Cooking with Nathan : Scallops

It’s Saturday night, and I’ve got ten scallops from the fishmonger on Giudecca waiting to be cooked. But what am I going to do with them?

Now, the classic Scallops with Black Pudding is always a winner, but – unsurprisingly – I don’t have any of the latter and I find recipes that begin with ‘First make your black pudding’ a little depressing. However, I know that there’s half a pumpkin in the fridge that needs using up, so what could be better than scallops with a pumpkin puree? Then Caroline reminds me that she used the last of it up making soup for lunch…

Okay then. There must be something in the fridge that I can use to put a scallop on. Scallops with sprouts seem like a recipe for which the world is not yet ready but, fortunately, we have a small celeriac.

So here we are : scallops with bacon on a celeriac puree. It’s dead easy, doesn’t take a lot of time and it even looks a little bit cheffy!

Ingredients (for two)

Ten scallops
Small celeriac
100g bacon (or equivalent)
Butter
Cream
Parsley

Method

  1. Peel and dice the celeriac and put it on to steam until tender (20-25 minutes).
  2. In the meantime, dice the bacon (or equivalent) into small cubes and fry it until crisp. I used guanciale, as that’s what I had, but pancetta would have worked equally well. You need something suitably fatty though, as the fat is going to come in useful.
  3. Scallops aren’t that difficult to shuck and clean but they can take a bit of time if you’re not an expert (I’m not) so why risk a messy accident? The fishmongers did all that for me without me even asking and they did a better job than I’m likely to do. So just clean them gently (don’t run them under a tap as scallops soak up water) and pat them dry with kitchen towel. The drier they are, the more chance of them caramelising nicely in the pan.
  4. Once the bacon has fried to your satisfaction, take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and keep it warm.
  5. Mash the celeriac. Now you could just use a fork or a potato masher, but celeriac has a fibrous quality that can make it a little difficult, so I took a hand blender to it. Then add butter and/or cream until the consistency seems right. Season, and let it join the bacon somewhere warm.
  6. Now you need to work quite quickly. Reheat the bacon fat until it’s sizzling, and add your scallops to the pan. For a good sized scallop, one minute a side is just about perfect. Much more than that and they’ll start to toughen up.
  7. Make five little mounds of celeriac puree on each plate. Put a scallop on top of each, and then scatter the bacon and some chopped parsley over the top.
  8. Serve with a glass of prosecco. Bask in the admiration of your loved one. Try and ignore the plaintive looks from your cat.

    I cooked this whilst listening to HP Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” on audiobook. Howard, of course, was notoriously phobic about any kind of seafood, but I like to think even he might have enjoyed this…

    Buon Appetito



Venice in Film : Il Mostro di Venezia

1965 was a pretty good year in Italian cinema. Leone made For a Few Dollars More. Fellini made Juliet of the Spirits. And, erm, Dino Tavella made the cheapo black and white horror Il Mostro di Venezia, otherwise known as The Embalmer.

As you might expect from the title and the poster art, it would be wise not to expect anything too subtle. But if you want to see a skull-masked serial killer who dresses as a monk and preserves the bodies of his victims in a submerged monastery beneath the lagoon – well, you’ve come to the right place.

Sadly, however, it’s nowhere near as much fun as that might suggest. Yes, there are a number of nice location shots of Venice but the studio interiors are so obviously non-Venetian that the clash between the two is distracting. There’s also no getting away from the central problem of the film, namely that it shouldn’t be difficult to run away from a man in scuba-diving gear.

I don’t want to seem too harsh. This is a film made by an inexperienced cast and crew, evidently with very little money. And there are a few atmospheric shots of Venice by night which lift it a little. But I kept thinking that if they’d given Mario Bava the same money to make a film about an underground monastery in Venice he’d have made something fantastic and probably brought it in under budget as well.

None of the cast went on to much – indeed, for many of them, this is their only credit. As for poor Dino Tavella – well he directed just one other film, Una sporca guerra, and died a few years later. He was 49 years old.

So, do you need to see this? Well no, quite obviously not. The plot is ridiculous, the acting is nothing to write home about and the film feels a lot longer than its 83 minute running time. On the other hand, you do get to see a man in a wetsuit chasing a monk through St Mark’s Square and, for some, that might be enough. Caveat emptor!

Meet the New Year, same as the Old Year…

So that was 2020, and, safe to say, it wasn’t the year that anyone expected.

It was a year in which I spent an inordinate amount of time indoors. A year of cancelled events and festivals. And of “Venetian Gothic” coming out right in the middle of lockdown.

But, let’s be honest, I was one of the lucky ones. “Gothic” came out to very gratifying reviews (and even made the Literary Review’s list of crime novels of the year). I managed to do a few events online. And, if we had to be indoors all the time, I kept myself busy with writing and some Big Projects : I listened to every Hawkwind studio album in order, followed by every Bach cantata. Then later in the year, I listened to audio recordings of the complete HP Lovecraft, shortly followed by MR James. I don’t know why, but I had this urge – very Nathan-like perhaps – to obsessively complete things. Or perhaps it really was just having the extra time at home.

It was a good year, professionally, in spite of everything. “Das Venezianische Spiel” came out in Germany, and will be followed by “Venezianische Vergeltung” in June of this year, translated again by the wonderful Birgit Salzmann. “The Venetian Masquerade” came out in Bulgaria, retitled (pretty well, I think) as “The Lost Monteverdi”. And perhaps most importantly, my lovely publisher is really committing to the series with further Nathan novels confirmed for 2022, 2023 and 2024. I very much hope there’ll be more beyond that as well.

“The Venetian Legacy” is out on April 1st (and please let the bookshops be – safely – open this time). I hope you enjoy it – and if you want to read an almost spoiler-free prequel, my short story “Deep and Crisp and Even” can be found here (free, no less!) on the Waterstones website:

https://www.waterstones.com/blog/an-exclusive-short-story-by-philip-gwynne-jones

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken the time to write – it’s much appreciated : as I say every year – this wouldn’t be happening without you.

Finally, here’s a plea : there are many, many independent bookshops in the UK in need of support right now. And many debut authors are facing the truly wretched combination of closed shops and cancelled orders. That, I know, must be heartbreaking. Please try and support your local bookshop. And if you know a debut writer, try and give them a shout-out in whichever way you can.

2020, then, wasn’t the year I expected. It was also a lot better than it could have been. I am, I know, one of the lucky ones and I am grateful for that.

I hope 2021 is better for all of you, wherever you may be.

Venice in Film : Solamente Nero

This is another Venetian giallo, this time from 1978, which went under the (frankly rubbish) title of The Bloodstained Shadow in English-speaking countries. Spoiler : although there may be plenty of shadows in this film, none of them are bloodstained.

Nevertheless, this is actually a pretty stylish film and a fine example of the genre. The plot is a simple one : Stefano, a young college student, returns to Murano to visit his brother, Paolo, a local priest. Over lunch (a very Venetian meal of quails and polenta), Don Paolo tells him all about some of the more dubious members of his congregation. Members who soon start to die, in increasingly unpleasant ways. Stefano and Don Paolo work to uncover the mystery before they, too, become victims.

There are, as I said, plenty of shadows in this film, and one of them is the mighty shadow of Profondo Rosso, released to enormous commercial success three years earlier. Like Argento’s film, Solamente Nero uses a medium as a primary character, casts one of the grande signore of Italian cinema in something of a comeback role (Laura Nucci instead of Argento’s Clara Calamai), and plays very much with the concept of false memory.

Amongst the actors, Lino Capolicchio was apparently almost cast in Profondo Rosso but had to drop out following a car crash. Stefania Casini had recently appeared in Suspiria. Craig Hill, who had a long career in spaghetti westerns, makes a surprisingly convincing priest. The score, although composed by the great Stelvio Cipriani, also features contributions by Argento’s favourite collaborators Goblin (uncredited, due to a contractual dispute with their record company).

It isn’t the equal of Profondo Rosso, but that’s a very high bar. It’s very stylishly directed by Antonio Bido who makes good use of the Venetian locations, using a muted palette of pale greens, blues and greys. There are a number of effective jump scares and the murders are actually quite brilliantly filmed. Bido didn’t go on to have much of a career and, on this evidence, that’s a great shame.

If you feel inclined to seek it out, do try and get the Italian version – dubbing is always a problem with films of this genre as there would typically be an American/British actor involved in the hope of selling them abroad. This one isn’t particularly well dubbed and I found the accents distracting.

Should you see it? Well, yes, I think so, but with my usual caveat – it’s not a particularly violent film but the murders are pretty nasty so if that’s not your thing you may prefer to stay away. Otherwise, if giallo’s your game, I can highly recommend this.

And long-term giallo fans will be pleased to note the obligatory J&B whisky bottle in one scene…!

Cooking with Nathan : The Mushroom Diaries

It’s Monday morning, and Caroline arrives back from the market at Santa Marta with some mixed mushrooms – shiitake, pioppini, cornucopia, oyster – yes, it’s quite a selection!

There are also two kilos of them.

I’m not sure how we’re going to get through two kilos of mushrooms in a week. In fact we end up giving half a kilo away, but I still have no idea how we’re going to eat them all.

Nevertheless, we managed it. Here, then, are the details of our Week of Mushrooms, or, if you prefer, The Mushroom Diaries.

First, a few notes : I’ve experimented in the past with the best ways to store mushrooms and found that porcini, for example, will rarely last more than a day at room temperature. This time I stored them in the fridge, in paper bags, and they were still good six days later. Having said that, they didn’t leave mushroom for anything else…

<cough>…are you still here? I do apologise, I promise I won’t do anything like that again. Where was I?

Oh yes. Point two. Mushrooms need to be trimmed and cleaned, of course, but try and take it easy if washing them. Don’t just rinse them under the tap (I used to do this) because they’ll soak up water like a sponge.

As for cooking – well, for me, frying in butter is the only way. But whatever’s best for you…

So here we go (unless specified otherwise, ‘mushrooms’ equate to ‘mixed mushrooms’) :-

Monday : Mushroom and red wine risotto – and I really do recommend that you use red wine with this, it adds a greater depth of flavour. Intensely rich with that earthy flavour from the mushrooms. Very pleased with this one.

Tuesday : Mushroom omelette for lunch. Reminds me how nice an omelette can be. Then some friends take us out for dinner, where no mushrooms are involved.

Wednesday : Mushrooms with chicken livers on polenta. What really lifts this one is a soffritto of ginger and garlic. No, really, it does work. Here’s the recipe.

http://it.geniuscook.com/fegatini-di-pollo-trifolati-con-funghi-e-zenzero/

Thursday : For lunch I fry up the enormous oyster mushrooms and use them as a filling in a medium-sized ciabatta roll with some melted pecorino cheese (doesn’t have to be pecorino, it was just what I had in the fridge). A Prince Among Sandwiches. Some chips on the side would have made it perfect. We are taken out to dinner again (let me point out this does not happen as often as you might think) where, just for the hell of it, I have a prawn and mushroom pasticcio that was so good I think I should try making it at home.

Friday : We’re starting to see an end to it now, but there’s still enough left, together with a couple of sausages in the freezer, to make a sausage and mushroom pasta dish.

Saturday : I attempt to recreate the the prawn and mushroom pasticcio. I was pretty sure that no bechamel had been involved which simplifies things. I take the remaining shiitake mushrooms (perhaps 100g) and fry them up along with 200g of prawns (shelled weight). Then I build layers of lasagne sheets, a torn up mozzarella, and the prawn/mushroom mix. It goes in the oven for about thirty minutes at 200C (I cover it for the first twenty minutes to prevent to the top layer overcooking). Caroline says it’s her new favourite thing.

It’s Sunday night now, and there are no more mushrooms. It has to be said it was a pretty good week. I wonder what the next one has in store?

Venice in Film : The Venetian Affair

A friend of mine recently suggested “The Venetian Affair” as a future book title. I pointed out that Andrea de Robilant had got there before me with “A Venetian Affair” and I didn’t think simply changing the indefinite article to the definite would be sufficiently different. And then it turned out that there had also been a film of that name released in 1967.

I have to say that I’d never even heard of this before which – if you look at the talent involved – might seem strange. At any rate, it was a film I thought I needed to check out.

So, what’s it like? Well, there’s a pretty amazing cast of cult film actors but they’re all a bit underused. It’s always nice to see Elke Sommer but she doesn’t appear until halfway through and – spoiler alert for 50 year old film – doesn’t make it to the end credits. Boris Karloff is good value as a not-mad-for-once scientist, although I imagine his scenes must have been filmed in the US : the grand old man was in very fragile health at the time, and I doubt he’d have been up to location filming. Elsewhere, Karl Boehm from ‘Peeping Tom’ is suitably villainous, and there are cameos from Luciana ‘Thunderball’ Paluzzi, Ed ‘Lou Grant’ Asner and Roger ‘Harry Mudd’ Carmel. In the lead, we have Robert Vaughn, fresh from his huge success in The Man from UNCLE – and therein lies part of the problem with this film.

Given the title, Vaughn’s presence and, indeed, the poster art, audiences might have been given to expect an UNCLE style caper. Instead it aims for Ipcress File seriousness and ends up falling between two stools – the plot is too silly for a Cold War thriller, but neither is it very much fun. And Vaughn himself, obviously wanting to distance himself from Napoleon Solo, gives a low-key, downbeat performance that might suit the tone of the film but doesn’t really play to his strengths.

Do you need to see it? Well, it’s by no means essential viewing, but there are some compensations. The location filming is excellent, with some wonderful overhead shots of the marina at San Giorgio Maggiore, and the opening scene – where Boehm meets a contact in an otherwise completely empty Piazza San Marco – is so good it leads you to expect a better movie. There’s also a typically drop-dead cool score from Lalo Schifrin. But, at the end of the day, it’s all just a little bit dull. Worth watching, perhaps, but don’t expect too much.

Venice in Film : Chi l’ha vista morire?

220px-WhosawherdieI recently came across this slightly-obscure giallo from 1972, and decided to share my thoughts on it. It rarely gets a mention in articles about Venice in film, and never makes any Top 10s. And I think that’s a shame because there’s lots to admire in Chi l’ha vista morire (“Who saw her die?”) both as a giallo but also as a visual record of Venice in the early 1970s.

It was filmed one year before Don’t Look Now and shares much of the funereal atmosphere of Nicolas Roeg’s film. We begin in a French ski resort, where a young girl is murdered by a black-veiled, black-gloved killer. Years later, in Venice, the daughter of sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) is abducted and drowned. Serpieri and his estranged wife (Anita Strindberg) investigate, and discover some very dark secrets at the heart of Venetian society.

Aldo Lado is never really considered among the great directors of the giallo genre, but he does a good job here. The set pieces are stylishly done, and the dark, foggy streets of Venice are as atmospheric and beautiful as they are in Roeg’s film.

Lazenby – gaunt, long-haired and moustached – is unrecognisable as the former James Bond but he does look magnificently 1970s, as indeed does Strindberg, a regular in gialli during this period. Adolfo Celi turns up amongst the supporting cast, along with young Nicoletta Elmi who would later appear in Profondo Rosso.

The plot, perhaps, does not make a great deal of sense but then we don’t watch Italian thrillers of this period for narrative coherence. We watch them for the triumph of style over substance, and Chi l’ha vista morire has that in spades.  Dark corridors and staircases, shadows and fog, and a black-gloved killer – they’re all here. And perhaps most interestingly, the filmmakers had permission to shoot within the Molino Stucky – now, a five star Hilton hotel, but at that point just a crumbling industrial building that had been closed for decades.

Elsewhere, there’s a very fine score by Ennio Morricone that makes use of a children’s chorus dissonantly chanting the film’s title. The main theme is genuinely unsettling, although there’s a little too much of it and its appearance on the soundtrack pretty much guarantees that someone is about to die.

So, should you see it? Well, that might depend on whether you happen to like this genre of film, and the subject matter, of course, is rather grim. Neither is it on the level of Don’t Look Now. However, it’s full of visual and historical interest, and it’s also relatively restrained as far as gialli go (there’s a scissors murder – well, of course there is! – but the blood is a not terribly convincing poster-paint red). It can be found relatively easily online, in both English and Italian (note that the unfortunate Lazenby is dubbed in both languages) and I’m also told the Arrow Blu-Ray release is well worth investing in.

If you do watch it, I can guarantee that you will be baffled by the ridiculous final line. The film ran into trouble with the Italian censors and the church and so the producers threw it in as a last minute cop-out. It doesn’t convince for a moment, but neither does it spoil what’s come before..

Finally, it’s impossible not to laugh (albeit rather hollowly) at the scene in which Serpieri and his unnamed journalist friend discuss the future of Venice. “Venice is dead….there’s nothing to do here…we should be like another Las Vegas!”

If only they knew…

 

 

 

Cooking with Nathan : Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

It’s Friday night and we’ve been for a Negroni in the campo. Dinner, therefore, needs to be something reasonably easy to prepare. The weather is getting warm now, but it’s not too hot for the classic Gnocchi alla Sorrentina.

There is, however, a problem. The recipe I have calls for a ball of fiordilatte. Which I do not have. And 300ml of tomato passata. Which, again, I do not have.

Now, given that the two main ingredients of this dish are (a) cheese and (b) tomato, you might imagine that this was a little discouraging.

I do, however, have a ball of mozzarella which I think should do well enough. And I have a big bag of tomatoes. I could make a basic fresh tomato sauce but – given that dinner has already become a little more complicated than it might have been – I figure I may as well do something a bit more interesting.

So here’s a recipe for Gnocchi alla Sorrentina with a roasted tomato sauce.

Ingredients (for 2)

300-350g gnocchi (you could make your own, but I had a packet to hand)
300g tomatoes (I used datterini because that’s what I had)
1 medium-large mozzarella
6 decent-sized garlic cloves
20g or so of grated parmesan
Fresh basil leaves
Salt

Method

One of my lockdown projects has been a complete trawl through the entire Hawkwind studio catalogue, from 1969 – 2020. I’m currently on 2012’s Onward, and so that’s what I cooked to. I think it worked, but I was asked to use headphones.

Normally at this point, I’d prepare a spritz for us both. However we’ve just had a Negroni. I fear Bad Things Happening if a spritz is added to the mix. We settle for a glass of prosecco instead.

So here we go :-

1) Heat the oven up to 220C.

2) Put the tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, along with a good slug of good olive oil. Peel six good-sized garlic cloves, chuck them in and give them all a good mix together. Put the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the tomato skins have blackened nicely.

3) There’s not much you can do in the meantime, but you can at least measure out your gnocchi, tear some basil leaves, grate the parmesan and get the water boiling.

4) Now would be a good point at which to drink the prosecco.

5) When your tomatoes are done, take a blender to them and reduce them to a sauce. It might look a little gloopy, but that’s okay. Add salt to taste.

6) Put your gnocchi on to a nice, gentle simmer for about three minutes (or however long it takes them to rise to the surface).

7) Toss the gnocchi in the roasted tomato sauce in an ovenproof dish.

8) Tear the mozzarella into pieces and scatter on the top. Then scatter the parmesan over the whole lot.

9) Put the dish back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

10) When everything’s melted nicely, scatter some torn basil over the top, and serve directly from the dish.

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Be warned : this is going to be absolutely piping hot. You are also going to get tomato sauce and mozzarella strings everywhere, but that’s okay. It’s that sort of dish.

And as you’ve been good and fought off the spritz temptation, you could treat yourself to a glass of red wine with it as well.

Buon appetito!

 

Listening with Nathan : Venetian Gothic

Okay, it’s time for the soundtrack to ‘Venetian Gothic’! Or, at least, for a playlist of the sort of music I was listening to whilst writing.

There are no real spoilers here. You could, if you so wish, match some of the music to scenes in the book – I certainly do – but it’s not essential, and we might not be thinking of the same scenes anyway.

We start, then, with Stelvio Cipriani, one of the great Italian soundtrack composers, and the theme music to the tough poliziottesco (*), La Polizia sta a guardare. It doesn’t, perhaps, have much (by which I mean ‘any’) relationship to either the book or Venice but it’s a cracker of a theme tune and it led me to investigate other work by Cipriani, an incredibly talented and versatile musician who worked in almost every genre you can imagine.

Next is Bruno Nicolai’s theme to the giallo (**) La dama rossa uccide sette volte. I put this one in because I like the clash of styles – the main theme, I think, is very pretty; and yet there’s something spooky about the child’s voice at the beginning of the piece which I thought worked well with the atmosphere of the opening chapters of the book.

The third track is from Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus – ‘In this weather, in this storm, I would never have sent the children out’ – seemed to fit the novel perfectly. Similarly, it seemed appropriate to have a version sung by a woman, and so I chose Janet Baker’s, conducted by John Barbirolli.

We now take a quick detour through the record collections of Nathan and Dario. High Hopes is the last track on Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell, and my favourite song from that period of Floyd history. Again, there’s a theme of looking back at a  childhood that perhaps never was – “the grass was greener, the light was brighter” – which fitted nicely, and David Gilmour’s slide guitar solo is a thing of absolute beauty.

Next up are Marghera’s finest, Le Orme, with a track from the appropriately-titled Verità Nascoste (Hidden Truths). I chose In Ottobre because I thought we needed something a bit more upbeat after all that’s come before. It showcases all of Le Orme’s strengths from this period- Aldo Tagliapietra’s voice, Michi dei Rossi’s drumming, and a rippling guitar solo from Germano Serafin. They really were a great band.

It wouldn’t be a Nathan Sutherland book, of course, without the obligatory Hawkwind track, and this time it’s the opener to Warrior on the Edge of Time – Assault and Battery which segues, quite brilliantly, into The Golden Void. It’s not there because it fits a theme or a mood in any way, shape or form. It’s just there because I like it.

Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_III_(Alte_Nationalgalerie,_Berlin)

We’re still in Nathan’s record collection at this point, but classical this time in the form of Rachmaninov’s magnificent symphonic poem, The Isle of the Dead. This, I knew from the start, needed to be in the book, together with a reference to Arnold Boecklin’s painting of the same name.

And then we move on to Goblin’s La Chiesa from Michele Soavi’s film of the same name. Dark, portentous Italian symphonic-goth-prog at its absolute finest. (Is that a genre? It is now.) Goblin, at this point in their history, had basically been reduced to bass player Fabio Pignatelli. I don’t know if any session musicians were involved, but he did a great job.

The mood remains similarly dark, as we move towards the climax of the book, with Keith Emerson’s Mater Tenebrarum from Dario Argento’s Inferno – the bass part fits my voice very nicely and I’d dearly love the opportunity to sing it! The playlist then closes in a more reflective mood, with Stelvio Cipriani again and the opening theme to Anonimo Veneziano.

Do bear in mind that some of the films I mention are a bit of a tough watch, and far darker than Venetian Gothic itself. I don’t want anyone to be upset or have sleepless nights!

And, with that in mind, buon ascolto!

 

(* poliziottesco – a genre of tough Italian crime thrillers, popular in the early 70s. Many of these would be considered incredibly reactionary today, but they are of their time and – as a genre – poliziotteschi are full of interest)

(** giallo – slightly different from its literary equivalent, a giallo film is typically characterised as a thriller but with strong noir elements. It might have occasional supernatural overtones and aspects of the slasher film as well. It’s a difficult genre to pin down. Suffice to say, it’s very Italian and you’ll know one when you see one…)

A small taste of freedom

Two days ago I went to buy a newspaper, a sandwich and a book. Things that would have seemed banal at the beginning of March now seem like a bit of a privilege. I needed to stretch my legs and so I walked along the Zattere to what passes for Walter’s edicola these days. You might have heard about Walter. His newspaper kiosk was washed away into the Giudecca canal by the acqua grande last November. It’s since been recovered but, until it’s properly patched up again, Walter’s operating out of a space belonging to the church of the Gesuati on the Zattere.

I stop by Al Bottegon to pick us up a couple of panini for lunch. They’re famous for some of the best cicheti in Venice, and do some of the best filled rolls as well. Getting to the bar is usually akin to a contact sport, but there are no such problems today. The floor is marked out with tape, indicating the obligatory 1m of distance, but the bar is quiet anyway. It would be nice to stop and have a drink, but Caroline isn’t with me and I don’t think it would seem quite right. The first drink outside our apartment in ten weeks is something, I think, we really need to do together…

Libreria Toletta is the largest bookshop in this part of town. They’ve never stocked my books, but I forgive them (it’s an issue with the Italian distribution system, and there’s nothing they can do about it), and so I think it would be nice to stop off and browse. One door has been marked out as a dedicated entrance, the other as the exit. There are no formal restrictions on numbers, just a request to be patient and respectful. In the event, there is just one other customer. We dance our way around each other, leafing through books as best we can in our thin latex gloves, always mindful of maintaining a minimum distance from each other. I buy a book by Gianrico Carofiglio that I haven’t read – I don’t know why, but there’s always a book by Gianrico Carofiglio that I haven’t read – pay (contactless, of course) and make my way home along a not-quite-deserted Calle Lunga.

That evening we go out with a friend, for a Spritz at Nico’s on the Zattere. It’s a slightly odd feeling. Everything feels normal and yet – like everything else today – anything but normal. We are at liberty to remove our masks. The waiter, however, is not, which makes conversation between us feel just a little awkward, unequal. A family of five are seated on the adjacent table, positioned, of course, exactly one metre away. The three little girls wander just a little bit too close to us, and mamma arrives quickly to chivvy them back to their seats. Most of the customers unmask as soon as they sit down, other stay masked as long as they possibly can. Everybody, evidently, is having a good time, enjoying the early evening summer sun in that blessed period before it becomes too hot. And yet, it’s evident that things are not quite as they should be.

That’s to be expected, of course. Things don’t feel normal. Not yet. That’s going to take some time. But things are, perhaps, normal enough for now. And that’s enough to be going on with.

And it was also a hell of a good spritz.

 

IMG_5648