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Monday, September 19, 2011

I Left My Heart in . . . Burano

Is it possible to fall in love with a place? If so, I found my Nirvana -- and left my heart there.

I wasn't looking for this place. In fact, I'd never heard of it until I found myself on the way to visit it. The object of my affections is Burano, Italy, a tiny island considered to be a part of Venice.

Earlier this year, I traveled with my family to Europe. My head was swimming with historical facts and dates, beautiful Baroque and Gothic architecture, and a variety of foreign languages -- none of which I understood. I was still marveling at the beauty of all things old in Venice when I boarded a water taxi (small wooden boat) for dinner. The destination, I was told, was about 30 minutes away on the island of Burano.

If you've never been to Venice, it's like no other place. Venice is a series of islands surrounded by water flowing into the Adriatic Sea. The major transportation methods include boats, bicycles and your own feet. Canals and waterways are everywhere. It's a place where buildings and houses aren't torn down to make way for new and modern. Building are repurposed -- again and again. Some date back to the 1400s and 1500s. Seriously old compared to the United States' examples of "old."

The first thing I noticed as we approached the tiny land mass ahead was a tall, leaning tower. Next I noticed color -- lots of bright splashes of color. As we got closer, I saw that the brilliant colors were the exteriors of houses and low buildings. And the leaning tower was part of a church.

There was no busy harbor here with boats and gondolas crossing paths -- just simple docks with wooden fishing boats.

Finally, and most notably, was the QUIET. No motors, no honking horns, no big-city sounds -- just a gentle wind blowing through the trees, children laughing and conversational voices. Pure, absolute bliss!

We stepped off the water taxi and started walking. It's possible to walk from one side of the island to the other in less than an hour, we were told. Approximately 400 people call this tiny island "home," and it is known for two things -- fishing and hand-made lace.

And upon closer inspection, we saw that the lone tower is indeed leaning. After standing tall for about 1,000 years, age is catching up with the tower and gravity is slowly bringing it down. But there are no plans -- or money -- to fix it, we were told. So what happens, happens. How laid-back is that attitude?

For several hundred years, Burano has been home to a small school dedicated to teaching the art of making lace with a needle and thread. The craft is called needlelace, needlepoint, or punto in aria in Italian. The process is painstakingly slow, but the results are richly detailed works of art. An early 20th-century poster for the Burano Lace School shows a light, airy room filled with white-aproned young women sitting in rows as they work on their lace-making skills. Genuine Burano lace always carries a long thin ribbon with the brand name on it.

Hand-made Burano lace has been worn by European royalty for generations. Take a look at portraits of European royals painted hundreds of years ago. Chances are you'll see large lace panels on sleeve cuffs and around the necks of both men and women. That's Burano-made lace.

Walking through Burano is like stepping back in time. Windlows and doors are open, allowing gentle breezes to blow through. No screens. No locks. People sit outside their tiny two- and three-story homes talking with one another or just watching the world go by.

I passed an elderly women sitting outside her open front door. In her lap was an intricate mass of white threads and a needle. She had no pattern, no instructions, but she was creating a detailed lace panel. I don't know how she knew which threads to move and in what order, but the result was amazing. I enjoy doing needlework, but there's no way I'd ever have the patience to try my hand at making lace!

The use of bold color on the houses and buildings gives the village the feel of a storybook world, a make-believe city. No two adjoining buildings are painted the same color. The mix is random, but pleasing to the eye.

Burano has some modern conveniences. It has electricity, a few market shops and several eating establishments. But the delivery of supplies is done without the benefit of trucks or forklifts. Delivery personnel use simple two-wheel carts and their backs to get goods and services through the narrow walkways and to their customers.

We passed several groups of barefoot children fishing in the island's small canals. They had no adult supervision, and yet they weren't rowdy or destructive. They talked. They giggled. They were --kids. The scene was a lot different from what I saw on a recent visit to our local mall in the U.S.

We ate dinner at a small cafe with just a few tables -- and the food was fabulous! The specialities? Fish. Those of us who enjoy seafood and fresh fish (I do) found plenty to choose from. All had been caught locally. My favorite was a cooked fish pate unlike anything I'd ever eaten. Wish I could enjoy some tonight!

A gorgeous sunset colored the sky with shades of pink and orange. All too soon it was time to board another water taxi and head to our hotel. As we left the dock, I found myself thinking about how relaxing it would be to live in such a place. No bright flashing lights. No cars. No rudeness. Just water, warm breezes, and peace.

How long would I last in Burano? Would I get bored and long for the conveniences of home? Could I live without a car or cell phone? Who knows? It might be difficult, but I'd like to give it a try. Maybe I'll travel back there some day.