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1. Who are you?
My name is Erla Zwingle; I am a freelance journalist married to a Venetian and I’ve been living in Venice for 20 years. I have written for many magazines over the past 30 years, primarily National Geographic, for whom I have written 25 articles. I also wrote the National Geographic guidebook to Venice.
2. What is your site about?
My site is about daily life in Venice as seen through my eyes and, most especially, through the eyes of Venetians. People have often asked me “What’s it really like to live in Venice?” and so I started writing my blog to answer that question. I can tell you that it is almost nothing like you might imagine it to be, and it isn’t for everybody — it’s a very arduous city in many ways, very demanding. But if you love it, you’d rather suffer here than be happy somewhere else.
3. What is one food tip you would give about Venice?
The one food tip I’d offer is to try anything you haven’t eaten before. Venetian cuisine is fantastic, although most tourist restaurants usually only offer a few typical dishes. Look for the classics: bigoli in salsa, sarde in saor, polenta and baccala’, baccala’ mantecato. If you don’t like fish, there’s always pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans.
Here’s another food tip: Venetians DO NOT put grated Parmesan cheese on any dish that includes fish. There is one exception: Seppie in their ink. If you are eating seppie with pasta or in a risotto, grated cheese is almost required. If your waiter thinks that’s strange, he’s not from Venice. Or he never eats seppie.
4. What is one travel tip you would give about Venice?
The one travel tip I’d give is to pay attention to the local people: acknowledge their existence, say “hello” and “please” and “thank you” (in Italian), and generally behave as if you realized that you’re visiting somebody’s home and that you are a self-invited guest. You might be able to be anonymous as a tourist in London or Shanghai, but Venice is basically a small town; it’s only three square miles of teeny-tiny streets and crowded waterbuses and crowded restaurants and crowded everything. Whatever you do will immediately be noticed and either appreciated or reviled. It’s really simple: Just think how you want guests to behave in your house and proceed accordingly. It will be noticed! And appreciated! Because Venetians feel like they are being pushed out of their city by the pressure of tourism, and while any individual tourist obviously isn’t responsible for it, Venetians feel besieged, ignored, belittled, unimportant, and invisible. It’s not a good feeling and a tourist who loves their city and also likes them is (A) an exception and (B) very, very welcome.
5. What is the best thing to eat in Venice?
To call something “best” is tricky – just because I like something doesn’t mean you’re going to like it, or even that you ought to like it. Let’s put it this way – the thing to eat in Venice which is most Venetian, and most worth trying (and which I love, let’s say that) actually varies according to the season. I happen to love the fact that there are some items that aren’t available all year, but it doesn’t sound like good advice to a traveler to say I think the best thing here is frittelle and galani, Carnival pastries which are in the pastry shops for only a brief time, usually February. In the spring, it’s artichokes from the island of Sant’ Erasmo; in the fall, it’s mushrooms; in February, it’s frittelle and galani. Castradina is a heavily smoked and cured mutton that’s offered by some restaurants only during the few days around the annual celebration of the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health, November 21st). In June it’s the little snails, bovoleti, which you eat in oil and garlic, but which disappear by July.