At the crossroads of civilisation
October 18, 2019
‘This is a printing office.’
The Fondamenta Nuove is the transport interchange facing San Michele, the cemetery island of Venice. As you leave the vaporetto, there’s a florist on the corner of Calle dei Buranelli, leading to Calle del Fumo, the street of smoke.
Walking down the street, you might not notice an unassuming shop window with a display of business cards and other printed materials. If you pause for a moment to look more closely, you will recognise some familiar names, with their contact information discreetly omitted:
Hugh Grant, Ben Affleck, Emma Watson.
Step inside the door, and enter the world of Gianni Basso, Stampatore.
If you engage Gianni Basso in conversation it becomes apparent that he understands more English than you might think. When he shows you examples of his work, he casually makes sure they are either for A-list film stars, or residents of prestigious addresses around the world.
He loves to drop names; he showed us a series of prints from an old edition of ‘Pinocchio’, “I make for Angelina Jolie to give her children”.
I imagine the Venice Film Festival is a busy time.
He frequently drops the name Gutenberg, inventor of the hot metal printing press in the 15th century. There are several presses in use in the shop, and next door is Gianni’s museum, which he will show you if you’re interested, and he has time.
He’ll show you an ‘Ex Libris’ label with a cat motif that he printed for the writer Joseph Brodsky, saying wistfully that, like many of his former clients, ‘he is on the cemetery island’.
There are chests of drawers containing metal type, and a wide selection of images to choose from.
It’s a fascinating shop, and the work is exquisite.
We were there on a Friday morning to re-order some business cards. Usually a print run will take several days to turn round, and they don’t open at weekends. Gianni asked ‘when are you leaving?’ Our flight was due to leave on the following Monday, and he offered to have the cards ready by midday on that day, to save posting them.
As I checked the flight time on my mobile phone, he murmured ‘I don’t have one of those’. He doesn’t have a computer either, and the phone in the shop is a 1950s Bakelite model.
His son, Stefano, joined the business eight years ago. He takes care of email, but they don’t have a website. Gianni has had the shop for thirty-six years, after learning his trade for fifteen years from the monks of the Armenian monastery on the island of San Lazzaro.
Gianni Basso Imprimatore, Calle del Fumo, Cannaregio 5306, Venezia