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March 15, 2002
Paying attention to the details (Gail)

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A Venetian construction crane -- it made the workmen's day to have their picture taken

There is so much to see in Venice. All the tour books tell you what sights to see and you can enjoy them, right along with everyone else. We have done the required sights of Venice and have enjoyed them very much but there are only so many museums that kids can or will tolerate. Knowing this we have managed to keep the boys very interested by breaking the museum type sights up with regular old kid friendly stuff.

At first this looked like it would be a bit hard. Our thought was to turn the boys loose with maps and have them navigate the maze of streets back to our vaporetto stop. They managed to do this a number of times without the aid of maps (they did not inherit my lack of sense of direction) so our idea didn't look so great after all. Even so, the maze of Venice is a constant source of delight for Joss, unless he is dying of hunger. He loves to run ahead and hide around corners, in doorways and down dead ends. The "streets" are sometimes just wide enough for two to pass and he easily gets himself lost in the crowds. He is small enough that he can completely disappear behind a light post or trashcan. Once coming over a bridge I couldn't see him, then Cameron pointed up. There was Joss, six feet up a light post he had climbed. This type of play works out okay in Venice where there are no cars but on Lido Island there are cars and he still tried to skitter around and across the streets without looking. We do a whole lot of "Joss where are you?!" Reminding him that he could disappear forever does not help, but we try. He is especially dangerous when he has a stick in his hand, which is almost all the time. Near misses with people and property are common. Where he finds them I have no idea but there is also a constant "Joss watch your stick".

We've discovered that there are quite a lot of interesting things going on all around us everyday to hold their attention. Dogs and cats and pigeons for instance. The cats are not overfriendly but still Joss tries to befriend each and every one he sees. When he succeeds he is overjoyed. The dogs are an endless source of amusement. We have found that the dogs in Venice are pretty much all cat sized -- that makes sense if you think about it. Little dachshunds, westies, and poodles are everywhere. For a couple of reasons you must watch where you are walking. Though the Italians are much better about cleaning up after their dogs than the French here the hazards also include stepping on the dog! Of course the pigeons have been the big hit. The boys have fed them every day since we arrived and are getting to be the experts in the Piazza. They are happiest with birds on their hands, shoulders and head. A few piratey "Argh, mateys!" from Cameron and the scene is complete.

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The daily pigeon-feeding

Construction is going on everywhere and like normal boys, the equipment used fascinates them. The twist here is that the dump trucks and cement trucks are boats. Yesterday they were amazed to see a little tugboat hauling a huge ship up the canal between two islands. Earlier this week we noticed small plastic bags of trash hanging on wall hooks outside of homes, just out of dog and cat reach. There they hang until the homeowner takes it down to the neighborhood dumpster. On trash day the trash guys then wheel the dumpsters down to the waterside weaving in and out of all the people with a loud "Attenzione!" Then the trash boat comes along and the guys empty the dumpsters. This involves speed, grace and garbage boats with small cranes like hoists. This, of course, was great for the boys to watch, wondering if the guy will run anyone over (never did) and trying to guess how the crane turns the dumpster over to empty it. But even with the trash collection Cameron has been very much distressed with the amount of litter and trash floating in the water and blowing around the streets. Today he said it was even worse than he thought -- he saw an old woman throw trash into the canal. He wants to make posters against littering. Joss wants to know if someone could walk around the world collecting trash.

One constant source of entertainment for all of us are the street sellers, not the people with booths but the ones who just toss what they have on the ground and then call to you as you go by (you know who I mean). They have a variety of items, purses, trains made out of wooden letters, squishy things you can pull into many shapes (bizarre things). But the most amusing of all to us are the "barking" cats and dogs and the crawling army guy. We are waiting for the army guy to wipe out the animals or the animals to turn on him. The strangest item is the dancing Mickey and Minnie always accompanied by loud music to get them going. We saw a lot of these in China and managed to resist the temptation. The boys want to know how it works, we want to know who buys these things.

As we travel we are learning to pay attention to the small details. Venice has been a great place for that. We spent time looking at the numerous columns (about 35) of the Doges Palace. Each is different showing different people, occupations and animals. The wild animals eating wild things was the favorite, especially the bear eating honeycomb. The carving is a bit weathered and guessing what each was was half the fun. At the Basilica of St. Marco we took time to examine the exterior before going inside. We found all the months carved over the main door, the lame architect, and of course the winged lions. Cameron liked the mosaics over the doors and the different types and colors of marble used on the fašade and for the columns. Much of the outside fašade is made up of elements stolen from conquered cities including the marble and the horses. This gave an extra dimension to the building, conquest, battles and history. Walking inside the Basilica can take your breath away. The walls and ceilings all glow with a golden light from the beautiful mosaics which seem to completely cover the interior of the church. With the gold baked right into the glass tiles used the entire church takes on a heavenly glow. It's a bit overwhelming, so with the help of the guidebook we concentrated on just a few panels. The creation (partially covered to be restored), the great flood with Noah, the Ascension and on their own the boys found Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and the Last Supper. The marble mosaic floors were incredible. Joss commented that the pattern of triangles on one section got smaller as they moved toward the center and realized that each piece was hand cut and hand fitted. The skill of the craftsmen is amazing given the tools they had to work with. Cameron was fascinated with the way the floor rolls and dips; due to the sinking of the Basilica, it is the lowest spot on the island.

Two off main island excursions that we all enjoyed were Murano for the glass museum and Burano for the lace museum. We learned about the way glass is made and how the colors are added. Saw beautiful ancient works of glass art and the tools used to make them. The boys so were captivated with a 1980s vase with an infinity swirl that Cameron lay down on the floor to get a picture. The store windows of Murano all have examples of the art of glass. We enjoyed the tiny glass ants, flies and beetles. I did not enjoy the suggestion that we buy a glass spider to take home; it looked too real. The buildings of Burano are much more colorful than on Venice giving the whole place a magic feel. The boys were amazed to find another "tipping tower" here right near the lace museum, again thanks to the sinking island.

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Glass bugs (and spiders) for sale on Murano

I was a bit concerned that they would be bored with the lace museum but I shouldn't have been. Because they have been learning needlework (cross stitch and needlepoint) they had a great appreciation for the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece. We took some time to watch the two ladies who were demonstrating that day, each working on a different style of lace, Burano and Venetian. Cameron can now identify Venetian, Burano and Rose stitches. Each piece has seven different types of stitches and it takes seven different women to complete a piece each working their own stitch as it is passed to them. The lace is very beautiful and very expensive; a four-inch round piece of Burano lace was $70.00. We can appreciate the work that goes into it but we didn't buy it.

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Perusing the lace market on Burano

Since today will be our last day in Venice we will do our normal lazy day of repacking, laundry and resting. The boys have decided, however, that this day deserves something special, two pigeon feedings, two pizza meals and three gelatos. Who are we to argue with such a good idea?

 

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