My latest obsession has been hourglasses. Not just any hourglasses, but the beautiful Murano Glass ones. The trigger was a similar one my sister gave her husband at Christmas last year. Seeing it I remembered visits to her godparents’ house in New Haven. A childless couple, they’d lived abroad for many years and settled in New Haven because of Aunt Polly’s avocation as book binder and her affiliation with Yale University. Elegant and chic she smoked Cuban cigars smuggled in for her by my father in a Crest toothpaste box. (It fit four perfectly.) Their house oozed style, from the Calder stabile on the coffee table to the 18th century panoramic wallpaper of St. Petersburg (Uncle Valla was a White Russian) in the dining room, where swaths of blue and green tulle formed the glass curtains, to the larger than life mirrors in the bedroom cut into his and hers Picasso-like nudes.
One thing that enchanted me particularly was the purple and green hourglass that sat on a bookshelf in the library. About 10" tall, it was heavy and the glass had a lovely watery quality. I delighted in turning it to watch the sand slide slowly through the hole, captivated not only by the lusciousness of the glass but also by the realization that right before my eyes time had become tangible.
I hadn’t thought of that hourglass in years, not until my sister’s gift, which made me remember and then covet it. In March I was in New York and dropped into Chelsea Passage at Barneys. I was half hoping to find some token for my hosts when I spotted an hourglass that made my heart skip a beat. Slightly smaller than Aunt Polly’s it was stunning: one half was a vivid emerald while the other a brilliant orange. I picked it up thinking it would be around $100 and nearly fainted when I saw the price was $750! I replaced it gently on the shelf and left.
When I got home I researched Murano hourglasses and discovered they are highly sought after, with the vintage ones going for several thousand dollars. Of course when you think of the craftsmanship that goes into them: creating a sealed glass object with two distinct colors filled with sand, it’s not surprising they are so dear. I have a vague memory of going to Murano when I was 10 and watching a glassblower with his long tube transform molten glass from a fiery orange blob to delicate translucence, but I can’t imagine how they make the hourglasses.
I hadn’t got around to asking my sister where she’d gotten hers and it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I happened to be in Marshalls and found a trove of Murano knock offs! I snapped up a purple and green one, which looks remarkably like the one of my youth. I still think about the beautiful one I saw at Barneys but for now I am happy with my Murano trainer that cost a fraction of the price. Just like at Aunt Polly’s it sits on a bookshelf. Every now and then I turn it over to watch time slip away.