Leather and Art: Florence and Berlin

Leather is a major part of my design identity; I love the resilience and lasting nature of quality leather whether it is a jacket, furniture or personal items. Traveling to Florence allowed me to gain some insight about how different a traditional school treats the material versus the products one can purchase at one of the many boutiques in the district. Just before the trip I lost my portfolio for carrying my travel documents, so I decided that I wanted something of quality from Florence to replace it. Originally, I wanted a a piece in orange that was vaguely Hermes-style, but while trying to find a back door to the Santa Croce church [having once been an altar boy, I know that all churches have many backdoor entrances] I stumbled across the Scuola del Cuioio Firenze [leather school]. Think of it as an interesting way to enter Santa Croce for 5Euros and to avoid an three hour line of tour groups. Inside I found a truly neat row of antique work benches with more modern work areas in back. Then I saw the strangest portofolio I had come across in two days of searching. It was the purple of Florence on the outside (a local man with his kids shared the information after I explained what was unique about the Hasselblad camera to his kids upon request) and orange on the interior. Perhaps it is not the most masculine wallet I could have chosen, but it seemed to be the most daring choice; I love vibrant colours and this is a piece that will endure – the seller insisted that I have my initials embossed with silver leaf for free, so that I could enjoy watching the process.. I also picked up a deep green cigar holder to help me along in Havana at the end of the month.  There might have also been some gifts purchased in other stores [Barberini and Petruzzi], but I won’t explain those to retain some of the surprise for Mom and V.

When Manning and I were walking our marathons across Berlin we happened upon a wonderful gallery store selling the work of Andra Bartos. His label United Loneliness reproduces his actual art pieces in a much more affordable medium. While I would have loved to purchase a “real” piece, the two 9×9 prints on canvas I bought for 10Euros made me just as happy and far less stressed about transporting them home. Bartos is orignally from Budapest, but his style holds a manga/euro cartoon style that makes me smile. The other piece I purchased was in front of the Palazzo Pitti from an artist working hard. Joseph Moussa’s work caught my attention immediately as the type of art I love to buy when on the road, and it reminded me of a piece I bought in South Africa. It is original work done in a geometric design wherein Joseph mixes papers, pen, watercolours, inks and text to produce a high quality piece on the street. What made his work speak to me was that it was unique on a street where others were painting the same old scenes, he invented landscapes in his imagination and then went to work. For 45Euros he eagerly wrapped the piece in cardboard, inserted a review of his work and proudly handed it to me; there was no better deal to be had.

While I do like to shop and buy new things while traveling, the reality is that I have to carry whatever I buy for the entire trip. I never want to be that person with the giant suitcases dragging stuff home, because I spent my entire trip in stores buying stuff that I could probably find here. There were two things that I could not buy though that I wanted to: food items and a green Sutton lighter from a store in Munch. Food is just too tricky to get through customs, and much of it will spoil anyway.  I did procure some excellent prosciutto, salami, buffalo’s milk mozzarella, baguette, basil, heirloom tomatoes and chianti for an impromptu picnic in the hotel room in Florence, but only the olive oil made it back. The lighter…since I lost my Zippo in Prince Edward Island I almost bought a beautiful enamel butane lighter in Munich, but decided against it at the last minute – it was the one that got away. What did not get away was some items from an Italian store, Gallo. I fell hard for their harlequin colour combinations in Florence, but only found an open store in Rome. The items are not for me as the store only carried clothing for women and children, unless I wanted bikini briefs…

I have almost recovered from the jet lag. I spent the morning at Canadian Tire looking for a M6 screw that was 2mm longer than the one I had, so that I could attached the aluminium billeted gold-coloured sprocket cover on my Ducati. Fortunately, after sifting forever, I found two replacement screws and feel better about the purchase from the Ducati Caffe in Rome. The blue oil cap I bought must have been  for an 848 bike as it sadly will not fit. Oh well, it was still a fun place to go for lunch and their gnocchi with buffalo cheese was killer, the white wine was solid and the espresso was the only coffee I had in Italy because of the intense heat all week long.

If I could offer one thought about the food in Italy and Germany, then it would be that North America’s communities produce equal quality versions, in my experience. While I never ate a bad meal for twelve days, nothing was far beyond what I could achieve with the same ingredients in Toronto. Our meal at Il Latinia was the traditional “let the waiter feed you and then draw up a random bill based on how much fun you were”.  It was shared at a table with a father an son from California, who were amused to play along, thank god. We were brought platters of beans, soups, bread, assorted grilled meats, prosciutto with melon, pasta and drank 2 litres of a fabulous chianti for 85Euros. The people who were sneering at the other table stupidly ordered off the menu despite the waiter’s request to let him choose. It was great fun.

The other big meal was at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, where we ate in a corner booth with a Canadian family of cyclists planning on starting a tour company. This time Manning let me order from the menu as we ate tagliatelle al tartufo bianco, bistecca al lardo, rabbit with potatoes, an assorted antipasto plate, tiramisu, cantucci e vin santo, and the carafe of chianti. It was a beautiful meal in Florence.

Germany was all about pig. It was a lot of pork, potato and beer. The beer is a topic for another day, I think. Speaking of Germany, I spent last evening practicing some interesting charts with what might be a new jazz trio for me to play bass with. Daniel and Lukas are some really tall German/Dutch guys who were able to really rock out the gypsy jazz, and I think I might just need some more of that in my life after not playing bass for the past four years. What goes around, comes around…


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