Thursday, July 30, 2009

Venetian Glass and a Dumbass

After my overpriced and wholly American meal near Piazza San Marcos in Venice, I continued on through the rain, hearing much more English than Italian. I discovered that, despite the confined space of the narrow streets, the Italians weren’t anything like the Spaniards and almost hugged the foul-smelling walls to keep from running into me. Despite my hobo appearance and the fact that I had been carrying everything I had on my back from the last seven weeks, I had made sure to wash almost daily with soap and water, and at first was puzzled at their preference to the musty wet brick. Then I noticed they were doing it to other tourists as well, and as an American I was supposed to enjoy having my space, a fact I had obviously forgotten in my short time away from home. Since I assumed the Venetians weren’t skirting us out of cultural deference, I deduced that they probably found us to be a vermin-like race whose mannerisms were contagious through direct contact.
I wandered around some more until I made it to the boat stop that took me straight to Murano, home of the Venetian glass shops that gave all the local shop owners something to arrange when they weren’t blatantly watching you browse. I was directed to what I assume was just one of many glass factories on the island and stood with a mixed group of tourists as a narrator tried his best to explain the process in five languages as the glassblowers silently ignored us. Although there really seemed to be no method to their madness, they moved around their workshop with quiet efficiency, seemingly oblivious to the gawkers standing 20 feet away. They were toting around metal rods with red-hot globules on one end, rolling the rod constantly to keep the liquid glass from dipping off onto the floor. The maestro and his helpers knew just how fast to roll the rods to keep the shape of the glass uniform as they blew air through the rod and into the glass bubble, creating a hot balloon on the end of a stick. Slowly, the glass cooled and was decorated with colorful beads and stripes before a stand, neck and handles were added to make a one-of-a-kind vase. The maestro actually looked more like he should have been serving a prison sentence than blowing intricate glass shapes. He had tattooed arms, silver looped earrings, a Mr. Clean bald head and smoked constantly. He could have been hammering out license plates for all the fervor he was putting into it. Nevertheless, I had never seen anything like it and was disappointed when I was shooed into the showroom so other people could watch.
I was looking at jewelry when I was noticed and latched onto by one of the salesmen, a 20-something Italian with curly hair, green half-lidded eyes and a swaggering insolence that made me want to whop him upside the head with a piece of heavy and sharp-edged Venetian glass. He informed me that the jewelry was half off, then proceeded to belt out songs in various languages until he noticed I was actually a lot more interested in the glass than what he had to say. Then he said something along the lines of putta matre, which sounds a lot like the Spanish puta madre, which in turn translates into something like “mother bitch.” In Spain at least, it is used as a generic term, like son of a bitch, to swear under your breath when you’re tired, bored, frustrated, or just for something to say. The thing is, he didn’t mumble it under his breath. He practically yelled it, which is probably why I understood it. I chuckled, and he looked up.
“Do I…crack you up?” he asked, without the least bit of warmth and a triple dose of sarcasm. I moved away, toward some cheap glass animals at the other end of the store. But he didn’t get the hint. Mr. Insolent followed me and waited while I picked out a small green swan. I asked if they had a way to package things to make sure they wouldn’t break.
“We wrap them in bubble paper and you can play football with them if you like,” he responded.
If anyone else had been speaking, this comment would have seemed funny and perhaps even charming, but Mr. Insolent was so very insincere that it seemed someone had coached him on what to say without bothering to tell him how to say it so it would work. I picked out a gondola to go with my swan and two necklaces. Mr. Insolent charged me 10 Euros instead of 14 Euros, he said, because he was such a nice guy.
“Do I make you happy? Do you want to kiss me?”
I didn’t answer, hoping it was an offhanded comment he wouldn’t repeat. He raised his half-lidded eyes and looked into mine.
“Do you want to kiss me? Do you want to kiss me, for an hour?” he probed, smirking impudently.
“Yeah, just like everyone else who gives me a discount,” I said dryly, not wanting him to take back his generosity but having to resist the urge to throw up all over him.
He made a gesture like he was going to kiss my hand as I took my package from him.
“Ciao, bella.”
“Putta matre,” I mumbled.