Monthly Archives: March 2018

Vigili del fuoco

“Is that the firehouse?” one of my American friends asked?

I was taking them on a walking tour of Venice.

“It sure is,” I said.

I led them onto the adjacent bridge so they could look at the fireboats parked in bays inside the enormous stone palazzo.


Vigili del Fuoco on Rio di Ca’ Foscari.


“Holy cow,” was my friends’ general reaction. They had forgotten that fire engines would be useless in a city with no streets. In Venice there were fire boats, a very few to cover almost the entire lagoon.

“Do you think they’d let us inside?” Martha, one of Americans asked. “We always check out the fire departments wherever we go.”

They were firehouse aficionados and collected tee shirts and other souvenirs every time they visited one in the U.S. and abroad.

“There’s only one way to find out,” I said.

We rang the doorbell and waited. Eventually a man answered the door. He was wearing a Venetian red polo shirt with Vigili del fuoco embroidered over their logo. Martha leaned into my ear. “We have to get some of those,” she said.

In my poor but well-intentioned Italian I asked if we could tour the firehouse. In his poor but well-intentioned English he told me to wait a minute, one of his coworkers spoke English.

When the English-speaker saw three youngish, attractive, American women in our group he was all welcoming smiles.

“Come in,” he said. “We show you everything.”

And they did. We got up close and personal with the fireboats in their bays as well as the warehouse where they refurbished and repaired boats.



They pointed out the Captain’s boat, more elegant than any water taxi, with special pride. They spent a lot of time polishing it.

After we had inspected the boats they took us inside for a quick walk-through that eventually led to the spacious, modern kitchen.

“Can we offer you prosecco?” our guide asked.

“Absolutely,” Martha answered without missing a beat.

He looked at everyone else and perceived that not all were enthusiastic about wine at 11am.

“We have soda too,” he said, surprised that anyone would turn down a prosecco. He and his cohorts fetched bottles of Prosecco and sodas from the fridge and poured them while the Americans peppered them with questions about putting out fires in a city like Venice.

“I love your shirt,” Martha finally said. “Could I buy one?”

He looked over at his boss, uncertain of something I couldn’t decode. His boss nodded. “Quanto?” the younger fireman asked sotto voce.

They obviously had never been asked to sell them and decided on twenty euros a piece as a fair price. The Americans bought six and wore them proudly as we headed out toward our original goal, the bridge across the Giudecca Canal constructed on the backs of boats once a year for the Festa della Redentore.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Talking Venetian

If you  arrive in Venice by train, this is what you see first as you walk out of the station.

Because there are no streets as we understand them, Venetians have different words for different types of pedestrian passages.

These narrow streets are called calle.


This calle is wider, has shops on both sides, and leads into a campo, or square. Streets that were originally paved (as opposed to mud paths) were called salizada.

A street that runs along a canal is a fondamenta.


Here’s a canal, a fondamenta, and a calle.

The Zattere is a long boulevard-y fondamenta along the Giudecca Canal, the channel separating Venice proper from the adjacent island of Giudecca.


Altanas, which are not unique to Venice, are wooden decks built on rooftops.


The altana on the left is smallish. The one on the right is adjacent to the roof terrace of the building I lived in near the Accademia.


A pozzo is a well. Since Venice had no access to fresh water until an aqueduct was built in 1886, they depended on capturing rain in these clever pozzi built over cisterns with sand filtration systems. Every campo, or square, had a pozzo, as did the courtyards and gardens of people who could afford them. When water was finally piped into the city, the pozzi were sealed. In order to qualify as a campo, a square needed both a church and a pozzo; if it had only a pozzo, it was considered a campiello — a little square.



A sottoportego is a passageway where a street runs though the ground floor of a building.


Here is a sottoportego leading to a campiello with a pozzo.

Acqua alta, which literally means “high water”, refers to the recurring extremely high tides that flood much of the city. Wooden walkways above the sidewalks, called passarelle, are put out in advance (hopefully) of the acqua alta.



Acqua alta doesn’t stop anyone from grabbing a coffee at their favorite bar.


The campi are the centers of neighborhood life. This is Campo San Giacomo del’Orio where I shopped and grabbed coffee and sat and watched the Tuesday night tango dancing for three years until I moved near the Accademia.


Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri: San Marco, Castello, Canagreggio, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce. Campo San Giacomo is in Santa Croce.

Laundry day in Castello.

The library of the San Giorgio Maggiore complex, dating to the renaissance, had a nice filing system: an author’s works were shelved under his statue. You had to know what Plato or Plautus looked like.


And a couple miscellaneous items I couldn’t resist.

A renaissance keystone on an arch over a water door along a canal. You always have to look up as well as down when walking in Venice; you never know what you might see.

A group of school children stop to listen to this gentleman play “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on crystal glasses filled to different levels with water to produce different tones. This particular spot was not far from my garden gate, and with my windows open I often heard him playing. He’s pretty good although the repertoire is limited.








Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized