Updated: Sep 12, 2020
By Ken Gord:
I know exactly what you’re dying to ask. Go ahead. You want to know how many pounds I’ve gained since holed up here in Venice? Sorry to disappoint you, but as I don’t have access to a scale, I can’t weigh myself, and therefore I haven’t gained any weight. Logical, right? Hah! Couldn’t resist.
But food surrounds me! Italian food! Arguably the best cuisine in the world! And for some unknown reason, it’s here, everywhere I look!
Now, we’ve all enjoyed eating at a restaurant—a place to sit and enjoy“restoratives.” But how many of you know the difference between a restaurant, an osteria, a trattoria, and a bottiglieria?
I thought so.
An osteria (or hosteria) serves wine and simple, inexpensive food from a short menu of local specialties, often served at shared tables. Clientele is traditionally the after-work and evening refreshment crowd. Some osterie serve drinks only, with clients bringing in their own food. Some have retained a predominantly male clientele while others have reached out to students and young professionals, offering live entertainment.
A trattoria offers you less formality than a ristorante but more formality than an osteria—it’s similar to a French bistro. A trattoria may not offer a printed menu but will offer casual service and wine sold by the decanter rather than the bottle; like osterie, they feature low prices, with an emphasis on steady clientele. Food tends toward modest but plentiful, sometimes served family-style at common tables. Many trattorie have now taken on some of the trappings of ristoranti and vice-versa; some high-level restaurants have even adopted the word trattoria into their names.
You can also enjoy a bottiglieria, where customers may bring their own bottle or flask and re-fill it from a barrel.
Or you can try an enoteca, which prides itself on the range and quality of its wine.
Let’s not forget cafés, risto-pubs, snack bars, pizzerias, and all the hybrids.
After diligently researching this section, I found that I needed a wheelbarrow to move my stomach around in (you see what I sacrifice for you?), but since I couldn’t readily find one I decided on a long walk instead. Luckily, on every 3rd week of July, the city erects a pontoon bridge right across the Giudecca Canal (a distance of 330 metres, almost ¼ mile) for the Festa del Redentore, or Feast of the Redeemer; gondolini (small gondole) races run all afternoon—they’re not particularly exhilarating but still a pleasant way to spend a few hours if you’re in Venice during this time. And fireworks at night! (But not this year because of you-know-what.)
A few people asked me to write about the old Jewish ghetto, so I checked it out. It looks similar to other old Venetian neighbourhoods except for the five synagogues, two still active and three converted into museums. The word “ghetto” actually comes from the Venetian word ghèto and dates back to the early 16th century to describe the section of Venice where the city ordained Jews to live segregated from“normal” citizens. A foundry operated nearby—hence the word ghèto, actually the Italian word for "foundry." By 1899, the term had expanded to describe the crowded urban quarters of other minority groups. The Venice ghetto, back in time, connected to the rest of the city by virtue of two bridges, only open during the day. Guards opened the gates in the morning and locked them in the evening, with permanent, round-the-clock surveillance. Any Jewish resident caught outside after curfew received a strict penalty.
Remember how I previously wrote about the plethora of islands in the lagoon (shameless link to THE FLOATING CITY blog)? I took a boat trip with a couple of friends to the peaceful little island of Torcello, whose community dates back to 452 (as an island refuge from Attila the Hun) and, in pre-Medieval times, actually thrived as a more powerful trading center than Venice. In the 10th century, it had a population of 20,000; now it has a full-time population of 10, including the parish priest.The main attractions? The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639, and an ancient stone chair known as Attila’s Throne, which apparently has nothing to do with Attila the Hun (don’t ask). Torcello also offers the Ponticello del Diavolo ("the devil's little bridge"). It has some terrific restaurants, so worth a visit!
Speaking of old, the church of San Giacomo di Rialto near the Rialto Bridge, which dates back to the mid-5th century, claims the title of oldest building in Venice. It features a large 15th-century clock above the entrance. Don’t depend on it—most Venetians regard the clock as a standing joke for its inaccuracy.
I’ve really had a craving to go to a movie and eat popcorn. I don’t even mind if it’s not in VO (original version). When I lived in Spain producing Queen of Swords, I went to see Gladiator in Spanish. No problema. Who needs dialogue in an action movie? But, it appears that only one movie theatre remains active in Venice, Multisala Rossini. Where did they all go?
The former Teatro Italia in the Cannaregio district drew both criticism and praise over its controversial conversion from a beautiful cinema—days from the wrecking ball but saved at the 11th hour by an infusion of 5 million Euros—to a high-end supermarket. You can enjoy the original frescoes and the stage, now a gourmet counter (see Italian food, above).
The Goldoni Theatre, built in 1622, doesn’t operate as a movie house any longer but does offer live theatre.
Teatro La Fenice ("the Phoenix"), another grand old dame, demands a visit if you enjoy opera.
Before La Fenice, Venice enjoyed another famous opera house, the Teatro San Benedetto, which transformed into the Cinema Rossini movie house in 1937 and, more recently, a Risto-Pub (see Food, Italian, above).
Cinema Teatro Progresso dates from the 1910s. Now a store, the owner respectfully retained the early cinema house’s original stone façade over the entrance.
I’ve saved the most important question for last. Do you know the difference between ice cream and gelato? Sorry for the trick question—"gelato" actually translates as the Italian word for ice cream, so they’re mostly the same. But gelato uses a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all) and is churned at a much slower rate, thus incorporating less air, so it ends up becoming denser than ice cream with fewer calories, less sugar, and a lower fat content. Fun fact: Toronto prides itself as home to the fourth-largest Italian population outside of Italy, behind only São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and New York City. So, naturally, my hometown offers quite a few gelateria, including the famous Sicilian ice-cream company, which last year celebrated its 60th anniversary—I’m only too familiar with gelato (see wheelbarrow, above).
In my next blog, I will start providing juicy tidbits on the official pre-production of ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES, the movie I actually came to Venice to produce. Stay tuned!
Ken Gord has been producing international film and television for over forty years. Among his features are CRIMINAL LAW, starring Gary Oldman, and STUCK, starring Stephen Rea. He has produced over twenty television movies, mini-series, and series, including the syndicated cult hit HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES.