Category Archives: low carbon diet

THANK GOD FOR ITALIAN MEN (and other unusual things to do in Venice)

Just another bridge – ducking required when passing on a boat

The construction workers had been busy around the hole in the ground for a few days, just next to the bridge I walked over, first thing in the morning, sleep still in my eyes, to reach Bar Nico for hot croissants. Two days before my birthday, upon my passing, one of them whispered “Sei bellissima”. With uncombed hair, yoga pants and not a stitch of make-up, I strongly doubted his assertion about my beauty and I kept on walking. On my way back, croissants and newspaper secured under my arm, the same worker, undeterred, asked me if I could stop for a minute. I don’t, I am sure he uses the same lines on half  the women who walk by, thereby delaying the filling of the hole in the ground, but I chuckle internally because this stranger, a good 20 years younger than me, gave me the gift of an uplifting  compliment on the eve of a distracting and slightly traumatic birthday.

And so, here I am, with half a century behind me and an improbable 50 more years ahead. If anything could soften the blow, I knew that Venice could. Maybe Stefano, the genial host of Osteria Mascaron where I spent a pre-birthday dinner (I am known to stretch celebrations for days before and after) is right: Venetians are kind people because they live so intimately with and along the water and because having to walk everywhere robs you of any aggression. Venetians are indeed a patient lot, always eager to answer questions, give directions, unfazed by the throngs of tourists who stop abruptly, trip getting on and off boats and generally impede basic daily activities.

I am celebrating this milestone, this clarion call to change what doesn’t work anymore and to keep forever what stood the test of time, with some of the people I love most in the world, in one of the most mysterious and enchanting locales in the world. The light is not as bright as in California but it is softer, warmer. The full moon hanging over the island of Giudecca looks more playful than the one over my canyon, bathing rows of pretty houses rather than chaparral and coyotes. Maybe this light is the reason I am contemplating a possible move over here, some time in the future: it will be kinder on wrinkles. Or maybe because this is a place acutely aware of its past and, as we grow older, so are we.

The biggest surprise of turning 50, an age that, in my 20’s, was synonymous with demure two-piece suits, strings of pearls and bridge parties, has been the amount of energy I still have and the need for change, as if a different chapter were opening. I haven’t felt this exhilarated in years. Now, if I could only hold on to this feeling for the next 10 years…

Here are a few suggestions of unusual things to do in Venice, places to go or eat, that you won’t find in guide books. Some require a boat, that can be rented but it might be easier to befriend a Venetian – they are all equipped with boats the way we are with cars.

For Art Lovers: Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Ok, you will find this in guide books but it might not be at the top of your list. It should be. This sort of trade union of the past commissioned Tintoretto to decorate their building – all I can say is “breathtaking” View some images here

For Book Lovers: Libreria Toletta is a maze of a bookstore  with different rooms dedicated to different subjects. The staff is very knowledgeable and will help you picking books on Venice in very many different languages – Sacca de la Toletta 1213, a stone’s throw from the Accademia Museum

The welcoming cat taking a break

Libreria Acqua Alta is an extremely fun place. Strictly used books arranged in piles, inside bath tubs or in a real gondola in the middle of the largest room. A cat sort of welcomes you outside while the owner, Gigi, will chat you up and offer you free books for a date (if you are a woman). Small English language section but prints and other fun items are for sale. Calle Longa S. M.Formosa 5176 (near Campo S. M Formosa in Castello)

For Food Lovers: Osteria al Mascaron is a Venetian mainstay. Reservations are recommended. The food is incredible. Try the polenta with squid ink for a real Venetian experience. Osteria Mascaron

Caffe ai Frari – an ancient Cafe that serves cold cuts, sandwiches and salads at lunch. Service is slow but the place is so charming, devoid of tourists and the prosciutto from the nearby Dolomites so delicious that is worth the wait – just off Campo dei Frari in S. Polo

Bar ai Tedeschi – on the tiny island of Sant’Erasmo there is a modest bar on the beach that serves the best spaghetti with clams I tasted the whole vacation. You can also swim. But a boat to get there is required.

Trattoria Le Vignole – on the Vignole Island, this can be reached with a vaporetto and I promise there will not be a tourist in sight (other than the ones who read this blog). You order fish at counter and then you eat in the large garden right on the water. Delicious!

Pasticceria Tonolo – for your sweet tooth. Go early in the morning and get a doughnut or, as we call them in Italian, krapfen. Well worth the inches around your waist – Calle de San Pantaleon, near Campo Santa Margherita

Full moon over Giudecca

For the Romantic in you: Take a walk along the Zattere embankment all the way to Santa Maria della Salute church. Enchanting. You will see the moon rise of Giudecca island, sit on the steps of a beautiful church while staring at San Marco, the water lapping around you. It’s what I always do on my last night in Venice.

La Fenice Theatre. Possibly the most beautiful baroque theatre in the world, it burnt down a number of years ago and was painstakingly reconstructed in every minimal detail. Get a couple of tickets for any of the operas or ballets – your jaw will drop when you walk in. You can also visit it during the day with a guided tour but experiencing a performance is way more chic!

If you happen to befriend a Venetian, ask them to take you swimming in Bacan. They will explain and, hopefully, take you







Filed under Italy, low carbon diet, Travel, Venice


It has become increasingly difficult to know how to eat without harming the environment, animals or just someone else’s sensibilities. Every week brings some piece of news of what is good for you, which wasn’t up until a minute before and it’s all very confusing. By and large, I ignore what it is I am supposed to have that is good for me and I eat most things in moderation, avoiding packaged food as much as my cravings will allow me (chocolate being an exception).

But there are things I do care about and knowing where my food comes from is one of them, embarrassing friends and family to no end when, in a restaurant, I will enquire as to the provenance of the chicken – if the server looks puzzled I order something else. I know – pretentious – but I don’t need hormones in my meat or fortified anything. There is enough in nature to fulfill the daily allowance of vitamins and nutrients we need without worrying about buying milk with extra iron or cookies with folic acid.

In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about how food impacts carbon emissions and there are some basic notions we should all be aware of and keep in mind when walking the aisles of our local market. Let’s start with cows, those benign bovines who give us beef, milk and leather shoes. Well, raising cattle in large amounts means burning fuel to provide the fertilizer that goes into growing the feed for the animals. Once slaughtered, the meat is typically transported long distances before becoming the burger you are possibly eating right now. All this translates into  9% of all carbon emissions in the world. I am not making this up – if so inclined, check out the UN report from the Food and Agriculture Organization that came out about 3 years ago; it’s close to 400 pages so you might just want to take my word for it. But what is going to make you chuckle, and maybe stare at the screen in disbelief, is that cows’ farting (and their manure) account for 1/3 of all methane emissions – methane, incidentally, warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. This is my short explanation to persuade you to decrease your consumption of red meat and cheese – which is good news for your health anyway.

Exotic fruit and produce should also be consumed sparingly. I am lucky, I live in California and most produce and even some exotic fruits are grown locally but bananas are my pet peeves – I love bananas and I still buy them once a week knowing perfectly well they were flown thousands of miles from South America. I justify myself thinking I am helping some Peruvian farmer staying employed. Nor would I dream of giving up coffee or sugar  just because it’s not locally available. Activism taken to an extreme is invariably boring – but today it’s Earth Day so let’s pause a moment to consider all that cow’s wind and let’s forget beef for the rest of the week, shall we? Much easier than foregoing stilettos…

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Filed under cooking, low carbon diet