Moonrise over the Grand Canal, shot last week from Marco Giol's wooden motor launch.
VENICE--This densely packed archipelago, an intricate latticework of some 120 islands and 400 bridges, is home to perhaps 50,000 people. (Higher numbers, which you may have read here, refer to the commune of Venice, which extends well into the mainland.) On any given day, there are probably 100,000 tourists wandering about as well, some of them enjoying the schmaltz of a serenade aboard one of La Serenissima's 450 gondolas. Even as its foundations crumble, the city remains an enchanted place, drawing sustenance from its love of edgy art (especially the Bienale) and the vitality of its swarming tourism.
If you visit Venice, you wander. You might have a map in your pocket with the name of your hotel to rescue you, when you can no longer bear the lightness of being lost. Venice is a city of lost tourists looking for that special doorway, that magic courtyard, that perfect palazzo. They haunt the souvenir shops along the Rialto bridge, they line up outside churches and museums, they congregate in restaurants with tourist menus in five languages. They eat bad pizza, and those who know it's bad hunger for an authentic trattoria where locals eat after the daytrippers have gone back to their cruise ships and pensiones for a good night's sleep. (Venice is tiring. Try walking around for hours on end with a five-pound camera around your neck--those lenses, that's your Venetian glass, by the way!--without anyplace to sit except, perhaps, the steps of the bridges. Up and down the goddamn steps, Martha, I'm calling it a day.)
There's no shame in being lost in Venice; that's the whole idea. And from time to time you come across a narrow fondamento with a bar, or a campo with some tables outside, the sound of clinking glasses and lilting Italian conversations filling the night air, and you want to join in, you wish you spoke the language better, you wonder how to order what that table is having over there.
Well, what I'm having are those cozze-vongole (mussels and clams in tomato sauce). You're looking at me enviously because I'm the one sitting at the table under the umbrella, drinking local white wine with Marco Giol (the man behind WineTTand the owner of the motor launch that navigated the canals and is tied up at the end of the rio); he's having the sweet cape longhe (razor clams). We're being pampered by Francesco Agopyan, the owner of this secret spot, Trattoria Antiche Carampane, named for the neighborhood, which may have been, long ago, Venice's red light district. Then again, maybe not.
There are maybe a dozen fishmongers down at the Rialto market; Francesco (that's him in the picture above) trusts only two. His clientele, regardless of passport, is Venetian (or enterprising enough to have a Venetian make a reservation). They don't scorn tourists, far from it, they just don't eat dinner with them. The sign on the door is quite clear. "We really don't know to make pizza and we're too stupid to learn."
And here's Marco in the launch, which he pilots like Luke Skywalker flying his starfighter through the narrow canals, occasionaly calling out "Oh-AY" on the blind corners.
Want to find this magic spot? Here's how, according to Carampane's website: From the Campo San Polo, take Sottoportago De La Madoneta at the rear of campo (on the right side coming from Chiesa). Turn left at Building #1414- Enter Calle dei Cavalli. Cross Ponte Furatola and take Sottoportago de la Furatola. There will be a small canal on your right. Before you get to the next bridge, turn left onto Calle del Tamossi. You will pass a house with a large courtyard. Then go right onto Ramo del Tamosi. Make a left onto Rio Tera de la Carampane - the restaurant is about one block on the right."
Or you could see if Marco is available and zigzag your way in by water.
Antiche Carampane, San Polo 1911 (Rio Tera delle Carampane), Venice. (39) 041.524.0165