Venetian journeys

I have been in bed all week following an “excavation” on my wisdom tooth (at least it felt like she was excavating). The dentist took half an hour to pull it out, she had to cut my gum and I had 3 stitches.

That’s the first time I have had stiches in my life! The pain was bad after the aneastetic of 4 injections in the gum wore off , I couldn’t open my mouth to eat much but I have learned how to slurp soup quite efficiently whilst dribbling it down my chin!

Last night I decided I was feeling better and cooked the dinner, but by the time it came to stirring the sauce, putting on the pasta and watching the vegetables didn’t burn, I was feeling tired and whilst straining a large pot of potatoes I also strained my back!

So now I am back in bed and frustrated that I am not back in the workshed today.

But there has been something positive that has come out of this week, not only have a got rid of a bad tooth that would eventually have done me more harm if left, but I read John Berendt’s book “The City of Falling Angels”. He enlightened me with his true accounts of Venetian life. Most of the people in the book are residents of Venice; aristocrats, wealthy business people, writers, American art collectors,and those who have bought palazzo’s and restored them. I  liked reading about the eccentric Venetians such as “Plant Man”,who is like a walking shrub, whilst shouting “Oh la! Oh -la! Have you got a house?Have you got somewhere to go?”;  “the rat man”, who has found the key to succesful rat poison; the electrician who dresses in different uniforms (police, fireman, soldier,Captain), the surrealist painter Ludovico De Luigi,and also the American,Ralph Curtis, who has a plan to send all nuclear missiles  up to Mars, and although he has part ownership of Palazzo Barbaro, he has no fixed abode preferring to stay with a variety of friends.  In order to see the Barbaro he would send out an application form that required a print of your big toe in the signature box!

But what I found most engaging were the events following the fire at the Fenice opera house, (the main feature that threads in and out of the book) and the master glass maker Archimede Seguso, (nicknamed Mago del Fuoco or Wizard of Fire) who stands watching the fire from his apartment next door and deeply affected by it goes on to make a series of more than 100 glass vases to signify each stage of the fire. Every colour he saw in the flames, sparks, smoke and embers were embedded into the glass in leaping ribbons,spirals, and diamonds.

I have been to Venice twice. The first time in 2005, when I went to the Orsoni mosaic studios and factory to participate in a weeks course. It was an inspiring and exciting experience, I felt priveleged to be there. I was lucky enough to receive a grant for training from Wells Adult Learning and Leisure, where I was teaching mosaic courses.

My partner, Ian, came with me and while I wielded a hammer and split smalti all day, he walked around Venice taking in the atmosphere and the sights. We stayed at the “Domus Orsoni”, which is part of the complex with gallery, studios and foundry. Every room furnished with a stylish Orsoni mosaic, in decadent golds, silvers and blacks, and acid bright coloured gold leaf. The mosaics in our room were panels either side of the bed headboard depicting the twin towers (before their destruction).

We watched the coloured glass being taken from the furnace on long handled spades and set to cool by strong  men with large hands, some to be sold as “plates” of smalti and some to be cut up into smaller pieces of smalti. In a room adjacent,ladies were cutting up circles of glass embedded with gold leaf into squares with a glass cutter and smalti with special machines a bit like industrial sewing machines.

The mosaic class was led by Cav Giovanni Cucco, and the lovely Antonella. Giovanni was a sweet smiley older man who reminded me of Bilbo Baggins! He was responsible for leading the restoration team of the mosaics on the Royal Albert Memorial in London and  San Marco (Saint Marks) in Venice. Antonella  was (maybe still is?) the main workforce for setting the mosaic smalti for Orsoni’s designs. She was relaxed, warm, and kind. Her whole aura smiled.

The maestro, Lucio Orsoni, came in one day to look at our work in class and to show us around the foundry.

In his 70’s he had a striking elegance about him. Tall, slim and smartly dressed, but undoubtably a maestro and reminding me of certain art professors from the 1980s. As he perused the studio casting his experienced eye over our work, he gave all of us some words of advice or encouragement.

And then who could forget Luca, who works in the office taking orders of smalti. At that time he didn’t speak a word of English (and we didn’t speak Italian) when one of my  class mates and I wished to purchase some smalti, but were spoilt for choice and couldn’t decide, so ended up coming away with a much treasured and used hammer and hardy.

It was past Luca’s clocking off time, I think he wanted to go home, but he was kind enough to stay  to find  the hammers and hardys which he then wrapped carefully.

Then there were others on the course who came in as translators, and Roberta and Valentina who made us welcome in the Domus and served us  strong coffee for breakfast. (It got stronger each day and eventually I had to  give in and ask for some more water. “Too strong?!”, Valentina asked in mock surprise with a cheeky snigger!)

But while it was all wonderful for us in Venice, it wasn’t in the UK. It was the 7th July 2005. On the evening of Ian and I went for dinner on Murano, when we returned my American classmates were in a state of frenzied excitement and despair, having just heard on the news about the bombings in London. I even phoned my parents to check that my sister was ok who was living near London.

Luckily she hadn’t ventured out to London that day.

The second time I went to Venice was with all of my family. All 6 of us, in October 2007. But that is a story for another time!

Cutting smalti in Orsoni production workshops

More info on  Orsoni mosaic:

Animated paintings on Ludovico de Luigi website:

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