So, like their neighbors in Venissa, the Bovos take a stand: the canals outside may be teeming with travelers, but in this room with chandeliers and terrazzo floors, the walls are plastered with art. local. Everything, right down to the pasta, is homemade and the fish are served in a lagoon fillet. Not only do they feed their fancy clientele with local food, but they also introduce it to the people who made them.
“When Tom Cruise was there, they called me,” says Andrea Rossi, one of the fishermen from Burano. “Massimiliano likes celebrities to meet people who have caught their fish.”
The best restaurants in Venice often turn to Andrea, a fourth generation fisherman, when looking for a bass worthy of an A-lister. But his main goal in life is to keep the traditions of the lagoon afloat – whether it is to collect lists of edible herbs from the barene (mudflats) or fishing with secular techniques. In the summer, he embarks on the tour guide, taking curious visitors into the barene fish and to the islands for bird watching. Later, on a small boat, where the lagoon begins to merge into the Adriatic, I will watch him and his companion Michele Vitturi meticulously unroll their nets and catch the gray mullet, one by one.
But for the moment, we are in his skin on sparsely populated Torcello. We’re here for the howling partridges landing in the artichoke plot next door; wood pigeons settling in fruit trees; ducks flying towards Burano, and, finally, a dun-colored hawk diving through the barene. So far so banal, but it’s this banality that seems so bizarre in this city of visual and cultural excess.
Of course, this excess is everywhere – even here. To the left of the skin, swirling out of the mist, is the 11th-century tower of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, its interiors covered in glittering gold mosaics, the almond-eyed figures of which are older than those that adorn St. Mark’s Basilica.
And on my way back to central Venice, I stop in Murano – not for its famous glassmakers, but for the Church of San Pietro Martire. Back in town, at the Doge’s Palace, people line up for hours to see the works of Tintoretto, the extraordinary 16th century painter from Venice; here, we hang, without a frame, on the wall. There is no sign, but her slightly mushy Jesus leans toward me, being baptized. Next to it is the enormous large Madonna and Child with Saints, by Bellini, another Venetian superstar. Mary’s model face and her lagoon-blue cape, cascading around her, are up there with her works in Florence’s prestigious Accademia gallery, which draws crowds. But here it’s just me and the mouth-blown chandeliers slung over the shoulder.