Venice/Noale: The Distrust of Marko

Went to Salzano today for an afternoon outing from Venice. The day trip involved a water taxi ride and then a 30-minute car ride through the Italian countryside with Marko, the same driver from Saturday. When we inquired about lunch, a local directed us to a place in Noale, about ten minutes away.

Marko got a total Doris Day parking spot. Did you ever notice in Doris Day’s films, she often played a young professional working in Manhattan. Whenever she arrived to work, she pulled her convertible (explains why she needed the mink) right up in front of her downtown office building and parked. She was the only one parking, so she had the whole street’s spots from which to choose.

Whenever we find a great parking spot, someone in the car sings “Que Sera” as we glide in the coveted spot. Bonus if we inherit time on the meter.

As we strolled through Noale on the way to the restaurant, I noticed an ancient ruin of a guard tower:


 And a moat:


The tower and moat looked like they belonged to a former castle. Marko told me that indeed this was a former castle, but it had fallen into ruin because the townspeople revolted against the crown after years of tyranny and unfair taxation. He went on to say that they had last used the tower to behead the Queen, who had been rude to the common folk. She denied them even the simplest of life's necessities: flour. Wait a minute. I know that story!

I was beginning to distrust Marko. Was he fabricating stories for my benefit? Did he honestly think I was unfamiliar with the French Revolution? And that moat - pul-ease. These Italian moats are so dinky. You want to see a moat that was meant to keep enemies out? Go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Those ancient people knew how to keep invaders out. They made it like half a mile wide and filled it with hungry crocodiles. They weren’t ever invaded, until like 1981. And that was by tourists. By then, most of the crocs had been made into shoes for Nancy Reagan and that skinny Kissinger woman.

We lunched at Ristorante Al Gallo, named for a chicken, not someone named Al that makes wine in California. I would have been in trouble with my limited Italian, as the menu is not translated into into English, like the Venice eateries. But Marko interpreted it for me. I started with pointing and eventually Gnocchetti di patate al salmone affumicato, then go on with Branzino in crosta di sale con verdure di stagione al vapore.  Or, gnocchi with cheese and smoked salmon, and European Seabass in a salt crust.

(Sidebar: I was making notes on my iphone yellowpad, and when I typed in salmon. iPhone offered me salmonella. Not the word you want in a restaurant, especially in a foreign country. Especially in one where your Italian is so bad that when you ask for a napkin they bring you a young boy.)

Our Amuse Bouche arrived:


The lightest, crispiest fried sardines. Marco tells me there's no Italian word for the amuse bouche concept in Italian. I'm like a victim to his totalitarian interpretation of Italian life. I'm seriously starting to mistrust him and fear for my life. I might need a food taster.

He ordered what he told me was seafood lasagna:


I reached over and took a bite from his "lasagna" and judging from his quick reaction, obviously surprised him a bit. He has very fast reflexes, making me wonder if he has military training. Upon tasting his "lasagna", I noted, silently, that it was just fancy tuna casserole, not layered. Just fish and penne squashed together and baked with cheese. Marko is officially on my list.

My gnocchi arrived:


This is what they call a first course.  In my book, this would be the only course. And I'd take half home. But the dumplings were tender and smooth and the cheese sauce doppled with smoked salmon made it really hard not eat the entire portion. Not that hard.

Next came my entree, the fish baked in a hard salt crust. included a show! (I can't show you the show but imagine a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.) In Venice, I've been seeing a lot of religious paintings, so when Paolo, the waiter, broke the salt crust and lifted the baked fish from it's salty crypt, I couldn't help but think of the resurrection.

During lunch Marco spoke of two trips to Bangkok, each only two days long. This added to his mystery. It made my mind spin with ideas of what lured him to an exotic land and then to return again for such a short time. Drug run? Maybe kicked out for improper behavior with a teen?

Was Marko working as a driver/guide in order to slowly rebuild his life that was shattered after that woman that left him either remarried or moved led him to a lost weekend of drunken debauchery? I'll never know.

I was now so full, that my imagination and curiosity about Marko had been dampened. I pushed back from the table, too full for dessert. I knew there would be gelato later, and dinner was in less than four hours.

We walked through the town, looking in the shop windows at impossibly chic clothes:


They were impossible because I couldn't buy them - the stores were closed. Not being a tourist town, the shops closed at noon until 3:30PM to have lunch. I used to be so pissed in countries that did this; it was killing totally good shopping hours.

But now I understood. This amount of time was necessary as one had to eat lunch right after breakfast and then recover in time for dinner.

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