Murano is an island in the Venetian lagoon, a 15 minute boat-ride from Venice proper. Its celebrity is tied to a centuries-long history of glass making. Originally, glass foundries were operating in Venice itself, not on Murano. After many fires in the glass district, which spread to other neighborhoods, in 1291, the foundries and operations were sent over to Murano.
Today, you find canals lined with glass shops, as well as cafés and restaurants. The variety and forms of glass objects are delightful as well as overwhelming. Our recommendation is to allocate a day, stroll slowly, don’t hurry, take a wine and lunch break, and enjoy.
We decided to look for some drinking glasses, some door pulls for our new dining area cabinets, and if possible, a chandelier for over the table. Having a mission was part of the pleasure.
A few anecdotes:
We found one shop down a side alley. The displays were more professional and gallery-like than most. Much of what was on offer were heavy geometric vases. But we spotted some solid glass door knobs which led us to ask the woman at the counter if she had any cabinet door pulls. She proceeded to pull out baskets of glass beads.
They were much too small to be door pulls, but she explained that we could select any style and color, and she could make them into pulls. The price she quoted was exorbitant, but we chatted anyway. She quickly launched into a presentation about authentic Murano glass, as distinct from the increasing amount of copies produced on the mainland and, scandalously, in China. As we were talking, a small group of Asian people came into the shop. She immediately went over to them and explained that this wasn’t a shop, it was just a display, and anyway it was closing time. She ushered them out with a smile. Coming back to us, she apologized for the interruption, but not for the racial profiling. We could feel her passion about unfair competition. It wasn’t clear however why only Asian people would buy her pieces with the intention of counterfeit.
In most shops, when we said that we were looking for a chandelier that was part traditional and part contemporary, the salespeople would eagerly escort us to a display floor above the shop. That’s where they display the serious pieces, as well as more variety. Even if they have only traditional pieces, they are happy to try to seduce us with what they have. We almost always saw attractive and interesting light fixtures, even if not quite what we had in mind.
We specifically sought out a shop that we had visited 8 years ago during our first time in Murano. At that time, we had selected a colorful large vase that we wanted to turn into a decorative lamp. The salesman agreed to drill a hole in its base, for the power cord, and ship it to us. We took a photo of our vase, paid the down payment, and went on our way. A couple of months later, a very well-packed crate arrived in Hawaii. We found an intact vase with a hole in the bottom. But it didn’t quite match our memory. Thanks to the photo we had taken, we could see that it was different, and we decided it wasn’t as attractive as the one we had selected. The people at the foundary back in Murano explained that when they drilled the hole in the vase we had selected, the vase broke. They broke at least one other before they succeeded with the one they sent to us. We weren’t happy enough with the one they sent. They were pleasant and professional, and said that unfortunately they didn’t think they could make this work without destroying more vases. We sent the vase back and received a full refund.
So with this experience, even if it hadn’t worked out, we thought we should see what they had for our current quest. At the door was sitting a very large man, and standing behind him was a very thin man of about 70. We cheerily explained what we were seeking. The thin man and the fat man talked with animation in Italian. Then the thin man said with dour expression, “We don’t have anything for you.” Silence. OK. Rejected, we exited. What they lacked in tact they fulfilled in clarity.
We stopped in a small shop that had only little decorative items and some drinking glasses. We spotted a set of 6 glasses that appealed to us right away. As we reached for one, the young saleswoman called out pointedly not to touch and that she would be glad to help us. Not liking to be told what to do, I was a little put off, even if I knew why she had called out. Chastened, we asked to see our target glasses. They were well priced and we thought they would look great on our new wood dining table.
I chatted with the saleswoman while she wrapped each glass in bubble wrap and tissues. She apologized for the sharp response to our reaching out to glasses. She said that people break items all the time. There had recently been a Chinese woman in the store; she reached for a tall slender sculptural piece, and knocked it over. It fell on a shelf’s worth of small pieces, shattering many of them. Embarrassed and panicked, she ran out of the shop. A big American man ran after her and brought her back. She had broken something like 1000€ of glass, and eventually paid for her mistake.
I asked if this shop was hers. She said, no, she just worked here part time. Seeing that Mike and I were together, she started to share some of her own history. At first I wasn’t quite sure why. She said that she had been working for Fiat in a marketing department. After she had been working there for a while, her boss, a man, discovered that she had a girl friend. He fired her. She took him and the company to court. She said that the court process took six years, and in the end, the man won. The court’s opinion was that she couldn’t prove that the man’s motive was homophobic. She said that this kind of case is very hard to win in Italy. I asked what she was going to do now. With a very nice smile and determined expression, she said that she was going to open her own marketing firm. Terrible path, but fantastic response.
Then she asked how long Mike and I have been together. Impressed with the answer (almost 25 years), she took out her phone. She showed me a lovely photograph of her and her wife of 5 years. Two stunningly beautiful women, viewed from above, embracing, with wedding dresses flowing around them. She showed another photo of the two of them with their parents. She said she came out to her parents just before going to university in the UK. Her parents were shocked and blamed themselves, even though there was nothing to blame anyone about. She went off to London. A couple of months later, her parents came to visit. Her father apologized for his reaction, and embraced her fully. Ever since, her parents have fully accepted her and her wife.
Very warm and open chat just from purchasing a few glasses.
In the end, we did find a chandelier that met our expectations, both aesthetically and financially. As a condition of the sale, we had to promise not to post any photos of the chandelier. So you will have to come visit next year to see it!
By the way, this is why the title of this post is Chandalier Shoulder. After two days of walking in and out of shops looking up at light fixtures, our shoulders were sore and tight like after a stressful day at work. Much happier reason however!