11 November 2011

Glass and gondolas in Venice


Murano glass taking shape
Early start of the day in Venice. I am here for a photo workshop and we are off to catch the sun rise by the dock of the ferry to Murano, where Stefano has talked to his brother in law who owns a glass shop. We will have the privilege of being let into the shop while the dozen or so glass blowers are working to make the glass masterpieces which make Murano famous.

About a dozen artisans are blowing glass today, all Italian men plus a young and very thin French lady who has moved here six years ago to learn the trade. It seems that with 8% "unemployment" in Italy we need to import tall young girls from Burgundy to keep the magic of Murano glass alive! She follows closely each and every move of the senior master, who sometimes holds her hand in a fatherly fashion to guide her through the moves that transform sand into glass masterpieces.

The atmosphere is magic. In the middle of the shop a huge furnace radiates intense heat, and all around skilled workers dance with their red-hot glass at the end of a steel pole, blowing, cutting, chiselling, attaching gold leaves, shaping and reshaping their creations.

We leave the shop after two very full hours and take the ferry back to Venice, where a lineup of "spritz" is waiting for us at a local bar. They will be followed by delicious cicchetti for a true Venetian lunch by Rialto. I was afraid to run into a tourist trap, of which there are too many in the neighborhood, but ended up in a delightful little restaurant for a very special treat.

Fixing gondolas
The day then continues with a visit to  "squero" of San Trovaso, a shop where they build and maintain gondolas, the trademark boats of Venice. Again thanks to the good offices of Stefano we are welcomed into one of a handful of workshops where this ancient art is kept alive by a bunch of skilled masters.

As one of them shows us the tools he explains that a gondola costs about thirty thousand euro as it comes out of the carpenter's shop, with no accessories, decorations, or anything one would call an "optional" in a car. It can be twice as much when it hits the water with all its bells and whistles installed. There are only 420 licensed gondolas in Venice and licences are impossible to get unless you are well connected into the inner circles of the city and come from a family of gondolieri.

This squero can only make two new gondolas per year, and spend most of its labor time on maintenance. I had the good luck to witness some of this work today, one master was pushing special straw thread in the crevices between the long beams of a gondola to improve its water tightness. As the sun sets, a gondoliere arrives at the squero to deliver his gondola for repairs. Everyone gives a hand to raise it from the water, and after a first inspection a workplan is agreed upon. It's time for us to say farewell, and head off to town for a dinner of polenta with cuttle fish in its black ink sauce...

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