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The minute handwork of making masks was what appealed to Anthony. If someone had told him five years ago that he would do it for a living, that he would sell off pretty much everything he owned and apprentice at the premiere Maschere in Venice, he would have called the loony squad to come and pick them up; but that was exactly what he'd done.
The life of an artist had always called to him, and he took art classes in high school, excelled in them, but in college he chose to follow his mother's advice and get a business degree, something he could really use, she said, something that would support him. He let his creative side out by taking long vacations to exotic locales, and taking picture after picture. From Mexico to the Bahamas to Europe, he spent his hard-earned money on lavish hotel packages and wandered side streets snapping photos of strangers and staircases and doorways.
The trip to Venice during Carnevale was what did him in. The city was cold, and the wind off the water bit right into him, but the spectacle that was the renewed Carnevale fascinated him. The masks and the costumes and the lavish parties were a visual feast that he simply could not resist. And when Anthony wandered into the Laboratorio Artigiano Maschere, near San Giovanni e Paolo, he was utterly lost.
Niccolo, one of the master maskmakers there, had sat and let Anthony throw questions at him in broken Italian for hours, laughing at his terrible accent and encouraging his interest. The man was a third generation puppeteer and had started in the mask business in 1979, when the Carnevale was revived after several hundred years of obscurity.
The history of it fascinated him, the citycaptivated him, and when Niccolo offered to let him come back to the studio the next day and mold his own mask, Anthony readily agreed. He found something in the plaster and papier-mache and the paint and spangles, something that truly called to him, and Niccolo seemed to agree. Before he ever left Venice he had an offer to come back and apprentice with the man. All he had to do was arrange the visa.
And quit his job. And tell his mother.
Six weeks later he was back in Venice, living just off the Strada Nuova, within spitting distance of the Ca D'Oro, on one floor in a converted palazzo that he paid 250,000 euro for, which was ridiculously cheap as condos went. Hell, he couldn't get one for that price in New York, that was for damned sure. There was a piece or two of seventeenth-century fresco on his walls, and a ceiling made of heavy beams painted gold, with disturbingly squid-like chandeliers of Murano glass, and he couldn't be happier. A little old lady named Annamaria lived one floor up from him, and if he hauled her garbage out on Thursdays, she did his laundry on Saturdays.
He was ... amazingly content. The process of making masks was immensely satisfying to him. The clay mold came first, and that was where he got to really branch out, well, after the first few months of making the traditional forms and proving he could master them. The Bauta, or white half mask and black veil that came with a tricorn hat, the Medico della Peste, with its plague-resistant nose and funny spectacles, the gatto, or cat, which was a cat-shaped half-mask, and so on had to be completed to Niccolo's satisfaction before he could design his own. Once he had--and Niccolo said he was a quick study--he was able to work on his own masks, fantasy masks as they called the non-traditional artist's fancies.
His mother called weekly. Some days she pleaded with him to come home. Other days she sounded almost happy for him. He assured her he was eating, and that he had plenty of money left, and that yes he was wearing his scarf. She, in turn, told him about his Uncle Emilio's gout, and how her Greek neighbor got arrested for slaughtering lambs in the back yard, and occasionally how proud she was of him, even though she hated him for leaving her.
Within a few months, Anthony was used to being called Antonio, his Italian was getting much better, and his mask making skills were such that Niccolo wanted to set him up with a shop of his own. And for the first time since he set aside his artistic dreams and went to college, Anthony Tandino was well and truly happy.
Posted March 14, 2013
Posted March 17, 2014
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