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Buying a Venitian Mask

By Tuesday, February 17, 2015 , ,

I don't usually buy souvenirs, but I was enchanted by the masks peering out at me from shop windows, gilded and sparkling, mysterious and glamorous.


My mother's birthday was in a couple of weeks, and I thought a mask would make a lovely gift. Come to think of it, I bet my mother-in-law would like one, too, so I was in the market for two big masks and maybe a few smaller ones for my sisters and I.

With mask staring at me from every street corner, I had a huge selection to choose from. The prices ran from 20euro all the way up to 200! Way out of my price range.

But as someone who's never particularly cared about brands or the social status extensive possessions bring, I wasn't very concerned with the little tag some masks came with assuring the purchaser that it was a quality item. After all, how much you value something should be based more on how much you enjoy it than its raw materials and where it was assembled.

So at first I went into it thinking it wasn't so important to me that it be papier mache or made on site compared to the colors, patterns and style.

But as I searched for some masks for gifts, I started to change my mind.

Although many look stunning from far away, and together they are over overwhelmingly beautiful, I started to notice that when holding a single one I could see hot glue blobs peaking out from the fabric, and spots missing in the paint. Hurried brush strokes and frayed edges. Gaudy colors and flaking glitter.

I passed.

Not far from San Marcos square and hidden amongst tourists shop, I found Crystal Star, (Calle dei Fabbri 1017). I over heard the price of some laser cut modern metal masks, and found it a bit steep, but the traditional, jester masks I was looking at were 28, with a slightly smaller one for 18. They were papier mache, gilded in gold foil and made in the store's workshop. The colors were rich and there was no sign of how it was put together, no hot glue, no stitches, nothing.

I chose two of the bigger ones.
The music above the eye is from the Venice born Vivaldi. I was surprised at how flexible that were. The jesters hat has wire in it like some wide ribbon does today, so not only can you arrange the hat how you want, but you can find them over when you wrap it up to ship.

I also picked up three smaller, more modern masks for 10-15 euro each. These looked more like black lace decoration around the eyes, and do nothing to hide your identity. But they are beautiful and glamorous, and that's all they need to be.

Now I needed some way to send my purchases back to the states. I found there was a DHL near the Arsenal, but I couldn't seem to find a cardboard box anywhere. I asked at my hotel and they said that the post office would be my best bet, so that's where I went.

It cost 3 euro for a cardboard box, 15 to send it to the east coast. Since I was sending one to my sister (so she could wrap it for my mom!) and one to my MIL, it ended up getting a little pricier than I had originally planned. At this point I was in Venice for one day longer than we had originalyl planned, and I was running low on cash, so I tried to pay by credit card. The post office wouldn't accept it. I suspect the woman who helped me thought I'd be using a micro-chip-less American card, and didn't wait to see that I had a German one. Or maybe it's just some Poste Italiane policy? Either way, be warned. I had to finish paying in change!

I mailed it on a Monday, and it arrived on the east coast US the next Monday, 6 days before my mom's birthday. Perfect.

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6 comments

  1. I remember passing by all these shops with the Venetian masks but would be too scared to go in because I thought they would be MAD expensive! The one you decided on is GORGEOUS and is one hell of a birthday present :)

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I chickened out of going into a lot of the shops, some had those crazy elaborate dresses to rent or buy, which I would have loved to have seen up closer, but I'm always a little nervous they can tell I'm not there to actually buy anything and throw my cheap ass out!

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  2. I have a few lovely carnival masks from New Orleans - it's fascinating to see the differences in quality between the 'glue gun' ones some shops sell, and the hand-designed beauties.

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  3. I picked up a few of these for my nieces when I was there, they loved them, so I know how happy your Mom must have been. Thanks for joining us for #SundayTraveler

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  4. That mask is beautiful! I probably wouldn't be able to pass one up either. They make a great gift. Your relatives are super lucky :)

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  5. Beautiful mask! I won a Venetian mask in a giveaway from an author who had set her book in the city. Mine isn't nearly as ornate, but I can see how people might get addicted to collecting them.

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