One of Venice's big export article are masks, glass and lace. Venice is full of mask shops and glass shops. The masks are traditionally worn during the carnival, but I won't attempt telling their history as others have written more detailed about them, like here.
Like many tourist places Venice is also full of (expensive) rubbish things to buy. It was obvious that it was hard to judge what was a real piece of craft and what was not so desirable mass produced items, particularly when it comes to the glass beads.
One of the first evenings we were walking about in the warm Venetian air after dinner we entered by chance the mask shop around the corner from our flat. We soon realised that this was a special shop and that all the items were handmade paper-mache masks. While we were admiring the beautiful masks and costumes, I overheard the shop owner talking to somebody and realised he must be Iranian. The Professor then got chatting to him and he told us he had been making masks in Venice for 25 years!
As we showed interest for the history of the masks he invited us to join a group of American tourists he was giving a talk to the next morning in his workshop next door. Never ones for passing up such a chance, we were there bright and early the next morning.
It was fascinating learning about the various characters and the long process each mask went through.
It is a real craft. This is the book and characters he takes much of his inspiration from when creating his masks.
We left quietly after the talk as the owner got busy with customers, but we went back a week later to say goodbye at the end of our stay.
Yes, we did buy a mask, but I won't show it yet, as I have a plan with it before it goes with the Professor to be put on display in our flat in Edinburgh.
In addition to giving us a good price, we all got extra gifts like t-shirts and bags.
And I like to think we made a friend!