It’s mid afternoon here, and the bells of the churches are all clanging together, blending with the background hum of people talking in Santa Margherita around the corner, and staccato heels clicking down the quiet alley where our apartment is. I can hear birds too, and beyond even these noises, the sound of boats and water. After that—nothing. It’s quiet in the midst of the noise, if that makes any sense.
Yesterday my aunt and I set off to some of the outer islands. We visited Burano first, which is basically known (as far as I could tell) for it’s brightly colored houses (see picture.) Yeah. But at the same time I was really struck by the fact that people paint their houses to go with the other houses, creating an atmosphere for the whole town. Usually when people do anything about their houses, it concerns their personal taste only, and they paint or decorate it accordingly. To me, Burano conveyed a sense of community even when it came to taste and decorations. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.
After Burano we took the Vaporetto to Torcello, one of the oldest islands around Venice. By oldest meaning I believe it was the first to reach civilization, but with the rise of Venice the population dwindled, and now it’s down to 60 people, a Byzantine cathedral, and the old church of Santa Fosca. We didn’t tour the cathedral, since the ticket prices were just a little above comfort level, and we could glimpse the inside on our way out. We probably weren’t supposed to peek but we did anyway. We amused ourselves by looking in the gardens at old, crumbling statues outlining grapevines, and by wandering down the gravel paths and looking at the teal colored canal. When we see tourists heading in one direction, we usually head off in the opposite direction.
On Torcello, we stopped at a restaurant to get a cappuccino and spritz. We sat under a tent and scribbled away for about forty-five minutes or an hour. Then the restaurant closed and they had to unlock the gate for us to get out. We made our way back along the canal to the Vaporetto stop. The man playing his accordion made a very weak attempt to hide the fact that he already had made several Euros by putting them under a basket, keeping only one Euro in the basket. Desperate, I guess. But his music was good. It’s funny because walking around the towns you hear them playing a great deal of Henry Mancini and Frank Sinatra. I wonder why, sometimes. And sometimes I don’t wonder—sometimes I just enjoy it and hum under my breath.
(The reason that the above picture is better quality is kind of funny… it was at this point in our trip that I realized that all my pictures were turning out hazy and blurry because the lens had a layer of filth on it. So I cleaned it up about five times and started taking pictures with better results.) The next island was Murano, the glass blowing island. Here some of the factories go back a few hundred years. It’s a generalization to say that everything was beautiful, but everything really was. I’ve never seen so many unique pieces in my life, although we visited a glass blowing factory when I was little (or I seem to remember that—I could have made it up).
When we came back at last (making one gelato stop—how could we not?—before reaching home) I was in all literal meaning footsore and weary. It was at this point I started missing my younger brother Duncan’s foot massages. He’s the only one who can massage my feet without making me laugh hysterically. (But you didn’t really need to know that, did you?) After snacking on fresh peas, cherries, bread, salami, asiago cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers all day it felt good to have a nice spaghetti dinner out in the courtyard. Italians eat late—around eight. Or nine. Or ten. It depends. No earlier than eight, usually. They’re still having cocktails and appetizers.
Auntie went up to work and after a bit I went out into Santa Margherita square, sat by the Executioner’s house (he doesn’t live there anymore… he moved out about a hundred years ago. Or more.). I enjoyed this very much. It was calming in a way to watch the Italians have their idea of a good time. There was that hum of people talking. The square was full of them, sitting in circles on the stone ground, occupying every spare seat and bench. For the bartenders, every night is a busy night. It’s not a mad kind of a party, not a dangerous kind of mob. It’s a kind of gathering of all sorts of friends—again, a kind of community thing, and even at eleven at night families were there with their children of all ages running about everywhere. It was very interesting.
But I like the quieter things, too. So I left the square and went to the Ponte dell’Accademia, which is at the south-eastern end of the Grand Canal, from what I can tell. I wouldn’t trust my sense of direction, though. Last night I still that Venice was on the Western side of Italy. As in the Tyrrhenian Sea side. Again, something else you didn’t need to know. And I’ll end with this little thing. I like to watch the five distinct lights that shine on the Grand Canal looking out from the Accademia Bridge… I like to watch them flicker and move with the water, disturbed only for a moment by a passing water bus or a taxi or a gondola with a tenor singing some Italian song. Behind me sits a man with some instrument akin to a guitar, playing music that sounds like Michael Praetorius.
“Gratzie, Signor,” I say, smiling and dropping a euro into his case. He smiles back at me, melodically, as graceful as his music. That’s how I like to end my nights.