italy · travel

Around the North of Italy: Venice, Again

I spent a grand total of maybe- maybe- 6 hours of active time in Venice. A travesty, I know. But when someone says there are candy colored facades a boat ride away, I go. On the ride back from Burano, we made up our minds to not do a gond0la ride. After all, we were seeing quite a bit from our little community water bus and had managed quite well by foot. Also, we’re a bit cheap and it saved us $80.

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Anyway. We picked the boat that dropped us off right around the corner from St. Mark’s Square. We stop at a bridge for a photo-op and trade shots with a couple from China. “So many people from so many places,” he says with a wide smile. I love swapping photos with people. There is nothing that seems more communal and connecting as asking a stranger to take your photo, offer to take theirs, and then laughing together at fumbling cameras and phones. Nothing is quite as particularly vulnerable as standing next to someone and saying, “Do you like it? Would you like me to take another? Does it look okay?” and reassuring them that you did take 16 shots, one of them will work, and oh, where are you from, where are you going. If there is ever a way of reassuring yourself that the world is full of nice people, stop someone and ask them to take your picture.

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St. Mark’s was packed. A jazz band was playing and people were milling about with seemingly no goal in mind other than to just be there waiting to be pickpocketed. And I say that, not because I really put much stock into the fear-mongering I see on the interwebs re:travel but because there were actually quite a few people who looked dodgy enough to pickpocket the total slackjaws standing around with their wallets in their back pockets. Really, if you don’t have a decent looking cross body bag that looks normal- i.e. not a hypervigilent anti-slash, bolted to your bones, too paranoid to be here bag- go get one. Or better yet- go buy one; you’re in fricking Italy.

My mom leans in: “Look I know we’re supposed to go in all these buildings and see all these things but what if we just…didn’t. Would that make us bad?”

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I look at the enormous crowd and consider my increasing claustrophobia. “Nope.”

She grins in that kid-who-just-got-away-with-something way and we’re off, down a little alleyway. We stop at a little leather shop and admire all the colors and styles yet settle on none. There will be others. They will be cheaper, we reason (they won’t be!). We stop in a small glass gallery and my mom picks out a large glass bauble- a big pendant on a black rubber chain. Something a little more modern than the millefiore discs we’ve seen. It’s fifteen euros. Fifteen!

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The ally narrows and I finally, finally find it and just before closing time: Vittorio Costantini’s glass shop. My brother had stopped by several years earlier and as it is more workshop than gallery, he literally begged him to buy a piece. Typically, Vittorio won’t sell his glass insects to the public- they are for his own collection and for touring shows. But after three stops and faltering Italian, he finally consented and let him purchase a single, actual size, anatomically correct bee.

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When we went in, his wife was going over their books and Vittorio was at his bench, working on some sea life. He has been working on a marine collection and apparently, birds. The window was full of them. Birds of all colors, all about 4″ tall or less. Two in the window sat perched on little stumps with little worms in their mouths. I spotted a little Cardinal but as I really don’t care that much about St. Louis baseball, I committed an act of hometown blasphemy and inquired about the others instead. At $140 a piece you have to love the one you pick and this one had me smitten. His wife plucked out one sans worms (those were not for sale- many of his pieces are not) and chatted. Vittorio mixes his own colors, she explained as he worked silently. He uses Murano glass but many use their glass straight from the rod- no mixing, and less artistry. He grumbled from the bench. I explained that as a child I had taken a lampworking class and had always enjoyed it, though there were limited resources in my town to learn. It’s expensive, a little dangerous, and few people are available to teach it. He looked up and beamed. His wife repeated what English he had missed into Italian and he chattered back to her. I mentioned my brother and the bee and he beamed again, standing up and pointing to the cabinet and clasping his hands together with a loud clap. She came from around the counter and opened a large glass cabinet. “Because you are also artist and you love the glass and your brother- he also loved the glass and Vittorio- he wants you to have this little pin.” She brought out a tiny ladybug pin- simple but sweet- and folded it into my hand. “Our son makes these- he is not as good,” she said shaking her head, “But he is learning as you are learning.”

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My heart full, we stumbled out waving through the glass at Vittorio and his wife and wandered into a tiny courtyard with a flower shop and bakery. We traipsed through walkway after walkway, listening to the gondoliers belt out tunes to their lazing patrons and returned to Osteria Anice Stellato in Cannaregio for a communal table with a dour English couple, more cuttlefish, wine, and panna cotta before making our way back to the hotel. We’ve a train to catch in the morning- a ride straight to Milan before we catch our tour and head off to lakes.

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