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.

Look Who’s New at Marcopoloni…

I’m thrilled to join Marcopoloni as the newest member of the team. Coming to the office every day means I have the chance to appreciate beautiful handmade artisan treasures, from rustic leather Campomaggi bags to delicate Murano glass figurines. But what really stands out at Marcopoloni is the care and attention that goes into the process of bringing these artisan-crafted goods to you, the customer.

It may seem crazy to take a half hour to photograph each of the four slightly different Salvi leather briefcases we have in stock – because there are variations in color and texture in vegetable-tanned, full grain leather – then upload and e-mail those pictures so a customer can choose the exact bag he wants to order.

It happens a lot around here, though, and it’s one of the reasons Marcopoloni is known for great customer service.

I think of Marcopoloni as a “mom and pop” shop of the Internet, run by a husband-and-wife team with a real passion for handmade artisan products. Since we’re not a bricks-and-mortar store (although there is a small showroom in the office that fills the place with the elegant scent of Italian leather) we can’t greet you by name when you walk in the door.  Instead we get to know you by answering your questions via phone and e-mail, and always following up to make sure you are completely happy with your purchase.

I share in your appreciation of handmade art. I grew up in Cambria, Calif., surrounded by creative people including my parents who made stained glass, batik art and ceramics. My husband is a woodworker who makes custom skateboards in our garage woodshop. Our home is filled with art made by family and friends.

While Daniele and Emi are in Italy this summer visiting local artisans and hand-picking new creations for Marcopoloni, I will be here in the office making sure things run smoothly. I look forward to hearing from you!

MaryHeadshot
Marcopoloni is pleased to add Mary Berger to the team.

Shopping to Complement My Studded Leather Belt

The DAVIDE Studded Leather Belt doesn’t match any of the clothes I own. It’s too nice! It is a casual belt, but it can’t be worn with any pair of jeans. It needs a nice pair of jeans of the kind I have seen on well dressed people in Italy.

Luckily, I just happen to be in Italy, in Milan to be exact, my hometown and the hometown of Luca Manzoni, the guy who wears the coolest jeans in the world. So I asked him: “I’m trying to get a pair of really cool jeans. Do you have any suggestions?” Among his many suggestions I tried the last one and I immediately found something that I liked there: at Frav, a small shop near Porta Ticinese.

I got a pair from a French brand that was born in Toulouse and now lives in Paris: Surface to Air Clothing. I found a shirt by the same company that I really liked and, voila`, there is a new me.

Except for the shoes! I can’t wear my old shoes with this outfit!

Fusilli alla Siciliana

Fusilli alla Siciliana

I do go to Sicily and have never seen this recipe there, but whether it is authentic or not (I would like to find out what you think), I truly love it and everyone that has had it has complimented me for it. It is the lengthiest recipe in my arsenal so far. I have to allow two hours for it, but it is definitely worth it. If it shouldn’t be called Fusilli alla Siciliana, what should its name be?

Ingredients:

1 pack of Fusilli
1 About 25 pitted black olives – more ok
5 anchovies (fillets)
4 cloves of garlic
1 Red Pepper
1 Eggplant
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 kg Roma Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Parsley
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil – more ok
5 Minced Peperoncini (small red hot peppers) – less ok
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Peel the eggplant and cut it in small cubes (1/2 inch max). Sprinkle some coarse salt and apply a weight over it. This will rid any bitter taste. I don’t overdo this step.
  2. Char the red pepper’s peel by placing in over a flame. Otherwise bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until the peel separates. Eliminate the peel. I do this at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Clean the anchovies (remove any bones).
  4. Wash the tomatoes and cut up. I always boil the tomatoes, peel them and cut up. My method requires that I purchase more than the suggested 1kg. It is also time consuming but worth it!
  5. In a large pan sauté the garlic in the olive oil. The recipe says to eliminate the garlic, but I leave it in.
  6. Add the eggplant cubes and let them cook a little while.
  7. Add the cut up tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes (medium heat).
  8. When the 15 minutes are up, add to the sauce the chopped red pepper, the capers, the anchovies, and the chopped olives. Cook for another 15 minutes.
  9. This is a good moment to boil the water for the fusilli.
  10. Before removing the sauce pan from the fire, add the minced parsley and minced pepperoncino.
  11. Mix the drained fusilli with the sauce and serve in deep pasta dishes. Eat while hot!

Campomaggi US Service Center?

During recent conversation with Antonella, Marcopoloni is exploring the opportunity to expand its highly rated service operations to owners of Campomaggi bags in the United States who did not purchase their bags from Marcopoloni.

The problem is that it is not possible to ship leather goods to Italy due to government restrictions. Of course, legislation is on the books to allow the return of defective products, but the reality is that, as I have painfully experienced just last year, duties and VAT get charged even on returned bags, and, of course, they get charged again when the repaired bag returns to the United States. If customs in Italy needs additional documentation, you can expect the process to become lengthy and burdensome.

The possibility of a Campomaggi Service Center in the US is still under discussion. Please stay tuned for further posts on this subject. In the meantime, if you need to have a Campomaggi bag serviced in the US and you did not purchase it from Marcopoloni, please contact us and we will be happy to assist you and provide a quote for any services.

Women’s Day (Festa della Donna): Girls Night Out or just Flowers?

Mimosa Flower

Across Italy and many other countries, March 8th is known as Women’s Day (or “Festa della Donna”).

Some say it celebrates historical achievements such as women’s right to vote, some say it’s in memory of a tragic fire which killed all of the women who worked in a textile company in New York, and still others say it was originated in Russia, and so on.

What is for sure is that in Italy it has become a symbolic event, where men celebrate the women in their lives in a way somewhat akin to a mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

As for how women feel about celebrating their being women, I believe they can be divided into 2 camps: the ones that like to do something special with other women that day, and the ones that lock themselves in the house because they think it’s the worst day of the year to go out … after all, there are only women out!

Personally I’ve always been part of the second group. I think we are special every day and we don’t need somebody to tell us on March 8th that we are, do we?

I do like receiving flowers though. I should say that I liked receiving flowers … since after I moved to the States, the fact that Women’s Day is not celebrated here turned out to be quite a convenient excuse for my husband to forget to buy me some!

Anyway, I don’t know of a woman out there that wouldn’t smile if somebody showed up at her door with a bouquet of flowers. And if you are a man, you should know that the traditional gift given on Women’s Day in Italy is the yellow mimosa. Italian men usually buy a mimosa bouquet on their way home from work and present it to their wife, mother, sister, daughter, etc. The nicer ones bring some to their female co-workers as well. But the sweetest thing I remember about Women’s Day goes back to my school days.

In fact, starting from elementary school, boys buy flowers for the girls in their class. Isn’t that sweet? I think it is, even though the other side of the story is a sad one for some of the girls, as the whole thing usually becomes a competition to see who received more flowers at the end of the day …

But the Italian tradition now goes beyond flowers. Many women will do a girls’ night out. Restaurants have special menus for them. No matter where you go on Women’s Day in Italy, there will be plenty of women out to celebrate in “women-only” dinners and parties!

Now, I know today is already March 7th, but you still have time to celebrate womanhood on Women’s Day this year. Whatever you decide to do, just remember that you are special all year around!

“There is no great man without a great woman on his side”, my mom used to tell me when I was little. I think she’s right, and the story of King George VI, celebrated on the big screen by Oscar winning actor Colin Firth in the movie, King’s Speech, confirms it all!

Why I Love Handmade Italian Leather Bags

One of the sayings that I grew up with in Italy was: “vender cara la pelle” which literally translates to: “to sell one’s skin dear” meaning that you will fight your best fight to the end.  The word “pelle” means both skin and leather in Italian.

Leather is incredibly durable and versatile. Last year, I saw a news report that talked about a pair of handmade leather shoes unearthed in Armenia that were some 5,500 years old. The news caused me to reflect on how we have relied on leather to protect us and serve us in a variety of ways for a very long time.

In Italy, people seem to have a very strong connection to leather products. A lot of people dedicate their lives to working with leather, and the streets are filled with windows displaying those products. As an Italian, If you don’t have leather appreciation in your genes, you will learn it.

So, there is the first reason. I have loved leather for as long as I can remember. More on the topic in my next post.
5,500-year-old shoe

Exquisite Murano Glass Pieces by Master Imperio Rossi

After weeks of anticipation, the Murano glass pieces we had ordered have finally arrived.

And the verdict?

They are absolutely incredible. I mean, we knew that – after all, we fell in love with his work when we came across them this summer. But seeing all of the masterpieces in person, again reminded us as to why we decided to work with Maestro Rossi in the first place. His work is unique – even in the highly artistic, tremendously exclusive trade of Murano glasswork, his work seems to stand out in some way. Plus, his is a family-run business, and we immediately felt a connection there as well.

I can’t wait to showcase his work on our website. We feel truly fortunate to have found him.

For now, here is a little glimpse into the world of Maestro Rossi’s Murano glass …

Murano Glass Christmas Ornament with Murrina Fantasia
Murano Glass Christmas Ornament with Murrina Fantasia

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!

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!