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January 28, 2005

the italian charm school for boys

It's hard not to get lost in Venice. I would imagine that even those without an incredible talent for getting lost such I possess could easily lose their way in the labrynth of alleyways and squares and bridges and dead ends here. Some of the passageways, some even with shops and bars along them, are barely wider than I am.

Somehow, though, it's also entirely easy to get unlost. You no sooner realize that you've all but completely lost track of where you are, consult the map, realize that you can't find any of the recent street names anywhere on it, give up, and head once again in the direction you thought was right before realizing you were hopelessly lost, and suddenly, you find yourself at your intended destination.

It's quite a nice change from the whole, finally realizing where you thing where that realization is accompanied by the dawning understanding that you've actually walked completely out of the city and now have several miles between you and a state of unlostedness.

This may be one of Venice's charms, it's surreal and yet simple navigability. There are lots of them, many of them almost bordering on not seeming quite real. There are no cars, so it just doesnt sound like a city. There are no main boulevards to speak of, other than those filled with water. You are constantly crossing bridges and making unexpected little turns. And, increasingly tonight as Carnevale is set to begin, you encounter people wearing long black cloaks, white masks, and tritipped hats.

Now, as much as I love this maze of this place, I did want to spend some time today exploring some other attributes of Venice, including their glass-making. I've become completely enchanted with that frilly venetian style of mirror and chandelier that looks like it belongs on the set of Beauty and the Beast. Especially tht stuff with teh pink flowers and gold leaf. And I'm exercising all of my willpower not to blow Yogi's food budget for the year on some elaborate piece of art for the Girlie Room, though it would work perfectly in there.

Glassblowing here happens on the island of Murano. I took the ferrovia over and started exploring. A number of the factories will let you into the furnace rooms to watch them make the glass. An experience you would never encounter in the US with all of their safety regulations and such, but you can walk right in, and usually someone from the factory will happily explain the process, lead you right through all of the men (wearing no more safety equipment that street clothes, btw) building the glass ornaments, look inside the furnaces, get close enough to feel the heat on your face, that sort of thing. The idea is that you'll then want to buy something and feel more connected to the stuff in their shop because you watched their artisans making it.

I'd been into a few of the factories and shops and was trying to avoid spending too much time in the cold that seems to have followed me here from Florence, and so popped into one shop, where I was greeted at the door by a very large dog, who was probably a shepard/mastiff mix of some sort. I gave him my hand to sniff, adn then he shoved his head against the outside of my leg, in a very cuddly and affectionate way, and so I was petting him as I loooked through the showroom. There were two men working there, one who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s and the other old enough to be his father. The younger called to the dog, I assume to tell it to stop bugging me, and I said that it was ok, and asked in Italian what the dog's name was, and then pet him again and told him (in English) how sweet he was.

The older of the men then said to me, in English, "I assume you were referring to the dog."

I smiled and said yes, and he asked me if I spoke much Italian, what I was doing in Venice, how long was I in Italy for, etc. The usual litany of questions that I get when people start up conversations with me here. The younger man asked me something in Italian which I didnt understand, so he asked in English where I was staying in Venice, and I told him the area.

The older man then said, "Your Italian is terrible. How long have you been in Italy?" I smiled and said I'd been here about a week, to which he replied, "In a week you should be able to learn Italian. You must not be very smart." And he smiled.

We had a great conversation from that point on. I told him that I had liked Florence more than Rome, and he asked me if I liked it better because of the museums or the wine. I told him I wasnt so much of a museum person, but the wine in Florence was very good, as was the food, better than I had had in Rome. He then replied, "Ah, so you like to eat good food, do you?" and I replied by patting my thigh and saying something about how that would seem obvious.

His response was perfect, though. "No, no. I was worried that maybe you don't eat at all."

I smiled. "Italian men always know just what to say."

"No. Only the old ones."

"Then how did you know just what to say?"

"Beautiful women from Seattle also know just what to say, don't they?"

Anyway, we chatted, and when I was ready to leave, he asked me if I had time. I was a little puzzled, but figured, ok. Sure, I have all the time in the world. So he told me I should go to the island of Burano and have lunch there. I asked him where, and he said it didnt matter but I should have risotto with prawns wherever I went. Then he asked me if I knew how to get there, and when I said I didn't he gave me the instructions, and then walked me to the ferry dock, apologizing that he couldn't go with me because he didnt have enough time in the middle of the work day. I thanked him, and he kissed me on the cheek, and told me to have a lovely day.

Let me tell you, Burano is gorgeous. It's small and quiet. They are known for their lace, but I think the main reason to go there is for the town on the island. Every house is a different color, most of them bright, and the little boats lining the canal are all also brightly colored. It's so too pretty.

So I choose a place for lunch, which was quiet, but had risotto with shrimp on the menu outside and went in. I was given a waiter who spoke English, who was very charming, and suggested that I could look at the menu, or, he would recommend starting with the spider crab and then having the shrimp risotto. Which is what I would have chosen anyway, but apparently Burano is also known for spider crab dishes.

They were both lovely. I had a glass of white wine, and then when I turned down dessert, the waiter brought over a warm cookie, like a round biscotti and a flute of sweet wine like a marsala and said that this was a Burano thing, you break off the piece of the cookie and dip it in the the wine before you eat it. The cookie wasn't sweet, and I can't say that it was much without the wine, but with, it was lovely.

I ordered espresso, and was also brought a limoncello. (This seems to be a theme), and eventually finished, and asked for the check, whereupon I was then asked if I had a good singing voice. I said no, why, and my waiter produced a small glass of grappa and said that it would help keep out the cold, but would burn going down. Both of which statements were true.

I walked back to take the very long ferry ride to Venice proper, where, of course, I feel asleep, though I didn't miss my stop. The ferry drivers seem to pull up to the dock with about as much ease as French people parallel park, so the slamming action tends to rouse one from a good nap.

I think I'm about warm now, so I'm going to venture back out into the cold to see what Carnevale related activities are going on. Love to you all.

Posted by paulette at January 28, 2005 12:30 PM | TrackBack
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You definitely CAN write :-)

Thanks for helping us vicariously enjoy the fine moments in Venice and Italia....

Safe travels

Posted by: Arunonymous on January 28, 2005 01:30 PM

Unbelievably delightful. Thank you for this.

Posted by: pam on January 29, 2005 10:06 AM
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