|Giuseppe, left, and Nerio Baita at their stall in the Rialto market|
In fact, after we first moved to Venice I couldn't help but notice how our retired native Venetian neighbor would look at me as I recounted, for example, a trip to the Rialto Market I'd made: with the kind of compassion and pity typically inspired by urchins, by those solitaries adrift in the cold world, reliant upon their own inadequate resources. Then he would take out a pad of paper and pen and quite literally map out exactly which stall I should go to in the Rialto pescheria, and write the name of the man I should speak to, whom I could trust--once I'd told him who'd sent me--to sell me only the freshest fish.
It is in something like this spirit that I write of the fruit and vegetable stand of Nerio Baita and Germana Zanella at the Rialto. Natives of Sant'Erasmo, each comes from families with long histories on the island. They bought the stall 30 years ago, and are now helped to operate it by their son Giuseppe (whose twin brother left his native element of water to take to the air, and works as a pilot in the Far East). Germana, who didn't want to be photographed for this post, was a champion rower, winner of the Regata Storica, and an abiding force in the two-women races until quite recently.
The vast majority of the produce they sell at their stall is Italian-grown--some of it from Sant'Erasmo--and brought in fresh each morning by Nerio himself, who rises by 3:30 am five days a week to drive his mototopo (large work boat) from their home in Sant'Erasmo to the wholesale produce market on the edge of terraferma, in the port of Marghera.
They sometimes carry produce they've grown themselves, but their working hours leave them little time to grow much. Though you can be sure you'll find their own home-grown pepperoncini (chili peppers) year-round at the stall: offered freshly picked from August into the fall, then dried and gathered into piquant red bouquets for sale the rest of the year.
Their stall is easy to find: it's the last of the smaller row of produce sellers located between two rows of buildings that one encounters after exiting the vaporetto at the Rialto Mercato stop, and it looks out on the longer stalls which are open to the Grand Canal on one side.
Is it the only fruttivendolo one should go to in the Rialto? I don't think even the two Venetians who suggested it to me would be so rigid as that: after all, Nerio and Germana can't carry everything. But it's an excellent place to start, and if it's your first time ever shopping at the Rialto you'll now at least be equipped with that most necessary of things in the minds of Venetians: a recommendation.
|A view of the stall, with its dried bouquets of pepperoncini in the wicker basket in foreground|
|Nerio Baita selects castraure for a customer|
|The good boat Baronetto, in which Nerio makes his early morning trips to and from Marghera|