If you want a sharp souvenir from Italy, go to Maniago.
Metalworking has been an important industry in Maniago for much of the town’s history, and the small collection of artisan blacksmiths and knife makers busy at work since the 1400s blossomed into a cooperative of factories in the early 20th century.
Today, Maniago’s main piazza is studded with shops that carry everything from kitchen cutlery to swords. One of the former factory buildings houses the Maniago Knife Museum (Museo dell’Arte Fabbrile e delle Coltellerie).
I took that picture of the museum while I sat outside, trying to recover from an unexplained queasy stomach that attacked me that morning. I sat on a bench in the Italian sunshine, while M and H explored the museum. I watched people briskly criss-cross the little square by the museum’s entrance: families with strings of skipping children; women pulling small carts filled with grocery bags; businesswomen clacking on the stones in impossibly high heels. I thought about Jany Kenyon’s poem, The Sick Wife, and I thought about my mother in her last days of illness, watching the world pass by. I began to worry a bit about being sick in a foreign land, but before I could get myself too worked up, my stomach started to quiet. I sat and watched, took a picture, rested my eyes, and slowly began to feel better.
In a little while, M and H came to collect me, and we all went in together to see the knives, the scissors, the axes, the corkscrews.
I got to watch M and H throw sharp things at each other (within the safe confines of a plexiglass box).
And I got to see H get cut in half by a large knife.
And we toured an immensely large exhibit of corkscrews. According to the museum, an astonishing percent of the world’s corkscrews are made today in Maniago. I don’t know if I believe the number we were told (somewhere in the realm of 80%), but I’m still willing to bet that it’s a very large number.
After you’ve seen a pig tail corkscrew, what’s left to do other than get in the car and drive to Venice?
I write, “drive to Venice,” but, as you know, there are no cars in Venice. You drive to the airport, drop the car, and then you take the water bus, Alilaguna, to Venice.
Had I been sick earlier in the day? I could hardly recall. Suddenly we were in Venice, the floating jewel of Italy, leaning against the railing of the Accademia bridge. The sky was blue, the canal rushing with traffic, and everything felt exactly right.