Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Viterbo, before the big report, something special!

Forty years ago I had bought and treasured, through the 1970s until time crashed with their extensive use and they were lost, two cups, two saucers and a sugar bowl of a particularly cheerful kind with simple pattern, at modest price. Looking in windows this time, ceramics have become so much more complex and at times overwhelming. Viterbo is a wealthy and sophisticated city and the shop windows spectacular.

You will understand that we found this window item, after the style of Guiseppe Arcimbaldo, breathtaking but not tempting - there was no urge to ask the price!!! (It's huge, click image to see photo enlarged)

But I had come upon a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop of old stuff with a lovely lovely man in attendance...

and he had almost precisely what I had had, as a sugar bowl, back then; now marked with the price of '5' ($A 7.55). It had a little chip, but no crack, under the edge of the lid.

"E rotto." [It's broken] he said, simply. His style continued as very economical.

"Si," I said, "E rotto ma e poco e fa niente. Ho comprato quasi lo stesso, a Tivoli, quarant'anni fa..." [yes, it's 'broken' but it's a tiny thing, nothing to worry about. I bought almost the same thing in Tivoli forty years ago]

He cut me off with a twinkle and a grin and said quietly "Addesso e rotto." [And now it's broken]. He wrapped my replacement carefully.

... and here it is.

I had not known the meaning of the 'DERUTA' on the bottom of this ware in the past.

Now, thanks to the internet, I know. This is where it is from (click). And you will learn from that web site that this item, rotto or not-o is genuinely Deruta Raffaellesco

Deruta Raffaellesco

The birth and and name of this style can be traced back to Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio). He habitually adorned the borders of his frescoes with symbolic decorations depicting dragons and mythical animals. The craftsmen of the late 16 C copied and adapted these decorations from the engravings of contemporary artists, giving rise to one of the most famous Deruta styles. Today Deruta is still widely identified with this style.

It's interesting that in making the original purchases and in this one, my eye has been on what I had regarded as simple, local craft, not knowing this connection to one of the greats. It is all reflective of the complexity and attention of the Italian eye; the greats are interwoven with the everyday. Eric Newby writes, as I read again last night, regarding the difficulty if one escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Italy, of fooling Italians compared with Germans.

"The Italians are fascinated by minutiae of dress and the behaviour of their fellow men, perhaps to a greater degree than almost any other race in Europe, and the ingenious subterfuges and disguises which escaping prisoners of war habitually resorted to and which were often enough to take in Germans [long list omitted] ... were hardly ever sufficiently genuine-looking to fool even the most myopic Italian ticket collector and get the owner past the barrier, let alone survive the scrutiny of the occupants of a compartment on an Italian train."

Eric Newby, Love and War in the Apennines, Picador Edition 1983, p 31

Yes, as now we are observed daily intently, curiously, not unkindly, except in the tourism-shark pools. Not obviously as in China, gawking; not never-looking, as in Japan, here with some kind of social intent as well as measure, it seems.

Part of the interaction, as part of establishing 'where can this relationship go' in fact (push the limit in more ways than in the manufacture of ceramic turkeys), as yesterday, in our third visit to our local, the Tre Scalini restaurant, when with the very smart, 40 something, practical shirt-sleeved proprietor we had been discussing ingredients and he had picked from an empty plate a rosemarino twig, and was commenting on the use of rosemary in many dishes and I ventured the beginning of a sentence, "tutto il mondo e rosemarino" [all the world is rosemary, which is so in Rome-region cooking] and he cut me off and launched into a love song beginning "tutto il mondo.." closing his eyes, open arms; opening them, he saw my extended-arm rapture and he danced off down the side of the restaurant, singing and pirouetting, to a point when, near the kitchen corner he fell into an arms-extended-to-me pose, now with everyone looking, so then, feigning embarrassment, he looked in all directions. I called gently "Dopo, dopo!" [Later, later] and he jumped with feigned delight and disappeared into the kitchen.

There is an interwovenness of colour and taste and life and fun and image; food, life; music, life; art, the art of life ... and love, you can't walk the Italian street and not know love.

The graffito below is near our front door:
"AMORE TI ASPETTO" = "My love, I am waiting for you"
Yes there are more words, now obscured,
beginning "TRA" = "between"


  1. Oh that is so delightful. On many levels. Hooray for the sugar bowl, hooray for singing and dancing. That sounds so you and so Italy :-)

  2. Just got round to reading this, Dennis. Would love to have been there!