In the company of giants…
The distant sound of church bells provides a soothing soundtrack with my morning cappuccino, until the waitress fires up the restaurant muzak, and then it’s typical “anything goes” Italian radio, an eclectic mix of disco-esque Italian and tacky American music, with the occasional off genre heavy metal song thrown in for no apparent reason. I always kind of dig the whole cafe culture while I’m here, but eventually look forward to the return home, away from DJ’s clearly jacked up on espresso and a proper breakfast with eggs and bacon, instead of the meager “Continental” fare.
This morning I’m leaving Sheri behind to fend for herself on the mean streets of Verona, with a “Fistful of Euros” and ready for battle. It’s easy to get caught up in that notion of fa bella figura, the Italian belief that you must always be at your finest while out in public. You see it everywhere. Elegant Veronese dressed to the nines. Even the kids here are stylish fashionistas. It confirms just how ridiculous those American “Gangsta wannabes” look with their pants sagging halfway down their ass.
But I digress…
Today is the start of the Marmomacc Veronafiere stone show. Better known to we Americani simply as “The Verona show.”
This year is very special. For the first time, the Stone Fabricators Alliance has gone truly international by exhibiting at the event.
I am honored, and frankly quite surprised, to find that I’ve been selected to join three others in representing the organization and working the booth.
The other three are serious players in our trade. Among us is the ring leader Ron Hannah, of Cadenza Granite & Marble of Charlotte NC, certainly one of, if not the most influential person in the American stone industry, and a past recipient of StoneWorld magazine’s national “Fabricator of the Year” award, representing the East coast.
There is Matt Lansing from Stone Innovations of Plover WI, also a previous “Fabricator of the Year” recipient, with a hopeless Cuban cigar addiction, representing the Midwest.
Fellow paisan Dan Riccolo, Morris Granite Co. of Chicago IL, looking like a mafia hit man from the Godfather, (“leave the gun, take the cannoli”), Dan is the rare combination of brains and brawn, with a multi generational tradition of stone work in his family.
And then there’s me, representing the West coast, brought in strictly for comic relief and to be their “coffee boy” I suppose.
Oh, and did I mention that Ron is also a recipient of Italy’s highest honor, “Il Mastro della Pietra” award? He’ll get his coffee first.
I was told weeks before the show to send a picture of myself with one of my sculptures, to be a part of a collage of members from across the country. Or so I thought.
As I entered the booth for the first time, I was greeted with a larger than scale, hi-definition portrait of me with my Mantis sculpture, as a main focal point of the exhibit. After the initial shock, embarrassment took over, as I’ve never really felt comfortable accepting any type of compliment, and this was a doozie. But then the short jokes commenced as usual, and a couple of attendees from China insisted on having their picture taken with “the famous sculptor.” Imagine their disappointment when they arrived home and googled my name.
After basking in my fifteen minutes of fame, I took my turn away from the booth to check out the show. I ran into Emanuele Rubini, a legendary marble sculptor from Italy who I have been following for some time now. It’s his work that inspires the type of sculptures I’ve been producing, and talking with him was truly an honor.
The show, which is really too big in my opinion, has everything there possibly is in the stone industry. Every type of stone, tools and machinery you can imagine. There are elaborate booths, with bars and small restaurants inside of them, attended by Italian super model waitresses. Seriously.
Various oddities are everywhere. Marble beds, onyx sofas, cutting edge artwork and suspended marble wine racks to name a few. Even a set of Carrara marble “potato chips”.
Later that evening, we were invited to attend a industry party for Tenax, an Italian company that makes sealers and abrasives for stone. In true Italian style, the first class event was held in an old Verona museum with live, world class opera singers performing within and engaging the guests.
You had to be there to understand the spectacle of it all, but I assure you, it was AWESOME!