The European Union has, at least from the perspective of this American tourist, been a rather beneficial development. When you ask an Italian craftsman though, you get a very different perspective.
Wednesday was our jewelry tour. This was my birthday present to Kat, and I was nervous. Booking a tour is always a bit of a risk – you may end up being shown to a “ye olde workshop” where they just tell you about all the special things you can purchase. I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to be the case here, but one never knows.
Fortunately, Context Travel came through in a big way. Our tour, lead by Luca, took us to three different artisans. The tour was technically their “Oltrarno Artisan” tour, but I’d told them Kat was a jeweler, so Luca arranged some special visits for us.
First, we went to a very traditional workshop, consisting of a husband, his wife, and their friend. They do cast pieces, silver and gold plated, as well as enameled pieces and engraved pieces. Much of it is done on site – one of the few workshops left in the town proper doing that kind of work. The basement is full of very large, very old machines, and the process is very manual. But they make high end pieces of all the big names in design and fashion – picture frames, jewelry boxes, custom confetti boxes for fancy New York weddings (yes, really).
Here, in addition to learning about the process (very similar to what happens in our own basement), we learned about the realities of being a 21st Italian artisan. The paperwork involved with having a propane torch, for example, sounds nearly ruinous. The euro has similarly (in their opinion) put downward pressure on their pricing and pushed up the cost of imported materials (this one I question). Regardless, it had an “end of an era” feeling.
From there, Luca took us to an engraver – he makes engraved copper plates which are then used to make prints. It was another husband and wife duo, making beautiful and meticulous pieces. The process itself is nearly identical to the process Kat uses for her etched jewelry.
Finally, Luca took us to a young jeweler’s workshop. She is the recipient of a scholarship from Context Tours, and has just opened her own studio. Now that she’s proven her skills at the traditional techniques, she’s creating beautiful, complicated, modern pieces. It was fun to be a bystander as she and Kat discussed tools and techniques.
Since we were already in the Oltrarno, we had lunch in the Santo Spirito square. Truly one of my favorite meals so far – risotto with zucchini, prosciutto and melone, artichoke salad.
On the way home, we swung by the Uffizi (when you say it casually, it’s even more delightful). We’d picked up last minute reserved tickets on Tuesday (waiting in the Uffizi line being one of the most unfortunate ways to spend a vacation). Since we’ve both been to the museum a few times, we decided to just focus on the works highlighted in the Rick Steves guide tour, which tells you the story of the origins of the Renaissance. It was enjoyable to have a focused tour – not feeling guilty for skipping a lot of amazing art, but rather focusing on one narrative.
We were both pretty well shot after the Uffizi, so it was time for a break in the apartment before the real party.