When in Venice…

March 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

Less to write about today for two reasons, one of which was my fault and the other of which was not.

My fault first: I woke up at an embarrassingly late hour. And I say embarrassingly late because I was actually embarrassed. Valentina, being always polite, didn’t wake me up and just let me sleep forever. Now I know not to rely on my own (lack of) a circadian rhythm to wake me, and I need to actually set an alarm.

After waking at this late hour (not going to name it), Valentina and I took the bus to the islands, where we got lunch at a restaurant by the campus where Valentina studies. She said she and other students frequent this restaurant between classes. Apparently the waiters and waitresses speak only in dialect and even chastise you if you use Italian! We ate delicious pasta (carbonara for me and balognese for Valentina) and I had my first ever espresso. (Obviously they have espresso in the US, but I don’t ever drink coffee. As in, I’ve literally never had a cup of coffee. But I figured “When in Rome Venice…”) The entire meal, also including bottled water, only cost 8 euros each. In Denmark, that is how much the espresso alone would cost!

We then walked to the Venetian Ghetto. From Wikipedia:

The Venetian Ghetto was the area of Venice in which Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. It is from its name, in the Venetian language, that the word “ghetto”, used in many languages, is derived.

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, “Venetian Jewish” ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (The Scola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, is believed to have been either French, or a private synagogue for the families who funded its construction.

We then took a tour of the synagogues, which brings me to the second reason I don’t have as much material for today: you were not allowed to take any pictures in the synagogues, and because a tour guide was with you the whole time, I couldn’t disobey this rule like I did in the church yesterday. We saw three of the aforementioned synagogues. The style of the buildings was very different that any synagogues I have ever seen: everything inside was extremely ornately decorated and gold colored and extravagant. A skylight shined down onto the reading desk. Apparently, Jews in Venice were only allowed to be money lenders, doctors, or one other profession that is escaping my mind, so the construction and art in the synagogues had to be done by outsiders. As such, much of the construction and design is heavily influenced by Italian and Catholic design.

In the third synagogue we went into, there was a pattern of tiles on the floor, and one tile was obviously misplaced. (The pattern was with large white and black tiles and in one section of the pattern, a black and white tile were reversed.) Apparently in Sephardic tradition, all man made things must contain one mistake because humans are imperfect, and only God can be perfect. Although I am an atheist so the god part of that wasn’t really my cup of tea, I thought this idea and practice of purposefully incorporating a mistake was quite beautiful.

A view of the main square of the ghetto and a side street: (As you can see, the buildings are very tall because residents were forced to build up rather than out because of the limited space in the ghetto. Additionally, the synagogues are at the top of the buildings because apparently it is against Jewish law to live above a synagogue.)

Afterward, we took the bus back to the mainland and walked around a few stores, and then met a few of Valentina’s friends for drinks. (It’s weird, whenever you order a drink here, they bring you potato chips.) Then we went back to Valentina’s house as it was her grandmother’s birthday, and we had a delicious meal cooked by her mother. (This eating good food is a theme, I think).

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