If I sigh over this, it is because I have read the accounts of earlier tourists, who used to cross from Burano by gondola and walk alone on the pestilential island, musing on the fate of civilizations in the mood of Shelley's "Ozymandias." That is how Torcello should be seen. But now to the melancholy of its widowed Cathedral and orphaned daughter-church, Santa Fosca, a new, modern element has been added -- the melancholy of desecration and of the tomb's solitude invaded. All sacred spots today possess this freshened sadness. A double "Never more" echoes over the tomb of Theodoric at Ravenna, the temple at Sunium, where Byron carved his name. Not being sacred, Venice is happily free from these gloomy reverberations. But once you embark on the lagoons, it is another matter; the voices of guides and of other touristic parties become suddenly insupportable.
It is still possible, however, to go the old way to Torcello, taking the Murano-Burano vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nuova, lunching at Burano, and continuing by gondola to the sluggish canals and reedy landing-place of Torcello. If you dally in Burano long enough, you will miss the Harry's Bar parties, who will be on their way back to Venice, and there will only be the souvenir-vendors and the postcard people and the lace-women and the custodians, lined up to speak to you in a babel of tongues.
Burano is "a characteristic fishing center," the touring club guide book says. Its specialty is lace, and the thing to do, people tell you, is to go after lunch (in a "characteristic" restaurant, a sort of billiard parlor specializing in sea food and hung with genre studies acquired by the proprietor from artist patrons) to see the lace made in the Scuola dei Merletti down the street.
Burano is a good approach to Torcello, for one is going, by stages, backward in time. Venice is an eternal present; Burano is the nineteenth century, operatic, vivid, with ragged colored sails in the canals, nets being mended, roasting squash, emerald-green water, and yellow and white and red houses. You step off the vaporetto straight into an old-fashioned opera setting, with a cast of characters and a chorus provided by the local trades; there is even a villainess in the wings, the "Contessa Margherita," a contralto part, who will arrive from Venice in her laces and silks. The poverty of Burano is the "happy poverty" dear to the nineteenth century: rags and sunlight and an artist with a flowing necktie sketching the scene.