Making friends...

I have the good fortune of encountering the most interesting and kind people both when I travel and in general in my life.  The trick, I have learned, is being willing to step beyond where you are comfortable.  Comfort is a dangerous thing; we like it (even when it is not pleasant but just familiar), but it never surprises us. Today, as I walked around Florence, my fortitude was challenged.  I had committed myself to a shopping-free trip to Europe, but call it luck or what you will, the strap on my pocket book finally gave out. This has been my "travel bag" for several years. What a place for that to happen?! Florence is the capital of leather bags--the gods were smiling on me today.  So, I set out to find just the right pocket book to replace my favorite travel bag, within a reasonable budget.

I don't know about you, but for me, a travel bag has to work pretty hard, carry a lot, still be comfortable, attractive, day into night (you gals understand), and it has to have classic style to last a long time.  Yes, this is a tall order; once again, I want beauty and function to be as one in perfect balance.

First, I walked through the leather market, but I was not impressed.  Everything looks the same, and no matter what, I get the feeling that I am being hoodwinked.  I want a better experience, something more authentic, but how do you find that?  Well, I just keep walking, ignore tired feet, and watch for it. It is a feeling more than anything else, and I have, over time, learned to trust my instincts.  Admittedly, this can take a while, so it requires patience and a commitment, you cannot give in and just get something because then the opportunity is lost.

So, I walked, and poked, and walked, and politely said, "no grazie, solo guardo, grazie mille...(smile)."

While looking, I also checked out a few wine shops (well, I am working!), and as luck would have it, there are a few of those here as well.   I very happily found Galleria del Chianti, a small but formidable shop in the city center.  The owner, a young attractive Italian man, greeted me and approached to see if I needed help.  I explained in broken Italian that I own a shop and that his was beautiful and interesting.  Seriusly, he has an awesome wine selection in a tiny shop ( I like that). He thanked me.  After I looked for a bit, he asked what I liked.  I said that I like all well made wines, so pick me something local, from a small producer that I have never heard of, that is delicious and not crazy expensive.  He went immediately to a box that had just arrived and said, "35, okay?" before showing me the bottle.  I confirmed that was reasonable, and then he turned to two other customers and explained in Italian about the wine, at some length.  I understood about 25%, which is to say that the wine was very hard top get, the wine maker works independently with his family and is an older man who is very serious about his wine.  The wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano, and Malvasia, and the vines are 70 years old.  There was a lot more that I missed, but it sounded great.  I told him to tell me in English what he has said, he smiled and said, "it is very good, very small, and old vines." I need to speak Italian!

I thanked him, we "friended" each other on Facebook, and I went on my merry way to resume my search, feeling even more confident now that I had made a friend and talked wine with a local shop owner! The shop can be found on Via del Corso...and worth seeking out!

As I turned the corner around Dante's birthplace (perhaps, a sign), I spotted a small open doorway within which I could see some eye-catching leather.  This is not a standard shop front, but there were a few bags within sight of the doorway.  Beautiful leather was calling me...."Maria, Maria..."  You get the picture, right?  There were only a few bags, mostly bolts of leather rolled and stacked around what is a very small crowded work shop, where two men sat working.  I looked in with some trepidation, as I said, this is uncomfortable.  What is this, I wondered: a shop, a work space, an office, a portal for human slave trafficking (okay, too much tv when I was a kid and the recesses of my imagination are ridiculous)?  Marco, the owner, smiled and said, "Si, come in."

He and his employee were busy making the most beautiful bags I have seen all day, the leather is supple and lightweight but substantial. The colors vibrant, rich, and inviting.  I wanted to put my face in the bag and smell it like a fine glass of cabernet, but I resisted that temptation.

Marco did not show me anything.  He just motioned to me to look around, so I did.  The work shop has a somewhat central desk where Marco was answering emails, and another to the back of the space, which was taken by his employee who was hand sewing the handle to the bang with a needle and thread.  I did have a moment during which it occurred to me that I may not be able to afford one of these bags, so I a cautiously asked with a bag in my hands (and some hope) "quanto costo?"

To my surprise and great pleasure the bag was only 108Euros.  I realize this is not cheap, but for what I was holding in my hands, it was a steal.

I had hoped for a lighter color but the shape was exactly what I wanted, beautiful and super functional.  Again, with some discomfort and my terrible Italian, I asked if he had a lighter color.  He thought for a moment, and then put his coat on and said he would be back in a few minutes, I should wait there. (Surely, this is when a back door would open and I would never be seen again, all because I wanted a new bag...I deserved this...ha!) He returned with what is the only bag I will ever need, and I cannot stop smiling.

We got to chatting, which I am inclined to do, and his English is of course perfect. I told him about my shops, at which point he reached into a box of wine and retrieved a bottle.  "This," he said, "is for you, to try a taste." He handed me the bottle with a smile, so I went in for the kiss, both cheeks, "Marco, grazie mille, molto gentile." I was gushing, but had to simply repeat these two phrases over and over again as I walked out of the work shop, repeating "ciao" every other word.

I am excited to sit down now, with a glass of this wine and switch pocket books--some of you understand the pleasure associated with that task, and this time is particularly special.  Questa è Buono Mercato!