Another Island

I don't know whether or not it is a universal experience for all island dwellers but when I travel I find myself inexplicably drawn to other islands. For a number of years I had my eye on a vacation rental on one of the outer islands in the Venetian lagoon, called Mazzorbo (or more properly Mazzorbetto, as the island in question was accessible only by small boat from Mazzorbo). In October of 2005 the planets were aligned and we were finally able to make the trip. The house was far from the Venetian crowds but close enough to make it an easy day trip. To get there we took the vaporetto from Venice to Mazzorbo (about 20 minutes), walked across the island, and jumped into our boat (included with the rental) for the 3-minute crossing to Mazzorbetto. The wooden boat was charming but barely seaworthy - one morning we had to paddle across the canal when the engine stubbornly refused to start.

The house had been a monastery at one time and the supporting walls were over 1000 years old. They were literally crumbling before our eyes - every morning we swept up little piles of dust that had accumulated on the floor and furniture.

One of our neighbours, the farmer who cultivated the fields behind the house, showed us a 400 year-old map that clearly depicted a thriving community of homes and churches, but when we were there only a handful of buildings remained, some of them abandoned. The desk drawer in the hallway held a treasure trove of ancient majolica shards that the owner had excavated in the back yard.

We did our shopping on the neighbouring island of Burano which was accessible by a pedestrian bridge from Mazzorbo.

There was a small supermarket for basics, a wonderful fish market (where the fishmonger let us sample some raw razor clams), and a few vegetable stalls. We generally went out for lunch in Venice or one of the other islands and came back to the villa to cook dinner.

Our not-so-trusty boat took us to Torcello, Venice's first settlement, and San Francesco del Deserto, an island monastery visited by Saint Francis in 1220, where an impossibly handsome and stylish monk took us on a tour. But we didn't dare take it into Venice with all the gondolas, water taxis, vaporetti and private boat traffic there.

I have long been an advocate of choosing vacation apartments or house rentals over hotels. There is no better way to get a true feeling of the culture and daily rhythm of life of any place you choose to visit. And there are extraordinary things that can happen when you're living in a typical neighbourhood that would be impossible if you were staying in a hotel. On Mazzorbetto my husband befriended our neighbour Bruno, one of the last people still fishing in the Venetian lagoon. Bruno invited him to go out fishing with him one morning. The trip was a resounding success, particularly from Bruno's perspective - he caught a large (and increasingly rare) fish that he was able to sell at a premium. In a strange twist that can only occur in a place where people truly appreciate and eat local food we were served Bruno's prize fish in the restaurant where we had dinner that night, Al Gatto Nero on Burano.

There was only one slight down side to this trip - the mosquitos! The house came with an arsenal of mosquito-killing products and although normally I try to avoid chemical insect repellents I was happy to use them all. I guess it's no surprise that the word "malaria" comes from the Italian (meaning "bad air").

After we left Mazzorbetto I dreamed about it for months: dreams about boats and water and canals. We had planned to go back but sadly, when I emailed the owner, he told me that the house had been sold and was not longer available for rent. You can still stay on Mazzorbo though, a new hotel called Venissa has just been opened by the prosecco maker Bisol.

In case I've enticed you into renting a house in Italy, I just happened to have written a book on the subject. You can read about it here and buy it here.


Dan said...

Hi, Lynn. It was fun to read about your trip to Mazzorbetto and see the photos.

I concur about the inexorable attraction of (other) islands. As you might remember, we visited Sicily, Lipari, and Capri, right around the time you were in the Venetian islands, though I'd like to return to Ischia, Stromboli, and some of the others we missed on that trip.


Real Food from a Small Island said...

Thanks, Dan. There's an island near Lipari, called Filicudi that's next on my list. Also Stromboli. Did you ever see the film called "Stromboli" by Roberto Rossellini with Ingrid Bergman? I highly recommend it, if only to see the amazing historical footage of the "Mattanza", the tuna "harvest". It's bloody and gruesome (not to mention cruel) but absolutely riveting. It's hard to imagine that the planet had that many tuna at one point.