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Italy 2004


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December, 2004
Italy: Venitian Workmanship


In Venice the streets are a maze -
Your goal is achieved many ways.
But if art is your lust,
High craft is a must,
Or you'll walk round and round in a daze.



My limerick above is a variation on the old joke:

"How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"
"Practice, practice, practice!"

The ultimate lesson about Venice is the business of beauty. And to achieve something beautiful it takes craft and community. And, yes, probably those big bold egos.

The people who fled to from the barbarians to a pile of rocks in a shallow salt-water lagoon weren't satisfied to build just a fortress. Their Venice was dazzling. Behind the dazzle had to be some confident engineering and a lot of teamwork. Just how did they lay the underwater foundations of those 500-year-old buildings? -- buildings that are still elegant, even as their surfaces molder and settle into the sea.

We took a water taxi to the little island of Murano, home of Venetian glass. Since well before the Christian era the same families have been blowing and bending glass for world trade. We sat and watched a team of men as they made a chandelier. It took us a while to figure out their work process. A glob of molten glass was removed from a red hot furnace and passed among three men till it was blown and shaped into a perfect fluted bowl, which was then set in an annealing oven to cure. Opposite them, another man was stretching molten glass into perfect S-curve.

In Venice (as in the rest of high-art Italy) you have the beautiful bold idea and then you have the well-honed craftsmanship that turns the idea into reality, whether it's a chandelier or a cathedral. I'm awed. Slapdash is not in their vocabulary.

The downside of this is that it threatens to make me feel small -- an isolated dilettante, a jack of all trades - master of none. On the other hand, on any given day, how many glassblowers hate their jobs and feel stuck in the family business like bugs in amber?

Still, in a culture that is dominated by do first, think later, it is refreshing to see the lasting results of a culture where quality dominates.




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