Sunday, January 20, 2008

off the wire

I am again without internet at home. Some fiddling around with the intention to fix has knocked out my connection until further notice. Thank heavens for the little cybercafe here in town. So back to where I left off some days ago.

A couple of months ago (has it been that long??) I wrote here that I would say something about the last trip to Venice, taken the Wednesday before we left. That would have been November 15th, I believe. We went expressly to “do” the islands in the Venetian Lagoon. There are 34 islands, including Venice. I thought we might be able to do 5 or 6! Unfortunately for us it was a bitterly cold day with a nasty, icy wind. We were not to be deterred, however. We took the train across to Venice, came out of the station and were met with a blast of wet fog and damp. We bought a day pass on the vaporettoand set off for the first island stop, Saint Michele.

There is no good way to describe the lagoon in that sort of weather. Or in any weather for that matter. You wend your way through the Grand Canal, with its magnificent wrecks of palazzos, beautiful bridges, monuments and public buildings. The sky was grey and low, the water murky and choppy from the wind. After the last stop the boat leaves the shelter of the buildings on either side and heads out into open water. It is so vast! I was not prepared for that. The water lanes are marked off not only by buoys but also by tall lamp posts rising out of the water with quaint glass coverings. I have seen photographs of the lagoon lit at night; it’s quite magical. The boat picks up speed and before long you are clipping right along but headed who knows where. We couldn’t see the islands because of the fog; not dense, just enough to be a bit mysterious.

After about 30 minutes, the first stop came into view. Saint Michele. This is where all born and bred Venetians go after death. The entire island is a burial ground of the rich and famous and the not-so rich or famous. Good Venetians all, with the exception of a few famous men and women who were actually Venetians at heart. The latest addition to the walk of fame was, at that time, Joseph Brodsky. The whole island is chock-a-block with gravestones, monuments of greater or lesser proportions, beautifully tended flower gardens and walkways. Every here and there is a rack holding plastic watering cans beside either a hose or spigot so you can see to the condition of your family’s plot. On the boat to the island are people carrying bouquets of flowers and plants for the graves. Very beautiful, very moving. But the population has gotten so dense that many graves are dug up after 10 or 20 years to make room for new tenants. I never found out where the previous tenants are moved to.

Next stop was Murano, the island famous for its glassblowing factories. Murano glass is famous world wide and certainly is beautiful if not sometimes a bit gaudy. There are several places you can go to walk through the process of making an object but on this particular cold Wednesday many of them we went to were closed. So we contented ourselves by walking around the little island, like Venice, little islets connected by pretty bridges. We stopped at a café for hot chocolate, just the thing for the weather.

Then we moved on to Burano, the lace-making island. This place is famous for two things. One is, as I said, lace-making. The other is the colorful houses (think San Miguel only more so). The reason given is that the ladies of the island who were home tatting all day long wanted their menfolk, fishermen, to be able to see their houses as they came home in the evening or in the fog. So they all painted their houses different colors. Here’s what it looks like:

Like Venice and Murano the place is connected by little bridges across tiny canals and, of course there are no cars. Not even scooters here as there were on Murano. There are lots of shops selling beautiful linens and laces, just the place to buy a set of table linens or such. I ended up buying Emily a beautiful lace handkerchief to carry at her wedding (in about 15 years!) or, if she elopes, to stuff into her backpack.

We moved on to Torcello, the spot where Ernest Hemingway holed up while writing "Across the River and Into the Trees" between duck hunting and bottles of wine with Giuseppe Cipriani—the founder of Locanda Cipriani, the island's famous inn and restaurant, and then owner of the Venice cornerstone Harry's Bar. There is another restaurant, Ponte del Diavolo that I wanted to go to but, alas, it was closed that day. Torcello also has a large, well-populated bird sanctuary. Then we went to Tronchetto, but by how, however, it was raining, quite windy, and too cold to get out and tromp around. So we sat in the boat for awhile, keeping warm, until we took off again back across the lagoon to Venice proper.

There are many other islands scattered through the lagoon, some uninhabited. Some are given over to agricultural crops, some are for animal grazing, and a few are privately owned. Imagine! We could have stayed on the boat and gone out to the Lido, the long island that is the outermost barrier between Venice and the Adriatic Sea. But it was getting late and our fingers had almost ceased to function from the cold.

We got off the boat at the first stop and walked back through the narrow streets, some so dark I could hardly see, across tiny bridges and through pretty, surprising piazzas. Even though it was cold, the laundry must be done.

We stopped in to our favorite restaurant for a bite to eat before catching the train back to Vicenza.

This place is in a tiny square and is connected with the Malibran Hotel and the famous theatre. Yummy food, and it was warm inside. Then we trooped back to the vaporetto stop, caught the train and thawed out on our way back to Vicenza. It was, all in all, a splendid, very special day. What a place.


At 6:39 PM, Blogger mary ann said...

I'm going to print this glorious post right now and save it for my women friends when we have our Great Italian Reunion in Santa Barbara in
July. Thank you so much, I lapped up every word. Sorry about the no-Wi Fi, we are spoiled aren't we?

At 3:44 PM, Blogger DAK said...

I'm a friend of Mary Ann's -- I enjoyed your Patzcuaro postings but was puzzled how you got to Venice so fast, especially when you were about to drive home on Bandido Highway. But a re-read cleared it all up. Enjoy your travel musings. I love Italy but I love Mexico even more.


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