Venice: Love Thy Neighbor

I knew I had chosen the right place to live when I saw Elvis, or was it Liberace, at my corner grocery store–Billa. Cloaked in a black cape, a jeweled t-shirt glimmering underneath, he waited patiently in the checkout line. His jet-black hair, draped to his shoulders, hinted at youth; however, his aggressively receding hairline told a truer story of his age. Venetians in conservative wool suits greeted him warmly, inquiring about his day with little notice of his large rhinestone-studded sunglasses or dangling gold chains. He was one of them, a fellow member of my new hood—Caneregio.

There’s nothing I like more than eccentric individuals, people who move to the beat of a different drummer, or better yet, their own forty-piece orchestra. Venice is full of them, or so I have read, and I plan to befriend a few before the end of spring. Elverace is high on my list.


view from ca d'oro


My small apartment, tucked away on the top floor of a 14th century house, belongs to a friend who recently acquired it from a dearly departed aunt. One day it will be an expensive tourist rental, but for now it’s affordable and the only reason I can hold my audition. The interior is somewhat confining and the kitchen hard to maneuver; however, the private patio with sweeping views of ancient rooftops is a luxury granted to few. Located on a quiet canal between the train station and St. Marks, my new home is a block away from the Grand Canal and the vaporetto stop of Ca d’Oro, where I can jump on a boat and travel to anywhere on the island.


patio view venice


One of Venice’s main shopping streets is around the corner. I plan to wander the area and make friends before exploring other neighborhoods in an attempt to establish myself as a “local,” if only for a few months. I frequent the café down the street, wedging myself in front of the bar as all Venetians do for my late morning cappuccino. The proprietors, a serious, no frills couple in their 50s, have yet to recognize me. I ask questions in my best Italian, hoping to start a conversation, but neither one cracks a smile or offers more than a simple answer. I plan to weaken them with friendliness, though, until one day they wave me inside to chat.


caneregio cafe


My local wine bar, or enoteca, is an easier conquest. The waitress already knows my name and that I like a spritz* (the drink of Venice) around 6pm. Their outdoor tables offer a great view of life as people from around the world walk by in an assortment of interesting outfits: the Chinese in mundane colors, their women in big straw hats; the Italians always fashionable; the French with their large, colorful scarves and the Americans in baseball caps and practical footwear.


caneregio market


I enter Billa (the grocery store) on an almost daily basis. The place makes me happy. There’s always 80s music blaring on the speakers and a fine selection of fruit. On a good day I grab a basket and bop down the aisle to Madonna or the Village People. I marvel at the creamy balls of mozzerella di bufala floating in water, inhale the aroma of freshly baked bread, and eye the selection of homemade pasta with desire. Then, if I’m lucky, there’s a brief pause before “Thriller” comes on loud and clear. Within seconds customers begin mouthing the words and executing funny little steps while in line to buy marinated artichokes and thinly sliced salami. The stock boy, high on a ladder, sways his hips and replaces cereal boxes with expert precision and timing.


san felice


What more could I ask for?

It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.


** Spritz–white wine with sparkling water, and your choice of mixer: Aperol for the sweet version, Campari for the bitter.


Insider Tip #1: In a café, it’s usually half price to drink at the counter instead of sitting at a table. Basically, you’re charged rent on top of the beverage.


Insider Tip #2: Once a year, usually in the spring, Italy celebrates “Cultural Week” when all states museums are open to the public free of charge. It’s a great way to save money and see all the sites. In Venice, there’s also an interesting series of lectures on history and culture, making it a great time to visit.

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