Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Time in a Magical Place...

Yes... only 2 months late! Haha.

This write-up turned out longer than I expected! Even if you weren’t there in Murano, I think you’ll enjoy what I’ve written here. Feel free to spread the link around, too!

Ok—on the way there, I flew from Dallas to Boston, which was pretty uneventful. Then I flew Boston to Madrid… and ended up sitting next to this woman (from New Hampshire, not that it matters, but you’ll see why I mention it in a minute) who elbowed me constantly during the entire 6 hour flight. I never knew that such a tiny person could take up so much room. I didn’t get much sleep on the flight… which I definitely paid for later.

The Madrid airport is absolutely HUGE and overwhelming. It’s pretty easy to navigate, though.

The flight from Madrid to Venice was so bumpy in some parts that it scared the hell out of me. I sat next to a couple from New Hampshire (what are the odds?), and it was nice talking to them.

I got into Venice, got my luggage and headed out to the Vaporetto stop with no incident—except for the people staring at me because I had 3 bags.

Let me take just a minute to pontificate about the baggage requirements for American flights. I could have easily fit everything into 1 bag and 1 carry-on, except for the stupid weight restrictions. So, I ended up checking 2 bags and having 1 carry-on. In the end, I’m glad I did, because I came back with more than I brought, but still—the baggage restrictions the airlines are imposing are absolutely ridiculous.

Anyway… I rode the water bus to Murano island. I watched with amusement as several families—one French, one Spanish, and one British—talked over various things, pointed at buildings and canals, and, basically, being tourists.

Just as I landed on Murano island, it started to rain. I dragged my bags over two bridges with steep steps, wandering around until I found my bed & breakfast. Let me tell you—that’s an alone feeling, when you’re walking around a strange place, don’t find anyone who speaks a word of English, the phrasebook is packed away, it’s raining, you’re getting soaked, and you have to navigate two bridges with steep steps and 3 stupid bags.

I found the b&b relatively easily, all things considered. Carla greeted me and helped me inside. I unpacked, dried off, and fell asleep. This was around 4pm. I didn’t wake up until around 1am… I tried to get up for a couple of hours, but I ended up going back to sleep.

I woke up at 7:30am, took my time getting ready, and I walked around Murano for a while. I quickly discovered that Muranese have light pastries and cappuccinos for breakfast. Works for me!

My first couple of days in Murano, I snapped a lot of photos that I’ll probably never see again. I stupidly formatted my compact flash card and erased 402 pictures. STUPID! It was one of those slow-motion moments. All my pictures from the first couple of days… gone in an instant. L So… the man who can… Quinton of Glassworks… took the card and said he’d try downloading some recovery software to get the pictures back.

But—he had so much going on—both in Murano and personally, and he lost the card. So… if he ever finds the card, I’ll get it and the pictures back. I have a bad feeling it’s lost forever, though.

(Edit: He has found the card… now I’m just waiting for him to mail it! *hint hint*)

Anyway—on the second day I was there, I was walking down the street in Murano snapping pictures, and I look at a woman walking towards me…. And I look a little closer… and I realized it was Sarah Hornik! She was meeting the class for lunch (we ate at the same restaurant every day).

So, I went inside and met everyone. I spent the rest of the afternoon with them. We went to the Effetre—which, for those who don’t make beads (which is most of you reading this, heehee)—is a popular and very famous glass rod producer on Murano island. They were a bit reluctant to have us in their storeroom, and let me tell you—they pretty much never allow anyone inside, so for them to even let us in there for a few moments was quite a privilege. They had all sorts of neat canes (square ones! Triangular ones!) and samples. I came away with a load of free samples, which was so cool. So yeah. That was an awesome experience.

I went to the market to pick up a few snacky things for my room, which was an interesting experience—I knew what I wanted, but the brands are all different (with very specific things like “crudo” which means uncooked, or “cotto” which means cooked… if you’re not sure what you’re looking at, then stick to something that looks ‘right’ to you). It took a little while to find what I wanted.

That evening, Sarah did a demo, and then we went to dinner on Venice! It was a really fun group, and I’m so glad I managed to hook up with all of them before my classes started.

Over the next few days, I had class. At some point, I had major homesickness, and I really needed to talk to Brett and connect with someone I knew. I borrowed Quinton’s phone and talked to my honey for a few minutes. That helped me a lot.

The classes were fantastic! I learned so much, and I think I ended up making a lot of really pretty beads (and some not so great ones too, of course). I’m very proud of myself! I think Sarah is really a great teacher. I can’t wait to put the techniques I learned to good use! I have to wait a while to get my own torch setup at home. I’m antsy. I have so many ideas!

Here are a few of my favorites:




(Be sure to check out the jewelry I've made with these beads, too!!!!)

We went to Venice for dinner many nights, since everything was closed on Murano. We ate at the Rialto bridge


one night, where I paid 18 euros for chicken. I was not pleased. None of us were, actually. There’s a story behind it, but it’s only for us Murano Magicians to know.

After that dinner, though, I hung out with Sarah and Indi (Sarah’s friend) for the rest of the night, and we had major girl bonding time. It was great fun.


I was lucky enough to get to tour the Vetrofond factory. Their factory used to be on Murano island, until the 80s. They have moved to a small village about 15 minutes away from the Venice airport (Marco Polo).

Vetrofond is primarily a glassblowing factory. They produce glass lamps of all shapes, sizes, and types, for many lighting manufacturers all over the world. We had the honor of seeing the glassblowers in action—standing literally inches away from them, while they worked. What an incredible experience it was—seeing techniques that have been used for literally generations—right before my eyes! It was truly amazing.

As you might expect, the glassblowing industry is heavily dominated by males. They had interesting (wink wink, nudge nudge) pictures everywhere. It’s quite funny, actually—and the guys have such strong arms and upper bodies. Seeing the rhythm of these men—it’s like a dance, going from the furnace to one station for initial blowing and shaping, then dipping another color, going to station 2, and cooling the rod ever so slowly—blowing and shaping and cutting and rolling—a fine dance of delicate balance and timing, performed every day by big burly men with tattoos and sketchy grins and puffy cheeks.

It was truly an incredible, once in a lifetime experience. We couldn’t take pictures, and just watching it really was enough for me. It’s an absolutely priceless memory. I mean, how many people in the entire world will get to view glassblowing techniques and industry secrets that have been used for generations, up close? Yeah. Not many.

As it turns out, pulling glass rods for lampworkers to use is a hobby for Mr. Moretti (of Vetrofond). They were really open to talking to us about the types of colors we’d like to see. How cool is that? I mean, really. Wow. We toured the entire facility, including where the glass begins (the sand!), to where the reject glass ends. The glass rod pulling area was really neat to see, and we all drooled excessively at the rod storage room. Row after row packed full of colorful meter-long glass rods. WOW.

A few times, I went to see Davide Fuin, another Murano glassblowing artist.


His studio was right behind our class studio, and he didn’t mind if we watched him, took pictures, or whatever. He makes goblets and occasionally other vessels. I ended up purchasing 2 of his goblets from his factory shop. It was the most awesome thing ever to watch him make goblets, and go to his shop to buy one of those goblets a few days later.


He mostly does custom orders for the locals, and sometimes they stop by to watch him make their goblets. Much of his work does end up in Venice shops, though, so it was nice to pay factory prices instead of the Venice mark-up.


I also went to the Murano museum. I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t go through the museum—I heard it wasn’t all that great. But I went to the bookstore and picked up a couple of books about Murano and Murano glass that I haven’t seen available in the states. I bought them specifically for a project I’m working on.

One afternoon, I ran into Quinton (aka The Man Who Can, aka the coordinator of this whole Murano Magic thing), and he ended up taking me and a couple of others to see Lucio Bubacco, a world-renowned glass sculpture artist.


His works are truly unbelievable. Some of them are absolutely profane, and some of them are utterly angelic. It’s interesting to see a full nativity scene—complete with animals, angels, and the usual components, next to a depiction of devils, naked women, carrots in odd places, and whips. I found a piece I wanted to take home (it was tame! Look at the picture below), but I didn’t have the guts to ask how much it cost… or the money to follow through. So I didn’t bother, but I did snap a couple of pictures of it.


Oh! I went and explored Burano island


with Indi, Sarah’s friend. She’s really sweet and a talented photographer! Burano is so tiny and colorful. It’s famous for lace, handmade by Buranese women. Absolutely beautiful, intricate lace made thread by thread. Some of the pieces literally take days to make. It’s kind of insane.


Lace is beautiful, but it isn’t my thing. I picked some up to give to others, though. It’s one of those things that I can appreciate, because I see the effort and time that goes into it—which is astounding, might I add. The above picture was taken at Merletti-Dalla Olga.

I also wandered around Venice. I took an entire day and walked around Venice for about 9 hours. I was surprised by how well I navigated. Venice is a grouping of about 200 tiny islands connected by bridges. The Grand Canal is the biggest canal and it’s always hopping.



Some general observations about Venice:
--When you’re waiting in line, people generally stand really close to you.
--Generally speaking, Europeans have a completely different concept of personal space than… well… than I do.
--Unfortunately, a lot of glass and even some of the leather in Venice is from China. There’s even a Murano, China. You have to be very careful and vigilant to make sure you’re buying actual Murano glass. Ask the shop owner who the artist is. If they can’t tell you the name of the artist, move on. There are also two “approved” Murano glass seals that are identified in the Murano glass guidebook (which you can get at many of the bookstores in the area). Basically, if there is any question—ask.
--Even with how big Venice is, I managed to run into Carla, who owns the b&b I stayed at. How weird is that??
--Piazza San Marco—although the most known tourist spot in all of Venice, really IS something to see. I had a moment there… some fairly mediocre musicians played traditional Italian music, and I had a moment where I got all teary and thought, “I’m in Venice!” Yeah. I’m a bit of a dork.


--Generally speaking, a lot of the shop owners and restaurateurs speak English. I was actually hoping to be forced to learn and use more Italian than I did, but I did learn a few words and phrases. The important stuff like please, thank you, and excuse me.
--I did buy a (pink) leather purse that I’ve already gotten a lot of compliments on. I also bought a Ferrari hat for Brett, a silk tie for Brett (because it was gorgeous and CHEAP… omg silk ties are so cheap there), and a new travel bag all in leather. It’s fantastically beautiful. It made me want to be a guy for about… 10 seconds.
--Venice has very strong scents. Some of them are fabulous—fresh pastries, pasta, pizza, and even the gelaterias have great scents wafting from them, usually in the form of fresh warm waffle cones. Some scents, though, are quite rank. Fish, dead fish, sewage, and a general funk that can only come from standing water.
--The tide fluctuates quite a bit. There were times when the tide was so low, we thought the boats might scrape the bottom of the lagoon. There were a few instances where the tide was so high, water lapped up onto the sidewalks. It was freaky!
--Venice has many dead ends. The dead-ends are always into water. Like, a sidewalk just drops off into the canal.
--All of the bridges are different, with different types of iron work. Really cool.


--Almost all the buildings have some kind of stabilization bars on them. A lot of buildings are in some state of decay, many right next to a freshly face-lifted (or at least freshly painted) building. There is also a surprising amount of construction going on.
--Every time I sat to write somewhere in Venice, an older Italian person approached me with a smile, pointing to my journal, speaking very fast in Italian, asking me questions that I couldn’t answer, making comments that I couldn’t respond to. It was really amusing but incredibly confusing. I just smiled and said non capisco (I don’t understand) repeatedly.
--It was always a surprise to walk into a casual bar to order a cappuccino, only to see several Chinese girls behind the counter. Ok, so it only happened twice, but still. Incidentally, I had the worst cappuccinos of my entire trip at those two cafes.
--There are entire stores that sell nothing but gloves! It’s weird!


--Scarves are called pashminas in Italy. Forever and ever, every scarf I own is now a pashmina. Period.
--The Venice ATMs do work, but if you’re going to bother withdrawing money, make sure you withdraw a LOT at once (the max), to make the stupid fees worth it.
--I made 5 withdrawls and about 5 charges on my card while in Venice and Murano. I paid almost $58 in FEES. So, learn from my mistake. Use cash as often as possible. Many Venice shops will offer you a discount if you pay with cash. What they don’t tell you is that they may also tack on a surcharge above and beyond the amount you’ve paid if you use a credit card. Talk about irritating!
--An Israeli (Sarah) and an American (me) sat in Caffe India, run by Chinese, just outside the Rialto market in Venice, Italy. Bizarre. Really, a punch line should’ve followed that sentence.
The level of fashion in Venice is unbelievable. I always felt shleppy in my jeans, tennies and shirt or sweater of some sort. If jeans are worn at all in Venice, they are form-fitting. Boots with tall heels are commonplace, and of course, in typical European style—lots of black. But no black jeans. Ever. Thankfully.
--Quilted jackets are all the rage among Italian women over the age of 50. I even saw sisters wearing the exact same jacket, even in the same color.
--No matter how good your shoes are, if you walk around bumpy streets for an entire day—your feet are going to hurt.
--The cappuccino in Venice and Murano is generally fantastic. Smooth, rich, and strong. I drank a cap with 1 sugar every day and loved it.
--Some of the streets in Venice are so narrow that you literally have to turn to the side if someone is walking towards you, so you won’t run into each other.

Some notes on Murano:
--There are 11 restaurants, I think, and only about 5 of them are open later than 4 or 5pm. The ones that stay open past that? Are closed up and cleaned up by 8pm. There is one exception, but you have to be in the door by 8pm and it’s better if they know you’re coming.
--The two Murano ATMs never worked for me. Or for most people.
--Muranese typically have a kind of weathered-worn look to them. Sun-drenched skin and wrinkles showing that they’ve lived a full life and aren’t afraid to show it.
--Most people who live on the island are either in the glass industry or related to someone who is.
--Murano buttons up early. The shops are all closed by 6 or 7, and the island is almost completely silent and mostly abandoned of pedestrians by around 8pm.
--Later at night, a group of men and their dogs stand on a corner where two flows of water converge and catch cuttlefish with nets. I’m not sure how many they actually catch, though. They’re too busy making jokes and yelling at their dogs. It’s amusing to watch them.
--Murano has many glass sculptures around the island. Here is one of them.
--I had the pleasure of meeting Roberto Dona, the son of Carlo Dona, who is famous for making tools for glassblowers and lampworkers. His tools are really great—so sturdy and heavy feeling. I liked them! And Roberto was so nice, too (and I should mention—very easy on the eyes).
--Before leaving the States, I met Luigi Cattelan. He was in town touring with his beads—thousands of them. I went to the show and found out he owned a lot of rental apartments on Murano island. He’s also one of the few lampworkers left who makes chevron beads. They’re cool! Anyway, Luigi also popped in on our classes several times, which was neat.
--Davide Salvadore also popped in from time to time. He’s another famous glass artist on Murano.

On the last night of class, we had a wine and cheese party minus the wine, and the cheese. Laura from Vetrofond stopped by with a few of her friends. There was lots of laughter and picture-snapping.

Laura & her friends:

Tove, Sharon, Avril, Pati, John, and Miriam:

That Mr. Moretti beer is yummy!

Before we went to dinner as a giant group, we made democrazy beads.


Describing where the term democrazy came from is easy, but unless you were there, it isn’t funny at all. It’s better if I just leave it to your imagination. So, everyone sat at a torch, started a bead, and when Quinton told us to switch, we passed our mandrel to the left. Our bead went all the way around the table, and we stopped when everyone got their original bead back. It was awesome! I came home with two of them…

The one I started:

Not sure who started this one, but I had to have it. It's just so... weird.

We went to dinner at the only restaurant that stays open later than 8… we ate, laughed, and joked. When it came time for dessert, though… Sarah and I wanted chocolate cake. Others wanted crème brulee.

Sharon wanted it baaaad...

But these things don't always end well!

It was, unfortunately, the worst crème brulee any of us had ever had! Now that’s saying something, because I’ve had some pretty bad ones in my time.

We said goodbye to some who were leaving the next day (Sharon, Avril, and a few others), which was really sad. Sarah, Susanne, and I went to Sarah’s apartment to hang out for a bit while a few others went to the studio.

The next day, Sarah and I helped Quinton clean up the studio a little, we all went to lunch together, and then Sarah and I went to Venice. We walked around for a little while and made our way to Piazza San Marco to meet Miriam, Tove, and Susanne. We wandered around for a while longer, ate gelato twice, took lots of pictures, and had a great time.


We ate dinner in Venice one last time, and then the crowd dispersed. Susanne and Tove left.


I went to see Sarah’s hotel room and hang with her a bit. Her room was a closet. It was ridiculously tiny. And, it had very old-ladyish, outdated furniture. And to top it all off, the walls were padded, and the walls and bedspread were the same color—a nappy color you might call “dusty rose”. Whatever. It was sad.

The next day I spent mostly with Sarah. We helped Quinton a little more at the studio (after I got my supremely lazy ass out of bed), then Sarah and I went to Venice. Reluctantly. We were both kinda bummed.

It didn’t help that the weather sucked—it was raining. I left my camera in the room and I really wish I hadn’t. I just didn’t feel like lugging the case all around, though. Pity. I should’ve had my camera!! Ahh well. It’s a day that lives mostly in my memories.

We went to Vittorio Costantini’s shop, where he makes bugs, butterflies, hermit crabs, fish, and other assorted tiny creatures. I wanted a hermit crab but didn’t have the cash. I did get a butterfly though. It’s absolutely beautiful!

Vittorio spoke only a word or two of English. We mostly communicated through sign language, and of course, the language of glass. It was a neat conversation and a little on the odd side as well.

By the time we left Vittorio’s shop, the rain had stopped for a bit. We wandered down a small street, and I looked to my left and saw a journal shop. I felt compelled to go inside.

A lovely, charming woman greeted us and let us know that the journals are all her works. She does everything from cutting the paper to binding the book, to adhering and decorating the cover. She uses a lot of leather, suede, paper, and acrylic to decorate the journals. They were absolutely gorgeous! I saw journals as expensive as 240 euros. They were truly tiny works of art.

She was such a fabulous woman. She spoke beautiful English, too. We talked for a few minutes, and amongst her haphazard stacks of paper, leather, thread, and other findings, she found two sheets of tissue paper in which to wrap our journals. Yep, Sarah and I both bought journals.

And when she said her name, I had another one of those moments. See, I’ve been trying to think of a good name for my main character in a story I’m writing. So far the best I had come up with was Amelia. But—I had a distinct feeling that I’d hear her name when I came to Venice.

And I was right. She introduced herself, saying her name slowly in that typical lyrical Italian way.

Valeria. (Va-LEH-ri-ah)

I got chills and welled up with tears. I had to look away from her, but in that moment, on my very last day in Venice… I knew my character’s name. Valeria.

To top it off, she said a beautiful and true sentiment. “If you like beauty, we all speak the same language.” So true.

We left the shop and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. We meant to go to the Guggenheim, but the rain had stopped, and we wanted to walk around.

Later on, we ended up at a restaurant called Osteria Vivaldi. It was easily the best food we’d had the whole trip!! I ordered onion soup, parmesan risotto, and we split fried potatoes. Sarah ordered minestrone and spinach ravioli. Carb fest, anyone?

For dessert, she had fruit salad and I had the most amazing chocolate mousse ever. It looked like 3 turds on a plate, but it tasted absolutely divine! It was a leisurely dinner with excellent company. Sarah, I miss you tons!


We were making our way back to Murano, via the train station stop, and we decided to walk around and have gelato.

We eventually made our way back to Murano, and finally had to face what we’d been putting off—saying goodbye. It wasn’t easy.


I got my stuff packed up and made my way to the bus stop (ha) at 4am that would take me to the airport stop. I have officially been on a small boat now. The late night boats are pretty small, in my opinion. I stepped on and the boat started rocking. The guy’s eyes about popped out when he saw my suitcases, too.

I made my way to the airport without incident, got loaded up and ended up sleeping the whole way from Venice to Madrid.

I lucked out on my Madrid to Boston flight—the guy who sat next to me got up and scrambled to another seat the instant I started a friendly conversation with him. Little did I know that’s all I had to do to get my own seat for a 7 hour flight! I should try that again in the future.

I was exhausted, for sure. Tired of flying, tired of being stuck in one seat. I ended up sitting next to an interesting guy and we ended up having a conversation that lasted the entire plane ride (4 hours).

And, 24 hours after my journey began, I landed safely home.

I really couldn’t get over how sweet everyone was, how helpful the lampworking experts were, and how complimentary everyone was about my beads—especially because I’m just starting out.

Sarah Hornik really is awesome (well, you are!).

I also had the fortune of laughing every single day because of Sharon. She is a bright light in this world, I tell ya. She had us all in stitches. And Avril is such a sweetie—intuitive and understanding. She’s the type of person who says just what you need to hear at just the right moment. I like that in a person.

Have you ever taken a journey, where you connected so vividly with the people, places, and things around you that it truly felt magical? Well, Murano Magic 2008 certainly lived up to its name. To meet Diana East, Pati Walton, John Olson, Corina Tettinger, Miriam, Quinton, Sarah, Avril, Sharon, Susanne, Tove, and all the others who were there and who imparted knowledge, generosity, and smiles—I am truly blessed and honored to have met you all.

I’m proud of myself. I didn’t stay in my shell for very long. I managed to break out and really be myself—and honestly, the mix of people there helped me do that. I really don’t think we could’ve asked for a better group!

I’m so glad I went, even though I’ve got a long list of things to do now that I’m back. I’m eternally grateful for this trip. I really needed it. Murano Magic shook me up in ways I didn’t even know I needed shaking. I’m bursting at the seams with creativity—as is everyone who was there, it seems—and I can’t WAIT to get started making my own beads. It will happen soon!

In the meantime… here are some links for your perusal…

Sarah’s write-up. Murano Magic, A to Z!

All of my pictures. I really have a ton of good pictures (if I do say so myself)... so definitely check 'em out!!

The beads I made in Murano… Plus the jewelry I’ve been making with those beads!

See pictures by others who were in Murano!