Weeks 3 + 4: Overrated / Underrated Edition

I’m really bad at this blog thing–this will make about two weeks since my last update.  Unacceptable blogging etiquette.  Anyway, if I tried to write about these past two weeks with my customary detail and flowing prose it would read like a David Foster Wallace novel (I mean, EXACTLY like DFW), so, for everyone’s sanity, I’m picking and choosing for the time being.  Also, I wrote most of this around 1:00 AM, so, uh, buckle up.

Overrated: American Coffee Shops (I See You, Starbucks)

Did you know the coffee in Italy is really good?  And reasonably priced?  I don’t even really drink coffee, but I just feel obligated to say it.  In fact, I drink all of my beverages out of espresso mugs, in the following manner:

SO EFFICIENT.  Ball’s in your court, Schultz.  Next time I order a Triple Venti Latte, 100% foam, whole milk, infused with, like, 12 squirts from that caramel tub and an entire Hershey’s bar of milk chocolate (some people go with dark chocolate, but, c’mon, it’s a latte), it should come in 10 equal-sized mugs.  America will be so cultured.

Underrated: Italian Countryside

Well, it really isn’t underrated–I think people realize how awesome it is.  But again, I feel compelled to say it.  We took a trip to Castelfranco (there’s a castle), Asolo (there’s another castle), and Caerano San Marco (no castle, but pizza, spritz, and the home of Diadora).  We saw all these places in a day, as well as toured the Bele Casel winery and had an awesome traditional Italian lunch with the bigwigs at Bele Casel (really, just the family of our friend Paola).  And although I touched on the very, very true history of the area a bit with my last post, here are a few more pictures to outline where we went and the sites we saw:

Overrated: Beer Festivals

I didn’t go to Oktoberfest; I tried to recreate it with disappointing results; and I actually tried Paulaner Oktoberfest this past weekend–I prefer regular Paulaner.

But really, Oktoberfest sounds sweet–the thought of German beer, sausage, and pretzels is enough to whet anyone’s palate before immediately drying it.  I just wanted to list this item to contrast nicely with my next one, which is…

Underrated: Wine Festivals

BOOM–that’s a nice parallel structure there.  DANGER: Wordsmith at work.

We went to the Festa del Mosto in San Erasmo this past Sunday, which literally translates as the Must Party.  But no, this isn’t a 2034 Rob Gronkowski political campaign–it’s actually a subdued wine tasting / festival on one of Venice’s exterior islands.  We were able to try both the finished prosecco products as well as the must, which, for the layman, is the freshly pressed grape juice which is eventually turned into wine.  Which is so good, it is almost deserving of some lyrical poetry, an Ode to Must, if you will–that is, if words could even describe the greatness of this drink.

“But, dude, can I get SMASHED off it?”

Not really.  It has some alcoholic content, but it’s way closer to fruit juice than it is to wine.  Even sangria thinks grape must is a girly drink.  But if you really wanna, you can try.

Anyway, the event was a really laid-back affair: a bunch of wine and food tents, as well as a market, some kids playing soccer, and some–hopefully–different kids stomping grapes in a festive celebration of agrarian tradition.  See for yourself:

Overrated: Train Ticket Verification

Does not occur in Italy.  Kinda makes me worry about my safety, but until I see Dennis Hopper from Speed getting onboard, I’m not too concerned.  Still, am I mad I haven’t had to fight terrorists on the top of a train yet? A tiny part of me is.

Underrated: Labor Strikes

At any given time, dozens of Italian organizations are on strike.  It’s not always clear what they’re striking for, or if they just want a day off during the middle of the week for no apparent reason, but I respect their devotion.  Well, their devotion to not caring too much about their work.

Anyway, the ACTV (the vaporetto organization) went on strike last week.  Some lines have to run in Venice–specifically, the boats connecting the exterior islands to the main island of Venice.  The general lines, along the coast of the main island and through the grand canal, run occasionally during the day.  Not that inconvenient, as far as strikes go, except when the lines that were supposed to run didn’t run and we were trapped on the  mainland for the evening.  I don’t really like or dislike the ACTV any more now, but I won’t take it for granted: in Top Gun terms, “I still think it’s dangerous, but God-dammit do I respect it.  ACTV can be my vaporetto service any day.”

Overrated: American Chain Food Restaurants

I’m not talking about Mickey D’s or Chipotle, although I could go for some carnitas right now.  I’m talking top-of-the-line stuff–Chick-Fil-A and Cookout–and those can’t compare to the chains in Italy. I’ve eaten at three chains in Italy, and although they didn’t have unlimited salad and breadsticks nor a Never Ending Pasta Bowl, they were still incredible meals.  Great pizza, great gnocchi, and compared to American chains, very few stains on the floors.

Underrated: Helping Tourists, When Appropriate

On Saturday night, we were out enjoying some spritz as an aperitivo (classy, yet economical) when a lady from Thailand came up and asked to use our phone.  While she was explaining why she needed this favor, her phone died, and she immediately started sobbing hysterically.  Apparently, her fiance/husband (the details were murky at best) had left her in Venice and returned to the hotel, but she had no idea how to get back to the hotel, which, of course, was in Mestre (meaning she had to take a vaporetto to the train station and get on the right train to take her there).  She did not have any phone numbers she had memorized that she could call, nor did she know the name of the hotel where she was staying. Somewhat shockingly, she also did not speak Italian.

Eventually, we were able to calm her down and get her to a vaporetto stop.  There we found some tourists staying in Mestre who were willing to help her get home.  They all boarded the boat and set sail to Piazzale Roma, where they’d catch a bus to Mestre.  I don’t know if she made it home alright, but it sure felt good to help someone in need, especially someone in such a dire situation.  I normally try to keep it pretty light-hearted on the blog, but this was just a really touching moment of humanity.

(Her Venice guidebook was in German, though.  And I don’t want to leap to assumptions, but I doubt this lady spricht Deutsch, as they say.  My point is, maybe she wasn’t entirely innocent in this whole spiderweb of misfortune, and maybe, this useless purchase was what angered her fiancee.  I don’t know–I certainly wouldn’t have been thrilled if my fiancee bought the wrong guidebook on our vacation.)

Also Underrated: Mocking Tourists, When Appropriate

The only annoying thing about the grape must festival was getting there: we had to get a boat to the mainland, then walk across the island to Fondamente Nove (on the north side), then take a boat from F. Nove to S. Erasmo, BUT THEN take ANOTHER boat to the other side of S. Erasmo, where the actual festival was being held.  When we first got on the boat at F. Nove, there was an American couple nearby who, while seemingly nice, had no clue how to get to the festival.

To be fair, I had no idea either: by this point, though, I’ve adapted to Italy enough to just roll with the punches when appropriate. Here, it was just a matter of following the crowd.  Still, the man of the couple, betraying his fears, asked us, “Are you guys going to the must festival? Do you know how to get there? Where do we get off?” All legitimate questions–we told him what we knew and thought that he would be satiated.

However, once we arrived at S. Erasmo, and we had to change boats.  The man at this point grew anxious.  “Is this for the festival? Where’s the festival?” Slightly less coherent, but still manageable.

What was actually demanded of all of us passengers, though, was to disembark but remain in the boarding area, let all of the other passengers who had actually reached their destination squeeze by, wait for the passengers returning on this boat to board and leave, and then stand patiently for another boat to take us where we needed to be.  Not too simple, but nothing too bad, right?

By this point, though, the man was in desperate need of a Venetian sherpa.  He had been reduced to simply whimpering “Festival?!” at random passersby in hopes of getting someone’s attention: it was like watching Randy Marsh descend into helplessness every South Park episode.  Like watching dementia in fast forward.

The tale had a happy ending, though: the man eventually found the festival and found another group of people to harass.  Not sure if he made it back, but hey, I’m rooting for him.  It’s a heartwarming story.

Overrated: Getting Lost in Venice

Two things: 1) Venice has really narrow streets, and although it’s a safe city, the idea of getting lost in Venice shouldn’t be romanticized.  Yes, it’s pretty, but it’s more just a pain in the ass more than anything.  More importantly, 2) there are signs everywhere.  Everywhere you go: there’s —–> S. Marco  or <—– Rialto or even ——–^ F. Nove.  Really, there’s no excuse for getting horribly lost in Venice, as long as you can trust an arrow or two.  And if you can’t, you may have some deeper issues.

Also, 25 minutes to cross the island walking on Sunday, and 8 minutes from the Coop to S. Zaccaria today.  Cruise control.  This may not mean a lot to those of you in ‘Murica, but it means a lot to me, alright?  THIS IS MY LIFE.

(Also, random thought, but a Mario Kart racetrack based on Venice would be great, right? You’d never know which roads to take, and if you messed up you’d have to turn around or fall in the water? And then there’d be some bridges and an open space for Piazza San Marco?

Actually, that’d just be Yoshi Valley.  BUT WITH TOURISTS.  Total game-changer.  Get at me, Nintendo.)

Underrated: Seedless Grapes

C’mon, Italy, this is wine country: I should have billions of types of grapes to choose from.  Grapes without seeds, grapes with too many seeds, grapes with three peels, yellow, blue, and purple grapes–make it happen.  I had forgotten that seeds in grapes even existed in agriculture anymore.

“Lucas, is this really affecting you so much you feel compelled to write about it?”

“Why yes it is, other Lucas.  This is actually how I’m ending the blogpost.”

“Dude, did you really have to steal a bit from Archer and suck all the funny out of it?”

Anyway, we’ll end it right here while it’s still relatively painless.  Check in next week, or the week after, when I share some startling conclusions about pasta and pizza in Italy.  (Spoiler alert: NOT BAD!)


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