Friday, March 11, 2011

The light of a Venetian dawn

"Of all the spectacular food markets in Italy, the one near the Rialto in Venice must be the most remarkable. The light of a Venetian dawn in early summer - you must be about at four o'clock in the morning to see the market coming to life - is so limpid and so still that it makes every separate vegetable and fruit and fish luminous with a life of its own, with unnaturally heightened colours and clear stencilled outlines. Here the cabbages are cobalt blue, the beetroots deep rose, the lettuces clear pure green, sharp as glass. Bunches of gaudy gold marrow-flowers show off the elegance of pink and white marbled bean pods, primrose potatoes, green plums, green peas. The colours of the peaches, cherries, and apricots, packed in boxes lined with sugar-bag blue paper matching the blue canvas trousers worn by the men unloading the gondolas, are reflected in the rose-red mullet and the orange vongole and cannestrelle which have been prised out of their shells and heaped into baskets. In other markets, on other shores, the unfamiliar fishes may be vivid, mysterious, repellant, fascinating, and bright with splendid colour; only in  Venice do they look good enough to eat. In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn.

"The gentle swaying of the laden gondolas, the movements of the market men as they unload, swinging the boxes and baskets ashore, the robust life and rattling noise contrasted with the fragile taffeta colours and the opal sky of Venice - the whole scene is out of some marvellous unheard-of ballet."

I thought I might end the week with a lovely piece of writing by Elizabeth David from her book Italian Food,  a Penguin Handbook, 1971. This book was first published in 1954, the year that Second World War Rationing ended in the United Kingdom - imagine its impact!

Photographs by the Celt.


  1. I want what she was "on"! But perhaps it was just the beauty of Venice. When we went we did rise at dawn to see the sun coming up, and to have St Mark's Square to ourselves, and a few thousand pigeons. Well, there were a few other people too, I suppose, but as I was "on" Venice too, so I didn't notice them.

  2. Although I have just retuned home after being a guest at a more than satisfying dinner, just reading this sparked my appetite.

  3. I, like Columnist, found myself in Saint Mark's Square at dawn one morning, with no more company than pigeons and a man sweeping the stones with a broom the form of which was unchanged from when the Square was laid out. Ah, Venice! It was in Venice that I ate my first blood orange, which I had never seen before, almost forty years ago. Reggie

  4. Piazza San Marco and it’s immediate surroundings was a real treat to see without the daylight trappings of tourism and everything that is attached to it.