Saturday, July 21
Artisans & Artists: Murano and the Biennale
The next day it was time for another return to Venice, this time with
specific targets in mind: the glass-blowing island of Murano, and the 52nd iteration of the
international art and architecture exhibition called the Biennale di
Venezia. Even though Jenn and I had seen the 51st Biennale two years
before, the Biennale was of special interest to Pu, and we were happy to
tag along with him for another look.
We checked out of the hostel, packed everything into the two Volkwsagens,
and then walked the now-familiar seven hundred metres to the Mestre train
Mestre train station
By 9:30am, we were again standing on the broad steps of the
Stazione in Venice, looking down at the Grand Canal. We had decided to
split our day up into two carefully planned chunks: the morning on the
glass-blowing island of Murano, and the afternoon at the Biennale.
We had now managed to make contact with Graham Fletcher, and we were angling
to meet with him for drinks sometime after 7pm in Agordo, so we had to
time-manage things to make sure we arrived there by 7pm.
Venice's glass-making community is older and longer-running than anywhere
else: well over 1,000 years old. Early in the history of Venice, the
glass-making was concentrated on an island just to the north of the main
islands of Venice (purportedly to prevent the many glass-blowing furnaces
from burning down the city). Over the centuries, continual advances and
improvements in various techniques resulted in the signature high-quality
glasswork that is world-reknown.
Watery bus stop
With a reputation like that, how could we not go and have a visit? So, we
purchased an all-day vaporetto (water-bus) pass for 12 euro, and hopped on
a fully-packed number 42 headed for Murano. It was another beautiful,
clear, hot day, and it was a pleasure to stand near the railing and let
the maritime breezes cool us and to watch the living history that is Venice glide by.
Heading down Rio Cannareggio
The waterways around Venice are much like the highways of a modern city.
Instead of curbs, there are wooden poles staked into the Lagoon to mark
the 'roadways' - and instead of traffic lights, there are - well, traffic
lights. Some things transfer well from the world of the land, and some do
not. In any case, the Venetian waterways were coursing with boat traffic
- some personal, some business. There were all manner of craft - water
buses, open aluminum boats with outboards, historic-looking lacquered-wood
Heading out into the open
Soon we drifted into the stop at Murano, and we got off to explore the
wonders of the glass-blowing island. As we wandered down the Fondamenta
dei Vetrei (which is the main drag in Murano), we met up with a young
Italian-looking girl who spoke with a very Canadian accent. She was quite
excited to meet us, and as it turned out, she was actually Canadian - from
Ottawa even, and in fact lived less than a few kilometres from where we
lived! Laura, as her name turned out to be, was in need of a little bit
of english, as she'd decided to spend the summer nannying with an Italian
family in Modena, not far northeast of Milano. Although she had an
italian background, she knew little to no Italian, and she was having a
bit of a break away from her duties by sightseeing in Venice. We were
more than happy for her company and we decided to explore Murano together.
As we walked through Murano, we noticed that things seemed pretty dead.
Inquiring at a local shop near the center of the island, we discovered that
on weekends, things were pretty much shut down on Murano, and we'd have a
hard time finding an open fornace (the Italian word for furnace). She
did point us in the direction of one that might be open, so we headed off
in search of it.
The little glassblowing shop she had described was indeed open, and we
entered into a darkened shop crammed with thousands of glass items, both
big and small.
Crafting a horse
Most of the small items were decorative keepsakes - glass
animals and fake glass candies - that sort of thing. There were also big
items, like the multi-thousand euro glass chandeliers that swung not very
far above our heads.
Happy with her purchase
In the back of the shop was a glowing-hot furnace
with metal ducting to the outside. Next to the furnace was a single
glassblower, deftly working taffy-like glass into little glass horses. It
was fascinating to watch how quickly he turned a gooey lump into such a
complex shape. It must have been brutally hot to work near the furnace
when the weather outside was already boiling hot.
A second employee in the shop was chattering continuously in about five
different languages, simultaneously urging us to buy this or that at some
great price while at the same time warning us not to take pictures or
break anything. He was soon tuned out.
Jenn did eventually buy one of
the glass horses for her niece Madison, and Pu bought some works for his
We wandered back towards the bus stop, and just past it, we found another
furnace / shop that was open, this time with some actual demonstrations.
We were herded onto a set of raised steps at the end of another
glassblowing room, and we were given a whirlwind demonstration on the art
of glassblowing, from red-hot glass to the last exquisite crimp-and-twist.
Having gotten a reasonable taste of Murano, it was time to head over to
the easternmost tip of the main Venetian islands, where the Biennale is
[ Dolomites 2007 home
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