The secret history of La Serenissima. Masottina’s journey into the soul and culture of Venice.
Every day of the year, thousands of tourists come spilling in from the airport or from Santa Lucia’s railway station because Venice is not just a beautiful city, it is crazy, it is audacious, it is imaginative, pure genius. And so, every day the spectacle of a long human river slowly flowing towards Piazza San Marco. And yet, under the noise produced by thousands of slow paced, overwhelmed tourists from all over the world, you recognise a different beat, the sound of quick and purposeful steps. It is the step of the Venetians – because in Venice whenever you need to go to work, run errands or shop for something you have no other means of transport than your own two legs. The sound of soles hitting the pavements is an intimate call, an almost mischievous invitation to abandon the beaten track that leads to Piazza San Marco and discover those places known only to those who live their lives in this unique city. And so, following in the footsteps of an unknown Venetian, we leave Piazza San Marco and turn left towards Riva degli Schiavoni, pausing only to admire the double colonnade of the Doges’ Palace. A wonderful example of Venetian Gothic, of La Serenissima’s unique architectural history suspended between east and west.
Our anonymous ciceronehas stopped right in front of the fourth column from the left, to study its barely noticeable misalignment, how it juts further out than the others. This column has its own story.Those who were sentenced to death, centuries ago when the water of the laguna still touched the side of the palace that overlooks the basin of San Marco, were told they could escape their fate by overcoming an absurd, grotesque challenge. Legend has it that if the prisoner was able to walk around the fourth column of the colonnade without falling from the narrow step that serves as a pedestal to the entire building, his death sentence would be revoked. But the convexity of the column pushes outwards, the prisoner, with his hands tied, has no way of holding on to the column and only by a combination of luck and dexterity can he save his life.
Today, tourists who know this story can challenge each other, safe in the knowledge that, should they fail, their feet they will no longer touch water, as the seashore is now twenty meters away. The challenge is no longer a matter of life and death, a gamble with fate. At the most you can gamble with your friends and reward the winner with a glass of Prosecco. Because Venice also seduces with the enticing aromas you discover at every corner, in every alley, the sweet smells emanating from the many hidden bacari, the traditional Venetian taverns. Simplicity, local identity, and a network of small street food temples where a glass of prosecco is an authentic, shared pastoral. Baccalà and polenta, fried squid and sandwiches: participating in the collective ritual celebrating the most genuine traditional Venetian gastronomy can be a bit of a challenge too, because if one bite leads to another, so does one sip of Prosecco.Today, failing the fourth column challenge can lead to a pleasant discovery: exploring the bacari of Venice should, after all, be a matter of succumbing to their baroque and picaresque atmospheres: you win some, you lose some. I paid today, you’ll pay tomorrow. Uncorking together a bottle of Masottina’s Prosecco Doc Brut (96 points Decanter World Wine Awards 1027), will put a smile on your lips with its delicious brio.
But our intimate Venetian journey certainly does not end here.