This photo of Murano children feeding pigeons reminds me how different their lives are from other kids. They live on a very small island, and are contained by it. They don’t jump in a car to go anywhere, and their mother doesn’t yell, “Watch out for the cars!” when their ball escapes. Tripping off a curb means a dunk in the canal. There’s no such thing as jaywalking, though I did see a man ‘double-park’ his boat and walk across another one to get to the pavement. People walk everywhere on Murano, evoking an earlier time. They frequently see their neighbors out and about. I’m seriously envious.
I also live on an island, but compared to Murano, Hawaiʻi is huge. People ask if I get island fever. Not yet, and I’ve been here six years. Could I envision getting island fever living on Murano? Probably. But would I like to find out? Definitely. Even my urban kid said she missed Murano when we got back to Venice.
It’s not like I’d be cut off from the rest of the world. Murano residents get DHL shipments just like we get FedEx, but delivered by boat. (And unlike trucks, boats can nudge other boats to get into tight parking spaces.) They’re well plugged in with satellite dishes, cell phones and WiFi. In fact, the WiFi reception in our Murano apartment was better than in some hotels in the US. There’s no shortage of connectivity here.
Their canal-bound life does not adversely affect access to good food either. The food co-op is well stocked with boxed, bottled and canned products upstairs, even specialty items like Easter candy. Veggies were plentiful, and given their proximity to Africa and the Middle East, the fruit section was abundant.
The in-store butcher shop has everything from trussed up roasts to fresh fish. It was a bit more than we wanted to tackle while on holiday, so we cooked mainly meatless pasta dishes. I already miss the different kinds of fresh pastas and cheeses.
The breads smelled heavenly. But I’d have to shop early to ensure they had my favorite because this section sells out quickly.
Of course, I’d have to get the ubiquitous wheeled cart to carry my groceries. And if I wanted some variety, I could also shop the fish, butcher and grocery stores embedded in the residential neighborhoods.
But island life has limitations. In Hawaii, we are used to the idea that most everything arrives by boat. Murano does that and more: everything has to be brought directly to a work-site this way.
Every brick, bag of cement, sand, and paver used to fix a sidewalk gets heaved over the side of a boat at the worksite. We saw boats with crane arms everywhere. For a newbie, it’s all fascinating.
For sites along interior streets, people haul loads with bicycles and large carts. I imagine Murano residents think twice about ordering a new sofa.
But the Murano canals aren’t all about limitations and work-arounds. We also saw friends and lovers perched dockside, enjoying the water, and stand-up rowing teams out early on Sunday morning, pushing themselves at a very fast pace. What a wonderful way to celebrate their canal island identity.
Besides the deep sense of community, I also love Murano’s rich history: the glass-making, the fishing industry, the churches. The Basilica of Saints Mary and Donatus was founded in the seventh century. The current church, completed in 1140 CE is full of paintings and a beautiful mosaic floor (1125 CE). It also holds the remains of St. Donatus, and four large rib bones of the dragon he supposedly slayed.
One thing Murano and other Venetian Lagoon residents must confront is that the islands are sinking and sea levels are rising. Some mornings our sidewalk was littered with seaweed, the high tide line from the night before. Allowing cruise ships in the lagoon and dredging it for large cargo ships also contributes to the destruction of these historic island cities.
So if the children of Murano are to continue the life of their ancestors, lagoon management must improve. That may mean limiting the number of tourists that arrive. I hope it doesn’t come to that because some day, I want to get island fever on Murano.
For other essays from this trip to the Venetian Lagoon, see:
For my Venice essays from a trip in 2015, see:
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