Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pino's Stamp

      I was in Florence's Central Post office when I received a call from my cousin/lawyer Pino asking me to mail him some legal documents asap to the south of Italy.  Little did I know that I was about to embark on a two-hour mission, demonstrating in full force the time that can be lost thanks to Italian bureacracy.

 Once arrived at my own office, I put the documents in a large envelope which I knew required a 2 euro stamp.   I had two options:  either take a number at a nearby post office to buy the stamp, or quickly head to a tabacchi.  This is a small shop that, with a state issued license, sells cigarettes, lottery tickets, salt and stamps, the sale of which is government taxed and regulated.  

        The woman behind the counter informed me that she did not have the 2 euro stamp but that she could sell me three stamps totaling 2 euro and 40 cents.  Otherwise, she said, go to the post office and take a number.

        I headed a couple of blocks over to another tabacchi where another lady behind the counter not only did not have the stamp, but questioned whether, in fact, the envelope needed 2 euro to mail.  She courteously weighed the envelope and happily, confirmed my suspicions.  Yes, a 2 euro stamp was required.  No, she did not have one.  "Go to the post office," she said.  "But isn't this a tabacchi which by law is supposed sell stamps? " I questioned.  "Yes," she replied, "but I don't have a
 2 euro stamp."

      Furious, refusing to wait on line at the post office, I knew where to buy the stamp, about six blocks away near Piazza della Repubblica.  Bingo!  Yes, Tabaccheria Rivendita 88 had the stamp I needed.  Owner Maresca Cirri informed that this was a three-generation family firm who makes it their mission always to have a supply of stamps.

        My mission, however, was not yet over.  I still had to go a post office and mail the envelope.  According to protocol, once there, I was supposed to take a number.  I knew, however, if I had a envelope correctly stamped in hand, I could probably jump the line and hand it to a post office employee, who was hopefully having a good day.

      Well, there was a slight amount of turbulence.  First of all, I recognized the person in front of me who happened to be the husband (or relative) of the lady at the counter of the second tabacchi I had gone into seeking a 2 euro stamp.  He, fortunately for me, was not in the shop at the time, probably having been on line at the post office to restock his tabacchi's stamp supply.  The post office employee was not having a good day either.  Frowning at me, he insisted on weighing the envelope, and, disgusted for not sending me back to take a number, carelessly tossed it, legal documents and all, into a bin.

      When I left the office, I thought I would be out for no more than 10 minutes,  In actual fact, I had employed close to two hours to complete my mission of mailing an envelope with a 2 euro stamp.   In my quest, I had forgotten that Tara Baron was coming in to work.  She had tried calling my cell phone, and the third time could hear it ring in the office.  I found her patiently waiting for me just outside.

      Two days later, Pino still has not received the documents in the correctly-stamped envelope.
I will keep you posted.....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Montelupo and Ceramics

   Thanks to my visit to the Ceramics Fair over the weekend, I learned that historically, Montelupo ceramic craftsmen were the most technologically and stylistically advanced of their time.  They developed special techniques, such as creating bichrome patterns, using brown and green, starting in the latter part of the 13th century, remaining popular during the 14th century.  Thanks to Mediterranean trading, Montelupo artists were also exposed to the designs and colors of Islamic art, with its characteristic use of cobalt blue.  Today, the ceramics made in Montelupo, and still found in the local shops, continue to display the areas's vivid Mediterranean roots.  

      It is astounding to learn that Montelupo Fiorentino has been producing ceramics since the 1200s.  Raw materials were readily available locally, and thanks to the town's location on a tributary of the Arno, the Pesa River (pictured below), orders would be shipped to Florence and Pisa, subsequently arriving at major cities throughout Europe.  Montelupo is still important in the world of ceramics today.  More soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Pleasurable Discovery--Montelupo and its Ceramics Fair

      The craftsmen in Montelupo have been producing beautifully handmade and handpainted vases and plates for over eight centuries but it was only yesterday that I managed a visit to the town's annual International Ceramics Fair.  A surprise awaited me upon arrival at Montelupo:  a charming, totally unspoiled Tuscan town a mere 22 minute train ride from Florence on either the Pisa or Siena line.

 The fair was to begin at 6 pm but Elke and I arrived at 5 because a 24 hour regional train strike was scheduled later on.   In the meantime we stopped for a latte macchiato and caffè shakerato (respectively a latte and hot coffee chilled by blending with ice cubes) at Caffè Vezzosi, which has been creating pastries and ice cream on the premises since the 50s.
      Afterwards, we walked down the main street to the Ceramics Museum, which featured display cases of Montelupo ceramics from the 13th to the 16th centuries, with a central exhibit of a contemporary piece by a local ceramics firm.  The visitor can witness the evolution of style and color over the centuries, with simple patterns and the use of a turquoise blue characteristic of the 1300s to a Moorish geometric decoration of the 1500s using green and yellow lead-based pigments.
     Upstairs, there was a temporary exhibition of pottery discovered locally by archeologists.  The signature piece was a 3rd century B.C. Etruscan terra cotta  high relief of a goddess important to that culture.
     Just outside the Ceramics Museum, there were tables set up by craftsmen from all over Italy, predominantly from Tuscany. 

     Walking back towards the station, along the main drag we saw Montelupo artisans working at the wheel and painting ceramics.

        If we didn't have to catch an early train back to Florence, Elke and I would have certainly indulged in aperitivo (Italian happy hour), an unbelievable offer of food accompanied by a glass of wine for 3 euro, or a cocktail for 4 euro.
to be continued.....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011