Burano: Italy Through the Kaleidescope


The storm on Burano coincides with our visit nearly to the moment and gives the impression, at first, that the entire island will run in the rain like a bleary watercolor.

We huddle under the awning in a bar and drink too-expensive hot chocolates while old men rattle away in Venetian dialect around us. Day trippers scamper for the vaporetto and for the lace shops. The town hardly looks real with its low stucco houses painted in rainbow colors—from peppermint twist pastels to blinding neons. It is Italy out of a feverish dream, Italy gone Willy Wonka.

The best colors are in the interior, when you slide through the tiny entryways off the main drag. The buildings form little courtyards in the center. Enter, and you’re swallowed by color, by an umbrella hanging on an outside hook, but three girls jumping rope, by a spluttering fountain. Steps away from the tourist din, Burano is a real place.

In the overgrown churchyard, the brick steeple leans so precariously that it actually seems dangerous—not like that other Italian leaning tower with all of its history, its army of scientists to protect it and the gawking tourists below. We ponder the chances of it tumbling on our heads when an old man comes up behind us and stares. His blue-striped sweater is done in the hues of the town–cobalt and cornflower. It is that time of the afternoon when old men in Italy take their walks or sit outside, their hours of afternoon commiseration.

When I look over, he says, “You probably don’t speak Italian.”

“I understand it,” I say.

“Ah, he says. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you, but when I see pretty women, I have to look. I know I’m old, but still. Have a good day.”

I feel bad taking photos of people’s everyday lives, until I remember that in New York City, tourists constantly take photos of my everyday life, and that I don’t really mind very much. So maybe this is cultural exchange of the highest and most literal order—your little houses for my skyscrapers, your canals for the pond in Central Park—a way of seeing what is colorful and bright about the places we visit, and about the ones we come from.

Go there: The island of Burano is located about 12km north of Venice. To visit, take the LN vaporetto from Piazza San Marco (Pieta), or Fondamenta Nouve. The latter is quicker.

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