October was a fairly quiet month by way of bead-making… but that’s because I went on holiday to Venice! The trip was organised by my family, so we stayed in a large apartment in Venice for a week in mid-October. I had a wonderful time! Glass (and masks) everywhere. We had a family day on Murano, and I went back another day on my own so I could take my time. We managed to catch some glassblowing at the Marco Polo furnace – if you poke about a bit, the furnaces tend to have places where you can sit and watch (and leave a tip). So we saw a guy making one of the rearing-up horse sculptures, plus a vase. It’s really cool to watch them shape everything so quickly!
I’d made a map of various lampworky locations before we left, so I found Carlo Dona’s shop and met Roberto (eventually! Number 1A is also 7, which was very confusing). I treated myself to a heart press. (Carlo Dona tools are known for being excellent quality. The presses are tong-style, not top + base + pins. They’re expensive but worth it, and if you’re going over there you have to make a visit. The shop is teeny tiny and looks like a normal door from the outside, then you go in and there are tools!)
I also had the address to Vittorio Constantini’s shop – he makes the most amazing animals. Insects and fish and octopuses and birds… At some point, I want to get one of his octopuses. The detail is incredible.
It’s definitely worth looking up addresses and maps before you go. The streets of Venice are narrow, twisty and confusing, and the individual makers’ shops tend to be tiny and unassuming, so if you don’t know where they are beforehand, you’re not going to find them.
The evening we arrived it was very wet, and so was the first day, but after that it brightened up and was beautiful. Mid-October with proper Mediterranean skies and icecream! It’s just amazing how light it still is over there at that time of year. It got chilly at night and you wanted to have a coat with you during the day, but in the direct sun it did get pretty warm. Oh yes, and you had to watch out for the streets that flooded during high tide! The main square and surrounds had boardwalks put down, but we did have to change our route to Fondamente Nuove one morning. We’d got weekly tickets for the vaporetto, so we could hop on and off whenever we wanted – like Oyster cards, you scan them as you get on. They caused great confusion the first evening when we got the bus from the airport, because they just look like glossy cardboard and no one said how they were supposed to be used. The buses that take them have scanners on-board, but the other buses take paper tickets that get stamped by little ticket machines… Many confused tourists that night!
It was lovely and I want to go back as part of a glassy trip some time, so we get to see all the insider stuff.
I had a bit of a panic before I went, because my wallet with all my cards was stolen two days before I was due to leave! Luckily I’d arranged euros beforehand, and my boyfriend gave me some spare cash to take care of travel to and from the airport. It did mean I had to be careful with what I decided to buy, because I had no way to take more cash out. I came back with my press, two masks (one basic and cheap for a Hallowe’en costume), and a very small selection of glass jewellery, including some blown latticino beads. You have to be careful on Murano, because even there, there are huge quantities of things imported from China, even if they have a ‘made in Murano’ sticker on the back. Some of the shops have signs up to the effect that you may notice their prices are higher, but all their goods are made right there. Those are the ones you’re looking for. Some of the others are mixed, so you have to pay close attention to what each shelf says.
I was actually less tempted than I thought I’d be – problem is, once you’ve got a taste for artisan lampwork, factory-made runs of beads are just not as appealing! The Murano style is also typically rather garish, so partly what I did was promise myself that I could buy some UK lampwork once I got home! I did see some lovely things, but they were made by people who have managed to become designer brands… and so of course they command designer prices.
I did love the sculptural beetles that abounded, but I was worried about getting one home in one piece. They have very delicate antennae and legs. There was also the problem of finding out where they were sourced. (Really, if you want to buy glass from China you can do it from home! No need to go to Italy for it).
Getting back to London in the dark and the cold was quite a shock. If I had the chance to live in the Mediterranean in the off-seasons I’d jump at it (the heat’s too much for me in the summer!). The light makes everything beautiful, even if it’s graffitied, in disrepair and falling down.
The trip also reminded me of the engineering feat that is aeroplanes. I’ve flown a handful of times in my life, the last being over 10 years ago. I am the person who will lean to watch the ground disappearing with a big grin on my face. I know the downsides (don’t we all?) but it is just SO COOL that we built these big ungainly tubes with wings that will actually take us off the ground.