I would drain off the fat before adding the broth, something like that, to make it less oily. The garlic cloves were luscious and creamy just as everyone always describes them in discussions about this dish, and spreading garlic on some Italian bread that we found nearby made for a lovely accompaniment of the dish.
A lovely first day in Venice, at just the sort of leisurely pace that we love!