Murano island looks like a bubble coming out of fish-shaped Venice. Glass makers were kicked out of the city and sent to Murano at the end of the 13th Century so that should their enthusiastic huffing and puffing get out of hand, any resulting fires would be contained far more easily than in the maze of buildings on the mainland.
Like many people with a background in ceramics, I’m bonkers about glass and wanted to watch it being made. Actually what I really wanted was to have a go myself but there was fat chance of that but a stroll round a peaceful island was a very appealing thought after hot, tourist-riddled Venice.
At the vaporetto stop, a very beautiful and very exasperated attendant was dealing with a gaggle of confused tourists trying to get to Lido. Using one hand to rope the vaporetto to the pontoon and the other to flick her hair back in the way that makes an Italian woman look like a film star and a other woman of any other nationality look pretentious, she bawled: ‘No! No Lido! Murano! Moo.Rah.No.’ The crowd shuffled off, muttering into their maps, leaving the way clear for me to grab a window seat in the coolest part of the boat (which wasn’t very).
Docking at Murano I followed the string of sweat slicked passengers, all streaming onto the pontoon. A smoothly groomed, perspiring man energetically waved us all on: ‘Dis way, dis way, to glass blowing demonstration, dis way please.’
A blazing furnace in the gloomy workshop pushed the temperature up to somewhere around the Hot Day in Hell mark. Our host ushered us onto some wooden steps, ‘Move up, move up! Bambini at da fron’ please.’
We all watched, fanning ourselves and panting in the heat, as the glass blower took centre stage with bright yellow flames roaring behind him. He picked up a long rod with a mass of squidgy, molten glass on the end while boss Man provided a lightning fast commentary, switching from Italian, to English, to French. The glass blower formed a dish with the sort of casual skill most of use would employ to lick an ice cream and everyone said, ‘Ooh!’ and nodded approvingly.
I would have taken a photograph but I was busy pawing at the rivulets of sweat running down my neck, my back and my face. And my hands were so slippery I’d have dropped the camera. Dropping cameras is something I do fairly well at the best of times. Besides, all I really wanted to do was snatch the rod of squidgy goo from the glass blower and have a go myself.
He presented another gelatinous pile of molten glass, pulled it this way and that and within seconds a shining horse reared up with a flying mane and dancing hooves. ‘Aahhh…’ we all said.
Then as magically as the glass blower had produced the horse, a door opened and we were sucked, en masse, into a large shop gleaming with bright glassware. The ice cold air was nothing short of divine and I drifted in front of shimmering gold vases, tiny emerald green frogs and gracefully formed bowls, fanning my teeshirt to let the cold air swoosh up my back and waddling in an attempt to evaporate the sweat that was gluing my thighs together.
I paid particular attention to the wares which were located next to fans and ignored the row of white-shirted, black-trousered men, arms folded, legs spread, all senses on full alert in case a sale should come their way. I was tempted by piles of glittering beads and remembered I’d put myself on a bead buying ban until I’d either strung or sold the boxes of glass beads cluttering up my house.
Anyway, I needed the toilet.
‘No, no, bagni, no bagni.’ The woman at the till flapped her hands and shook her head. Whaa…? No toilets? Of course not. With hundreds of tourists passing through the showroom every day, how would any of them need the toilet? Well they could keep their glass frogs and beads then.
I left the shop and wandered along the streets of pastel coloured houses which ran alongside the canals. Don’t believe all those internet photos of Murano depicting psychedelic coloured houses. Someone’s been up to no good with Photoshop, I promise you. The houses on Murano are mostly soft, sugary colours.
I experimented with ways of walking with the aim of minimising the discomfort of my chafing thighs. Throwing each leg out at every step worked very well but looked daft. Keeping my thighs together and doing teeny little steps from the knee down quickly became boring so I settled for waddling along, trapping my billowing skirt where it could protect my poor thighs.
Apart from the odd motor boat whooshing along the canals, the streets held that still hush you get when even the buildings are slumbering. I figured all the tourists were cowering in the air conditioned glass showroom and any locals were either engaged in flogging the glassware, dead from heat exhaustion or having a siesta.
One inhabitant at least, came into the last category. I’d walked as far across the island as you could go without ending up in the sea and there, gently bobbing, was a large wooden boat, its paintwork a mass of exuberant swirls and patterns. Under a canopy, flat out on his back, with a bulbous, hairy belly, lay a sleeping man, arms flopped out wide, a stack of lunch dishes and a panting dog by his side. He was snoring softly. God I envied him. Not just because he had a lovely hippy boat, and not just because his belly was marginally less hairy and bulbous than mine, but because he was lying down and fast asleep.
I did the next best thing and sat on the ground in the shade, watching distant boats zipping across the sea, and pondered the problem of my chafing thighs. Clearly I needed to lose weight. But it would be rude to start a diet with all those gelati and dishes of creamy pasta popping out of every cafe. The diet could wait, yes definitely. Until then, my chafing thighs could be clad in trousers.