Recently I’ve been writing about my travel experiences in Venice and the “slow life” of staying on the Lido. I’ve got another experience to share that only happens when all the right elements fall into place. Somehow I’ve got a knack to stumbling into these situations. For me it takes going out on a limb and getting out of my “comfort zone,” but when it happens, it is magical.I made it to the island of Burano by about 4:30 p.m.
This island is the way out toward the place where the Venice lagoon empties into the Adriatic Sea. Burano is a fishing village and is most famous for finely handmade lace. At first glance it seemed the island survives only on tourism, but as I was about to find out, there is a lot more culture here than meets the eye. From the boat dock I walked up the “main drag” and found my tour group right where I expected them…at the first bar in sight. Now don’t misunderstand me here, hanging out at a bar is not a bad thing, so I decided to join them for a few minutes. By 5:00 the whole area was shutting down. The bar was handing out tabs which is highly unusual for Italy. I asked our waiter, “what was up?” and he said most tourist take the 5:20 boat back to Venice and there is no tourist business to speak of after that time. The restaurants in the area only serve lunch and are closed for dinner.
My group decided to return to Piazza San Marco for some shopping and more of Venice. I decided to hang around a while longer and checkout this village. So off I went in the direction away from the boat dock. Soon I discovered an amazing array of freshly painted buildings sporting every imaginable color of a rainbow. Red, blue, orange, yellow, and green seemed to be the dominate hues. The place was charming. Had I not known better you could have been in and Irish fishing village, not one on the Venice Lagoon. Strolling here I discovered I was actually in a residential area. Lining both sides of the sidewalk (there are no cars are on the island) were open doors covered only by a thin sheet of cloth flapping in the breeze and surrounded by pots of flowers in full bloom. This lent even more color to the already beautiful scenery. Kids were out playing, riding tricycles and bikes, and just generally being kids. Soon I came to the end of the island where it dropped off into the lagoon. In the distance I could see the harbor entrance defined by jetties jutting out into the Adriatic.Turning around I walked in another direction and after a few minutes found myself in the town square. Now this was what I was looking for! It was about 6:30 and the square was alive with action. Lining both sides of the “street” were every type of shop imaginable, each with its own awning sporting its name and purpose. Every shop was filled with people looking, shopping, and making purchases. These were the local folks, they lived on the island, and each one knew the other. It was my kind of town! I sat down at a café so I could get a good view of the action, ordered a drink, and took it all in.
After a few minutes four men sat down at the table next to men ordered a drink. The waitress was a happy woman, dressed in black, with deeply dyed red hair. After getting the guys their Apelrol’s she appeared with an accordion and gave it to one of the gentlemen. Within seconds he had it cranked up and was pumping out a tune. The other fellows joined in belting out song in rich baritone voices. It did not take long for them to gather a crowd and soon other men from the community took a seat and joined in. By this time I knew I had happen upon something special for me, but not at all unusual for Burano.
I couldn’t help it so on the next song I joined in. Now I’m not too shabby of a singer and I think the guys at the next table picked up on that. They needed a tenor and evidently I was doing a pretty good job. It was fairly easy for me to hear and belt out the harmony. I found that by watching the “leaders” mouth I could even get all the vowels correctly. I just got lucky with the consonants. All songs have a form and once you know where the verses and choruses fit it is easy to follow along.
After five or six songs one of the guys ran across the street, took a jar of retrieved a jar of anchovies offered by the shop tender and return to the table. By this time I had been invited to join the “choir” at their table and we all feasted on anchovies, bread, and vino! Yummmmmy! After licking the oil off his fingers the accordion player started up again and more men sat down and joined in . It seemed this was a normal thing, these guys passing away the late afternoon in song! By now it was getting to be 7:30 or so and I began to see the men watch their watches. I don’t speak Italian very well, and certainly do not understand the Venetian dialect, but I did pick up that their wives were expecting most of them home for dinner soon and they had better wrap it up. I think we had gone through three of four liters of vino and I did not know how they were going to go home and pretend they had not “stopped off for a cocktail” after leaving the office! HA! But no, I was made to understand that was not the way it was. Waiting for them was at least a one hour dinner with more vino and a relaxing evening at home.
At precisely 8:00 the waitress arrive and pried the accordion out of Eugenio’s hand and took it to a back room of the café. Everybody got up, said their “ciao’s” and were on their way home. You can’t manufacture this type of an experience. You’ll only run across it by getting off the beaten path, out of your comfort zone, and stick with the locals. You’ll get lucky about 10% of the time!