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A Garden in Venice

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A forest of White Candles lightening up November: Festa della Salute

The Celebration of Madonna della Salute, on 21 November just before winter "officially" sets in here (this date would be 1 December) ... imagine how on a wet morning of a 21 November, Venetians dedicate themeselves a heart-felt day, with a traditional celebration on a dark morning wrapped in mist and autumn fog. But it will not remain dark for long: Venetians bring lots of candles, white, thin and long candles, that will  light the church while a mass service is held by the Patriarch of Venice, starting at 11:00 am. Strangely enough, when I come out of the church after the service, fully packed with Venetians and people from the surrounding Veneto, I have often noticed a peculiar change in the weather:  A window of blue sky between the clouds and a few sun rays lightening up the day, before just after noon a light fog begins to descend again upon the lagoon. Below is a picture of the November morning, with people crossing the Grand Canal on the pontoon bridge, to reach the Basilica della Salute from the Campo del Giglio.
Here is a Picture I took on 21 November 2010 at 10:00 am in the morning, the pontoon bridge is spanning the Grand Canal, and Venice is dark because wrapped into thick layers of fog. I am standing on the Accademia bridge and look towards the Church of the Salute and Punta della Dogana. 
A festivity dedicated to the survival of Venice from the Plague: In the year 1630, Venice suffered from an extremely devastating outbreak of the plague, killing 94,000 both in Venice and in the lagoon, about one third of the population. The Church was then dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and a vow was taken that the on 21 November of each year, both the government and the patriarch would come to the basilica to celebrate a service in gratitude. This meant a pontoon bridge would be built to cross the Grand Canal. Also, more mundane festivities have sprung up, such as sweets and colorful balloons being sold at stalls set up next to the Church on the fondamenta running along the Rio della Salute.
This is what the Campo della Salute looks like on just another day: click here for the 360 degrees view:
...you can follow this link below, to get an impression of the interior: a round church, with several altars placed along the walls. 
Click here for a 360 degree view of the interior of Santa Maria della Salute. You can also view the marbled pavement and the dome.
Venetians traditionally have been celebrating this day with a traditional dish, called castradina. To bring back this recipe to the collective mind, for a few years now, this dish has been offered on board of a typical lagoon boat, the trabacolo called Nuovo Trionfo, which on that day is moored at the Punta della Dogana, offering all visitors of the Salute celebration the possibility to taste castradina, Venetian winter soups with beans and cereals, and a sweet snack for dessert. 
This was the billboard for the 2009 event, with the trabacolo boat moored at Punta della Dogana
The Castradina seems to derive from recipes from the Dalmatian coast that was then part of the Republic of Venice, and consists of mutton meat, and verze in brodo (cabbage leaves and soup), thyme and onions, accompanied with a fine and warming polenta. 
There is a note on the castradina dish by Elio Zorzi in his book Osterie Veneziane of 1928: The denomination seems to date back to the year 1173 as sicce carnis de Romania et Sciavinia. Originally, it was just the meat of montoni (mutton) salted and then smoked and dried in the sun, and stored in the merchant ships, to nurture Venetian sailors crossing the Mediterranean and linking places far beyond.
Will be back with more pictures of this exceptional celebration amongst una foresta di candele bianche - a forest of white candles in my next blog post ... if you are in Venice, do savor this unique atmosphere in a church immersed in incense...


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