If you plan to exchange midnight kiss in Venice with fireworks to crown the moment, you should want to know more about pyrotechnicians, or pyros as they are called. A moment like that may lead to an even more special one. And wouldn’t you like the same firecrackers to fire up the sky above you when you tie the knot? I assure you, these folks know how to add a “Venice moment” to any occasion requiring romance.
Now that you have reason to learn something new, let me take you on a journey to meet the man behind Italy’s most innovative fireworks shows; a man who takes what life throws at him and makes the best of the situation, happy to be out of the limelight; a man deeply thoughtful and kind that if you knew him, you’d be proud you did; a man of a gentle temperament, who desires the best for his family and friends; and above all, a man who truly loves what he does: fireworks!
But before I take you to this man, let’s make a brief detour to his beloved hometown, Rovigo.
Just like our mystery firecracker, Rovigo is unpretentious, yet proud and mysterious. It lays nestled in the heart of the Polesine of Rovigo (nowadays the Province of Rovigo) in Veneto. Rovigo is more than just the capital city of its eponymous province. It is the capital of one of the unsung gems of the Italian north; one of Italy’s best kept secrets.
The Polesine is a unique landscape to be discovered; a territory sandwiched between Italy’s longest rivers, the Po and the Adige, jutting out into the sea, with wild spaces and a secret beauty. It encases you in your own world, shrouds you in a mist that creates mystery around you almost like a dream.
The Polesine is a land of intrigue and it would add magic to your holiday…
So, if you’ve decided to stop in Rovigo on your way to Venice, you might as well want to check out La Piccola Bottiglieria Wine & Food Gourmet in a town called Concadirame. And do you want to know more about this restaurant?
It’s a surprise. You’ll see when you get there. And don’t forget to sample their dessert (It’s a surprise too). Contact ILC for all bookings!
Now back to our fireworks choreographers, or “firecrackers” as I call them 🙂
A tag name I thought of initially was “Skylighters,” but then seeing how outstanding, exciting and attractive the man and his team are, I decided “firecrackers” is the perfect name for them.
Wait, is that eagerness to meet him I am sensing?
I know you can’t wait to meet him. I couldn’t either when I first heard his story, and when I met him, it was an encounter of a different sort. Like music, it started with a quiet sob and like fireworks it burst into bright sparks of excitement. And to experience the same things I did, you will have to meet him in person, though I will do my best to transmit as much emotion to you as he did to me.
But first, we need a brief historical overview of fireworks.
Did you know that it was the Italians who invented those aerial shells that launch upward and explode into a fountain of colours?
It is believed that Marco Polo, the Italian who brought East to the West, brought fireworks to Europe. Yes, the Chinese did invent them, but it was the Italians who gave them colour. They also developed the bright, multihued sparks and sunbursts that add the thrill and spectacle to fireworks.
Now, who is this man behind the scenes of Italy’s fireworks shows?
I met Ermes Martarello, fireworks specialist and CEO of Martarello Group, in Rovigo last Spring. Over a cup of coffee, he told me stories of how he and his family started what has now become Italy’s most renowned fireworks company.
“When you care about something,” he said, “you share it.”
For Ermes, becoming a pyro was simply the natural progression of things. His family had been in professional fireworks production since 1921, long before he was born. And for over 90 years, they have built and maintained a huge client base, serving private consumers, retailers and fellow professional pyrotechnicians in Italy and abroad. Today, with an additional production site in China, the company is able to meet increasing demand.
Listening to him, I developed a sort of admiration for him. And I guess the respect was reciprocal because he invited me to his family home for a personal pyrotechnic experience when next I visited Italy. And as part of the trip, a special treat will be Venice, courtesy of ILC.
Ermes himself, like everyone in his family, is a pyrothenician. Born in the 60s, he grew up playing with fireworks. When I asked him if he still enjoyed what he did after all these years, he simply smiled and said, yes, if I can only find time to be a pyro again.
However, with more than thirty shows coming up between Christmas and Epiphany, including the Venice 2016/2017 fireworks display, he still finds time for his children.
“Federica, Michele and Martina are great kids,” he tells me. “I hope they continue to follow my footsteps and those of the Martarellos before me. ”
Pyrotechnics, for Ermes, is more than just flashes of light and a set of colours. Fireworks are a reflection of his soul; they tell the stories of his origins, his past, his present and his future.
He was only 6 when his father died and it was his mother, known in her days as “Maria of the fires,” who taught him all he knew about fireworks; herself a pyro until she retired in her late fifties. Although Ermes is the youngest of the Martarello boys— Alfredo, Giovanni and Vincenzo — he took over the business at 39, when Alfredo, the then CEO, left for China.
Yes, I know you are wondering the same thing: Why Alfredo left the leadership to Ermes the youngest. Apparently, neither Giovanni or Vincenzo wanted the job. Vincenzo, a free-spirited Pyrotechnician, wanted action; to be out there in the field. Giovanni, with a different vision, moved on.
Oh and there is a Martarello sister, Annalisa, younger than Ermes. She too worked as pyrotecnician for some time before she got married and left the family business.
“Maria of the fires”
For the locals, this woman had the power of fire in the palm of her hand and a burning passion in her heart. She blazed with assertiveness, awing the minds of those around her with the concept of ardent beauty and vitality.
At 35 or so, Maria Martarello was left with five children to feed. Her husband, Coriolano Martarello, had died and left her with two options: to let the fireworks business his father, papa Giovanni Martarello, had built from nothing die, or roll up her sleeves and take over from where he left off.
And I think you know what she did, otherwise I wouldn’t have this cool story to tell.
Locals recall when Maria would arrive in the village square with her car full of fireworks, five young children doing their best to help. That is how the Martarello Group survived.
What makes a good show?
So, I learned that choreographing shows is a whole different story. Pyros can choreograph a show with 100 percent of each shot choreographed to any genre of music the client chooses; semi-choreograph a portion; or shots can be fired over background music.
What Ermes finds good about his job is the constant challenge; the need to create something different and unique that people haven’t seen before and to decorate the time between each shot with music so forceful and threatening; music that teeters on the edge of eruption.
Alone in the dead of the night sometimes, he would put on his head phones and listen. Ermes believes that the right music to accompany a grand firework begins with a brave tempo, promising a climactic final movement. It builds energy that crackles with ornamentation, like Handel, Haydn or Stravinsky. He relies on the theme between the highs and lows of music to create suspense. Then the audience wouldn’t know when the Finale hits them with an explosion punctuated with bright colours.
And that is when Ermes Martarello finally releases the air in his lungs. Another successful night has come and gone.
Now that you know the mind behind Italy’s fireworks extravaganza, if you happen to be in the country for the holidays, do not miss Martarello’s grand display in Venice on New Year’s Eve. That night alone, there’s going to be several fireworks displays by Martarello Group over Lake Garda, Sanremo and some other charming city, town or village.