18th Century Venice: Market Gardening

Here Zompini shows a market gardener and his young son coming to town to sell their produce. Fruit and vegetables were grown on the islands of the lagoon, on the mainland and on the Lido, the long Island that forms a barrier between Venice and the Adriatic. Wherever their plots, market gardeners had to contend with stormy winter weather, and relatively poor-quality soil, especially on “marine” smallholdings on the Lido or on the islands. We can reasonably assume that our man is a Lido gardener, from the rhyme’s reference to spiaze (modern Italian, spiagge, beaches) “Mi son quel che le spiaze de marina / Coltivo, passo el mar, porto a Venezia / Ogni sorte d’erbazi ogni matina.” My translation: “Hard by the sea, I till my sandy plot, / To sail to town and sell, my daily lot.” This is terse, but I hope it conveys something of the aggravation implied in the original, the intense labour of raising the produce on a windswept seaside waste, and the two-hour daily boat trip across the lagoon at the crack of dawn to sell it at the Erberia.

Giacomo Casanova describes the customary dawn stroll taken around the Erberia by the idle rich. “At dawn, feeling the need to calm my nerves, I went to the Erberia. This place is located on a quay of the Grand Canal: it has this name because this is where they sell herbs, fruit and whatever flowers are in season.Those who go for a walk on the quay early in the morning say they go there for the innocent pleasure of watching the arrival of two or three hundred boats laden with vegetables, fruits of all kinds and whatever flowers are in season.  The inhabitants of the islets surrounding the capital bring these commodities to sell cheap to wholesalers. These resell at a profit to small traders who then sell on to others who finally peddle it at an even higher price. It is not true that young Venetians go to the Erberia before dawn for the reason given, which is a mere pretext. It is the resort of gallant men and women who have spent the night at the casino, or in a hotel, or dallying in the gardens between the pleasures of the table, or the fury of the ‘Game’.”

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