The older lady waddles around a corner and spots the vaporetto approaching its stop. She is still quite a while away but doesn’t hurry, she just stares at the boat as she walks along. While I watch this scene from the front of the boat, I think to myself the old lady has resigned herself to taking the next one. Clearly, she knows better. The blond and bronzed youth who mans the comings and goings of the passengers slides the thick rope around the moorings, opens the gate, lets a small crowd in and then idly waits for the waddling lady, whom he knows. Actually, he knows at least one person at every stop.
You can tell who the Venetians are: they do not wear shorts or tennis shoes, they do not clutch maps or cameras, they don’t have a glazed look in their eyes and they speak in a pleasant and soft lilt. They patiently go about their business, walking over or around tourists inconveniently positioned at every turn and stay away from the streets bearing the yellow signs indicating where Piazza S. Marco or some other amenity is. It’s an easy enough secret worth learning. Venice is not that big that getting lost ever becomes a problem.
Getting lost is indeed a must. Crowds behave like sheep and the only way to avoid them is to cheat them by going just a few streets (or calli) behind where they are. I don’t need to see the Rialto bridge once again so I will just skirt around it, in the meander of intersecting streets where there is no one. It’s amazing – just nobody but a student here and there, hurrying to the Conservatory dragging a bassoon, a group of lawyers entering the courthouse, ladies with shopping bags. The other secret is that, if you are looking for a store that sells common wares other than masks, glass, prints or souvenirs, you also have to move away from S. Marco and enter Cannareggio or S. Polo where all kinds of charming or useful shops can be found.
Unless you are accompanied by a Venetian, eating out can be a daunting prospect, even for fellow Italians. Thick menus are a no-no, not to mention restaurants that post pictures of the food. But that is a no brainer. Charming trattorias can be tricky too and it’s best to check the crowd and listen to their dialect before committing to a place. Or else, given the chance, eating at home is a safe bet. After buying fruit and vegetables from a stand in Campo S. Margherita and the rest at the always reliable Billa, I watch the sun plunge behind a sea of red roofs, all shades of pink reflected on my kitchen walls; a gondolier in the canal underneath intones “Volare” in a deep baritone – a bit postcard kitschy maybe but, as I learnt, as true to the city as any of the grittier parts. In the meantime, my pasta is ready.