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Tommy’s travel tip #12: Venice

November 29th, 2009 No comments

The Campanile on San Marco Square

Travel tip #12: When visiting a foreign country, all the vocabulary you need to survive is the numbers 1-3, the characteristic food item of the place, yes, (no is a valuable bonus) and thank you.

Venice is truly the promised land. It’s been my life-long dream ever since this time last year to eat spaghetti with squid in ink in Italy. We dined last night at a restaurant in Venice recommended by Lonely Planet. It had an English menu, was fully of American tourists, and surly waiters. Have you noticed how tourist traps always have surly waiters? It’s as if they view you with contempt because you fell for their tourist trap. The meal costed €35 each (about $70). I couldn’t stop thinking about how many lobsters I could buy at home for that much money (okay, about one), or how many Armani ties I could get at the Harrods sale back in London.

The Grand Canal, Venice

So it was with some despondency that we took the boat out to Murano, an island in the suburbs of Venice renowned for glass-blowing. Venice, by the way, is a collection of marshy islands connected by bridges and separated by canals. There is just one road that fits a car – running alongside the railway line to the mainland. Whereas in any other city you see a cab rank when you come out of the train station, in Venice you see a line of wharves, with boat-busses, boat-taxis and gondolas waiting to take you downtown. We took one of the boat-busses out to Murano, and after getting lost down a tiny alley-way, saw a tiny restaurant across the church square. We decided to chance it, and the place was simply awesome! It had no signs indicating its name; it had a squat toilet; it was full of serious Italian men (no women) who looked like they worked down on the docks and were ducking in for their lunch. The menu was in Italian, and I had to fall back on the Italian I picked up from half a year of proper study back in year 7 and then randomly over the years. Between my broken Italian and the waiter’s broken English (“polpo, is a kind of…” [indicates many wavy arms] (it means octopus)), we managed to piece together the menu, whence comes my tip #10 above. Instead of a multi-label winelist as favoured by the pretentious arseholes at Lonely Planet, this place had just two – bianco o rosso – white or red. I’m probably sounding a bit like those spoof travel guides Molvania/Phaic Tan – The bits that go “Twenty years ago this place had no chair lifts. It took me 20 days of hard hiking and hacking through the jungle to advance 200 metres, and I was infected by malaria. Twice. But it was priceless…”

The wine came in a clear glass jug and was probably better than 80% of wines I’ve tasted in Australia. But the best part was the food. I had sardin a saor, sardines marinated in vinegar and other condiments, a Venetian delicacy, and spaghetti seppie, i.e. with squid in ink. The food was delicious, no-nonsense, not overly rich as Italian meals sometimes can be. In a word, it was perfect. And the price? €15 including the wine and water. Brilliant.

The Ducal Palace, Venice

My second life-long dream, ever since the calzone shop on Norton Street closed down like 10 years ago, has been to eat a cheap calzone in Italy. I managed that tonight. Having gotten to Venice station for the train to Florence with an hour to spare, I decided to find a cheap calzone shop (which in some ways is the Italian equivalent to our kebab shop), so I struck off in a random direction, and two canals later – voila. I march in and, with my broken Italian, ask for “due calzoni tradizionale, per favore”. Dude doesn’t even blink, and replies in perfect American English “Mushroom and ham? Won’t be a moment”. I’m happy though. I may have been outted as a fobber, but he understood me.

So, language lesson of the day, your essential first aid kit of Italian:

one – uno
two – due
three – tre
essential food item – calzone
yes – si
thank you – grazie

Until next time, from the land of good beer and good wine,

Tommy

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A day in the life of…

November 26th, 2009 1 comment

The following story is completely factual. Any deviation from reality is either completely coincidental or due to hallucinations induced by sustained sleep deprivation

00:00 Midnight, the floor is still half full and pretty lively. Joker #1 and Joker #2, who are *always* here despite having no work to do, are still here and joking around, not going home. Plenty of work to do, more arriving every 10 minutes. The air con turns off with a whine at exactly midnight – a strange silence fills the office. Can not handle – must send email to building security to keep air con on till 4am.
01:30 Face time is up – mass clearing out of juniors with no real work. Just the seriously working left now. Receive SMS asking whether I was asleep. Reply “not even close”.
02:15 The lights switch off – for a moment the office is as dark as the night outside, broken only by the few mmonitors which are still lit, accompanied with the click-clack of keyboards. Then somebody stirs, and the sensor switch sends the lights flickering back on. About a third of the floor remains dark – they must have all dropped dead at their desks.
02:30 Receive the final batch of tasks – can finally work in peace. The office is empty except for the desktop publishing lady who is on duty for another few hours. Click clack. It’s kind of fun to be in the office alone. When the lights die again, I don’t bother going to the switch and try to avoid moving – the dark is more soothing for tired eyes.
03:00 File sent to the world – time to go home. Cab ride takes 10 minutes – so tired I’m ready to just plonk into bed and…
08:15 …and it’s 8:15! I’m not going to make it in by 9. No time for breakfast – pack lunch, answer a couple of emails on blackberry, and run. No bus in sight – off we go a-walking to the city, hi ho.
09:20 Unread emails: 19; number of shed hair on desk: 6; number of paper cups from last night: 4
11:00 Flurry of morning work has died down a little. Open a link I received by email. “Bottling up work stress leads to heart attacks and death”. Good to know. The scientists conducting the study recommend talking openly about your frustrations, perhaps shouting at the other person. I wonder how that would work with an associate director who is particularly frustrating to work with. I suppose the rest of the floor would soon get an email informing them “Tommy has decided to go travelling. Good luck with his future endeavours.”
12:15 New Zealand on the phone. They are 3 hours ahead of us, so want the stuff 3 hours earlier. Seriously. Australia should just take it over and make them follow Sydney time.
15:00 “Boss, I heard the grads are working terrible hours and on the brink of suicide.” “Really? Let’s give them a break – tell them to give us a funny joke presentation before the whole firm on Friday. Yes, that’s just 24 hours away, but they should be used to deadlines like this.” Pointless midnight meetings, anyone?
17:00 Take a walk to the convenience stall to buy some juice – sidewalks full of people going home. Wishing I had a job where sunset meant going home, not the start of the second shift. Shake head, grab my juice, and head back to my desk – work has been piling up in the five minutes that I was gone for.
20:00 Dinner has not arrived. Hungry…
20:30 Dinner has arrived. No longer hungry.
23:00 Work is winding down, but there’s an urgent meeting to discuss defamatory material for the joke presentation tomorrow. Joy.
24:00 Midnight, the floor is still half full and pretty lively…

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