We met Heide on the second week of our Italian course at the Istituto. She was from Monaco, which made her seem terribly exotic. Then, over the course of the next few weeks, we came across more and more people from the Principality, and thought that it must be seeming very empty back home with so many of its citizens travelling to Venice to learn Italian. And then we learned that the Italian name Monaco (meaning, well, Monaco) is not to be confused with Monaco di Baviera (ie. Munich), and it didn't seem so surprising any more.
She'd given up her job as a physics teacher in Bavaria, and - despite not knowing much beyond Ciao or Buongiorno - decided to up and move to Venice where she's spent a year living in a convent and studying Italian.
She wanted a souvenir of her time in Venice, in the form of a hand-made puppet of a Venetian plague doctor, and asked us to come along with her when she picked it up from the puppet maker (there may be a proper word for "a man who makes puppets", but we'll stick with "puppet maker" for now).
We arrive at his studio in Cannaregio and he buzzes us in. Riccardo is a lovely chap, he seems genuinely pleased to see us, and we pass about an hour there. His work is a million miles away from the cheap souvenirs in the tourist shops. There's a real feeling of craftmanship about his studio. Every puppet is hand made, and their clothes are individually tailored by his sister, a costumier.
Riccardo is happy to talk about every subject under the sun. A quick glance around his bookshelves reveals that he's incredibly well read, everything from the classics to comic books. As he packs the plague doctor away, he tells us that we're more than welcome to drop by any time for a chat.
As I said before, he's a lovely chap. If puppets are your thing, look no further than :-
We take our leave, and head off for a drink at La Cantina on the Strada Nuova. Now this is one of the busiest streets in town, and not the sort of area that we'd normally think of stopping, but it turns out to be a wee gem of a place. Not least because you can actually get a decent beer here! Oh yes, indeed. They make their own brew, Morgana, an unfiltered beer reminiscent of a British Summer Ale, and full of hoppiness. Frankly, that's a good enough reason to come here, but they do good cicchetti as well. And just when we're thinking the afternoon can't get any better, I take a phone call from a man who ends up offering me a job. This, of course, calls for more drinks (athough Heide, despite being German, is not a beer drinker and remains unmoved when I excitedly explain it's brewed according to the Rheinheitsgebot)! It's very tempting to settle in for the evening, but I've got a rehearsal later on and figure that the Maestra will not be in the mood for tuneless beery ranting.
Heide has a number of plans for the future - she says she likes the idea of travelling round Italy on a scooter - but, for now, she's heading back to Bavaria. We'll miss her. But I wouldn't mind betting she'll get round to that Vespa tour one of these days.