I’m such a snob. A complete and utter snob. At least when it comes to food. Maybe a few other things, as well, but where a meal is concerned (or really even a snack) I am an unrepentant elitist. Which isn’t to say that I am only willing to eat fancy food. Far from it. I’m just fairly insistent that what I eat is good. Which is why, as a rule, I refuse to patronize restaurant chains or any of those touristy places on the waterfront in Seattle. Or tourist restaurants in general.
The problem is, however, that sometimes you want to be in a particular location when you dine, and then you have to choose from the available options in that location. For example, on the banks of the grand canal on the one warm day (which also happens to be the last day) of your magical stay in Venice.
I had opted to leave my bags at my hotel after checking out so I could spend one more day in Venice. I wasn’t in any real hurry to get back to Rome. I walked through Venice that morning, completely in love, really not wanting to leave, feeling, in fact, much like I did the day I moved out of New Haven after graduation, knowing that I really should stay, and would come back if nothing else. I walked through alleyways and through San Marco and along the banks of the canals, and came to the Rialto and decided I really wanted to sit in the sun on the canal by the bridge and enjoy the warm(ish) sunny day and have a nice glass of white wine and some lunch and say goodbye to Venice that way.
One problem in that little vision, though. There are pretty much only tourist restaurants on the banks of the grand canal by the rialto. And tourist restaurants are the scourge of the culinary earth. I don’t understand them in the least, and I am convinced that they are the reason that I can meet people who’ve been to places like Italy and Spain and France and claim that they didn’t really like the food. Because the food in tourist restaurants is generally one step below something like TGI Fridays or Applebees in the States.
But I really, really wanted to sit in the sun and sip my wine and drink in the city with my eyes.
So, I descended from the bridge, steeling my resolve, and decided that I would pick the least offensive-looking of the places along the walk, and just hold my nose and go for it. Besides, I reasoned, I had spent four nights in Venice and eaten in four of the city’s top ten restaurants a total of five times
(Oh, I finally made it to Acqua Pazzo on Sunday night, and it was very good. I had a Caprese with fresh, housemade buffalo mozzarella that was so creamy and tangy and lovely, followed by a Neopolitan-style dish of dorado in white vinegar with fried zucchini slices. It sounds maybe a little odd, but you’d be amazed at how nicely the zucchini, slightly salty and crispy set off the spike of vinegar and gave a real vibrancy to what is otherwise not a particularly strong fish).
Back to the gauntlet of tourist trap lunch spots…It’s not like I could really claim that I had missed out, right. I could do this. I’m strong, and I’ve endured much worse travel misshaps, like the one that resulted in my ride in a police car in Pamplona. Compared to that, eating at a tourist restaurant should be a piece of cake. Er, tiramasu or something. So I walked, I regarded the menus, looked at the outdoor seating options, glanced at the food on the tables of the people already dining…
And got to the end of the walk. I hadn’t seen one that I could imagine spending my money, and more importantly, my calories, at. Drat. I saw a little alleyway, and started walking down it, figuring there might be some little trattoria with nice looking pizza or maybe some scampi prawn dish down that way.
Stop! (Cue the inner dialog sequence)
Paulette: Yo, dude!
Paulette: What, already?
Paulette: Remember, I wanted to eat on the bank of the canal, smile at the people in the gondolas, dream about living here some day? Are you that ADD that you’ve already forgotten.
Paulette: No, but those places were awful! You saw them.
Paulette: That’s not the point.
Paulette: I know, but I can’t eat there.
Paulette: It won’t kill you, you know.
Paulette: It might. And if it does, you’re to blame.
Paulette: Fine. Let’s just pick one.
And so I did. I chose based on what seemed like the most advantageous position to view the bridge and the canal traffic and get some direct sunlight. I ordered pizza and a half-bottle of white wine and a mixed salad.
I suppose the first sign that I would have been right to explore that alleyway for a secret trattoria was the wine that was brought out. Bolla Soave. Uhm, I guess I can be grateful it wasn’t Franzia White Zinfandel or something, or Boone’s Farm for that matter, but it wasn’t much of a step up.
Then salad comes out. The first salad, in fact, I’ve had in Italy with iceberg lettuce in it. And no bitter greens, thank you very much. I’ve been so loving all the arugula and radicchio in salads in Italy, and the lack of bland salad leaves. Ah well. The dressing was too oily and not in a good way, since the oil was just kind of greasy, not fruity and spicy or olivey or anything. And then the pizza. I had ordered an anchovy pizza. Nothing to fancy. And I guess it was ok, but…The anchovies were too salty, and they needed something sweet to balance them, like red onions. They didn’t need all the cheese on the pizza, which was too much, and they certainly didn’t need the capers and kalamata olives, which only added to the saltiness. I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of it without feeling like a slug turning inside out. (Sorry if that wasn’t such a pretty image).
Ah well. Train to Rome. Good dinner in Rome, at a hip place near the Via del Corso called Gusto. I had meatballs, which were actually three very large veal meatballs with a lot of sage and onion in a white wine sauce, and they were delish. And a prawn and mango salad with arugula and radicchio and very nice fruity oil and sweet, aged balsamic.
And this morning, the flight to Amsterdam.
There are people you encounter in life. People who do stupid things, or just fail to do smart things. People you look at and think, how do they manage to get by. How, just in a Darwinian sense, do they survive, let alone hold down jobs and pay bills and buy houses and cars and raise children and not burn down the garage and that sort of thing.
And every once in a while, it occurs to me that I am one of those people.
It mainly has to do with time. Maybe it’s kind of ironic for a project manager to have absolutely no sense of timing or deadlines, but I don’t. I feel pretty confident in the veracity of stating that, with the exception of my senior thesis, I never handed in a single paper my last two years of college less than a week late. My friends make jokes about my lateness, despite my attempts to be early all the time. I’m always rushing out the door, something half undone, the coffeepot still on, teeth unbrushed (yes, I brush my teeth in the car) because I’m going to be late for a meeting. And I miss planes. More than most people. I missed my flight to Spain last year. And on a visit home last year or so, missed the connection in Minnesota. I almost missed my flight to LA this summer when, after deciding that since I’d need to leave for the airport by 4am, and would be out until 1am or so the previous night, I should just not go to bed. And then, of course, I feel asleep and woke up with something like 45 minutes before my flight took off and had to run out the door like a madwoman and book it down the highway at nearly 90 mph to make it.
And so, it’s probably not surprising that this morning, when I went to check in for my flight this morning, the guy at the ticket counter said, “Amsterdam?” and I said yes, and he said, “The one leaving right now?” and I said yes. He handed me the boarding pass. “Boarding starts at 9.45.”
It was 10.05am.
It’s a wonder I made the flight at all. Some glitch in the catering service delayed the flight by about twenty minutes and I just made it. And for no good reason, really, except that I had decided to walk to the train station from my hotel this morning instead of taking the bus or tram and hadn’t chosen the most direct route, and then wound up realizing that the train to the airport was going to get me in to the airport 45 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off, and then of course the train got delayed….
Well, I made it. I checked in to my hotel in Amsterdam. I had a lovely liverwurst sandwich and a Heineken at a place in the Rembrandtplein and then found the sequel to a book that I finished yesterday that I just loved (thanks, Ron, for recommending “The Rotter’s Club”. That’s so far been my favorite book on this trip.) I’m still debating whether I should just go back to Italy tomorrow when I head back to the airport. I wonder if David would fire me if I didn’t come back for another week or so…