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18 Working Days In Italy

Fish Market at Rialto in Venice, Italy

18 Days in Italy

Three cities, 235,788 steps, 98.25 miles walked, 3 trade shows, 3.25 pounds of pasta, countless Campari Spritz, liters of espresso, many orders placed, new friends, old friends, a whole lot of fun over 18 days in Italy.

Venice & Murano

Landing in Venice I spent the first couple days recovering from jet lag, getting my bearings and scouring the shops for new and exciting glass creations. Staying on the island of Murano, I love spending the first half day in Venice going into stores and researching what is new in the market. When I find things I like I attempt to get information from the salespeople about who makes them. This is not easy as Venice/Murano is a very secretive place. No one wants anyone to know where they get their product and they will tell you that they or their family makes everything in the store. This is never true. Every store is made up of many, many different artists because no one person or persons can make all types of glass. I sometimes shock the truth out of them as I circle the store naming all the artists---they either acquiesce and tell me all the secrets or they fein ignorance; ”Wow! Really? I was told the family made it all.”

Map of Venice and Murano, Italy

Because of the varying skills and the wide variety of tools needed in glass making, artists are very specialized. The ones that do lamp or flame work create mostly small pieces like animal figurines, small ornaments, rings, perfume bottles, shot glasses etc. They use very small, table top furnaces to cure the glass after creating their object. Then there are those that work with Filigrana glass where they set the cane side by side creating a flat surface of glass combining multiple colors together. They soften the plate of glass cane in an oven and then twist, turn and blow it into vases, bottles, beads, glasses and other hollow or blown figurines. Then there are those with very large furnaces that also do blown pieces but on a much larger scale. Heavy blocks of glass that need multiple trained hands and strong bodies to manipulate and transform the unrecognizable into an exquisite vase or statue. Moving in synchrony with agility and grace you watch the workers heat the glass, cool the glass, mold and shape the glass then transfer the glass form from one person to another by attaching a “punti” or rod to the opposite end and then “cracking off” which essentially turns the piece upside down. This allows for the glass master to put the finishing touches on the top of the object. It very often depends upon the size of your oven or furnace, how many support workers you have and your skill level as to what kind of pieces you can create. No one person does all styles of glass.

Glass Artisans in Murano, Italy working at furnace

 

Trade Shows in Milan

Many of the 98+ miles walked happened in Milan where 3 trade shows existed side by side in large, cavernous pavilions (padiglioni). There was MIPEL---miles and miles of bags, backpacks, wallets, belts and every kind of leather container imaginable. This was a reminder of where I started my 32 year odyssey. After finishing college I returned to Florence and began working in a leather factory making wallets, belts and handbags for a local Florentine designer. This love of leather fashion actually began in high school where I designed and hand sewed everything from leather tennis racket covers to wallets, bags and belts. Much of what I made went to family and friends as Christmas gifts. I used deer skin from a local tanner and manzanita buttons which I collected on hikes, cut into small rounds then burnished and drilled holes for buttons. I still have a few of the purses and wallets I made. It was a wonderful feeling to give someone something that I made by hand.

Next door to Mipel was MICAM, a shoe lovers paradise. Four large pavilions of shoes from casual sneakers and loafers to the wild and divine from designers all over the world. There were shoes that could only be worn on the runways of New York and Paris as well as what you'd expect from an Italian shoe show---you know those wonderfully soft, color saturated Italian leather boots, flats, heels and everything in between.

Lastly was HOMI, an extensive showing of everything that goes inside one's home, except furniture. There was glass, ceramic and textiles all bursting with creativity. There was also a stand making pasta and giving it out to everyone---so Italian! I remember this as a thing in the discos of Florence where I lived the better part of 7 years. Around 2am you would see large trays of pasta flying out of the back of the club with steaming hot Spaghetti or Fusilli, topped with a beautiful red tomato sauce and fresh parmesan cheese. You may not have been hungry but no one could resist its' aroma and warmth or its' novelty.

Florence

After the extensive shopping expedition in Milan (did I mention that I wrote orders for handbags, purses, backpacks, briefcases, new glassware, ceramics and miscellaneous other beauties---all of which will be coming soon to My Italian Decor?) I moved on to the warm and inviting embrace of Florence, my second home. I came to Florence as a student to do a 8 month study abroad program and I stayed the better part of 7 years. I studied, I worked and I lived in this wonderful city where Michelangelo, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci once called home. It was the decision that set me on the path to all that I have created over the years. Florence has changed considerably in the 30+ years since I lived there, but the intoxicating charm still exists. I now spend most of my time outside the historic center or "Centro", in small surrounding towns like Sesto Fiorentino, Pontassieve alle Falle, Barberino di Mugello and Viareggio. They imbue a greater sense of Italian culture with fewer tourists. Florence, as lovely as it is, has the feeling sometimes of a Disneyland---a little too busy for me at this point in my life.

La Mia Familia á Firenze

While living in Florence, one of my best friends named her daughter after me, Elisabetta. It was a kind of contest—if the baby was “maschile” then he would be named Stefano, but if it was a “femminile” then she would take my name. I guess I rubbed Rosetta's “pancia” with a little more love than did Stefano because a beautiful, red headed baby girl was born and she has been my adopted niece ever since. I have wonderful memories of taking Elisabetta everywhere with me. We would go to lunch in Florence where people would stop us in the street and ask to take our picture----thinking I was the mom, they would exclaim what a beautiful daughter I had. Elisabetta's blast of soft red curls would render most a second look. We would shop for groceries in Pontassieve and go out for a jog in Le Falle and be home in time for dinner around the table with the rest of the family. One day we went to a friend's “Vendamia”, the grape harvest in the Fall. We picked grapes all morning. Not more than 10 years old, Elisabetta was a trooper picking grapes off the prickly vines filled with buzzing bees; she never complained. The feast later that day was something for the senses----eyes wide open to take in all the plates of beautifully prepared food and wine along with the serene setting of my friend's 14th century stone abby in the middle of their vineyard. We feasted for hours with course after course arriving just as you thought you couldn't take another bite!

My Family in Florence, Italy

Whenever I am in Florence I spend time with Rosetta, Elisabetta and the many other family members I have come to love and appreciate. During my recent trip in March we went shopping, Rosetta made her famous Pepperonata---a green and red pepper dish made with zucchini, tomatoes, olive and potatoes and together we celebrated our niece, Aurora's 15th birthday. There was also San Giuseppe Day----St. Joseph's Day, similar to St. Patricks Day except without the green. St. Joseph's Day is a day to celebrate all named Giuseppe or any derivation of such. We had a few Giuseppes and a few fathers in the house, this being significant because it was also Father's Day!! It was a joyous celebration with a table long enough for 20+ people that was overflowing with food, drink, laughter and love.

More to come in next blog---back to Venice and Murano for the last week of the trip.

Salute!

Elisabetta Graceffo, My Italian Decor

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