Unique Masks a Staple of Venice Travel

Hamid Seddighi shares his talent with tourists in the ancient art of mask making (Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

Hamid Seddighi shares his talent with tourists in the ancient art of mask making
(Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels)

Research shows travelers no longer want to only “see” a destination, they want, rather to “experience” a place through an authentic activity and get behind the scenes.

“The sun and moon cannot exist without each other. Without night there is no day,” said Hamid Seddighi, an impassioned artist who teaches his customers to be creators at Ca Del Sol, his ancient mask shop along a canal behind St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Seddighi is a “mascarer” – an artist who, by special appointment via ICbellago.com, allows select visitors to try their hand at the craft of making a decorative mask – an accessory popularized by the Carnival, Lent, and even the Bubonic Plague.

After being surrounded by hundreds of stunning styles in his shop – bird faces, gilded grins, Casanova-style, etc – I selected a “sun and moon” mask to color and decorate with baubles and beads.

“You chose one of the most difficult to paint,” warned Louisa Salsa, my ICbellagio guide, who helped with language translation through the experience.

The artist, in his smock, stuck an apron on me walked me across the tiny canal bridge to his little studio – a tourist attraction for many who walk by and peer through the windows and delight in watching the artistry in action. We were surrounded by paper Mache, paint, glue guns, gold leaf, feathers, glitter, pencils, erasers and brushes.

“Do you feel like it’s your first day of school again?” Seddighi asked me. It did! And it was fun! Especially when he put on some classical music and opened a bottle of wine for what would be a three-hour process. He was patient and encouraged me to deliberate over colors, textures and fanciful swirls. He mixed hues and taught me the time-honored techniques.

I used some of the moon’s white hue in the sun’s golden grin; and some golf leaf in the moon’s joyful smile to link the dualistic sun and moon in both appearance and soul.

“Bellissimo,” Seddighi said softly while nodding with approval.

“It’s a fine activity for younger visitors to Venice, as well,” said Salsa, recognizing that teenagers especially might seek ways to fill time in the largely adult-oriented, old world city.

Through the brief periods we spent waiting for hot drying, he handed me books displaying historical photos from the famed Carnival of Venice during which the masks are still widely worn. Seddighi also showed me a copy of a poem he’d written in 1988. “..I’m called the ‘Mask Maker’…One day I make a mask that laughs; one day I make a mask that cries. What a pity they cannot tell me why they laugh or cry. But when I put little pieces of paper for the eyes, they look at me and tell me many things. Maybe they are true and we are masks!”

Though visitors can purchase dazzling masks, creating one of your own is to actually participate in both art and history. And you get to take your finished, glazed design with you. My sun and moon, and the experience behind it, will be prized forever in my heart and home. Visit ICbellagio.com for the Ca Del Sol experience in Venice.

Michael Patrick Shiels may be contacted at InviteYourself@aol.com or via TravelTattler.com His talk show can be heard weekday mornings in Lansing on 92.1 FM.

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