Lufthansa Highlights Venice - Chioggia: Greetings from Venice!
Chioggia, a little-known fishing town at the southernmost tip of the Venetian Lagoon looks like a miniature version of Venice. It has its share of canals and palaces, but the pace of life is much slower and Chioggia has an atmosphere all its own.
The blue hour on Corso del Popolo is marked by a buzz of voices just like in a theater before the curtain goes up. Old-fashioned shops in the arcades sell shoes, books, jewelry and medications. The Italian author Curzio Malaparte once fittingly described the pedestrian street as "one big outdoor café." Now, at aperitivo time, almost every chair is occupied.
Large groups of no-longer-quite-so-young women are gathered around the tables here and there. On their feet, comfortable, well-worn leather slippers, but perched on their noses,ostentatious sunglasses by Gucci, Dior or Chanel. Small bowls of potato chips and olives are standing on the table along with half-empty glasses of spritz, that classic mixture of aperol, white wine and sparkling water. Every time the (also aging) waiter serves another round, the mood becomes lighter and the general murmur of voices beneath the awnings becomes louder.
"Every night the bars are so crowded you’d think it was a holiday," says Giorgio Boscolo enthusiastically. His pipe shop is right on the Corso, too, so he can keep his eye on the doorway from the Bar Centrale where he’s sitting. Mr. Boscolo draws slowly on one of his own designs which, although hardly spectacular to look at, is famous among pipe smokers the world over.
Destiny has treated the "pipa chioggiotta" (Chioggia pipe) no differently than the city where it was invented. Both are old - ancient, in fact - but relatively unknown. Chioggia has been around since Roman times. It was chartered during the Middle Ages and became an episcopal see in 1110. Since 1380 it has been part of the Venetian Republic and was conquered by Napoleon along with Venice and later became part of the Austrian Empire.
"The Chioggia pipe dates back to the 16th century," says Mr. Boscolo, who is the last remaining manufacturer of these pipes. "What’s special is that the head is made of clay and the mouthpiece fashioned from a single piece of wood," he explains. His tiny shop El Penelo, which stocks modest pipes for around 15 euros as well as very extravagant models, is in a sandstone building, an historic granaio or former community granary, that was built in 1322.
Every morning there’s a thriving fish market right behind the granaio. Chioggia, which has a population of about 51 000, is regarded as the biggest fishing harbor in northern Italy. Some 600 boats set out each day and return with nets full of perch, sea bream, sole and other Adriatic fish. Market stands are heaped with all kinds of shellfish, too: various types of shrimp, clams and mussels of differing shape and size and numerous kinds of cuttlefish such as seppioline, calamaretti and moscardini. One hawker sells fresh tuna fish "tonno, tonno bello" for eight euros per kilo. Nobody pays much attention as the sea snails in the bucket right beside the tuna stand crawl slowly away, making their escape. Some of the fishmongers wear aprons with their names written on them in felt-tip pen. Others sip cups of espresso or balance a cigarette between their lips.
"After fishing half the night they start manning their stands at seven in the morning. It’s tough," Armido Boscolo says with a wry smile. The owner and head chef of the Antica Osteria Al Cavallo goes to the market almost every day in search of the freshest fish for his guests. His chic restaurant is located in one of the narrow streets that branch off central Corso del Popolo like a fishbone. Guests who book a table on the terrace sit at linen-covered tables between large flowerpots and look out at the scarlet and yellow ocher walls of the houses opposite - and at the laundry hanging out of the windows to dry.
The Al Cavallo is a family-run operation. Armido’s wife Elda is the cashier, their son is the maitre ’d and their daughter and son-in-law help in the kitchen. You would expect the Al Cavallo to serve hearty, traditional Venetian fare but the chef has something else in mind. The dishes he serves are based on regional specialties, often on long-forgotten recipes, but he makes little variations here and there and gives them a surprising twist. The frittura, small deep-fried fish and shellfish, almost remind you of Japanese tempura. And he transforms the classic bigoli con le seppie (thick-stranded spaghetti with cuttlefish) into a dish of fine black spaghetti with an assortment of mollusks sautéed in hot oil.
He serves it with red Chioggia salad that he bought - just hours earlier - at a stand on the Vena canal, which is down past the fish market and Pescheria Bridge. This is where you will also find a small delicatessen shop called Pescheria di Bube, owned by Renato Bellemo. He sells his homemade spaghetti sauces, his sardines stuffed with capers or porcini mushrooms, and his steamed squid caviar in oil in a crumbling old 15th century palace called Palazzo Lisatti-Mascheroni.
The palace is also where artist Amedeo Signoretto has his gallery, its black walls hung with large oil paintings: expressive portraits, meadows full of brightly colored flowers and muted impressions of the lagoon. "I lived in Venice for a while," Mr. Signoretto admits, "but then I moved back to Chioggia. It’s not as magnificent, but the light, the water and the style of the buildings is the same. And it’s more peaceful here."
When early evening comes around, Mr. Signoretto too goes to the Corso to drink a glass of spritz. He doesn’t lock his shop, he just blocks the doorway with a chair. "I’m coming right back anyway," he says in response to my skeptical look, adding, "This wouldn’t be possible in Venice."
Pictures: Martin Nink