Leaving the Gobbo on our left and passing from the campo at the right-hand corner, we come to the great arcaded markets for fruit and vegetables, and further to the wholesale and retail fish markets, all of which are amusing to loiter in, particularly in the early hours of the morning. To the Erberia are all the fruit-laden barges bound, chiefly from Malamocco, the short cut from the lagoon being through the Rio del Palazzo beneath the Bridge of Sighs and into the Grand Canal, just opposite us, by the Post Office. The fruit market is busy twice a day, in the early morning and in the late afternoon; the fish market in the morning only.
[Illustration: S. MARIA GLORIOSA DEI FRARI]
The vegetables and fruit differ according to the seasons; the fish are always the same. In the autumn, when the quay is piled high with golden melons and flaming tomatoes, the sight is perhaps the most splendid. The strangest of the fish to English eyes are the great cuttle-fish, which are sold in long slices. It strikes one as a refinement of symmetrical irony that the ink which exudes from these fish and stains everything around should be used for indicating what their price is.
Here also are great joints of tunny, huge red scarpenna, sturgeon, mullet, live whole eels (to prove to me how living they were, a fishmonger one morning allowed one to bite him) and eels in writhing sections, aragosta, or langouste, and all the little Adriatic and lagoon fish—the scampi and shrimps and calimari—spread out in little wet heaps on the leaves of the plane-tree. One sees them here lying dead; one can see them also, alive and swimming about, in the aquarium on the Lido, where the prettiest creatures are the little cavalli marini, or sea horses, roosting in the tiny submarine branches.
From all the restlessness and turmoil of these markets there is escape in the church of S. Giovanni Elemosinario, a few yards along the Ruga Vecchia di San Giovanni on the left. Here one may sit and rest and collect one’s thoughts and then look at a fine rich altar-piece by Pordenone—S. Sebastian, S. Rocco, and S. Catherine. The lion of the church is a Titian, but it is not really visible.
As typical a walk as one can take in democratic Venice is that from this church to the Frari, along the Ruga Vecchia di San Giovanni, parallel with the Grand Canal. I have been here often both by day and by night, and it is equally characteristic at either time. Every kind of shop is here, including two old book-shops, one of which (at the corner of the Campiello dei Meloni) is well worth rummaging in. A gentle old lady sits in the corner so quietly as to be invisible, and scattered about are quite a number of English books among them, when I was last there, a surprising proportion of American minor verse. Another interesting shop here supplies Venetians with the small singing birds which they love so much, a cage by a window being the rule rather than the exception; and it was hereabouts that an old humorous greengrocer once did his voluble best to make me buy a couple of grilli, or crickets, in a tiny barred prison, to make their shrill mysterious music for me. But I resisted.