Sunday, October 22, 2017

Buy Local, Maybe Make A New Friend!

No matter where you travel, or if you don't travel at all, buying local is one of the best things you can do.  It's good for the local economy, neighbor helping neighbor.  It's good for the environment, not paying transportation costs to have your food/clothing/whatever shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. It's also very satisfying, finding that cool shop hidden on a side street with someone creating jewelry or throwing pottery, discovery a local farm making unique cheeses.  You make a personal connection, talk with the artist/farmer/whoever, learn their story, help pay for their kids braces, maybe even make a friend.

We've had many such experiences here in Italy.  Our best friend in the world started off as our translator when we bought our house. The Testatonda family, who own La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito, have become our Italian family.  The sisters who own our favorite gelateria, Stefania's are like old friends.  Just this year we've become friends with Marco and Valeria who own Tassi, the ceramics shop in Deruta. Just taking the time to talk with the vendors at various festas helps us to understand how various products are made.  Artists are always excited to share their passions!

Last week we met an artist while wandering in Assisi.  I was looking for a gift for my sister, and stuck my head inside a shop to take a closer look.  Once inside I discovered an amazing array of artwork.  The scenes were Italian,  Umbrian hill towns, populated with Franciscan monks.  Some scenes were playful, others just everyday scenes, but all incredibly interesting and serene. The artist, Vincenzo Martini, was on hand, ready to share his passion with us. We told him our story about living in Italy and about our love for Umbria. We laughed and chatted and got to know each other, not as seller and buyer, but as people getting to know one another.

Honestly, I do NOT need more artwork - I really am running out of wall space! - but something in these works of art just spoke to me.  Sadly, the painting - plus framing  - just wasn't in my budget, so I thanked Mr. Martini, and we left.  No pressure, no guilt, but I have to admit I was disappointed.  And then, just a few days later, we returned to Assisi to spend the afternoon with my daughter and her friends.  I took Angela into the shop because I knew there was an item she'd want to buy for herself.  As she paid, I introduced her to Mr Martini and showed her the picture I'd fallen in love with.  Once again we left the shop, but this time I was a little more accepting of the fact that no, I really couldn't justify spending the money for a picture I didn't even have space for.

After a wonderful lunch with my daughter, Melanie, her friend-since-grade-school, and their significant others, Angela announced that we were going back to the shop because she was going to buy the painting for me!  Wow!  To say I was thrilled is an understatement!  And so now I have it, safely rolled in a tube to transport back home, signed by the artist, dedicated to me.  I'm thrilled to have an early Christmas/birthday present, a memory of Assisi and a wonderful day with my daughter, and a new friend.

Today after lunch with a friend we returned to the shop once again, to buy another gift, but also to snap a photo of us with the artist, our new friend, Vincenzo Martini.  If you're ever in Assisi, stop by and say hello.  You might even make a new friend.

Some photos below, and you can find Mr. Martini on Facebook and see his work on his website: Vincenzo Martini

Friday, October 06, 2017

Busy Busy Busy

With the cooler temps we've been able to get out more, and the plethora of fall festas has been a blast.  From the porchetta festa to the onion festa, the pasta, celery and chestnut festas, we're enjoying them all.  Our time here is quickly coming to an end so we're spending our days driving through the beautiful Umbrian hills.  Even though most of the fields are brown, we still love the patchwork hills and the ever-changing light.  We're also organizing long, lazy lunches that last nearly until dinner, spending time with friends who we don't see nearly often enough, yet we all stay connected through our love of Umbrian food, wine, and people.

As I've written about before, I've been trying to decide on what ceramics we'll take back to the states.  I have to admit that I really don't need any more plates, or serving bowls, or knickknacks, so what I'm really buying is a memory.  Having something that was made by our friends, something we can see and use every day, is very special. Most of the artwork in our house has a story, and I smile every time I look at the poster from Rotecastello, the photo from Zermatt, the miniature cottages from England or the various other trinkets we collected over the years.

I'd been checking in at Tassi on a regular basis to see what new designs and color combinations Valeria has on display.  As soon as I saw these plates I knew I was headed in the right direction.  We're moving a television out of the living room and will have an entire wall to fill, so we ordered 3 plates in 3 different sizes.

Valeria and Marco were so patient and so helpful, showing us various designs and lots of different color combinations.  I wanted the plates to complement one another, but not be exact matches, but unfortunately I just don't have the imagination to 'see' what the finished product will look like, and that's where Valeria and Marco came to the rescue.  I thought I knew what I wanted, but as we began to discuss, I realized there were things I hadn't considered - but they knew the right questions to ask.

We also ordered a small key rack - a ceramic piece, framed in wood - to hang our keys on as we come in the back door.  Once again, Marco and Valeria helped us figure out what colors to use for the ceramic piece, then what wood tone for the frame.  They showed us sample after sample, allowing us to see a variety of colors and combinations.  Although I still can't 'see' what the finished product will look like, I have complete confidence in Valeria's skill, and I know I'll love our pieces when they're ready.

One of the pieces Marco showed us was done in a beautiful turquoise blue.  I asked him about the pattern, just assuming that it was a traditional design.  As it turns out, Valeria had seen the design as a carving on a piece of furniture.  She fell in love with it, took a picture, then drew the design for these ceramic tiles.

Ceramic tiles_1658

Small Plates_Before_1656Large plate_Before_1655   We also saw our plates, not yet fired.  They'll go into the kiln on Saturday!  I think it's so cool to be able to see a 'before' shot of our ceramics!

As always, all our travel photos are on Flickr - Just click the link in the right-hand column!