Friday, December 16, 2011

Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I don’t think it’s been luck that has allowed me to bring back many souvenirs in my luggage without any mishaps. I have carefully packed bottles of olive oil, wine, liqueurs and jars of condiments; Venetian glass candies; and various pieces of ceramics and none have ever broken. I have also carried delicate lavender wands from Provence, prints and etchings, and glass perfume bottles from Morocco, and all survived happily in my carry-on bag (I always pack an empty tote bag in my luggage, and this becomes my carry-on bag when I’m leaving my destination). I use my worn articles of clothing to wrap around fragile items but I also usually bring some plastic bags and some bubble wrap. And I keep in mind something a UPS driver once told me: you should pack a box (or a piece of luggage, in this case) so that if it falls from a second story window nothing will break.

I have also had some items shipped on a few occasions, again with positive results. But I’m well aware that some travelers have had items break, whether they packed them on their own or had them shipped from a merchant.

Recently, my good friend Linda, who went to Italy for the very first time in October, had one of these experiences, and it reminded me that it’s worthwhile to share these stories, so here is Linda’s:

“Although I bought many souvenirs, the one thing I wanted most was a ceramic keepsake made by hand, preferably painted in bright colors. I liked the idea that I would be the only one in Brooklyn to have such a piece. Though I didn’t do much research into Italian ceramiche, I could tell that the ceramics on display at the street vendors along Via dell’Ariento in Florence were not to my liking. Then, on our last night, we were strolling along a little street near the Ponte alla Carrala, we came across what I hoped to find - a window display of beautiful ceramic lemons, platters in all sizes, with every detail glowing in the nighttime light. The store sign, made also of ceramic, simply said Giotti Ceramiche (Borgo Ognissanti, 15r,
I was hopeful there would be at least one piece I could afford, and when I returned in the morning I was so happy to buy not one but two unique pieces: a basket of lemons with grapes and a serving platter with a painted scene of a podere (estate or farm), cypress trees, and red poppies. I asked the staff at Giotti to have my items shipped, and we traveled on to Venice.

One week later, a box arrived from Giotti, but it was a flimsy box and I thought I heard a rattle as I carried it to my apartment door. Yes, my lemon-and-grape basket was broken -- one of the delicate leaves was chipped off -- and I was sad and slightly angry because the nice man at Giotti had assured me they package items like this all the time with complete success. When I was at the store I never asked about guarantees or refunds, but now I needed to tell them what happened and see what they would do. I took pictures of the box and pictures of the lemon-and-grape basket and sent an e-mail to Giotti. Within minutes, Laura (a Giotti employee) responded. After a few e-mail exchanges, Laura confirmed that a replacement piece would be in production immediately and that I could keep the broken one. She would look into why the packaging was faulty and would make a note for future shipments. Within 3 weeks a new box arrived and this box was strong and taped well and was clearly marked (and best of all there was no rattle sound when I picked it up). My new lemon-and-grape basket is now sitting on my kitchen table, and every time I walk by it I think of my first trip to Florence and my walk at night along that little dark street. But I also think that when I return to Florence (and I most definitely will return), I will go to the Giotti shop and give Laura a big hug (and buy some more ceramics!).”

Though Linda should have inquired about Giotti's policy on shipping before she left the shop, she carefully documented what had happened and took photos when she was home, and her story has a happy ending.

(Full disclosure: I happen to be the recipient of the original lemon-and-grape basket with the chipped leaf, and I completely understand why it caught Linda's eye! Linda knows I am nuts for ceramics, too, and I was only too happy to add this decorative piece to my collection. But beyond the usefulness and practicality - or just plain beauty -- of ceramics, one of the best reasons I seek them out is for the memories associated with buying them. Like Linda's memory of discovering Giotti's window in that little Florentine street at night, I remember where I bought every piece I have, making their value inestimable.)

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