August in the Lagoon is always dedicated to Torcello, an island in the northern Lagoon (Laguna superiore), but this year even more so ..
When you arrived on Torcello, you could take a secret shortcut, an overgrown path to the left, just after the vaporetto stop, leaving the others walk towards the ancient cathedral and Locanda Cipriani. First, you'd cross a meadow with fruit and acacia trees, then you'd walk along blackberry shrubs and tamarisk, sometimes on a grassy path, sometimes on gravel. Like in a fairy tale, it brought you to a black wrought-iron gate amongst the shrubbery.
The gate was opened by Paolo, the owner of a special house (casa d'artista) and garden hiding behind, and a vegetable garden with 4000 artichoke plants! Paolo had been living on “his Torcello” with his dog Ethos since 2003. There's no other person in Venice more knowledgable about the ancient history of the Lagoon. About Torcello, acting as bridge between the Roman city Altino and the Byzantine world and Greece in the southeast.
Paolo loved exploring the origins of the Lagoon settlements, how Greek merchants founded a port, and how the citizens of Altino joined them because their own port had become a swamp - yes, the Lagoon is forever changing. And Paolo loved to stress that instead of today's 11 inhabitants, Torcello counted 70,000 port workers and their families 1700 years ago. There's just so much we don't know about the origins of Venice: Only recently, archeologists retrieved ceramics on Torcello from 124 cities around the Mediterranean sea.
What a different world, the ancient Venetia, coming to life in the vivid tales of Paolo. Stories we'll continue sharing with you in the months ahead because they are his legacy ..
11 days ago, a message arrived that Paolo had suddenly passed away: Torcello has lost its guardian, who understood the island, its history, flora and fauna more than anyone else. And Venetians lost a wonderful friend.
Paolo's favorite time of day was sunrise: He used to sit and watch the flamingos in the swamp beyond, called Palude della Rosa. Sometimes, he'd tell us that he had been watching 500 flamingos at breakfast: No need to switch on TV!
From his patio Porta del Paradiso and outdoor kitchen, Paolo had a view of the swamp on the left, now turning purple in August. The belltower of the cathedral Santa Maria Assunta was to the right, towering beyond the olive trees, pines and reeds. A spectacular sight he often shared, especially when a thunderstorm had colored the skies black in the distance.
And just round the corner of the house was a fattoria didattica - Lagoon farm and vegetable garden, where he was experimenting with rare plant species and his favorite vegetables, carciofi (artichokes).
Watch a video Paolo's home and garden here.