The Canal Grande Hotel in Venice, Italy, offers all visitors a free trip from its canal-side breakfast balcony to the Vetreria Artistica glass factory Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. It’s all part of the seduction.
A sleek mahogany-hulled water taxi pulls up to the hotel, and the interested guests are carefully guided by the head waiter and water taxi driver into the boat. It has a graceful low profile, and the inside cabin is upholstered in soft white leather.
When everyone is aboard, the captain casts off and a splendid journey north down narrow feeder canal waterways begins.
Ten minutes later, the narrow canal opens into the Venetian lagoon. Murano island, the famous centre of Venetian glassworks, beckons to the north, another 15 minutes away at full throttle. To our right is the Venetian Cemetery Island, and north of Murano, the fishermen’s island of Burano is just visible on the lagoon’s horizon.
Soon the wharf-scape of Murano looms before us and the water taxi makes straight to Vetreria Artistica’s welcoming tie-up.
We’re greeted by an older and a younger man, who are soon joined by three assistants who help us onto the wharf and into the inviting production room of the glass factory.
Inside, red cushions are arrayed on comfy benches that overlook two active glass furnaces and two artists who are in the midst of creating beautiful components for two chandeliers.
The distinguished signore, our elder host, explains what we’re witnessing in careful detail, after asking our party of eight where we all came from and how long we’ve been in Venice.
After this visual introduction to the glass-blower’s art, we’re whisked into a series of four showroom galleries filled with finished chandeliers, magnificent glasses and dishes, and coloured abstract artistic works that evoke our recent experience of the magnificent Dale Chihuly glass sculptures in Montreal. I mention this esthetic connection to the signore and he immediately explains that Chihuly actually apprenticed in this studio.
Meanwhile, I can see that my wife has her eyes firmly fixed on a beautiful chandelier hanging just above our heads in gallery two.
Before we know what’s happening, the signore has led us into gallery four as a couple, because we must see the homage to Picasso pieces by one of Vetreria Artistica’s most famous glass masters, Walter Furlan – who was inspired by the fascinating artistic progress of the work of Picasso.
“Wait until you see his sculptures! Sadly, he just passed away nine months ago at the age of 88.”
Several of his works were displayed to us by the younger assistant, who then took three of Furlan’s Picasso-esque women’s heads carefully from the room.
We were soon called to a private viewing of the three sculptures on the factory deck. Each had been placed on a pedestal, with the Venetian lagoon as a backdrop.
“Which one is most directly appealing to you?” asked the signore. The Blue Headed Woman (properly, Testa Acquamare Piccolo) was obviously magnificent. We were next invited back into the gallery to sit at a long glass table. The signore asked us if we wished espressos, bottled waters or Prosecco. A uniformed server immediately brought espressos at our request.
The signore’s seemingly effortless sales technique now moved to yet a higher level of seduction.
“If your wife loves the chandelier, let us make that also happen for her.”
We next walked back to view the magnificent chandelier and the signore was true to his word.
The three of us now returned to the viewing gallery and finalized the terms of the transaction. Credit card payments were made and smiles were manifest all around the table.
“When would you like to return to your hotel?” inquired the signore.
“Well, we’d first like to see Burano island,” I explained.
“Leave it to me,” was the response.
Fifteen minutes later, a complimentary mahogany water taxi pulled up at the factory wharf. The sales staff assembled on the deck to bid us goodbye as we boarded.
As we pulled up to the Burano wharf, a well-dressed young woman waved us in.
“I am here to give you a walking tour of Burano. Compliments of the glass gallery signore.”
We were surprised by her presence and appreciated the style of this gesture. It was the final act of the magnificent seduction of the sale.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. He has also chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.