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GOLDEN DAY TWENTY-TWO: Follow JoAnn Locktov’s Glittering Footsteps

February 18, 2010

One of the wonderful things that happened while I was writing 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go, was that I got connected to kindred spirits–people who are as passionate about Italy as I am. One of those wonderful people is JoAnn Locktov.

JoAnn is especially passionate about mosaics, and has written a critically acclaimed book, Mosaic Art and Style, and co-written two others on the topic. Mosaics naturally led JoAnn to Venice, where the interiors of the San Marco Basilica and the Romanesque church on the island of Torcello are stunning examples of this art form.

Thanks to JoAnn, on my last visit to Venice, I spent time at the Orsoni Studio. This place, hidden away in the under-touristed Canareggio sestiere, is a mosaic foundry and workshop that’s been in the Orsoni family since 1888. In 2003, it was decided to open the doors just a bit to the public, so that (by appointment only) I could get into the production facility and see the magic that goes into mosaic making.

*Below: Student Gerda MerwaldThere’s now a vibrant workshop scene happening here. Master artisans teach small classes throughout the year (ranging from 3 days to a few weeks) to pass on the great tradition. The workshop attracts students from all over the world, and classes often sell out, so if you’re interested reserve early.

Back to my friend–fan of Venice and Mosaics–JoAnn Locktov. You can find her in her beloved Venice often and she also manages the PR for several Italian design companies. And since, like me, she’s based in California, we’ve met recently during my book tour.  I asked Bella Giovanna what her Golden Day In Venice would be. Naturally it would begin at Orsoni, where she stays in their artiturismo–one of their 5 B&B rooms in the foundry complex….

Nestled in my beautiful room at Domus Orsoni ,  my pillow rests against a 24k gold mosaic headboard.  The morning sounds of the foundry coming alive mingle with the garden birds. I have my breakfast outside on the terrace, watching the Venetian light reflect off mosaics, making the glass literally dance.

A private tour of the foundry takes me to the elegant gallery with historical and contemporary mosaics, the foundry with furnaces blasting white hot heat, the mosaic studio where classes are taught, the color library where over 2,000 colors of Orsoni smalti are arranged like a repository of intimate rainbows.

I leave the secret walled gardens of Orsoni in the Cannaregio neighborhood and am immediately confronted with the fish vendors, lining the Fondamenta di Cannaregio with their extravagant catch of the day.  These silver and glassy-eyes creatures are from deep in the lagoon.

I make my way to the vaporetto stop, the public waterbus. I’ve down loaded a mini Vap Map and have a perfect pocket sized guide to the times and stops.

I’m going to take the number 1, the slow boat that meanders along the Grand Canal allowing wonderous views of the palazzi and museums planted along the way.

I’m on my way to Dorsoduro, one of the 6 sestieri or neighborhoods that create this island city.  I disembark at the Accademia stop, and although the Gallerie beckons, I head straight for a more contemporary destination. A visit to Venice is not complete without a pilgrimage to my favorite museum, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There are other fabulous art collections in Venice however none contain the soul of the very person responsible for the collection’s existence.

The gracious Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is where Peggy Guggenheim made her home. The one story structure built in 1749 is now devoted to exhibiting her luminous collection of modern art. You can feel her presence ~ the staccato click of her heels on the terrazzo floors, her beloved dogs yapping in the courtyard, the buzz of animated conversations with the artists she supported, cajoled, loved and honored.  I usually have an espresso in the museum café, it allows me to linger longer in the garden listening to the ghosts.

Winding back towards the Accademia Bridge I stop and see what new glass jewels Marina and Susanna Sent are showing at their charming shop at Campo San Vio. Their sophisticated designs are both fashionable and immanently wearable.

I continue walking towards Piazza San Marco, crossing over the Accademia Bridge and stopping at the apex to view the Grand Canal in all her majesty. Meandering through numerous campe, stopping for an afternoon cichetti and  ombra in a local bacaro.  One last dark narrow alley and San Marco appears like a mirage, resplendent with prancing horses and glittering domes.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison in Italian Days writes how, she once “knew a man who wrote a guidebook to Venice, a series of walking tours; his source of pride was that he did not lead his readers through a square more than once.” Harrison was not impressed. She felt that, “ Not going to San Marco every day is like having a unicorn in your living room and ignoring it.” 

By late afternoon I start back towards the Cannaregio, I walk a different path this time, through the bustling Rialto where every little store front beckons with colorful treasures of Murano beads, woodblocked stationary, pastas and confections. I arrive at Campo San Felice on the Strada Nuova in time to eat dinner at a favorite enoteca. The name is La Cantina however you will know it by the wine barrel tables outside, and the convivial Italians spilling out the door. Grab a seat wherever they will let you, and eat whatever they bring you. This is pure relaxation. Being fed the tastiest morsels from the Rialto market by a waiter who remembers my name year after year.

Grazie JoAnn! You brought me back to every golden place…

*Photo by Roger Paperno from Café Life Venice, by Joe Wolff

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Ingrid Pisano permalink
    February 23, 2010 3:53 am

    Thank you, JoAnn! Beautiful piece — I’m inspired.

  2. grazia permalink
    February 20, 2010 10:40 pm

    thank you JoAnn! Ì am in love with Venice, the place I go everytime I need to look for quiet & joy…. Be back soon. Ciao, Grazia

  3. Kate Kerrigan permalink
    February 20, 2010 6:48 pm

    Ahhhhh!!! JoAnn you bring back so many of my fond memories of Venice through your very poetic writing. I feel as though I am there once again. Thanks for stirring up beautiful thoughts! Brava!!!

  4. February 20, 2010 5:14 pm

    Wow, JoAnn — what a nice day. And nice writing, too. Makes me want to drop everything, fly to Venice, and follow your steps. La Cantina is a great place to end up — Andrea & Francesco are molto in gamba — that’s why we put them in “Cafe life Venice.”

  5. February 20, 2010 4:58 pm

    Wow! So when are you starting your tour business?

  6. February 20, 2010 4:57 pm

    Wow! I am sooo there. So when are you starting your tour business?

  7. February 19, 2010 9:10 pm

    I’ve been compared to many things before but never a unicorn. These comments are all so lovely, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. baci

  8. February 19, 2010 4:16 pm

    I’ve just been whisked back to Venice without leaving my study. Thanks, JoAnn. And I’ve discovered another spot to visit on the Web.
    Having JoAnn as a friend and e-correspondent over the years has been such a pleasure. I can’t imagine what it would be like not knowing her — maybe a little like not having a unicorn in your living room?

  9. February 19, 2010 3:49 pm

    Thank you Joann and Susan for bringing the color, magic and inspiration of Venice into our lives.

  10. February 19, 2010 5:06 am

    JoAnn’s love affair with Venice shines through in her wonderful observations. Having JoAnn introduce me to Canaregio, the Orsoni foundry and Casa Orsoni was a highlight of my third trip to Venice. She captures the pace of this magical city, and the fact that at the end of every walkway or over a bridge is a discovery of something new (or old). Like her, I’m a big fan of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, a living art history of the early and middle twetieth century. Grazie mille, JoAnn!

  11. February 19, 2010 4:06 am

    JoAnn’s day in Venice sounds dreamy. Many thanks for sharing.

  12. Dimitra permalink
    February 19, 2010 1:56 am

    Grazie Gio for waking up all my senses. I could hear, see, touch, smell & taste all the glorious gifts Venice has to offer.
    Venice has always made me smile as did your Golden Day In Venice.

  13. February 19, 2010 12:09 am

    Thanks, Susan, for allowing us to see Venice through JoAnn’s eyes once more. Each time one goes to Orsoni, it is like coming back to long lost friends. I just received Joe Wolff’s book today from Amazon, and yours is on the way. I can’t wait to kick back and plan my next trip to Venice.

  14. February 18, 2010 9:21 pm

    I love the Harrison quote — the San Marco as giant unicorn. I laughed out loud. I also found it interesting that although canale is masculine in Italian, the Grand Canal “in all her majesty” is feminine. Not having seen it with my own eyes, I’ll have to trust JoAnn on this one. Listening to the ghosts in the museum café… That seems magnificent somehow, perhaps the most personal part of her Golden Day. With Prufrock, I doubt the ghosts would speak to me like they do to JoAnn, but wouldn’t it be a nice experiment to find out?

  15. February 18, 2010 8:10 pm

    Thank you, JoAnn! I’m keeping a copy of this and filing it in my Venice file. One day I will follow your footsteps there as well.
    You make it sound so leisurely, so calm— that’s the beauty of returning to a favorite spot, isn’t it? No ugly scurrying around to see everything that can’t be missed.
    The only thing I wanted in the story was a far-away image of you standing at the top of one of those beautiful bridges, wrapped up in one of your beautiful coats, with the Venetian sun dappling your shoulders and glossy hair, day dreaming. That would have been charming.

  16. February 18, 2010 7:21 pm

    Orsoni is truly the “secret Venice,” everyone seeks…the Other Venetian Glass. The rooms in their Domus are like no other in the city.

    And La Cantina? The “Cheers” of Venice, I calls it…

    Brave, Susanna, JoAnn…Peggy, e tutte. A golden day starts with golden mosaics, no? 😉

  17. Cindy Miracle permalink
    February 18, 2010 6:04 pm

    Thank you Susan! I was very fortunate in that I was able to spend a week taking a mosaic class at the Orsoni Studio in 2004 along with my sister and a colleague. Reading your journal brought back wonderful memories of our time spent in Venice. I learned about the mosaic course being offered through my friend, JoAnn Locktov. Her passion for all things Italian is very contagious! Grazie JoAnn and Susan!

  18. February 18, 2010 4:38 pm

    JoAnn was born on the wrong continent in the wrong century. All hail La Contessa!


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