il gheto vecchio

I write this post from the Centro Linguistico d’Ateneo, where I will begin my second Italian class in about 50 minutes. I lugged my computer (and thus, my whole rolling backpack) around all of Venice today, so I am determined to actually make use of it. (No internet access here, but I am typing! Useful.) Despite my endless love for the good ole knapsack on wheels, the Rolling Backpack is clearly out of its element here. When every single direction begins with “prima, c’è un ponte”, you begin to doubt the usefulness of a Rolling Backpack.

Speaking of bridges, I HAVE WALKED SO MUCH in the last few days. The day before yesterday, I met Maria Cristina, the daughter of one of Massimo’s co-workers. She’s basically my age, about to start university next week. Anyway, we met on the train and then walked all the way from San Giobbe (where my history class is) to the train station to San Marco. We got a little confused once we were near San Marco, and asked two carebinieri (policemen) for advice. This piece of the story was for some reason hilarious to every person I told back home (Massimo, Cinzia, Maria Cristina’s dad). Apparently there was something very funny about the two of us young women asking these two male policemen for help. Anyway, after getting lunch near the train station, we went to the Dali exhibit in a museum near San Marco. We both really loved the exhibit; Dali was such a strange guy, and pretty full of himself, it turns out! Then, we made the even longer trek over to the Centro Linguistico d’Ateneo, for my Italian class. Somehow, we made it everywhere on time. Who knows. Beginner’s luck.

San Marco

Yours truly at the Dali exhibit (taken by Maria Cristina)

Yesterday was an incredibly full day. I went into Pordenone in the morning, checked in with the Biblioteca (where the Giornate del Cinema Muto is based) about volunteering on Friday, dropped my shoes off with the shoe-repair guy (my shooz died after that night walking all around Venezia Mestre – and the guy said he’d fix them for free!), and bought some apples with Massimo to introduce him and Cinzia to apples-and-honey-for-Rosh-Hashanah. After all this, I headed into Venice to explore the ghetto. Now, as you may or may not know, my dear mum happens to be a little bit obsessed with Venetian Jews, and thus has been fervently asking (repeatedly) me to go to the ghetto. I have been known to sometimes make fun of her for this. That being said, when I turned from the loud, huge bridge over the Rio San Giobbe into the quiet, shaded calle, I understood the emotional impact of the ghetto. Suddenly I was transported into another time, free of tourists and even pigeons. Hebrew letters and kosher bread replaced discounted prices on clothing and overpriced gelato. What a place to find myself on the first day of the Jewish new year.

The first Hebrew translation sign I saw

(note the spelling)

I got my lunch from here (and actually resisted buying dessert!)

I asked a lady at an information booth about services that night, and wandered into an artist’s shop. The artist sold lithographs ranging in size, depicting a part of Venice rarely seen in the paintings catered to the average tourist. I bought a very reasonably priced one of three women gathering in the Gheto Vecchio. I bought a sandwich con salame for lunch, and once again remembered how much I really like kosher salami. I then began the unintentionally 2.5 hour walk to my film class (my legs are actually sore from all the circumnavigation).

I wandered back to the ghetto after class, whereupon I met a poet from Los Angeles, named Lucien. He introduced me to his Italian friend Stefano (whose wife I met later), and the British owner of this little bookstore in the ghetto. I realized I had discovered the bohemians of Venice. Older than me, but young in spirit, ya know? Lucien will be doing a poetry reading on Friday, at this place called Paradiso Perduto (lost paradise). I feel as if I am amongst displaced beatniks. Coincidentally, Lucien and Stefano want to have a poetry festival in Venice in two years, and the first poet to invite on their list is the author of a book I just read (fate?!). Anyway, we all went to the service together. The service was very strange. It was in a small room (not the huge temple right nearby – in retrospect, I wish I had gone into that), and there was a barrier of cloth between the front half of the room and the back. I saw quickly that men sat in the front, women in the back. Well, when in Venice, do as the Venetians, right? I dutifully sat in the back. I couldn’t see. To me, temple is about community, about being with other people, about feeling a connection with people you may not otherwise find. I know that the separation of the sexes is based in tradition, but as a conservative Jew, coming from the liberal island known as San Francisco, I felt hurt. And then angry. Next thing I knew I was silently fuming. There is nothing to make you want to see what’s happening more than being unable to see what’s happening. Finally, as a man clad in full orthodox geared left and reentered the room, I very respectfully approached him, and politely asked what the intent of the barrier was (knowing, of course, what he would say).

MAN: One half is for men, the other is for women.

ME: Yes, I understand. But why can’t we see anything?

MAN: The men and the women can’t sit together.

ME: So there’s no way we can fold up the cloth or anything like that, right?

MAN: No, no.

ME: Okay, I would really like to see what’s happening, so would it be alright if I just stood on the side?

MAN: Yes, that is okay.

So, I found my solution. Despite their weariness, my feet smiled. They like to be included.

After the services, Lucien, Stefano and I headed over to the Gam Gam restaurant for a free Rosh Hashanah dinner. It was lovely. I then sprinted to the train station only to find that the train I intended to take didn’t exist. Lucien and I headed back to the restaurant and then I finally caught the right train home. Phew.

Okay, adesso vado a clase! Ciao ciao.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “il gheto vecchio

  1. What a great bunch of days you have been having! So much of you in culture warp there! Here are some of my impressions: first such great stuff to read and great photos to bring us blog readers there—I am deeply appreciative of the time you spend spinning this stuff out for our eager consumption!
    Sorry to hear that the rolling backpack is under such strain on those Venetian pavements–so I guess early Venetian planners were not exactly ADA compliant in their sidewalk planning? Oh, there are no sidewalks in Venice? Dang it! And we just retrofitted your friend with those new smooth blue rubber wheels too! Well, maybe next time we do a floating version of your friend for toting through the canals!
    Oh, Anya, are u not familiar with carabinieri jokes yet? You might ask Massimo, Cinzia, Maria Cristina’s dad about the carabinieri schtick, and I suspect that you might understand why they think it’s hilarious when the men in the famous for their blue uniform— are equally unfortunately known for jokes about ultimate complete stupidity—and these are the guys being asked by two intelligent university students, innocently, for directions!
    And what an amazing experience it must be to be in the Jewish quarter, the original ghetto (or however its spelled!) and dealing with the culture clash you felt in the ortho synagogue with the separation of the sexes. Well, it sounds like u figured it out and solved the dilemma quite diplomatically. Come to think of it, you are quite able in diplomacy, aren’t you! And what a great story you tell about it!
    Well keep those words a flowin’ like the waters all around you. And a big hi to m & c and all your new friends too! Sounds like all is well, va bene!
    Ciao!!!

  2. Hey Anya! First of qll, that’s a great story you have here! Frankly, i see this as a good beginning plotline for a story or an amazing essay! Mind if maybe i steal it for a short story of sorts? Theres definitely a ton of potential even in such a short amount writing. Anywho, the blogs are great, keep em coming!
    (I dont want to steal dad’s ciao, so instead, ill just stick with good ole English) Bye!!!

    • Tobes — feel free to use it for whatever you like! I’m so proud to have inspired youuuuuuu. And yes the blogs will keep on keepin’ on — unfortunately i wrote a post before the one I just published, but it looks like it has disappeared… che tristeza. Anyway, talk soon (REPLY TO MY EMAIL), love you!!

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