What I Don’t Like About Italy

Italy is a beautiful country and Italians are great. I am extremely proud to be Italian and absolutely love to go to Italy on vacation. I left Italy because living there is too frustrating for me but a piece of my heart is still there. But there are a couple of things that are particularly noticeable in Italy and that really bother me.

The first thing that I don’t like about Italy is that there is cigarette smoke everywhere at every hour of the day.  This is because Italy finally banned indoor smoking in public places. But, of course, they didn’t ban smoking outdoors. I first noticed the impact of this at a trade show in Milan when I stepped outside and entered a cloud of smoke. My first thought was that this was temporary and it will pass. Unfortunately it didn’t pass. As I started travelling with my family I often felt like sitting at a cafe` in a busy pedestrian area to enjoy a Cappuccino. Well, if you do not like the smell of second hand smoke you cannot do that in Italy. By the end of this last trip we took we were having dinner indoors as far away from the doors as possible. And that is pretty pathetic.

The other thing is waiting in line. I hate to admit this, but we are like water: at the counter to ask for your cappuccino after you paid, you cannot stand in line or you will NEVER get a turn. Like water, you have to melt into the crown and push your way to the counter, then you have to shout before the barista can pay attention to someone else. But the best place to see this is at the airport. They shouldn’t even try to do priority boarding for little children any more. And the best came as we were about ready to go through the x-ray machine. A couple (granted they did not look Italian) came from behind us, put their bags on the rollers in between our bags and headed for the x-ray machine ahead of us in one very swift motion. I really felt like removing their bags, but I desisted. It would have been fun to watch them wait for their bags at the other end.

I don’t know if everyone acts like this, but certainly it is a significant number of people that forces you to act the same way if you want to get what you want. I might master waiting in line Italian-style, but I will not begin smoking: I am afraid that a nice cup of Cappuccino enjoyed with a beautiful view of the sunset, the smell of the sea, and the sound of waves crashing will have to wait.

Artisanal Gelato

In Italy summers are pretty hot and it stays nice and warm on most evenings. After spending the day evaluating so many products in the new Campomaggi collection, I was ready to chill with a nice gelato. Actually, that night I was in the mood for an even more refreshing granita and decided to try a new ice cream shop with Emi and Chiara. Sidebar: after we arrived in Italy we quickly discovered that Marco would also like to have gelato and he gets really, really upset that he can’t have any yet so we waited until he fell asleep.

We went to Affresco, which turns out to be one of many independently owned gelaterie that draw on the experience of renowned Italian gelato craftspeople and a team of people who design the store layout.

Affresco helps gelato craftspeople perfect and market their product.

Affresco helps gelato craftspeople perfect and market their product. I tried only one location where I noticed a clear difference in the quality of the gelato.

When I finally (the line was long) got my granita (shaved ice) all menta (mint) I was astounded. I was quickly reminded, yet again, of the difference between a mass-produced product and one carefully refined by people who care. I was expecting the usual crushed ice with mint flavored sugary syrup. Maybe they were able to trick me with a syrup that finally tasted like it was made from fresh mint leaves. I have lots of mint in my yard and what I got tasted exactly like it and I am convinced that it was actually made from fresh mint leaves. The ice was also finely crushed and the product was very enjoyable and refreshing: exactly as I had envisioned.

This granita alla menta (mint) tastes like real mint. I have mint in my yard and I know what it should taste like. This was the first time that I found a perfect match.

This granita alla menta (mint) tastes like real mint. I have mint in my yard and I know what it should taste like. This was the first time that I found a perfect match.

This is the experience that I want to provide to my customers. When a product is made by people who care enough to seek and use the best ingredients for their work, and use skills developed over a lifetime aided by generations of refinements, the outcome is usually a notch or two better than the mass produced imitation.

Chiara And Her Italia Artisanal Leather Sandals

When the Maledetti Toscani shoes arrived we received three models of children shoes that we wanted Chiara and Marco to wear. Marco doesn’t walk yet and his foot is smaller than the smallest size we got: he will have to wait until fall. Chiara instead still fits in the largest size Italia leather sandals.

Although Chiara doesn’t spontaneously say “thank you” or “daddy, this is one amazing pair of shoes” she did say that they are “super-comfortable” but, what is more telling, she wore them every day she was allowed to do so (they don’t allow open toe shoes at summer camp).
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The sandals have already taken their share of abuse. In Italy we have to walk a lot (one of the reasons why Italians care so much about shoe quality) so the sole is dirty but still shows no wear and tear. Other than walking the shoes seem to have undergone a rigorous series of tests: jumping, landing from heights in excess of four feet high, skipping, hopping on one or two feet, forwards, backwards, sideways, running, walking on ledges, balancing on narrow platforms, swinging, sliding, climbing, and some other things that I cannot possibly imagine that resulted in some little scratches on the upper part of the sole, the part that comes in contact with the foot.

The upper part of the sandals and the straps are still in surprisingly good shape. They still look beautiful and clean, even though they are mostly white and they went through the above multiple times (almost daily).

I am happy to have given her such joy. She feels like a princess and is happy to wear them. I really hope that she will outgrow them and that they will be able to be handed down.
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Maledetti Toscani Is 100 Percent Made in Italy

At Marcopoloni we are 100 percent committed to offering authentic products.  We started the business with that goal and over the last ten years we have seen countless companies say that they offer Made in Italy, experienced, artisanal quality while, in reality, they were cutting corners every step of the way. Some hide behind the requirement that at least 60 percent of the value of the product needs to be Italian to be allowed to put made in Italy on the label; some use inexperienced immigrant labor; some use cheaper leather; some use industrial processes; and many use a combination of all of the above.

While we respect the ability of such businesses to make money, we feel that cutting corners results in a different product and a different experience for the customer. If you think that Parmesan cheese made in Wisconsin is the same as Parmigiano Reggiano made in Parma or Reggio Emilia, please move on elsewhere because you will not find any cheap imitations here.
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While at dinner, Alessandro Quadri (one of the owners at Maledetti Toscani) and I decided that it is time for us to go beyond just talking about the difference, we need to show the difference. During the next two days I hope to document as much of it as possible.

One Week with My Campomaggi Studded Belt Pouch

My Nicola and I arrived safely in Italy.  I have worn it everyday and quickly realized that I had room to spare. So, on occasion, I carried a small cell phone in the inner pocket along with my Moneta coin compartment wallet, and my still useful Galaxy SII in the outer pocket outside the Note 3.

Traveling with two small children is not very easy as demand for your hands is at its peak. Having a reliable pouch that stores your phone and wallet seems indispensable. It feels that I am constantly reaching for my phone, whether it is to capture a memory or to find my way around.

I even got two unexpected compliments for it by people who knew their pouches. The best comment was: “better than Prada” while the most insightful was to be careful not to scratch the car as you get in and out. I have said it before that the Nicola does not seem to get in the way. I am sure that I will bang it into something eventually but that doesn’t seem to be my problem yet.
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So far the Nicola studded belt pouch is the perfect companion on our exploratory part of our trip. No one has ever tried to pick-pocket from it so far even though Emi caught me with one (and sometimes both) button open. Next, we are going to visit our artisans.

Gotta Have More Vitendino

The vitendino: I might get carried away with it. Most of the time I can live without it, but, when I start thinking that I should hang my bag somewhere when I come home instead of hanging it on my dining chair, I get visions of having multiple Vitendini decorating the entrance walls. If I let myself daydream long enough I will be thinking about the streams of Vitendini in every room including the garage.

The reality is that i don’t even know the capacity of the Vitendino. So I don’t know if it is fit to hold the weight of a bag full with my laptop and a few random essentials: it can be pretty heavy. I will find out on July 14 when we visit Antartidee, or, if I forget to ask, the plan is to find out by trial and error.

Strangely, it is the lack of this knowledge that has kept me from trying it. It’s a catch-22 that has paralyzed me for over a year. Luckily, I recently made a breakthrough: I talked to Emi and she said that it would be great if we had a few of them on our wall by the doorway.
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So at least now I have a license to try it at home and see how well it performs. I can’t wait to get back from Italy and try it so that I can report my findings and finally have a solution to my bag-hanging problem.

I Needed a Belt Loop Pouch For My New Note 3

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I was happy with my Daniele. But since I got the Note 3 I had to get something the right size. The Nicola seems designed for it.

We are going to Italy next week and my two-and-a-half-year-old phone started to conveniently act up. So I had to get a new phone and, since Emi had such a good experience with her Note 3, I decided to go with the same because I wanted to be able to blog while on the road. So now that I have it I thought that blogging about my new belt pouch would be an ideal place to start.

At first I thought that no belt pouches would fit the huge Note 3. But Emi was quick to point out that the Nicola Campomaggi Leather Belt Pouch should fit it. Knowing that I could have had easy access to my note three by using a Campomaggi leather belt pouch is what actually convinced me to make the Note 3 purchase. My combination of Daniele and Samsung S2 had been so successful that I was really not ready to abandon it.

Once the decision to pick the Nicola was finalized I had to choose a color. I chose the Distressed Espresso because I didn’t have bags from Campomaggi in that color yet while I do have nice belts in Espresso. Distressed olive-brown is my favorite color but distressed espresso is a close second or third, and it turned out that we had a lighter espresso in stock that really showed a lot of gradient which, in my opinion, really accentuates the quality of Campomaggi leather. The one that I picked has some red tones in it. It is a beautiful specimen.

I have been wearing it all day today and I have to say that it is really comfortable. So far it never got in my way and the buttons, which I thought would be hard to operate and close, are really secure and they are easy to open and close. Other than that, I need more experience with it to be able to talk about it. So I am going to leave for Italy and try to see if I can blog from there next week.

Dreaming of the BELLI bag by Campomaggi

The espresso-color BELLI bag looks beautiful with a casual or dressier outfit.

The espresso-color BELLI bag looks beautiful with a casual or dressier outfit.

A long time ago, I worked for Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. I sold Kiehl’s skincare products in the cosmetics department. Directly across from cosmetics was the handbag section, where every day  I gazed  upon the elegant and very expensive Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade handbags.

Twice a year we had an extra employee discount day called 30/30. You got your usual 30 percent off, then an additional 30 percent off that. I kept telling myself I would eventually buy a Gucci bag on 30/30. But I never did. For a long time I regretted that.

Here at Marcopoloni.com, employees accrue “MP Bucks.” Eventually we can use those MP bucks to make a purchase.

I’ve got my eye on this gorgeous BELLI bag by Campomaggi. I love the woven pattern, the vintage look, the beautiful stitching on the sides, and most of all the buttery softness of this full-grain Italian leather as it sits on my shoulder.  It just feels right.

I don’t need to regret passing up a Gucci bag so long ago. Campomaggi bags are even better than those designer purses with immediately-recognizable logos and patterns. When you buy a Campomaggi you are buying something made by hand at an artisan’s workshop in Italy, colored with environmentally friendly vegetable-based dyes. Not something that comes off a factory assembly line.  And your bag will look like nobody else’s.

So for now I will wait. And hope this bag is still here in stock when I am ready to cash in my MP Bucks!

I Love My New Italian Leather Sneakers

Was I excited about receiving our first shipment of shoes on Thursday? You bet, especially since I was going to make at least one pair mine. I was also really hoping not to become disappointed as my expectations were getting to be extremely high.

That definitely did not happen this time. Although my TOSTA silver sneakers did not quite look like the shoes I had seen in the pictures provided by Maledetti Toscani, their quality simply blew me away.

TOSTA Italian Leather Sneakers Marcopoloni Man

The TOSTA Italian Leather Silver Sneakers are definitely Marcopoloni Man approved.

The first time I wore them they felt pretty tight and I noticed that the strings would lose some of the silver when I tightened them. They also felt stiff here and there. Luckily, my worry that they wouldn’t break in soon dissipated though. After a few days they loosened up a lot and they only felt stiff against my toes when I bent them as much as possible. I will confirm that this has gone away in a future post, for now let me tell you what my first impression has been.

The shoes go great with the dark blue jeans and with the distressed gray jeans I have. I actually bought the gray ones hoping that they would pair well with the sneakers. I couldn’t be more pleased. Not only do they look great, they also feel great. When I am not wearing them my feet long for the next time I will put them on. There is a love affair going on, one that I expect to last a very long time.

Our Maledetti Toscani Shoes Are Almost Here

TOSTA Distressed Leather Silver Sneakers

I have been waiting for these sneakers for months but tomorrow they should finally be here!

There are very few things that can make me mad: Italian customs is one of them. It is an institution that cannot be explained in terms of logic and that often drives Italian entrepreneurs to leave the country. When a few years ago they intercepted a bag that I was trying to return to Dionigi and wouldn’t let it go unless I paid Italian duties three months later, I felt that I was dealing with what is to be expected. I was mad, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t surprised.

This time they sequestered our shipment of shoes going out of Italy and made sure that it was returned to sender. To this day we do not know the reason. The only thing that was missing with the shipment was the English translation of the commercial invoice for US Customs, which was promptly provided and which had been accepted by US Customs who cleared the shipment. Yet, somehow, the shipment could not leave and had to be returned to sender. No explanation was provided and no effort was made to help us solve the problem.

Our decision to expand our offering to shoes was influenced by how quickly we fell in love with Maledetti Toscani shoes. We are extremely excited about receiving them and the delay has been so painful, especially for me: I have picked out a pair of sneakers that I can see on my feet every day as I go to work. Now the second shipment also sat in Italian customs for four days and I had to have Maledetti Toscani contact Fedex and customs to get it moving (again, apparently everything was in order). Finally, tonight, the tracking log shows that the shipment has reached Memphis! What a relief!!! Tomorrow might be the day… I might get to walk home on a new pair of shoes!

I really hope that these shoes are worth the effort. What if I am disappointed? I cannot even consider that possibility right now. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in Memphis.