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Through the Looking Glass
Go to Murano, get a vase, feel better than ever!
JULY 1, 2007 - I left Venice over a week ago, but the vacation has sweetly stayed with me. At certain moments during the day when I have a chance to catch my breath, I find myself daydreaming about my most recent Italian sojourn. Often, my thoughts turn my heart to glass, Murano glass that is. On the Venetian island of Murano creating artistic, high-quality glass art - from picture frames and clocks to crystal clear, three-foot tall horse statues - is a way of life. And tourists are welcome to observe the artist at work firsthand.
When visitors first arrive to the island - on boat, usually from Venezia's St. Mark's Square - they are ushered into one of the world's most prestigious glass making companies, such as v.i.a. Fornace. You'll feel the heat of the ovens brimming with flames the moment you enter the free glass blowing demonstrations. But once you get past the fact that you're sweating like a pig in under the knife for bacon-ectomy, you'll be mesmerized by the colors of the melting glass, the twist of the wrist that glassmakers use to make swirls appear like magic, and the carefree approach to this difficult art (one guy was puffing on a cigarette with one and hand and twirling the glass under the fire with the other).
After the demonstration, you'll likely be invited to look around the connecting shop to see about purchasing a souvenir of hand-blown glass. You will find everything from little animal figurines that cost a couple of euro to massive chandeliers that cost thousands. Even if you have no intention of purchasing anything, take a look around. There were glass roosters with a rainbow of colored glass covering their body, three-foot tall glass stallions, ceilings covered in glass chandeliers of every size, shape, and color and the most beautiful glassware for the home that you've ever seen replete with gold trim.
Don't feel obligated to buy the first piece of pretty glass you see. Take your time and do some window shopping and price comparisons first. I found that often you would find the same exact item a few stores away from the first place where you saw it for half the price. But you should be weary and look for the mark on the glass that shows it's from Murano. There are signs all over Venezia and Murano indicating exactly how you can tell a fake from the real thing.
Guides explain that the glassmaking in Murano is different from all others because these artisans create a more durable glass. Still, visitors who have to travel home by airplane should consider the weight, detail, and packaging used to protect precious souvenirs. I personally purchased some fragile, tiny glass frogs for my collection and two hefty vases that will make the trip in my handbag.
While you're checking out the various shops, stop for a stroll on Murano's many bridges or an espresso in one of its bars. Take photos. Take in the scene. Realize where you are. It's a great way to recharge before doing more shopping.
For more information on all things Italian - and photo tours of Venezia - visit www.francescadimeglio.com.
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