Of course, there would be no room for vegetables, though there would be lemons in pots, and a grapevine over the pergola. Variety? Hmmm… I used to grow Black Hamburgh and Fosters Seedling under glass, and always wanted to try, but failed, to get hold of the strawberry vine, pink and delicious. That, then. But how awful, and however good the Rialto market, not to have ones own crops of all those marvellous Italian pumkins and squashes, of all the chicories, the tomatoes and so on. The magician would need to worked a bit harder, and provide a patch of land on the Venetians’ vegetable isle.
We couldn’t resist a look. Sant’Erasmo was, in 1696, “Among the islands that are part of the Venetian lagoon with its vineyards and gardens that provide for the city, quantities of perfect fruits and vegetables.” The vaporetto took us first to Murano, where almost everyone got off, and then on a longish chug to the first landing stage on Sant’Erasmo. We followed the general exodus, but were at once bemused. No houses other than very distant roofs. Concrete roads left and right. Willow fringed ditches. Fallow fields. And, a delight after the city, silence.
Alec’s fancy phone suggested a village on the left, so we set off. A three wheeler mini-van past us in a swirl of petrol fumes. I suppose we were expecting fields of artichokes and asparagus, of young beans, strawberries and so on… There were indeed scattered rows of neatly tended vines, a few almond trees with wonderful pale alizarin coloured flowers, and even occasional rows of youthful artichoke plants. But the land seemed divided into small parcels, perhaps a could of hectares, each with a house, some in need of much TLC, a cluster of outbuildings, and land in various states of cultivation. Some pieces of ground were just a few rows of fruit trees and a lovely sward of dandelions and daisies.
Several owners we passed were indeed ploughing, but tiny areas of ground, seemingly enough for immediate needs rather than any nearby market. And all this slow-paced, low-income life only a few miles from the tight packed city where land values are amongst the highest in Italy.
We were getting hot and thirsty. A cafe… A bar… Even a restaurant… The roofs got more numerous and closer. A passerby managed to understand Alec’s none too accurate Italian. She shook her head. No, no, and no. Shop only. It did sell excellent roast pork, white bread rolls, bananas, and lemonade. The village also had a vaporetto landing stage.
There may be long-term plans for the whole place. The sea walls have been smartly rebuilt, and the landing stages especially so, with benches for the idle, ramps for the wheelchair bound, cycle racks for commuters and so on. The village one had a bit of garden attached – windblown stone pine propped up by planks, and underplanted with irises, lavenders, and a really nice bushy rosemary with intense blue flowers. There we lunched, watching the fishermen wading through the lagoon’s shallows with long nets between them, then closing in to encircle their catch.
With time to kill before the vaporetto out, we headed inland, though that’s only a few hundred yards before the other shore can be glimpsed through the trees. We found the island’s only restaurant (closed), some tiny areas being ploughed. a few more rows of vine. Perhaps imported vegetables undercut anything the gardeners of Sant’Erasmo can produce. Perhaps some of the business difficulties that encumber various parts of Italy also operate there. Perhaps we were to early. Perhaps later in the season, the fields are green with spinach and beetroot, radiccios and radishes. I hope so.
Certainly, as things stood, the magician could rather cheaply find some ground to make up for the lack of provisions supplied by my fantasy garden, and perhaps even a rustic shed to provide respite from the city’s hectic bustle.
However slumbrous the life on Sant’Erasmo, the gorgeous, mouth watering market by the Rialto is vivid, wonderful to see, and crammed with lovely food to buy. More of that next….