Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lunch in an island garden

Torcello's Santa Fosca Church, seen from the garden at Locando Cipriani
Torcello Island in the lagoon north of the city of Venice could really be considered the mother of Venice herself.

In the 6th century, residents of a small Roman town named Altinum, tired of being raided by the Lombards and Franks, retreated to this little marshy island and rebuilt their city, even using some of the stones salvaged from their sacked home on the mainland.

Porch of the Church of Saint Fosca
Torcello became a prosperous town - in the 10th century, some 10,000 people lived on the little island. They rebuilt their first little church into a much grander structure, decorated with fine mosaics of gilt glass tiles.

But poor environmental management took its toll - by the 12th century, the wetlands had become polluted and choked with silt, breeding malaria and sickness. Everyone left and went to the newer city being built on the island of Rivoalto, periodically coming back to Torcello to scavenge building materials. Today all that remains of Torcello's medieval history is the fine Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the neighboring Church of Santa Fosca.

Leaving Venice by boat
 We took a vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nuove, which crossed the lagoon, stopping at the island of Murano, home to the famous glassmakers, and then at Burano, where we got out and caught the boat to Torcello.

The landing at Torcello
 After disembarking, you follow a long, wide brick walkway alongside a brackish canal, rustic fields overgrown with brambles on either side until you approach the old churches, where souvenir and refreshment stands are arrayed.

One peculiarity you notice is that along the way among the weeds and brambles are small houses, shelters for cats.

Cat houses
By the time we arrived at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, we were flushed with heat. An odd note amid the mellow brick and quiet bird-song surrounding the crumbling medieval buildings was the array of souvenir stands selling tacky carnival masks and tee shirts - and behind them along the fence, more cat houses.

Souvernir stands, cat houses and the campanile under scaffolding.
 The beautiful campanile was shrouded in scaffolding, under renovation. We took a guided tour of the building.

Church of Santa Fosca
 Our guide, a young woman with a background in art history, provided a fascinating in-depth explanation of the iconography in the amazing 12th century mosaics that depict the last judgement and the weighing of souls, the river of fire and the seven stages of hell. No cameras allowed, but if you want to see some pictures of the mosaic, you can go HERE.

Meanwhile, the heat rose and the sweat poured off our bodies - it was so hot it was almost surreal. Alas, even the contrasting vision of paradise was roasting!  What we needed was refreshment!

So much for the salvation of our souls. Torcello is also home to a noted inn and restaurant, the Locanda Cipriani. Founded in 1934, it became known after Ernest Hemingway hung out there to write "Across the River and Into the Trees." 

Our lunch reservation was at noon. We were seated in the shady garden, and served the signature apertif, a mixture of prosecco and white peach juice called a bellini.

After contemplating hell's river of fire, the idea of cool gazpacho appealed to me, and it was indeed heavenly. Bursting with bright vegetal flavor, garnished with diced cucumber, peppers and herbs, it was virtuously refreshing.

Our table overlooked a broad lawn and garden where a wedding party was taking place. Bees buzzed in the lavender while small children ran across the grass, and the families toasted one another with glasses of prosecco. They took their dinner beneath the shady arbor. [The Man I Love] had a first course of squid-ink gnocchi in a sauce of shellfish.  His second was a perfectly grilled branzino, while I had vitello al tonnato, garnished with piquant cornichons and capers.

Cool kitty!
 Nothing could have been a more perfect finish to the meal than the dessert - ripe strawberries dosed in balsamic vinegar, topped with whipped cream. [The Man I Love] went for a cool dish of pear sorbet.

Way to keep cool on a hot day!


Xeompho said...

Love reading all about your travels!
We had a cappuccino with our lunch today. It was slightly better than the average cappuccino you get at a Vietnamese hotel (=revolting) and totally covered in cinnamon. It reminded me of the cappuccino my mother used to order in posh coffee shops in New Zealand when I was a kid in the 80s. Since then, the fashion has changed a bit, and cappuccino in NZ usually comes with a dusting of chocolate. Which got us to wondering how cappuccino is served in Italy, where,presumably they know how to make it properly!
Do you think you could find out for us and report back?

Gary's third pottery blog said...

OK, its all gorgeous and I love the cat houses, but OH GOSH! The vine covered wedding party <3

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

But poor environmental management took its toll

Isn't that how it always seems to be?

déjà pseu said...

Your lunch spot looks divine! Cat houses, that's interesting. I wonder how that came about? I was also wondering whether you were getting some heat, sounds like a yes. Now, have you had a "Spritz" yet?? (Pronounced "spreetz.") It's the official drink of Venice, a little bitter and oddly refreshing.

smalltownme said...

Oh, how lovely.

Aunt Snow said...

Xeompho, so far I'm not sure how cappuccinos are served in Italy - I haven't had one yet. Must do in the next couple of days.

But during my days in Greenwich Village in the 1970s, a cappuccino was always a cup of espresso plus a cup of steamed milk - steamed a little foamy, which was different than a cafe au lait, in which the milk was just hot, not foamy. Generally, no cinnamon or chocolate was served with the cappuccino, though if I remember correctly, the customer had the option of adding those flavors his or herself.

Daniel Neuman said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years together.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Cat houses!!
The mosaic link was fascinating, and your lunch sounds and looks fabulous.
I think I'll sit here for a bit with a bellini.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I've been away from the computer for a week and am loving getting caught up on your travels. I wonder if this is where Hemingway got the idea for the cat houses that are all over the grounds of his home in Key West? Good stuff, Aunt Snow! Happy travels!