Ponte Ruga Vecchia, 1446, was our destination. Billed as ‘room apartment in Venice heart’. We wanted to live among the locals, away from tourist thoroughfares. Ten minutes walk from the railway station, down narrow calles and over hump-backed bridges. Shops, a beggar woman with outstretched hand, crumbling bricks, and pale rippling water – it passed by in a blur. But it’s beauty struck deep. I caught my breath – we were in Venice.
No one lives on the ground floor in Venice, we were told later. No one except us. Our new home was just one tiny room, wood-lined, terracotta tiled floor, beamed ceiling. Compact but comfortable. We looked out over a narrow canal onto the lovely, ‘blink and you’ll miss it’, Campiello del Piovan, and the salmon-pink, thirteenth century church of San Giacomo dell’Orio. All was quiet. Il Refolo, the pizzeria, was closed for the winter, it’s green shutters pulled down until March. Just footsteps and voices. Ladies in fur-coats, men walking jacket-wearing dogs, school kids chasing each other over the bridge, neighbours heading to the Co-op grocery store on the campo behind the church. To and fro, ebb and flow.
Our room must once have been a magazino. A storage room, probably with an earthen floor. Double doors still lead to the canal a few feet away from our front door. ‘You won’t need the aqua alta siren’, joked Nicola, our host, ‘just pop your head out of the door and see if the water is lapping the steps – but it won’t come in’, he added hastily. The canal is no quiet backwater. Every morning at 7 a.m. the bells of the campanile chime in tandem with the arrival of the refuse men. A small barge, laden with mini-crane, moors opposite our window, and we awake to the rattle of handcarts and trolleys on paving stones, and the shouts of the collectors, receding and echoing, as they venture into surrounding streets and squares to pick up the bags of rubbish that people leave on their doorstep, every night. At other times supplies are bought for the Co-op, and the Campiello becomes a jumble of wooden pallets and plastic storage boxes – toilet rolls, cat food, spaghetti sauce, mineral water. Occasionally a gondola will glide by, tourists craning their necks in wonder. And then it’s quiet again, and there’s just the lapping of the water against our wall.
On the Campo San Giacomo del’Orio, there’s the aforementioned Co-op, – one of Venice’s few and generally well-hidden supermarkets – a couple of pretty trattorias, and ‘Il Prosecco’. Even at these chill temperatures there is usually someone sitting outside drinking a spritz or a glass of wine in the shadow of the great church. ‘Any time after 11 a.m., so the local saying goes, is aperativo time. Then there’s the greengrocers and the bakery. Fresh croissants or panini every morning for breakfast. At that time of the day it’s standing room only – literally – as those on their way to work down espresso and cornetto. Further along there’s an alimentatie – or delicatessen – for provisions such as prosciutto and cheese. The grey-haired lady sits behind the meat slicer and is invisible until she stands when the door bell alerts her to my presence. Above the door lintel, leading to her private quarters, photos of her family keep company with a bleeding heart Madonna. She slices the prosciutto, pink meat laced with white, wraps it in cellophane and twists it in a sheath of white paper, tucking the corners neatly in.
We are 15 minutes from the Rialto and even closer to the great Gothic giant of the Frari. No matter – whichever direction we head in, there’s always an ever-changing meander through labyrinthine passageways, and dark corners, which suddenly emerge onto open airy campi, like ‘ours’. For that’s how we’ve come to think of it – ours. For a month at least.
Our address: Ponte Ruga Vecchia, 1446, Venice, Veneto 30135. Booked via Airbnb. The owner is Michela Gabellini.