The floating fruit market

Venice, like all cities, has undergone many changes over the years. Old customs and crafts have disappeared. They are remembered only in old photographs or the stories of old people. Anyone over fifty can remember something that no longer exists.

Getting off the vaporetto at the “Giardini” or garden stop, you go down a long, tree-lined avenue, past the large basin with the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of national independence. There, you enter the street named after him.

This part of Venice was, until a few decades ago, a popular and lively area. Every morning, except Sunday, the local street market was held here. There was a long row of fruit and vegetable stalls. At the bend in the road, another semicircle of stalls sold all varieties of fish, especially local ones. On hot summer nights, if you slept with the windows open, you could be woken up every morning at dawn up by the noise of the boats coming from the general market. While unloading crates of seasonal fruits and vegetables for sale in the stalls, the men made small talk, exchanged one-liners, or told jokes.

A large boat often came in summer loaded with watermelons. It stayed moored in the canal until all of them were sold. The owner lived aboard, where he cooked and slept, until he had sold all his cargo. Then he left, sometimes only to come back with a new load to sell. Some fisherman in small boats even stopped to sell fish by candlelight, enlivening the canal at dusk.

With the arrival of autumn, a little man in a white jacket always appeared. He walked up and down the street with a big wicker basket under his arm, covered by a large blanket. The blanket hid and kept warm the boiled beans in the basket which the man sprinkled with salt and sold in paper cones for a few lire.

Via Garibaldi was a very popular area, characterized by droves of noisy, multicoloured kids of all ages that ran around and played on the paths inside and outside the gardens. Today there are not so many children as before and only a few selling stalls remain. But one of the few that is still there is very special. It’s a floating fruit and vegetable seller. There’s a boat that is always moored in the channel, from which Luca and Massimo, the two owners, sell many local products from the region and the islands of the lagoon. Items especially come from Sant’Erasmo or St. Erasmus island which is famous for its artichokes and fresh produce. In the past, these were shipped from the island to Venice where they were sold off boats run by women. It’s an ancient tradition echoed in the all-women boat races held in our times.

Even today, at the Ponte dei Pugni near the Campo Santa Margherita, there is another “floating shop” selling fruits and vegetables. These shops represent two memories of the city that have continued through time and live on as a tradition.

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