The picture in my head had sprung full-blown into being, sitting there in that room full of tackiness and beauty. I remember it forming in abstracts, settling slowly down towards specifics, finally becoming a comforting panorama of absolutes...

Italy; Venice. Both had contributed to the picture in my head. I sat there in the fornaci, at the table with the salesman and my friend. Two pieces sat majestically before us; two pieces of simple glass, worth (in raw materials) little more than sand. To us, however, they were worth far more; I was about to exchange markers with the factory for more than $1,700 US for these two baubles. Why?

I teased the reasons out of the salesman, with no real effort required. Or, at least, the rationalizations I would use; I don't know if you can call them reasons. You see, he had told us, it takes perhaps fifteen to eighteen years to become a maestro here on Murano. Only a maestro can make these, yes? Now, the thing is, it takes him perhaps a day and a half to make each one, because of the - how you say - the layers, yes. The layers. In order to have the layers settle correctly, they must be cooled carefully between times. That is why it takes a day and a half to complete one of these. But that is not all, you see. Only one in four or one in five of these survives the process and the cooling without becoming flawed. So you are holding a week's output of one of the masters of Venetian glass. Of course, he can do other work while cooling these, but these will take at least half of his time. So, maybe, four days or five days of work.

Five days of time, of a man whose training had taken eighteen years. I knew this, because I had asked him.

Held in my hand, they were solid, heavy blobs of crystalline (but not crystal) elegance. The picture in my head froze, then, and I knew I had to have them.

I paid them, and signed all the papers. We negotiated first, of course. The 'sticker price' had been something around $2750 for the pair; I paid $1700 for both including insured shipping to the U.S. I don't know how well I did, but looking at them, I didn't care.

Several weeks later, and many pieces of paperwork back and forth between myself and U.S. Customs, an enormous box arrived at my home. I eagerly dove into it, digging forth and tossing huge wads of raffino, styrofoam chips, and bubble wrap. A few minutes later, there they were, sitting on my kitchen table - one vase and one decanter, each done in four or five layers of cranberry-colored glass, with the outer layer clear.

I had asked why there were only a few cranberry colored pieces, whereas there were many, many red ones. My guide had explained, back there in Venice, that the red glass was made simply by adding varying amounts of gold to the liquid glass mix. Cranberry, however, required the mixing of red glass and clear glass, and such mixing had to be done with the eyes of years of experience, for naturally the colors were indistinguishable when the glass was glowing molten for the mix. To get four or five layers of decreasing redness, pleasingly graduated, was what separated maestros from craftsmen.

And now the second part! The picture in my head that told me where to place them. I live in a bachelor apartment, one which (due to it being a rental) I haven't put much effort until very recently. I must be grown up now, however; I have useless $1,700 pieces of art in my apartment. But nowhere to put them, of course; nowhere with the proper lighting (warm, incandescent - halogen?) and proper surroundings (wood, or white laminate, but preferably wood) and protection (In a shelf, removed from the floor).

Where to, then? Home Depot, you damn betcha. I didn't find the shelf there, but I found my light: A Westek kit containing three hockey puck-sized and shaped halogen fixtures, 20 watts each. These connected to a power block perhaps an inch square, and that in turn to a wall transformer. Cost: $24.95. Score!

Now for shelving. More difficult, this; I actually visited an antique shop, browsing amongst their offerings, without finding anything that seemed right. Most were too dark; it would be impossible to see the delicate color with their wood as a backdrop. The few lighter hardwood shelves I saw were enormous, and impossibly expensive.

When in doubt, hit the student stores. I visited Economy Hardware, the local Cambridge True Value retailer which doubled as the MIT student dorm room outfitter. Unfinished furniture abounded; after debating briefly over a stylized presentation shelf (tall, narrow cabinet, with peg shelves and beveled top piece) I instead bought a simple set of three pinewood cubes, in one piece, and some Minwax clear satin finish.

At home, I furiously sanded the shelves for perhaps twenty minutes, coughing and sneezing in the dust despite my dust mask. The picture in my head was close, now; I could feel it changing slightly to conform with my expectations of the outcome. After sanding, I used photographic air to blow the dust off the shelf unit. Then the finish; four coats (it recommended two, for impatient collegiate types) of polycrylic clarity. Sanding in between, it took two days in the basement for it to be done, but done it was; a few blemishes here and there that had been in the soft pine before I started, but nothing major.

Upstairs, I carefully drilled two holes in the back, just beneath the top and top shelf. Placing the whole unit upside down on the kitchen table, I mounted the mounting rings for the lights by hand; fed through the wiring, then turned the shelves onto their face and carefully stapled the wiring to the back to prevent it hanging loose. The power connector I took a chance on, putting a drywall screw through it's nail slot despite the screw being slightly too large; I heard plastic crackling, but my gamble paid off and I didn't break the switch itself.

Finally, the shelves were standing in my bedroom against the wall, plugged in. I carefully placed the vase on the top shelf, where it fit perfectly; I had placed the lights close to the back wall so as to maximize the light passing through the glass. The decanter went one shelf below. I flipped the cord switch.

Warm. Cranberry, yellow of the pine, the slightly yellow light shining through. I can't help the smile on my face, the picture in my head complete. I lay on my bed then for perhaps twenty minutes, just looking at my pictured art with a foolish grin on my face.

That was half an hour ago. It's four in the morning.

I don't care. I'm gonna keep looking at these two pieces of frozen heaven until I fall asleep.

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