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LACE! and zomg so much to tell you!March 23, 2012

You GUYS. 

So Burano, a small island about 45 minutes away from Venice by boat, is known for its lace-making. I've been before, and hadn't been impressed by anything but the beauty of the tiny town (they paint their houses vibrant shades so they can be seen by their sailors from far away). Most of the lace for sale in the small shops isn't made by hand, and that which is is obviously extremely -- and prohibitively -- expensive. 

This morning, I hopped the boat for Burano. I hadn't been in at least ten years, and figured it was worth another go. However, the obnoxiously loud tourists clacking away on the boat bugged me (said the obnoxiously quiet tourist), and at the last minute, when we landed at Burano, I decided to get on yet another boat and cross the canal to Torcello. 

Torcello is another small island in the lagoon. Ruskin called it and Venice "the mother and daughter," Torcello being the mother. (And you KNOW how I feel about mamas.) It was inhabited first, before Venice, around the 5th century (!) and in the 10th century had about 10,000 inhabitants. 

It now has 20 inhabitants. Twenty.

And it felt like it. I went on a walk when the boat landed. 

I found a lane: 


And another one: 


I found a church (one of the oldest I've ever been in) and I found lunch (one of four places that looked like they cater to the rich summer crowd, none of whom were in town for the winter): 


After a couple of delightful hours, I knew I should at least give Burano a chance, so I left Torcello, passing this on my walk out: 

 Yep. The lonely accordion-player was all by himself out there, with nothing in his hat (until I walked past, of course). Jesus. Just playing this back for myself makes me grin like I'm still there.

Then I caught the boat back to Burano. I looked dutifully at the lace, and no, nothing had changed. Mostly crap. (In fact, I didn't see any real stuff at all this time.) I was heading back to the boat, gelato in hand, when I spotted THE LACE MUSEUM (it wasn't in caps like that, but in my head it was.)

The little movie at the beginning was amazing, 30 minutes or so showing the history of the lace in the islands and where it was now. 

But upstairs? The real jewels? THE LACE MAKERS THEMSELVES. Or three of them, at least.

Please excuse my photo clicks and my bad Italian -- I was seriously so excited that even now, thinking about it, puts a hitch in my breathing. 

I didn't get my friend's name, which makes me mad at myself because we talked for a long time, but I know that she's been doing this for ten years (she got rather a late start, apparently) and her mother, who was with the sculoa when it began in the early 1900s, made lace for 83 years. 

I showed her my lace. And OH MY GOD we had such a moment. She showed it proudly to the other two lace makers: 


and they all said, "Brava, brava!" and she told me this: That we were the same. She and I. She made lace with her craft, and I made lace with mine -- then she clasped my hand -- but we are the same, she said in Italian, which I would repeat here but I'd get the conjugation wrong so I won't.

I wanted to hug my friend! To kiss her! But instead she asked to see my tattoos which were peeking out from under my sleeves -- she liked the yarn ball but loved the mama tattoo. 

I felt annointed.  

(I love how in the picture above she's stretching it out, totally confident, even though she only crochets and doesn't knit much -- she commented to the other women about my tiny needles! And she knits with THREAD! When I pulled out the knitting later, there was a short white thread from her work caught in with the red. For a moment I wanted to save it, like I saved my first gray hair at 21, but then I realized I was crossing into crazy-land.) 

Then the creepy guard who had already asked me out once in the four seconds we'd spoken about lace followed me down the stairs, whispering so his boss wouldn't hear that he could show me Venice at night. He didn't think I knew he wanted to show me Venice in his pants? I know what Venice at night looks like, fool, and she's much prettier, so basta. However that doesn't stop me from loving I got hit on in the lace museum. BAM! 

I'm loading a ton more pictures to Flickr, but I think I'm going to bed now, so I won't title them or even guarantee that they make it there. I'm exhausted, and I have my first well-deserved blisters of the trip. 

* I haven't even told you about going to the Lido and finding where the cats of Venice went yet! (That was yesterday and such a good story.) 

** Anyone ever used one of those Berlitz/etc language courses? Do any of them work? My problem is this: I have exactly enough Italian to order food, to find the bathroom, and to understand 80% of all responses. I can't conjugate a damn thing correctly -- in order to say I did something yesterday, I turn around and point behind me. In Italy, I'm not embarrassed (much) to make a fool of myself trying very hard to speak the language. (I fooled someone today, who corrected himself when he started to give English directions, and gave them all to me in Italian. I understood them all, and followed them, and then avoided him assiduously afterward, lest he learn the truth.) My problem in that in the US, when I'm learning, I hate being wrong all the time. I've done college courses in Italian, and usually drop out because speaking it in class makes me too nervous. Any ideas? 


Holy cats! I love that picture of the lacemaker. Plus now I'm reminded of the This Mortal Coil song. All good.

what song is that? (I totally just typoed "what shong?" I'm slurring in typing!)

Try the Rosetta Stone series. I hear that's a really good program.

LOVING your Venice posts. Now I want to go. LOL.

My son's using the Rosetta Stone to tone up his German before moving there in the fall, and he's crazy about it! If you do the on-line version, it's REALLY affordable!

How wonderful! I never made it to the Lace Museum, but will add it to the list. I felt the same as you about Burano - picturesque photos, but otherwise meh. I do want to go up the crooked bell tower, though...

The only non-class language lessons that have worked for me are the Michel Thomas series. I have the 2 CD set - I understand there's a more intensive course.

Heh. Rachael got hit on in the museum. ;-)

Oh, your photos are so lovely. And now I am longing to go back even more than ever. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. The lace maker. And the accordion player. How wonderful.

Oh, I just love your videos and stories!

My plan to improve my French is to go to a cafe nearby that has conversation evenings. The owners are from Paris, and I figure I have enough schoolbook French...just not enough practice using it! The other option is to move there for six months, which I'm also considering!!

Apparently Rosetta Stone is really good for learning new languages (I'm hoping to make the time to learn Gaelic, personally), but I learned French the hard way -- late partial French immersion in Public & High Schools. My advice for learning your conjugations? Practice. In the middle of the coldest part of winter, we would deliberately earn "detention" from going outside at recess. Our "punishment" was usually writing out our Verbs and all their common conjugations. Once we had those down pat, our teacher started us on the different tenses. Bear in mind, we weren't allowed to speak english as long as we were in the classroom, and sometimes forgot to switch back in time for our next (english language) classes!

I've found that if you're in conversation with a person whose first language is your second, letting them know that your spoken skills are very rusty and you would love to be corrected goes a long way to gaining that practical knowledge.

Oh...and practice around the house when you're at home when you can. The other people at the table might not understand it if you're trying to raise a conversation on the dominantly socialist structure of the European nations, but "please pass the salt" is usually easily decipherable ;)

Moments like that are priceless, aren't they? Years ago, when I still spoke rudimentary Russian, I bowed out of a trip to yet another state-run folk museum somewhere outside Kishinov (maybe) and went for a walk in the village instead. An absolutely ancient little lady invited me into her home.... It was remarkable.

You might want to see if your library carries Mango Languages - http://www.mangolanguages.com/ (go down to the "Find Mango Near You" link). I've done a few of their lessons and they seem very sound and are also fun!

Or...there are little electronic devices that translate. There's a new one that's supposed to be truly great. I can't remember the name of the things though. doh. Pretty shawl!

Learn all the tenses to conjugate the verbs to have, to go and to be able to. With that you can add the infinitive (unconjugated form) of any verb and voila! you have language. As in: I am going to dine/to walk/to take a vaporetto/to listen/to knit/to write/to look for...I'm going to walk/read/leave/drink/dine now...Can I ____? go there/leave this with you/catch the bus/train, etc. I have eaten (Ok, you'll need an easy different form of a verb for this but it's MUCH easier than learning how to conjugate all the specific verbs.
A traveling friend taught me these and they work big time and give you a lot more comfort with any language. Two more things: Wine helps. After two glasses of wine you're fluent in ANY language, lol! or if you're not, you don't care... And thing the last: You can have dignity or you can learn something new. Like a language. Not possible to have both! Laugh and roll with it, grasshopper! I'm thinking you already know most of this, though. Buona fortuna, Bella!

You can also try LiveMocha.com. You can practice your speaking in private but get feedback and coaching from native Italian speakers. They have free options on thier site so you can try it out.

Oh god that cracked me up -- Venice is more beautiful indeed!

My 11 year old is obsessed with Venice though he's never been out of the U.S. He's enjoying your pictures!

Thank you for sharing your trip with us. I feel as if I was there myself! I totally get that moment of bonding with the lacemaker; how wonderful.

I studied French a lot in school but didn't feel comfortable speaking it until I absolutely had to at a conference in France. So I think it's just one of those learn-by-doing things. If the challenge is to find ways of getting over the nervousness of "doing", how about this: when you're listening to other people talking in Italian (or if they speak to you), write down what they said (afterwards!) as well as you can, and then say it aloud back to yourself, whisper it in your head, get your mouth and brain around it over and over. Find an opportunity to say it to someone else when the stakes are low. Another thing I've found helpful: when riding public transportation (or otherwise unoccupied in public) think of something you'd like to say to someone. Then try to figure out how you'd say it, and then practice saying it, in your head. Make your language-generating brain practice generating language.

And can I just say that you are a marvellous storyteller!!

Loved the article. I actually own an authentic piece of this lace that I purchased 15 years ago when a lacemaker from Burano visited our Embroiderers' Guild in the SF area. It cost me a fortune and I have thought many times about selling it. Would be curious what a pictorial would fetch these days.I have all the information about the lacemaker as well.

I'm so glad you found lacemakers. What a great experience!

What were you trying to say in that video above? I'm just sure that your Italian was fine, but I can't quite tell.

I think you're learning the best way, by using it. Of course when you're no longer in Venice, you may have some problems, because I don't think there is a large amount of Italian Americans in Oakland.

I love the lace making ladies. It must have made you feel like you were in a dream. And you were hit on! In Italy! Do they still do the pinching thing there?

You must stop posting this sort of thing, you're making me sooooooooooooooo jealous.

What a fascinating and interesting post! I would add my two cents worth for the Rosetta Stone courses. I have not used them but I see them but I believe they have a good reputation. Hope today was a fantastic day! Safe travels!

So if you can understand responses so well, it means that your brain has got it. It sounds like classes and speaking makes you inhibited. So... get roaring drunk and talk to strangers! Also, it helps to remember your past conversations with ESL speakers: They may have gotten their verbs wrong and had weird accents, but you understood them, yes? Well, now that is you. People will still understand you through your mistakes. Finally: No class or tape will make you wake up one day a perfect speaker. We learn through our mistakes, and the bigger the mistake, the better the lesson!

I have dreamt of Venice my whole life, and never been. Keep posting all the great stories and photos!

YOU are a knitter's Anthony Bourdaine. Where are you going next?


I would hit on you in a lace museum too. And I'm a 'straight' girl.

Well my Italian now is atrophied college Italian (I plan to study in Florence next spring so I'll have to brush up!), but when I went to Italy in high school I used Pimsleur and Michel Thomas tapes and found it VERY helpful. (At the time my Spanish and Latin were much better than they are now, so that's a caveat there.) I've heard really good things about Rosetta Stone, which is out of my budget and which doesn't do what I need at this stage, which is fast review. Livemocha.com is a great free option, again I've only played with it a little myself but a language-obsessed autodidact friend of mine swears by it.

As for your fear of being wrong in college classes, everyone is wrong there. All the time. As someone with "boots on the ground" experience with the language and with a desire to learn rather than a desire to pass for a graduation requirement, you'll have a huge advantage. Nobody else can ever be as embarrassed for you as you are nervous--they're too busy worrying about themselves. Especially if they are 18-22-year-old college students and you're just some old lady who goes to Venice all the time.

Oh, and Berlitz is pretty terrible. They do have vocabulary lists, but organized in "student order" rather than "tourist order"--e.g. you learn about furniture long before you learn about airports and shops! Since they put out such a large amount of product there *may* be something useful there, but I definitely feel like I wasted money the only time I ever bought anything from them.

Try Mango. No, not the fruit. It is another language program. Investigate if your library has it, mine does. It is free to library patrons. Mango is also available for a fee.



My suggestion is get Lala to pack up the critters and you LIVE there. Thinking you will pick up the language in time ;) Loving hearing about your travels, you are so brave!

They do have vocabulary lists, but organized in "student order" rather than "tourist order"-

Oh oh oh!! I am loving your trip right now and I want to hug your lace-making friend, too. How wonderful! It was exactly one year ago we were in the UK and I have the travel bug SO BAD right now, so thanks for going to Italy, Rachael!!

The cats! What ABOUT the cats?

If you're making yourself understood, you're doing great. And if you can converse on a basic level with a native, then you should feel like you own the classroom in conversation classes....

That said, I've really liked McGraw-Hill's "All-Audio" language series, as well as the "Living Language Skill Builder" series from Random House.

Sounds like such a wonderful trip.

I have "brushed up" on various languages before trips by downloading all the episodes of a language podcast and listening to them nonstop. Portuguese, Hebrew, French and Italian. Of course I stink at all of them after the trip is over, but this did help my day to day conversations with storekeepers, waiters, hoteliers, etc. Of course nothing works better than total immersion and just throwing yourself in. I'm a nurse and nothing helps my Spanish more than getting Spanish speaking patients who absolutely know no English!

How wonderful to be recognized as a fellow lacemaker!

I lived in Germany for 3 years a long time ago. I didn't speak any German when I got there. The first few months, before we moved into Army housing, we spent a lot of time talking to our neighbors, passing a dictionary back and forth. And then, after we moved into Army housing, I took public transit (train and subway) every day to work. I could make myself understood, although conjugation was the death of me. One day, I realized that I was eavesdropping on the two women sitting across from me on the train. Without even trying!!!! It was the most amazing moment -- especially when I realized that I felt like I could join right in their conversation! ;-)

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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