Category Archives: MEETING LOCALS

Narrow Street in Florence Leads to Amazing Leather Artisan!


Many may have passed under the archway entering the narrow Via Santa Margherita on their way to Dante’s Church (Chiesa Di Dante). Sometimes we can be so focused on our destination, we miss treasures nearby.


Tucked in his small workshop/store across from Dante’s Church, Simone Taddei works his magic creating leather boxes and accessories by hand that are true works of art.


I couldn’t resist holding one and then another…and soon I was selecting several for myself and gifts for friends.


The process starts with wooden forms that are covered with dampened rawhide and bound with rubber bands until dried.  Simone is a perfectionist and explained that he only uses hide from the shoulder.


His desire for the best is always part of his creation. Notice the black band of paraffin that is added to allow the lid of the finished box to glide when it is opened and closed!!


He now applies thin calfskin over the dried rawhide and with experienced hands shaves the edges so there is no visible seam!


His tools have been handed down from his father and his grandfather, all makers of leather pieces before him. The small hammer is very special as it was used by his great-grandfather in his shoe making business…4 generations!


In the final steps, the calfskin is colored, waxed, and polished…3 weeks from start to finish!


The quality of Simone’s hand-crafted leather pieces has earned him articles in world publications. Yet, Simone continues to work with no assistants, creating each piece with timeless care.


Via Santa Margherita, 11


(across from Dante’s Church)



Some of my best travel experiences are unplanned…

I had spent most of the day hiking the fishing villages in Cinque Terre, Italy and my legs begged for an afternoon break. Nessun Dorma, a wine bar perched high on a cliff in Manarola, was the perfect place to recover with the town’s best scenic view as a bonus! 


Their strawberries with sugar and lemon was a refreshing partner to my glass of local wine.

Then the best surprise…I discovered morning pesto classes were available here! Pesto classes in Italy’s most famous pesto region PLUS this view again…I immediately signed up for the next morning’s class.


Class started with each of us picking our own basil leaves from the restaurant’s small private garden. I was off with my small bowl and the instructions to only choose the small top leaves.


The necessary ingredients were ready for us…garlic, sea salt, tender pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Plus extra virgin olive oil will be added as the last step.


Simone, our instructor and owner of Nessun Dorma, gave us his first Secrect to great pesto…he immediately placed ice cubes on top of our freshly picked basil leaves. The ice kept the leaves fresh and retained their beautiful green color for the pesto.


Simone is a perfectionist when it comes to flavor and taught us to cut out the tiny stem that runs through the garlic clove before crushing .


Then the fun began…in our mortars, we mixed sea salt and 1 big garlic clove until a white cream paste.


After removing the ice and drainng any water, we added our basil leaves, a sprinkle of pine nuts, and started more grinding. 



Now time to add  Parmesan cheese.  Simone leaves nothing to chance and insists we use Parmesan cheese that has aged 24 months.


I was excited as we added our last ingredient, extra virgin olive oil.


My most interesting discovery was the flavor difference between pesto made in a “new” marble mortar (on the left ) vs made in a seasoned, marble mortar from 1920s (on the right). 

Simone had told us at the beginning of the class we would experience a flavor difference between the two mortars.

Seeing is believing ! 

The pesto in the older mortar was smoother and sweeter! (I am now searching for an aged mortar to bring home.) 

 Simone’s passion for food and non-stop enthusiasm made his pesto class the highlight of my Cinque Terre trip.


photo (71) The creative, painted book sculptures of Pascal Courcelles quickly caught my eye at the “Paris Art Fair”. I wanted to know more about the sculptures and the artist.

I am always curious about the stories in people’s lives. Why did they choose their path?

france april 13 315

This thirst for more sent me traveling from Paris to his studio outside Brussels.

Pascal’s passion for his work was quickly obvious as he talked about the inspiration for the book sculptures. His deep belief that “books” are such a foundation of life gave him the vision to include his life in his work.

The books are not just any books…but rather books from his parents and grandparents, books on art, books with knowledge, even a cookbook!  Books are no longer left alone on shelves but are now seen and enjoyed.

Making his life part of his art continued in other works. The colorful tower is made from a year’s worth of his used paint tubes!

Old postcards received from friends are painted and given new life.

Talk about Living Green!!

Pascal Courcelles, an artist sharing his life mixed with his love for color.


In 2013, after a long day in Paris, I was at last ready for dinner. I was in my favorite Montmartre section of Paris and peeking through restaurant windows to discover the right mood among diners to say, “yes, this is the one.” I often select a restaurant or cafe’ more on the ambiance than reading the posted menu. I ask myself, “would I be happy here?”

france april 13 118 I never miss an opportunity to glance into shop windows as I often find my most cherished pieces by accident. My hunger was put on hold when I discovered on rue Audran a small shop window filled with one-of-a-kind cafe’ size cups…each with its unique nose and lips.

The young woman artist and creator, Alice Lothon, was still inside working at her pottery wheel where she creates each piece one at a time. I loved all of her pieces…cafe’ size cups, cafe’ au lait bowls, and even large table-top size pieces. She could see my enthusiasm and between my not-so-good French and her not-so-good English, I learned the story of how she came to create her vision.

The next year, I brought my 12-year-old granddaughter to Paris and took her to Alice’s shop.  Alice remembered me AND my enthusiasm and she treated my granddaughter like family.

What a great surprise, our connection a year earlier led to Alice taking my granddaughter under her wing. Sitting side-by-side around the small pottery wheel, Alice taught her how to make her own unique cafe’ cup. More importantly, Alice showed her the soul of people we meet in travel.

Many people would just pop into Alice’s shop and buy some cups to take home. My granddaughter and I took home life-long memories!