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Saying goodbye

On our final night in Venice, we paid one last visit to Osteria Ruga di Jaffa. The owner, Alvise, gave us a bottle of sumptuous olive oil as a goodbye gift, sparking a discussion from the men at the bar about the best way to use such a treasure. Their parting words: “just please, please don’t cook with it”.

We then took a walk along Riva degli Schiavoni towards the Giardini, stopping along the way to talk about how it feels to be leaving; both of us staring blindly at the iridescent sheen of Saint Mark’s, having seen its domes from this vantage point so many times before. From Via Garibaldi, we burrowed into Venice, following a half-remembered route home.

The bells tolled midnight. Dom said that perhaps he could live here forever – I replied that I need to leave and then come back to know that for sure. I thought about that again the other day, while eating my lunch on a bench in Bungay and looking out over the flooded marshes: The best thing about leaving, is almost always coming home.

It’s been almost two weeks since we left, and yesterday I had the first pang of yearning. A biscuit that triggered memories of tangled streets and the green of a canal; the shimmer of the Lagoon after dark. This is how it always happens. I never feel heartbroken about going home, even when I’m only staying for a few days. My tolerance for Venice’s crowds and gaudiness seems to stretch to however long I’m there, so that I never mourn the sight of her far away bell towers from the departures lounge at Marco Polo. Rather, it’s distance that brings her to life; the quiet imprint that the city leaves on my senses, so that I feel, hear, taste her when I least expect it. A sensuous memory that always seems to force my return.

There’s comfort in the fact that we now know when we’ll back. On our final weekend, we visited Torcello – an island close to Burano with only 11 inhabitants (I wrote about it here). I wanted to take Dom to Taverna Tipica Veneziana to eat fried fish and enjoy the sunshine in the company of goats, and trees, and families making the most of their Saturday. While we were drinking a prosecco in the softening sun, watching the sky turn to blush pink, we decided that it would be nice to get married there; the ceremony in the ancient basilica and the reception in that almost wild garden. So that’s what we’re doing.

Speaking of Alvise, on our final night he brought us a plate of risotto agli asparagi while we were standing at the bar. It was a new spring dish, made with the first tentative shoots of asparagus from Rialto. “We’ll start serving this tomorrow, tell me what you think.” The rice was milky white, unctuous; butter-laden but sprightly with lemon and the taste of spring. After our first mouthful, we saw the chef Luca standing at the kitchen door. Buono? Buono. It was our last meal in Venice, and one of the best.

I’ll make it for you soon, as soon as those first tender asparagus stalks make their way to the market.

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