The Master of Glass
An old man in a blue suit greeted us at the dock.
"Ciao. Follow me this way." He was tall and funky.
As we walked he gave us a brief history of the factory. Glass making in Murano dates back 700 years and the tradition remains strong and timeless to this day. This factory is a family owned business, passed down generation after generation, and all their glass is hand-made by the glass master. After a couple turns we entered the factory -- the master's lair -- and there he sat, covered in grime. His face was expressionless, yet poised. He acknowledged our presence with a lift of his head and thought nothing of it. Thus we assumed the role of flies on the wall and he continued with his craft.
A long metal rod was being rolled back and forth on a rack by his left hand while his right hand waited for instructions over a scrawny metal table of tools. A molten bulb of glass oozed like a lava lamp on the end of the rod. The rolling was maintained to allow the slowly drooping bulb to overcome the effects of gravity. The dance was on.
Each step was as swift and precise as a ballet. Every move found the next with fluidity, balance, and confidence. Right hand picks up a pair of thick pliers. Control the bulb, keep it steady. Drop the pliers. Stand up, twirl the rod around, take a deep breath. Exhale into the rod and watch the bulb of glass expand and bob as a bubble. Lay the rod back on the rack. Keep the roll steady. Without looking, pick up a pair of claw-like pliers. Grip the rod's end of the bulb and pull it away from the rod. A neck of a vase was formed. Claw-like pliers drop. Pick up a blunted tool and begin to tap the outside of the molten bubble. Rounding it out. Smoothing the curves. Honing the shape. The bulb was still molten but it's oozing had slowed and his rolling had slowed with it in smooth cadence. The tapping continued. Drop the blunted tool. Rotate the rod and press the end of the bulb into the metal table. Give the vase a flat bottom to rest on. Lift it up, assess the shape. Satisfied, moving on. Pick up the blunted tool for a couple tweaks to make it right. Define the symmetry of the piece. Drop the tool with another quick assessment. Good. Stand up and bring the newborn vase to a tank of water and dunk it in. A hissing sizzle and steam emitted from the tank. Pull out the finished product and carefully tap it free from the rod. Voila. She's ready for flowers.
"Be careful not to touch the glass," the old man said, "it's still very hot."
The master held the vase in front of each of us as he walked slowly down the line to display the fruit of his craft. His face remained expressionless and his eyes remained sure. This vase holds the totality of his art, his care, his love, his sweat, his grime, his devotion. It holds within it a piece of his soul. Day in and day out he creates in the heat of the factory. And people from all over the world stop in to witness creation with their eyes. Maybe they'll take a piece of his art back to their homeland. Or maybe they'll just take a fragment of a memory. He never knows how far the reaches of his craft extend. What he does know is simply that he must create, and nothing can take that knowledge from him. He doesn't seek to build a vase, he seeks to walk with passion along the path of creation.
The master thanked us for watching and we began to shuffle along. Within seconds he had another molten bulb on the end of the rod, twirling it back and forth. I watched closely as he took another step down the path. Focused and intent.