Setting foot in Piazza S. Marco in Venice, anytime between April and October, is not for the faint of heart. Long limbed Russians, sneaker wearing Americans, camera clutching Japanese and everything else in between, will make your head spin and prevent you from taking in the exquisite beauty of the surroundings. The majority of them will have been disgorged by the humongous cruise liners you will see “parked” at the top of the Giudecca canal. Most of them only have a few hours to march on the Piazza and surrounding calles, take some shots, eat a bad meal and march back to their ships before sundown.
Part of the classic Venetian experience is also to buy some blown glass.Tourists with more time on their hands might take a vaporetto to the Isle of Murano, where some of the glass blowing factories are but, sad to say, a lot of the trinkets sold cheaply everywhere are actually made in China. Real blown glass is an art and it’s expensive and my heart is still set on some of the magical chandeliers with real gold veneer that sell for thousands of dollars.
We owe glass blowing to Byzantium – when the city was ransacked in the mid-1200’s, some craftsmen escaped to Venice where the art of blowing glass took root and flourished. To watch an artist at work is indeed mesmerizing: as the glass is heated and moves from liquid to solid state, there is a small interval in which it’s soft enough to be plied and molded.
Venice is a city in flux, steeped in its rich and unyielding past and trying to find a footing in a future that should not transform it in a static floating museum. Some of its innovations are to be found in the art world, certainly with its famous Biennale but also in some contemporary glass making that is a world apart from what your image of Venetian glass probably is.
Massimo Lundardon, not strictly a Venetian but born near Vicenza where he has his factory, is one of my favourite contemporary glass masters. I have been amused by his aliens that I wish were dancing in my living room; I have coveted his ethereal glasses and his coral cake stands and, when I recently saw the cover of the Bergdorf-Goodman holiday catalogue featuring his dancing glasses, already drunk before one single drop was poured, my heart melted.
It’s this playfulness, this re-invention of ancient techniques, this looking forward that will catapult a city like Venice into the future. Pierre Cardin recently pledged a vast sum of money to build a glass skyscraper on the site of the old industrial port at the edge of Venice, currently lying unused and in ruin. The project has been criticized by some conservationists but I can envisage approaching the city by train, entering the lagoon and seeing the modern blending in with the old Byzantine architecture.
Banning cruise liners and cheap Chinese glass from entering the city should be of more concern. Welcoming more aliens is the way to go.
For more information on Massimo Lunardon, his creations and where they can be purchased, please check his fun website.