It began in July 1956, when Eloi Monod had the idea of copying in glass the traditional shapes and objects that local potters had been making since Roman times. With that in mind, he founded the Verrerie de Biot with two other employees. Drawing inspiration from Venetian glassware as well as the local potters, they worked on creating the look that has become Biot's trademark, "verre bulle", with bubbles of gas imprisoned between two layers of coloured glass.
During the French school holidays, the Verrerie de Biot runs one-week evening classes in the art of glass-making, open to anyone over the age of 16 who wants to return from holiday with something longer-lasting than a suntan. It's a practical course, with the emphasis on showing rather than telling participants what to do, so even rudimentary French is enough for anyone who wants to take part.
Students work in small groups, two or three people to every master glass- blower, learning the fundamentals: taking the molten glass - a mixture of mainly sand, potash and soda at 1100 degrees centigrade - and carefully working the honey-like mixture at the end of a long hollow tube into the basic form, then shaping it and adding the finishing details.
The trademark bubbles are produced by dipping one piece of molten glass, cooled slightly in water, into bicarbonate of soda, and then wrapping a second layer of glass round that. The heat vapourises the bicarbonate, leaving bubbles trapped between the two layers. The colour is produced by adding metal oxides to the molten glass; cobalt oxide, for instance, makes a clear blue. It is, of course, a great deal more difficult than it sounds. To become a master glass-blower involves a long training. The apprentices at Biot start around the age of 16, and follow a practical and thorough course that takes them up through seven grades. The whole process takes about 8 to 10 years.
The summer students have considerably less time than this for their training. Nevertheless, at the end of the week, participants take home a diploma, a T-shirt and, most importantly, a simple hand-blown goblet that they have made themselves (possibly with a bit of help from the teacher, but other people don't need to know that).
This goblet could well help to cure one perennial summer problem: the rose that tasted delicious in the south of France but comes over all ordinary back home. Poured into an amethyst or rose-quartz-tinted beaker that you made yourself in Biot, the wine will look so spectacularly sunny that your tastebuds will be tricked into liking it again. And it works just as well on supermarket plonk.
The course costs l,500f and runs every week during the French school holidays. For more information, write to La Verrerie de Biot, Chemin des Combes, 06410 Biot, France; call 00 33 93650300 or fax on 00 33 93650056. Several people there speak English. Because the class sizes are so small, it is essential to book in advance.
Catalogues and order forms are available from the same address.