Leather iPad Bag

The iPad was announced in January 2010. That’s when we got to work on developing a bag that would make a really elegant iPad bag. Today we are pleased to announce that the FRECCIA Leather iPad Bag is in stock and available for sale.

First, we decided to give the iPad a comfortable home and we built the bag around the idea that the iPad would sit in a protected pocket and the pocket would be big enough to fit the iPad even when covered by a tight protective sleeve.

Next we figured that people want to carry more than the iPad with them once they put it in a crossbody bag. So we asked iPad users what they would like to carry with their iPad and what they would like their bags to look like. The responses pointed to carrying a lot of stuff and suggested making the bag look like a vertical messenger bag with a long shoulder strap. So we designed two bags: the one that we chose and a large bag that reminded a lot of people of those airline promotional bags of the early 80’s. I liked that version, but I have to admit that the one that made the cut was a lot more appealing.

So we made a last round of suggestions to Antonio and Vincenzo and placed our first order in July. The bags arrived in October and our job was just beginning. I wrote the product description by trying to put myself in the shoes of an iPad. If you do not like what we came up with, I assure you that it could have been a lot worse. Then it came time to pick a name. We wanted something fast and contemporary while at the same time stylish and classic. FRECCIA, insipired by the Frecciarossa high speed train, means arrow. Arrows are classic, fast objects and the Frecciarossa is modern, fast and comfortable.

A lot of thought went into this bag. And it paid us back by selling the same day it went up on the site. Something that almost never happens around here.

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AT&T U-verse: worth the hassle?

It’s Monday. I have spent the past 3 hours on the phone trying to speak to someone at AT&T that can help me.  A technician had come out a few days ago to upgrade us from DSL to U-verse, but needed access to the phone panel room which was locked, so I was looking to reschedule the installation.

By the way I got bounced around from department to department with an unsympathetic “Let me transfer you”, you’d think I was asking them to give me a copy of my bill from twenty years ago or track down the name of the technician that was driving an AT&T van at the intersection of Hamilton and Winchester at 10:10am on 10/10/10. After 9 transfers ( 2 of which got dropped), and my iPhone dropping the call once, I finally got to reschedule our U-verse installation date for 2 weeks later. But there was still something bugging me. The person who sold me the upgrade over the phone had made me renew our phone service (which we do not use), saying that it is required to switch us over to U-verse. After speaking with the U-verse technician, I no longer believed this to be true … so I had to ask.

I must be a glutton for punishment, because that of course meant another few transfers and 2 call-backs and countless more minutes of lost productivity on the busiest day of the week. Luckily, I finally reached someone who could help me – ironically, she was not a U-verse expert, but had the knowledge and tools necessary to get me the answers I needed. She confirmed that a phone line is not needed with U-verse, and that I would not incur any termination fees for cancelling my phone line. But her competence had uncovered another problem: she noticed that our U-verse was set up as a residential installation instead of commercial. We were always talking about and dealing with a business account, so that was a surprising find. Now I am waiting for yet another call back to discuss this little problem.

So, is all this time and effort involved with upgrading to U-verse worth it? After the DSL installation debacle we experienced last year, where we went nearly a week without internet access due to a simple typo by the customer service rep, you’d think I’d be wiser than to believe the sales rep’s words: “Nah, it’ll be a simple upgrade!” Well, I guess I’ll find out in two weeks, or when I get my first U-verse bill.

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The price of cappuccinos in Italy

A glorious cup of cappuccino

In this day and age where we don’t flinch to pay upwards of $5 for a cappuccino at Starbucks, it’s nice to know that this iconic drink is still quite affordable in its birth country. It was our daily ritual during our stay in Italy – as it is for many Italians – get up, get dressed, get a cappuccino (cappuccio, for short) at a local bar, and off you go to start your day. We tried as many different bars as we could during our stay, returning only to a couple of places where the cappuccinos were irresistible, not simply “great” like the rest.

The prices for this cup of heaven ranged from 1.40 EUR on the high end (about $1.86 at the time), down to as low as 1 EUR ($1.32) … interestingly enough, some of the lowest prices were found where we least expected it: remote trouristy areas with limited competition. I guess they don’t embrace the concept of price gouging – or maybe they can’t, because espresso drinks are considered basic essentials there, like water and bread.

In any case, we were thrilled to be able to get two glorious cappuccinos for less than what we’d pay for a mediocre one here in the States: it left more in our caffè budget to enjoy espressos throughout the day!

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A Conversation with Marco Campomaggi

One of my goals for this trip to Italy was to meet with Marco Campomaggi. I love his bags so much that I wanted to ask him about how he got his inspiration–something I did not get to do when I visited last year.

I’ve been selling Italian leather bags for a few years now and I had tried unisex bags and briefcases. But I had never fallen in love with one until I tried my Colombo. Because of its shape, the Colombo is extremely comfortable to wear, although it is a bit heavy. But the weight comes from its rugged genuine leather.

On the last day of the fair I saw Marco at the booth and asked him about his line. He told me that when the Emergenti Italiani business started running profitably he was finally able to take a moment and start a project that did not absolutely have to succeed financially.

Mr. Campomaggi told me that this freedom removed any boundaries to his creativity and that is how he came up with the current line of bags which is built around the patented dying process he conceived in which the bags are dyed after they are completed. As to the design of his bags, he looked back at his first days in the business: the days when he was still in school and selling his creations from the sidewalks of the seaside towns of the Riviera Romagnola.

To me, this seems to be one of those cases in which a genius is allowed to express itself fully. Marco’s bags are tremendously successful and even a lot of his competitors saw the bag I was wearing, praised his work and one even wished that he had come up with the concept. At the show, I have already found some imitators. But imitations should be easy to spot: Campomaggi bags are not cheap.

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To the Fair, and Beware!

It’s our first day to the fair. Milan’s newer fair complex in Rho is truly gigantic and I haven’t been to a fair that filled it to capacity, yet. It is conveniently connected via metro and train, so we chose to take the metro. We buy enough tickets to last us through both fairs and were given tickets that appeared to be good in the entire city, plus the two extra stops to go from the edge of town to Rho. They cost 1.60 Euros instead of the 1 Euro cost for the regular ticket that lets you ride inside the city limits only.

So what did I find out on the last day of our stay in Milan? That those ATM tickets are only good on the line 1 of the Metro. That’s it! You can’t ride any buses or metro lines 2 and 3 with that ticket. The ticket that lets you have it all is 2.60 Euro and there is a round trip ticket worth 2 rides for 4.00 Euros. Hint: for 2.65 Euro you can catch a train that only takes 15 minutes to Rho Fiera from stazione Centrale.
Gianni 1981
Once Gianni let us in at the fair we had access to all of the different pavillions, but, first things first, we went to catch up with our friends Gianni and Pina, checked out their new products, let them offer us an Illy espresso from the machine in the back of the booth, and exchange our stories of the year. I am particularly fascinated by Gianni’s experiences because he fell in love with leather when he was 20-years-old, created some bags, successfully tried to sell them from the back of his Vespa by touring from town to town around Italy. He never looked back.

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Ten Minutes Late: Not Bad!

We landed in Fiumicino about on time, we got our luggage and started lugging towards the train tracks to catch the link to Roma Termini. On the way we decided to see if any of the foreign exchange companies didn’t charge a monstrous fee, but our fears were confirmed: at a time when the exchange rate is below 1.3 we were not able to find better than 1.69… A 30% fee… Ouch! Note to self: at the end of the trip make sure to bring back at least 100 Euros, maybe 200 for comfort.

After a 30 minute ride we got to Roma Termini. Here are a few things I did not know:

  1. The tracks for the train going to Fiumicino are a good 500 meters (I would say 1 km. but you wouldn’t believe me if I said that) from the head of the station where the ticket counters and restaurants are. I did not even know that Roma Termini was a terminal type station where trains end their ride in one direction and have to leave in the opposite.
  2. There is an underground moving walkway that will take you towards the head of the station. You will also see tunnels to take you to the other tracks. If you are carrying approximately your body weight in luggage and have a 2-year-old with you, don’t do what I decided to do: cut across to get to track 4 where our train to Milan was to leave. That was a bad decision because there are, of course, no escalators to take you back up to the tracks. But, it turns out, there was another unbelievable reason why that was a bad decision: some workers were on strike and the doors from the tunnel to tracks 2-9 where closed shut! I wasn’t sure why but the Roman gods were not smiling at me. We took the exit at the end of the tunnel and for a moment could not figure out what to do. We were still so far from the head of the station that I could not see it. Eventually we got there.

We had some time to kill because we had booked for 3PM just to be sure that we could make it. By the way, I couldn’t book tickets through trenitalia.com from the States: I had to enlist the help of a good friend.

After lunch we boarded. There is no room for big luggage above the seats. Luckily there is a luggage compartment at the beginning of the car, but it is not too big. We had to put ours at the very top and then it was full.

We had booked two seats that were next to each other thanks to the fact that my friend knew how seats are distributed. The numbering system is designed to confuse you. Seats 1, 2, and 3 are on the left side. Seat 1 is window facing forward, 2 is window facing back, 3 is aisle facing forward. Seats 4-7 are on the right side. Seat 4 is aisle facing back, seat 5 is window facing forward, seat 6 is window facing back, and seat 7 is aisle facing forward. Seat 8 is on the left side aisle facing back. So, the seats that are close together are: 1 and 3; 2 and 8; 4 and 6; and 5 and 7.

The ride was very smooth and fast with no stops. It did not feel like the train was moving very fast but I realized we were zoom-zooming when we were smoking the fancy cars in the fast lane in the nearby autostrada. In case you plan to race the Frecciarossa, keep in mind that the speed limit is 130 km/h and there is a system for tracking your speed. If the train’s average speed must be around 170 km/h to cover the distance in 3 hours, we must have been doing close to 200 km/h in this flat, straight stretch. It felt really good, especially knowing that this method of traveling emits far less CO2 than driving or flying.

We got there 10 minutes late. Accepted Trenitalia’s apologies (it takes a 30 minute late arrival to ask for a free ticket) and embraced my dear family and friends. I thanked progress for shortening the trip.

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Getting Ready for our Trip to Italy

We take off on Thursday.

I feel that we have our schedule and packing under control, but what I am worried about is making sure that we make the most out of every minute. This trip represents a rare opportunity to be with my closest relatives whom I rarely see, and a rare opportunity to get to know a great number of artists and artisans who could become important suppliers.

We will arrive in Rome, then take the high speed train, and go to Milan. I can’t believe that the high speed train that promises to connect Milan to Rome in 3 hours is actually operational. That is such an improvement over the way things used to be!

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My best friend: the hardest but funnest person to shop for

My best friend – let me call her I – and I have known each other since the fifth grade – strangely enough, we only saw each other one day a week at Japanese school for one year before she move back to Japan – but somehow we kept in touch and our friendship grew stronger throughout the years. I and I would visit each other as often as we could, send eachother birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, and occasional care packages, we would even do this thing called a koukan-nikki, or Diary-swapping (just as it sounds!). Although about as far apart as two friends could be, and despite weeks going by at times without communicating, we were always closely connected in some quantum-physical, universal-consciousness way. 

The biggest fault that I has is that she is tremendously difficult to shop for. First, she has impeccable taste – an asset in her profession as a buyer for one the the premium haute couture brands, I’m sure, but it does inconveniently raise the bar when it comes to choosing a gift for her.  Second, her job takes her to Italy at least 4 times a year, which means the automatic coolness value that usually comes with “look! I got this for you in Italy!” becomes diminutive. In fact, she is rather well-traveled, so the “look! I got this for you in fill-in-the-blank!” generally does not work anyway. 

Capibara keyholder

The retractable capibara keyholder: ridiculous, but cute!

So just how un-fun is it to shop for this friend of mine? Well, actually, it’s not un-fun at all … she is in fact the funnest person to shop for! Why is that? Because when we shop for each other, we think beyond how much we want to spend, or what we think the other might need, or whether she already has something similar. We both look past the overt usefulness or functionality of an object and revel in the meaning of the gift – whether it be a pair of pig dolls locked in an embrace (they look just like us!), or a ridiculous but cute retractable key holder in the shape of a capibara (reminds us of when we took photos of each other making faces like the oversized rodent) . 

These are the best kinds of gifts to give and receive, and will far outlast the gifts that may be higher in dollar value but come with little or no personal meaning. I still own a fork and spoon set I gave me back in 1985 … the same day we set the world record in longest time spent in a Sanrio shop without getting kicked out (well, they didn’t have to get the security guards anyway). Today, I get overwhelmed by nostalgia and joy as I watch my 2-yr old daughter eating with the same fork and spoon.

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Un Gelato al Bacio e allo Zabaglione for My Birthday

What a great surprise it was.

Today I turned 39 and I went to the office where my birthday was officially forgotten. Then, when I had lost all hope of any birthday treats, I got called into a meeting that turned out to be a meeting about the announcement that we were about to go to Cafe` Campbell for some gelato. Because it’s my birthday, of course.

Well, I don’t scream for ice cream but I do scream for real gelato. And Cafe` Campbell offers the kind of selection of gelato that I got used to when I lived in Italy. They even offer my favorite flavors: bacio and cocco. But today I found something that I could not pass up: zabaglione (a.k.a. zabaione). Zabaione is a simple Italian cake made with eggs, sugar, and Marsala: it is very hard to resist and this ice cream was delicious.

Zabaione is the kind of flavor that has to be handmade to be any good. And that is what made my day.

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Japanese convenience store dessert: mass-made can be handmade

Last night I was watching a Japanese TV program showcasing a wildly popular item sold at a convenience store chain in Japan. It’s a cafe-style roll cake: a ring of fluffy, moist sponge cake loaded with real whipped cream.

Premium Roll Cake

Now, let me take a step back and explain the concept of the konbini, or Japanese convenience store. You can start with an image of your typical neighborhood ampm or 7-11 store … open 24/7 selling snacks and basic sundries. But the similarity stops right there. In a konbini, you can find anything from fresh produce to makeup to bento (lunch) boxes; you can even print photos, ship packages, or pay your bills. And there are a couple of them on every block.

Japanese convenience stores brand their own snacks and other products, so it’s not surprising that one of them has come up with a “premium” dessert to cater to the sophisticated palate of their clientele … what IS surprising is that they decided to tackle the roll cake, the Holy grail of konbini desserts. You see, the roll cake is difficult to mass-produce: from slicing single-serving portions without squishing the creme to making a creme that maintains its light, luscious texture on the shelf, it comes with more than its share of challenges.

But one company has apparently succeeded, and the product has won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Monde Selection  – something like a Nobel Prize for confectionery.

The thing that struck me the most watching this show – asides from how I would love to live within walking distance to a konbini – was that this dessert, sold at one of the top convenience store chains in Japan, is actually made by hand. The cake gets mixed and cut by a machine, but the rest is done manually to achieve optimum quality. Now that is a dessert I would like to try!

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