Umbria, the beautiful Italian region near Tuscany and Lazio, is known for its rich history, artistic legacy and beautiful landscapes, which are seen as the wilder version of the Tuscan ones.
One of the most beautiful traditions inherited from the Etruscans, once the rulers of these lands, is ceramics. Indeed, wherever you travel in central Italy, be it Umbria or Tuscany, you will find lots of artisanal shops selling various ceramic and pottery objects. But they are not cheap. A decorative plate may have a price of as much as seventy-eighty Euros.
We were talking about this with our hosts in Umbria, during the dinner they invited us to, and one of their friends suggested we go and pay a visit to Constantino del Croce, a pottery artist living in Ficulle, not far from our home in Umbria.
So we drove to Ficulle and wandered the streets in midday`s heat, looking for the shop of Constantino. There were some shops in the centre of the small town, but none selling ceramics. We accidentally saw the place we were looking for on our way back to the car, when stopping to take a photo of the hills surrounding Ficulle. And there, on a building facing the main road, we saw a sign reading Terrecotte del Croce and we knew we have reached our destination.
The door was wide open and the keys were still in the door, but no trace of anybody inside. The moment I saw all the cups, plates, candle holders etc., I immediately started to look at them into detail and think of which one to choose. And I was taking photos at the same time. On the walls, Constantino`s diplomas and awards were displayed. On some of them it was written, in Italian, of course: “150 years of uninterrupted activity” or “Diploma of Honour for Commercial and Artisanal Activity”.
After ten or fifteen minutes of intense research, I made up my mind: “this plate”! And I put it on Constantino`s desk, where he kept, among many other things, his sketches.
Then the absence of anyone to pay in return for taking the plate became a bit worrying. “Shall we go back to the centre and start asking people where to find Constantino?”, “Shall I just leave the money on the desk, take the plate and leave?”, “But how much is it anyway? There are no prices shown”.
I stepped from the building a bit and, looking around in search for clues, I saw a little note on the door: a phone number. 🙂 Of course I immediately called, without thinking that my Italian was less than basic. A voice then answered and that`s pretty much when I panicked with the phone in my hand. All I could say was: “Constantino?? Ciao! Ci siamo… ici!” Constantino was probably busy with his siesta considering the time of the day and no idea what he understood from my Italian-French, but fact is he showed up a couple of minutes later, with a smile on his face.
Seeing the plate on his desk already, he started to pack it in a newspaper. While doing so, I asked him how much it was: “Quanto?” He said three-something, but I was not sure whether it was thirteen or thirty, so I decided to give him the twenty Euro bill I was already holding in my hands and see what happens. When I saw him starting to look for change, I knew it was not thirty. But it was not thirteen either: the plate was actually three Euros.
Had I lived in Italy or close by, I would have definitely bought much more. But I wasn`t and I knew we were running out of space in our luggage as well. However, I decided to also take two cups and a water jug.
Constantin packed everything carefully in his old newspapers and he happily handed the package to us. We wished him a good day (at least that was the intention, I assume we just said “Ciao, ciao!” again) and we left.
In the car, I came up with the bright idea of getting a plate for Paola and Paolo as well, a gift for being such nice hosts during our staying in their house. So I returned running to the “shop”, hoping that I still find Constantino. To my relief, he was still there, sitting on a chair, half inside, half outside the room, which was most probably part of his house. He was surprised to see me, I was happy to see him. I took the additional plate and left again, this time for good.
The precious plate eventually found its place on our dining table and it still makes me smile whenever I think of how it got here.