Hugh Grant’s Business Card is Not as Nice as Mine, Printing in Venice

I blame Hugh Grant. He is virtually singlehandedly responsible for costing my friend a fair sum today. As a tour guide, often of middle aged American women, his immense appeal has become all too obvious to me. Many a time has it been pointed out to me, probably the second Brit many of them have ever met, that I ‘sound like him’ (yes that would be ‘English’ I explain) but ‘don’t quite look like him’ (and that would be because not every Englishman looks like a Hollywood movie star). And so the comparison ends in disappointment on both parts. I can deal with it. Just. However, watching the pheromones positively ooze off even his personal business card and prompt my young, beautiful, South American travel companion to delve so deep into her pockets, was even by his mesmerising standards, impressive.

For it was nothing less than this, Hugh Grant’s personal business card, his name perfectly placed beneath a proud winged lion of St Mark, displayed for the catching of eagled eyes, that ended up costing her dearly.

A small window in Calle del Fumo, Venice, Italy, the street of smoke, near the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, easily missed, yet virtually the only face of a virtually forgotten world; the ‘stamparia’ or printers of Gianni Basso and his son Stefano. Forgotten that is to most modern stationary users, but not it appeared to the hundred or so personalities from around the globe, who had evidently chosen to represent themselves or their business with something just a little special. The ‘display’ in the tiny window was olde-worlde, cards appearing haphazardly, presumably as they had been ordered. We entered and stepped back 300 years in time. Unbelievable.

“Wow, incredible”, says Mr Basso, placing the words in my mouth as I wander around, completely lost for them. “That’s what everyone says; wow, incredible!”. Gianni, whose English is exactly as good as he has decided it to be, switches into Italian, “vanno matti per questo”, they go crazy for this. He picks up and shows us a random selection of the hundreds, thousands of business cards he has printed in his thirty five years of running his business. His workshop, no more than one and half rooms, is filled with ancient printing machines, on which he carries on the dying ‘art’ as he describes it. In selecting these cards, he momentarily abandons a special edition of Pinocchio, two copies of which he is printing and then posting to two of Angelina Jolie’s children.

Now I have never had a business card, but as luck would have it literally two nights previously had a dream that I needed one (yes, I know, but show me he who is master of his dreams). I had decided that upon returning to the UK, I’d seek out, presumably the nearest Rymans and get a quote. I knew no different. Then it happened. Mr Grant’s card still firmly in her hands, my friend whispered to me that she’d like to make me the early, very early, birthday present of a set of these cards. I immediately refused, thinking that she’d need to mortgage her backpack just to afford the paper, but agreed to enquire of the price. I have no idea what business cards costs, but for the sheer beauty that is Gianni’s work, the figure he showed me was certainly fair.

And so it was that three days later, literally shaking, I took possession of one of the world’s most beautiful business cards. Two hundred to be precise. “How did you know I’d just this second finished?” said Gianni, as I turned up a day early, actually just to check on progress and photograph the card in the window that had started the whole affair. In between together we’d had the design session. What pure fun! Almost worth the fee alone. From his vast archive, he pulls down boxes and boxes of cards. Suddenly lions, bicycles, lighthouses, dragons, bookworms, teeth, umbrellas, camels spring off the paper and in an almost fantasia-esque atmosphere begin a merry dance where fonts, typeset, colours and paper types, whirl around until you’re spinning. When you leave, in my case after an hour or so, it’s almost in a daze and you think back trying to recall exactly what it was you chose.

Half way through our creative process the wizard is interrupted by a tour guide brining a family from New Orleans. ‘The Venice of America’, they tell Gianni as he explains his craft briefly. I am abandoned to face the world of globes, herons, winged lions by myself. Incredibly after their ten minute ‘tour’ when there is that awkward moment where they probably feel they ought to buy something, they honest to God ask whether Gianni has a design with the Simpsons. I stop, freeze and look at Gianni thinking, now anything could happen. But he remains unbelievably straight faced, politely says he does not. They were maybe, just maybe saved by the fact Gianni, who has no Internet and only an old-fashioned dial phone, might, just might not know who the Simpsons are. They leave, buying a € 20 print of St Marks square on their way out.

Gianni, who calls himself a descendant of Gutenberg, started printing at the age of 15 on the San Lazzaro island. ‘In the 16th Century Venice was the European capital of printing’, he says. The mechanical movable printing methods he uses are thought to have been invented around 1439 by Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. However shortly after with the establishment of the Aldine Press to which we owe italics, in Venice, the focus shifted to the Serene Republic and the Northern Italian lagoon. ‘What the world is today it owes to Gutenberg’, said Mark Twain. More than a century later, Gianni and his workshop are the epitome of the ordinary which has become extraordinary. To me Gianni and perhaps even more so, his son, Stefano – a graduated marine biologist, who has decided to follow in his fathers footsteps, are the true heroes of history.

Stephen Bailey recently wrote; ‘Few things are more exciting than to hear a woman breathlessly say; you have lovely handwriting’. He was waxing lyrical about the much neglected romantic ‘tool’, the fountain pen and its potential as a weapon in the armoury of romantics in an age where ‘any fool can reach several million people in a few clicks’. It is true that Hugh Grant’s name only, not his handwriting appears on his business card. However, together with the love, passion and dedication of Gianni, as my young, beautiful friend, paid for my 200 cards, their cumulative power is all too obvious. As for me, A Leo, born in the year of the dragon, with a romantic notion of having been a Venetian in a former life, I might still only sound like Hugh Grant, but at least now my business card is as good as his too, perhaps even a little nicer – my winged lion, the symbol of Venice is certainly bigger than his.

~ by 2ndcupoftea on June 10, 2012.

5 Responses to “Hugh Grant’s Business Card is Not as Nice as Mine, Printing in Venice”

  1. Wow Thomas, now I understand why you didn’t want to hand any of them out to all 93 of us yesterday! Cool story. I can literally hear you speaking every word of your story. Thanks for all the great history you shared with all of us and have fun taking some time off! Hope to see you in the States some time.

    Gwyn Green – Brownsburg H.S. Touring Choir Mom…..

  2. So you felt the power of Gianni’s charm! He is an amazing force of natural charm, no? You captured his personality in a charming way. Everything he has done for me has been superb and as you say, the journey of choice is truly memorable. Look forward to exploring your site. Best, Geoffrey

    • Hi Geoffrey. Thanks for reading and also for commenting. Yes, indeed he is an amazing man, as too his son who has decided to carry on the family business. So glad you enjoyed the experience and hope you find a few other gems on my site. I try to look for people as Gianni – people who truly deserve, if not need, the exposure. Best regards. Thomas

  3. I think I may have to visit this ‘Artisan’ when I am fortunate to revisit this captivating city, bella Venezia!

    • Hi Doug… Oh you absolutely should. It is such a great spot. I am going there this weekend as luck would have it. Enjoy and if you do go, let me know what you think 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.

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