Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Merchants of Venice

Unlike nations where the warriors get to be on top, the elites in Italy were members of the merchant class. Which would not surprise anyone who spends anytime in Venice, where there are more stores than you can shake a stick at.

I’m sure that fashionistas don’t make Venice a destination – not when they’ve got Rome and Milan – but there seemed to be a goodly number of high end shops (Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada, Gucci, Pierre Cardin – which seems like such a throw-back brand), which we didn’t even bother to window shop at. Then there were the lovely but pricey boutiques that weren’t necessarily name brand, but were quite nice. Even though neither of us was in the market for a $600 sweater, $400 scarf, or $1,000 pocket book, these we window shopped. As we did the upholstery fabric (pillow?) stores. Mostly not the style for either or us, but some gorgeous fabrics to ogle nonetheless.

Inevitably, there were the see-‘em-everywhere stores: Disney, Footlocker – which we just groaned about as we passed.

We did, of course, do some real shopping.

Venice has a number of very nice paper and print shops. Trish was thus able to get herself a very nice print of the Lion of Venice, and I cheaped out and got a card of a corny canal/gondola scene which I’ll have framed and add to my gallery of places I’ve been. Venice

Then there were the ubiquitous – and I do not use that word lightly – pocketbook stores, curiously manned by Chinese folks, even though all the wares were stamped “made in Italy.” All of these stores appeared to carry the exact same line: Zagara, with all bags stamped Made in Italy. Which would be easy enough for a factory in China to stamp on, I suppose. But the Italians are pretty careful about lying about something being fatto in Italia, so I’m going with Made in Italy. The bags for sale were definitely not high end, but they were stylish, came in fun colors, seemed to be decently-enough made, and smelled like real leather. I bought a small, teal bag for about $15, and Trish also got a few things for herself and my niece Molly. Definitely tourist trade, but fun.

There are any number of candy, gelato, and pastry shops, the best of which was Nino & Friends, a sweet shop that I cannot begin to describe, other than to say that they can do far more than you can imagine with lemon. We grabbed a few things to nosh on when we first tripped upon it, and vowed to get back before we left. Alas, on our last day, we were in the area, but didn’t have the address. Neither of us was able to get connected to look it up, and our wanderings didn’t take us past it again. (Venice is exceedingly confusing to find your way around in…) So we came home without a box of lemon covered almonds and chocolate-covered lemon jellies, which we had sampled on our one and only visit. The shop is part of a small chain, and had only been open in Venice a couple of months, so they were especially generous with pressing us with samples. One especially charming clerk urged us to try a hard candy, holding the tray out to us and saying “boom boom.” I’ll say: think frozen lemon drop full of booze. Boom boom! I eagerly await the opening of a Nino’s in Boston. (Hurry, please.)

Venice is known, of course, for its glass, and for every ubiquitous pocketbook store there were three or four ubiquitous stores selling the same “authentic” Murano glass jewelry and other glassware. We held out for a trip to Murano and got to shop for what every store in Murano claims to be authentic, vs. the fraudulent merchandise to be had in Venice proper.

Our trip to Murano – a group of small islands connected by bridges in the Venice lagoon, about a mile out of town - was by water taxi, and included a tour of a glass factory. The one we went on was in a factory that specialized in ornate and absolutely hideous (to my eye) chandeliers, which may not be so hideous if you’re a Russian oligarch or Donald Trump, I guess.

Anyway, it was fascinating to watch the glass makers at work – including the fellow who was smoking. As if glassmaking weren’t hazardous enough…

The shops in Murano – no surprise here – pretty much just sell glassware. Everything from mirrors and art glass that fetch thousands of Euros, down to the sorts of Murano glass jewelry that looks like what comes to the mind of anyone who’s heard of Murano glass when Murano glass is mentioned.  Which would be this:Murano glass

We ended up finding a wonderful shop that suited our sensibilities and made a few purchases for ourselves and for gifts. So we will be wearing Murano glass jewelry that doesn’t look like Murano glass jewelry but is.

We had originally planned on a trip to Burano, which specializes in lacemaking. Even if we have swanked our way into Lace Curtain Irish-dom, neither Trish nor I is really all that into lace, so we took a pass on that jaunt. (No doubt disappointing our sister Kath, who had so wanted us to get her a lace mantilla…)

Venice was thronged with tourists when we were there. The true high season must be a real horror show. But most of the shops we went into didn’t seem to be doing any type of especially brisk business. We did our small part to boost the economy. But all those merchants of Venice. How do they survive?

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