Italy, July, 2021: A Pipe Travelogue

We go where the pipes are. Our special relationships with pipe makers and manufacturers are predicated on being responsible, supportive stewards for their pipes and their efforts, and a near limitless willingness to just show up. Shane Ireland and I do most of the pipe-buying travel. We're in Italy and Ireland quarterly, Denmark thrice annually, and France, England, Germany, Sweden, China, and Japan at least annually. Travel is a big part of what makes Smokingpipes what it is.

That ingrained commitment to personal interaction has made the last 16 months pretty weird. Yes, I could mention the pandemic's effect on the company or my family, but for me — just my life — the weirdest aspect was not traveling anywhere. That arrested momentum was disorienting. My last pre-pandemic trip was in February and March of 2020 when I visited Japan, Germany, and Ireland, (canceling a stop in China at the behest of my wife, my mother, and pretty much everyone else advocating my survival). I managed to return home as borders everywhere were closing. It seemed personal, like I was being chased through time zones by COVID-19. When I left on that trip there were very few cases outside of China. By the time I was home: global pandemic.

So I waited, and having been fully vaccinated by early April, I found myself eagerly reading European and American newspapers, the U.S. State Department's website, and the websites of various European Ministries of Health, waiting for countries I routinely visit to open again to Americans. My plan was to go wherever I could as soon as I could.

That impatience may appear indulgent of my pipe-oriented wanderlust (which is not inconsiderable), but it's a central element of our business. Selecting pipes for the site in person is part of it, but that's relatively easy to replicate (however imperfectly) with a mix of emailed photos and Zoom. The bit that isn't replicable — for which video calls are poor substitutes — is the conversation that can happen only where the pipes are made and with the people who make them.

Does that sound like some sort of new-age pipe fantasy? What I mean is that only by being there can we discover otherwise unknowable details and say, "Hey, is there anything cool we can do with that stem material, or that bowl shape, or that metal adornment?" Or, "Hey, I see you're tinkering with X shape ... what if we did Y with it?" I've been doing this for a long time and consider it part of my job to collaborate with pipe makers or factories to discover and develop what is not immediately obvious. They know their work better than I do, but their proximity to that work can sometimes conceal possibilities that the cross-pollination of ideas can clarify. I can't make pipes (Peter Heeschen made me try fifteen years ago; it was not pretty; understanding pipes is starkly different from actually making pipes). Still, I see tens of thousands of pipes every year and visit dozens of workshops. The pipe makers and factories we work with possess tremendous depth of experience, while we at Smokingpipes possess tremendous breadth of experience. We're in a particular position to see trees where others may see forests, and we may notice opportunities too close to pipe makers for them to identify.

That requires travel. We need to be in their space.

So it was with particular alacrity that I booked flights to Italy as soon as I could do so without subjecting myself to a two-week quarantine. Ten years ago, I wrote a number of pipe-travelogues, and my colleagues encouraged me to resurrect that format for this trip. Travel is integral to Smokingpipes' mission and I've really missed it. I hope you enjoy the details of my most recent expedition.

July 5: Radice

Marzio Radice

I landed in Lombardy at Milan-Malpensa airport at 7 a.m., armed with reams of documents attesting to my coronavirus-free status, my vaccine status, and a small trove of information on my planned movements for contact tracing but was nonetheless nervous. The rules for entry during the pandemic had changed at least three times since I'd booked the flights. Ultimately, my concern was groundless: the gent screening the pandemic paperwork ignored everything aside from my CDC vaccination card and, glancing at that, waved me through.

Having picked up my luggage and the rental car, I was on my way to my first appointment. For a few years now, my "arrival in Italy" pattern has been to go straight to Radice, in Cucciago near Como, about forty-five minutes northeast of Milan.

And it was so good to be back, to see Marzio and Gianluca. Marzio welcomed me with metaphorical open arms and literal fist-bumps (the not-hugging-people-during-a-global-pandemic thing is particularly challenging for Italians; they seem a bit disoriented about what to do when greeting friends) and immediately offered me my first espresso of the trip. Through a quirk of timing, they'd sent a shipment to Smokingpipes a couple of days before I'd emailed Marzio about the trip, so there was nary a completed pipe in the place. Still, they were working on a batch of Rind rusticated pipes that were almost finished and a good-sized group of Aero reverse Calabashes that were further from completion. Most extraordinary was a trio of Magnums, one in final stages and two only very rough, one of which weighed in at more than a pound; when completed, it would be the largest Radice Magnum we've had at Smokingpipes in recent memory.

Luigi Radice

While Luigi Radice retired a few years ago, he always makes an appearance when I visit. Luigi turned 82 this March but still comes into the workshop to tinker. So he arrived in wrap-around, green-reflective sunglasses, bright red shorts, and sporty sandals, plopped down on the windowsill in the small Radice conference-room/office space, and hung out with us for a half hour before jetting off to play cards with friends. I hope I'm half as awesome in my eighties. I wish I were half as awesome now.

Radice had a comparatively easy time of it during the pandemic. None of them became ill and they were able to keep working. Of course, they missed traveling (even local travel was seriously curtailed) and that was a personal inconvenience, but their work life and home life, both thoroughly intertwined with family, continued much as it had.

July 6: Savinelli

Savinelli is always my big day in Italy. We start around 9:30 and go until we're done. Laudisi (parent company to Smokingpipes) is also the U.S. distributor for Savinelli and our business relationship is the single largest partnership for both companies.

And it's always a really fun day. The business aspects have been so refined over the years that these meetings, two or three times a year typically, are very much about putting together new projects, selecting Autographs, and generally looking around for opportunities to do interesting things. I saw early prototypes for some of Savinelli's 2022 novelties and our conversations included the ongoing balsa filter situation (which is bleak, thanks to supply problems out of Uruguay) and other necessary subjects, but three topics were particularly interesting.

Shapes of Decades Past

Between about fifteen and twenty-five years ago, Savinelli started phasing out some shapes, and adapting others, because they could not be drilled for 9mm filters. As filters became more important in particular markets (most notably, but certainly not exclusively, Germany), all pipe factories responded in one way or another. Savinelli dropped some shapes (or seriously deemphasized them) and modified others. A number of oval, rectangular, and eye-shaped shank profiles disappeared during that transition.

The 816 KS still exists in the Roma series, but nowhere else. The 404, a truly great Zulu shape, survives in just a handful of older series. Thin-shanked pipes were replaced by (or deemphasized in favor of) bigger versions: the 315 KS saw its ascendancy, while the thinner-shanked 313 has become rather obscure. The same is true for the 207 over the 202, which is now mostly just in the Churchwarden and Petite series. Similarly, the modern 920 KS has a wider shank than the old version. Interestingly, the 921 shape — a relatively new entrant in the shape chart — is closer to the old 920 KS than the newer version of the shape. And, oh, the poor 105 doesn't get anything like the love it deserves (in my entirely unbiased, professional opinion, of course). And when was the last time we saw a 125?

I certainly don't fault Savinelli for making these perfectly rational (indeed, inevitable) decisions. Indeed, Savinelli navigated all of that with more grace than most pipe factories. More personally, what it means is that I spent two hours hunting around in their old bowl inventory. It's vast. Like most pipe factories, Savinelli has lots of turned bowls on hand. Also like most pipe factories, some of these bowls are remnants of discontinued shapes. The people at Savinelli think I'm a little crazy, I suspect, but they're indulgent when I go hunting through rack after rack of bowls so old their dust is dusty.

We're still working out what exactly to do with them, but the coming months will bring some sort of shape revival.

Acrylics

The stimulating colors and patterns of modern acrylics have become a defining characteristic of Savinelli's aesthetic. Ten years ago, there were just a handful of interesting acrylics in use, and those — with the notable exception of the Miele line ("honey" in English) — were pretty conservative. Over the past four or five years, new acrylic colors and textures have defined Savinelli's annual releases, from the extraordinarily popular Oceano to this year's Arlecchino and Camouflage.

One of my goals was to see a whole lot of acrylic. We'd been kicking around some project ideas requiring different acrylics, similar to last year's Bing's Favorite Limited Edition with the variously colored stems. I wanted to see what we had to work with for future ideas, a few of which are in the early stages of becoming something. I asked Sonia Rivolta (Savinelli's CEO and architect of Savinelli's revival over the past dozen years), if this would require some preparatory organization. And that was wise as there was ever so much more than I expected. There were acrylics used to make stems: Those I knew. And different acrylics used for various rings and adornments: Those I hadn't thought about. And acrylics used for long-discontinued projects: Those I'd forgotten (anyone out there remember the Design series?). And different acrylics that had been considered for projects but never used: Those I didn't even know they had.

I was particularly taken with those that I hadn't seen or thought about before. There was a fantastic crackled light blue that I thought was new, but it turned out to be the accenting acrylic for the Venezia limited edition from earlier this year. As a fairly thin ring of acrylic, it was subtly variegated; as a larger sheet (as indeed would be true of a stem), it was strikingly bold. Both are beautiful, but it's remarkable how differently their colors can be perceived. And there was an absolutely wonderful orange. Savinelli had tested another orange previously (we actually experimented with it on a couple of pipes for me personally), but it was just too, well, orange. Think Tennessee orange; I grew up a Vols fan, but I couldn't accept responsibility for subjecting the pipe world to that orange. This orange is a little more red and a little more restrained, and generally more interesting, pairing nicely with a variety of bowl colors.

Also of note were two acrylics used for the Design series, which was produced from around 2006 to 2008 and was Savinelli's first use of art deco-style mouthpieces. Although the series employed a number of different acrylics (including a couple that will not again see the light of day, nor should they), two were particularly captivating. While there are no Savinelli-identifying plates or bars, some are finished stems, which limits options in terms of shapes but provides something concrete to work with. It's also fun visualizing whole new projects where everything is being spun up from scratch, and there's something deeply satisfying about the puzzle-piece nature of this sort of work. It's like finding treasures, but you don't just get to use them; no, you have to solve a riddle and have the secret key and then you get to make them into something. Pipe manufacturing can, at times, feel a bit like having fallen into a Hans Christian Andersen story.

Savinelli Autographs

Like every other pipe factory, Savinelli faced a number of challenges through the pandemic. They were obliged to close for almost three months in the second quarter of 2020 (as was also true for both Peterson and Chacom). They experienced rolling slowdowns resulting from workers in the factory being out either for COVID or for testing, delays faced by every company on the planet with staff that was obliged to work on-site.

At the same time, sales to pipe smokers and collectors continued apace. Like other pipe factories, Savinelli focused on their core lines in an attempt to meet demand and just didn't make a lot of Freehands — Autographs, Artisans, and the like. They say that crafting Freehands at the same time as regular-production pipes is disruptive, the work being so different, and they really have to plan around making a batch of Freehands.

Well, starting about a month ago, they pivoted toward Freehands in a serious way. The selection was magnificent, in terms of both quality and quantity. It was, by far, the best overall selection I've ever seen at once. Until the pandemic, almost all of the Freehands that came to the U.S. were chosen by Shane Ireland or me on our visits to the factory, and it was gratifying to resume that practice, particularly with a selection like this. From classic Savinelli freehands like Bent Dublins and Fans to some minor departures into large, sophisticated Freehand classic shapes, the shaping was, on average, the best I've seen since LDG (Laudisi Distribution Group) has been the U.S. importer. The stains were well matched and vibrant. And there was a nice assortment with stems of various colors on top of it all. The Artisan line — sort of an Autograph sub-brand for pipes that don't quite make the cut for Autographs — was similarly impressive. Typically we reserve the best 20-30% of what we see when we visit. This time, I took about half, and had the selection been typical, it would have been more (after the first few dozen, it occurred to me that my limit might be how many we might actually need rather than how many met our typical standards).

Keep an eye out for the Autographs. They should land in the U.S. in late July-ish and some will start hitting Smokingpipes around the beginning of August.

July 7: Castello

In business as in politics, half the job is often managing expectations. When I wrote to Marco Parascenzo and Franco "Kino" Coppo about the visit, Marco said that there might be a couple of hundred pipes for me to choose from instead of the 1,500-2,000 pipes I was used to seeing at Castello. Castello, it seemed, had suffered the same fate as many other businesses during the pandemic, having closed for some months, plus suffering from lots of missed work as staff succumbed and recovered from COVID-19, or simply missed work while awaiting Covid test results. They were all fine in the end ‚ and the region's case rates were now low and vaccination proceeding apace — but it certainly made things difficult for a time.

Typically, Shane or I will be there every four months or so, in January, May and October each year, so eighteen months is a very long time for us to go without a visit. While I was dismayed to hear that there would be few pipes, it would still have been good to see everyone at the workshop and knit together some future plans (and, yes, convey the degree to which we were absolutely desperate for pipes ... if you regularly watch Castellos on Smokingpipes, you've probably noticed over the past months only about half as many as is typical.

Marco Parascenzo and Franco 'Kino' Copp

Customarily, the pipe-picking part of the Castello visit takes hours. I work my way through what Castello has on hand, more or less one at a time, selecting perhaps 10-20% from the typical selection of 1,500 or 2,000 pipes. I generally end up with about 250 pipes. That process culminates in looking over particularly special or rare pipes, ranging from Collection Fiammatas to Flames to other interesting pieces (perhaps an exceptional sandblast, or an exceptionally large pipe, or something else outside of the norm). That process takes a couple of hours. From there, I lay out everything I've selected (Shane's process is identical when he's there to do this) and refine the selections until I'm close to our target number of pipes, which for a normal visit, ranges between 100 and 150 total. Most of the pipes that end up on Smokingpipes are handpicked at Castello in Cantù, but historically we've supplemented those visits with selections made at major shows like IPCPR and Chicago in the U.S. and Dortmund in Germany.

But that was definitely not what I encountered at 10 a.m. on July 7th, Marco's expectations management having prepared me to be delighted with what was available. Marco indicated that the guys in the workshop (Castello has just eight employees, including Kino) had organized their work to have more pipes completed for my visit, and Kino had actually turned away other visitors in anticipation of the first visit from Smokingpipes since January, 2020.

In many respects, the selection was better than we'd typically see. It became clear pretty quickly that I'd have well over a thousand pipes to choose from. More importantly, the selection was nicely distributed. There was a wonderful variety of shapes, including lots of particularly good examples of Shape 55 (the iconic Castello Bent Pot) and Shape 84 (the Hawkbill), and a good mix among the various finishes, including a few dozen beautifully sandblasted Old Antiquaris, which have been fewer than we would have liked over the past two or three years.

Having gone through the entire finished pipe inventory, I had about 250 pipes and we went to lunch. Lunch is important because it's Italy, lunch is invariably delicious, and because I really do need some separation from the pipes by that point. It helps me tremendously to step away and come back with fresh eyes. Sometimes I notice specific things that I'd previously missed. Sometimes it's just a matter of realizing that I picked an excessive number in one shape.

Ultimately, I whittled it down to a bit over two hundred pieces, of which about 90 percent were allocated for Smokingpipes.com, with the balance headed to Dublin for Smokingpipes.eu. While the overall selection at Castello was a little smaller than we customarily encounter, the variety and quality more than made up for that.

Included in all of that were nine of the last dozen from the 1982 series. All of those blocks set aside in 1982 have now become pipes. This was a very special series — and included some truly extraordinary pipes — but we knew from the beginning that it could not last forever. Be on the lookout for the last of them sometime in August.

From there, we wandered the workshop floor. Castello — all of it — is a magical place. The light angling through the windows, the museum-like collections of everything from pipes to paintings to sculpture, the piles and piles (and piles) of briar and other pipe making materials that seem almost randomly organized across the large space, all contribute to the feeling of stepping back in time. The room is bifurcated by a row of columns around which various tools or groups of supplies are organized. One long work table dominates the left side of the huge workshop room. The right side is devoted to briar, and beyond that to bowl turning. Enclosed rooms, for obvious dust-management reasons, are devoted to sandblasting and staining.

A few dozen pipes were nearing completion, including some stunning "fumed" pipes, both rusticated and smooth, and I chose most of those for a future delivery along with a whole wonderful stack of rusticated Shape 55, in various sizes, destined to become Sea Rocks and Natural Vergins (and, thanks to my little bowl flags with "SP" scrawled on them, largely also destined for Smokingpipes). As I neared the end of that box, which was also being actively worked by one of the Castello craftsmen, the gent sanding the stem and shank started handing me each one as he finished that step and I added my handy "SP" flags to those bowls too.

And we did this over and over as we worked our way through the factory, ultimately ending up next to bowls upon which very little work had been done aside from rough shaping. Not having any idea how they might end up looking, I nonetheless laid claim with my little flags (like some latter day pipe conquistador) to the most unusual and interesting of those too (including three silver-army-mounted Bulldogs: frankly, they can be any finish in the end and we'll be delighted). Oh, and obviously, for the not-yet-completed pipes, these aren't really binding arrangements; a pipe might never make it out of the factory if a problem with the wood is discovered, or we may decide not to take it once we see it complete. It's not so much a commitment on either side as it is a demonstration of intent. Still, give a man some little paper flags and he's going to start laying claim to all sorts of things...

From there, we worked our way back to Kino's conference/work table and discussed some future projects, which would be premature to detail here. Still, be on the lookout for a special limited-edition Castello pipe on Smokingpipes sometime near the end of the year. Oh, and there may be some really neat two-, three-, and five-pipe sets in our not-too-distant future.

July 8-9: Interlude to go work on Peterson Stuff

Following three days of frenetic pipe buying for Smokingpipes (and LDG) for the U.S., I spent Thursday at suppliers for Peterson around Varese. Peterson, you ask? Peterson is owned by the same parent company as Smokingpipes and has faced the same travel challenges as other parts of the company. It definitely needed some supplier visits and since I was now actually in Italy, I was pressed into service. In all seriousness, I am not the best person for this job, being less well equipped to discuss pipe manufacturing than people who actually do it all day, but as I was conveniently located and properly briefed, I served as a stand-in for Jonathan Fields or Joshua Burgess in working out technical challenges with Peterson's suppliers... oh, and I just called the guys in Dublin regularly throughout the day.

I spent Friday near Bologna with my good friend, pipe maker, manufacturing expert, and tool maker extraordinaire, Gabriele dal Fiume. When we took over at Peterson, there was a good bit of work required in the factory. Indeed, there were two problems. One was just a matter of deferred maintenance. The other was that as Ireland has shifted so thoroughly to a service economy, it has become increasingly difficult to find local tool manufacturers who properly understand the factory's needs. Accordingly, Gabriele has been working with the factory to replace or renovate aging machines, replace old tooling, and design new tools that let Peterson make the same pipes, but more consistently and more precisely.

Most of the pipe world knows Gabriele as a pipe maker, but his real career has been in tool and die making and in factory production machinery. For Peterson, he was a godsend. For me, while I recognized the need at Peterson, I'm at a bit of a loss when Gabriele gets deep into the technical weeds. He wants to show me all of this stuff and explain it in great detail because we've been friends for years and this is the important and necessary work he's doing for a factory that's part of the company I run. Still, hanging out with Gabriele feels like hanging out with the art guys in the marketing department in the U.S.: I don't even have the right vocabulary to follow the conversation (and how others must feel when I say something beginning, "So, I wrote a recursive SQL query ..."). At one point, he pulled out a tool he designed to replace the one Peterson uses to shape the mortise on army mounted pipes and began explaining the shape of the blades and the sort of steel used, and why it was preferable to the old one. I understood none of it. I was happy that it meant we were making better mortises, though.

Still, it's fun. I enjoy talking to people who really know their fields, even if I lack the expertise to properly follow the conversation. And, of course, Gabriele and I have been friends for fifteen years, so it was just good to see him. Then we took a break to go to Caseificio Valsamoggia, an extraordinary cheese maker and store. This was important, as my five-year-old son, who has a remarkably sophisticated cheese palate, knows that some of his favorite cheeses come home with me after I see Mr. Gabriele (when we were starting our son on solid food, his pediatrician told us to just feed him what we eat; as enthusiastic amateur cooks and pretty serious food people, my wife and I took that as more than just license to not cook for him separately; we interpreted that guidance as a culinary mission).

Caseificio Valsamoggia

Some hours of tooling discussions later, Claudio Albieri and his wife Chiara, Davide Iafisco, and Gabriele's wife Petra and daughter Sophie met us and, as 10 p.m. approached, we headed to dinner. Dinner ended well after midnight, at which point Gabriele and I realized we'd not yet talked through his pipes, so at a little after 1 a.m., I was selecting nearly-completed Gabriele pipes for Smokingpipes.

Normally, I would have made a side trip up to Ferrara to spend a few hours with Claudio Albieri, the extraordinary leather craftsman whose work we carry on Smokingpipes and who has made various leather goods to accompany projects for both Smokingpipes and Peterson, but this trip was a little compressed. Besides, in addition to dinner together, we knew we'd be seeing each other the following day at lunch with Claudio and Daniela Cavicchi.

July 10: Cavicchi

In some circles of people serious about both food and pipes, Daniela's cooking is discussed in hushed, reverent tones. Claudio, a farmer for much of his life, and Daniela, who worked for a food company near Bologna, are serious about food. And Daniela is one of the finest non-professional cooks I've ever met. They think about food the way very ardent, very serious professional chefs do. Once, some years ago, having just eaten the most remarkable homemade pasta, I spent an hour listening to Claudio talk about the flour that Daniela had used, followed by a detailed explanation of not only its milling, but also the wheat varietal from which it was milled. By the end of the conversation, we had pieces of paper out on the table with small piles of various types of flour, illustrating Claudio's impromptu lecture on the subject (with Daniela periodically clarifying her husband's wheat narrative or explaining more from the cooking perspective).

Daniela and Claudio Cavicchi

What's interesting is that Claudio and Daniela are superficially wholly unfussy. I find it hard to imagine a similar discussion with anyone else that wouldn't have felt like didactic pontification. Not with Claudio. He was just talking about flour. The conversation had wandered backward into the subject from a discussion of the pasta, until we were huddled over tiny piles of flour. But it illustrated the extraordinary seriousness with which this couple in their sixties do everything that they do. Daniela cooks with the warmth of an Italian grandmother, but behind the smile and the encouragements to have a second (and third and occasionally fourth) helping of something, this woman really knows what she's doing.

And this quiet, unfussy seriousness also explains most everything about Claudio Cavicchi's pipes. Back when we started working with Claudio, in 2008, we asked him "what do we do with returns?" He responded, through a translator, "what do you mean, returns? I don't have returns." Perplexed, we said, "well, there are small problems with pipes; it's uncommon, but we need to know what to do when they come up." Claudio just said, "my pipes don't have problems." And he was right: It took us five years and about 1,500 pipes to have a legitimate return for Claudio. Indeed, in 13 years and 2,616 pipes as of this writing, there have been two pipes we've had to return to Claudio. No one else is even close. Claudio is the closest thing there is to an error-free pipe maker. Yet his manner betrays none of that. Yes, as a craftsman (and in everything else he does), he's a relentless perfectionist, but he doesn't talk about it. He's quiet, letting pipes speak for themselves.

And there were pipes that Saturday morning, probably the single largest selection of Cavicchi pipes in one place in a decade. Claudio had just over a hundred pipes for us, including two Perlas, and the first Diamante he has made in seven years. My favorite trays are always the brown sandblasts. The sandblasts are consistently excellent, perfectly balancing depth and character against shape integrity. Good sandblasting does not get the attention that it deserves, though that began to change in the 2000s thanks to the efforts of various American and Canadian pipe makers. Perhaps it's more difficult to aesthetically access what's going on in a sandblast than it is with a beautifully grained smooth pipe, or perhaps we just have a historical bias toward appreciating smooth pipes, but I personally find really exceptional sandblasting more compelling than a well-grained smooth finish (on the other hand, that Diamante is stellar).

As with Castello, I split the pipes between the U.S. and Ireland, with about 15 percent headed to Smokingpipes Europe. Customarily, the big challenge when picking pipes is which to select and which to leave behind. In the case of Claudio Cavicchi, Smokingpipes has bought his entire production since his semi-retirement three or four years ago, so I'm not picking which pipes we'll buy since we'll take all of them. Perhaps because I'm unable to meaningfully engage with pipes without some sort of torturous selection process, I just shifted all of the "which pipes should I choose" angst into deciding which to send to Ireland and which to send to the U.S.. Following much internal deliberation, Smokingpipes Europe ended up with a nice little selection headlined by a beautiful Perla-grade Bent Egg.

Following much pipe discussion, we had lunch. Joined by Claudio Albieri and Davide Iafisco, this is really the central event of the visit to the Cavicchis. We started with a spectacular bolognese-style lasagna, proceeded into veal with porcini and other wild mushrooms, paired with fried porcini bites, and from there into fresh fruit and a special 40-month Parmigiano Reggiano single-farm cheese made not far from the Cavicchi's home. In addition to being very serious about wheat, Claudio and Daniela also collect their own mushrooms, so wild mushrooms (and especially porcini) are a major accompaniment to their meals. Indeed, when I asked how the pandemic went for the two of them, their greatest lament was that they couldn't leave the district and therefore couldn't go to their favorite mushrooming spots for much of 2020.

Claudio Albieri and Claudio Cavicchi

Following that, we began work on this year's Bologna edition, a limited series collaboration between Claudio Cavicchi, for the pipes, and Claudio Albieri, who makes a display box or bag each year for them. I am not at liberty to discuss the project yet, but it will happen later this year and it will be extraordinary — and a distinct departure from what we've done previously. Let's just say that Claudio Cavicchi took some time during pandemic lockdown to experiment with some new methods and Claudio Albieri is taking a distinctly new approach to the leather display case (I was sitting there during these discussions doing little more than waving my hands about and talking about how utterly cool it's going to be; it's a tough job, but I sacrifice much on the altar of great pipes).

From there, I sat with Davide Iafisco for a bit, talking through some semi-completed pipes. Davide deserves far more recognition than he receives in the pipe world. His classics are well executed and his freehands are grounded in both a deep understanding of pipe shapes and a great love of modernist sculpture and design.

And, following one more coffee, I said my goodbyes and got on my way back to Milan to fly home.

My four-year-old son, John, likes to describe my colleagues at Laudisi as being my "work-friends." When I was heading off to Italy for this trip, he and I had a conversation, as he doesn't really remember the time before the pandemic when I traveled regularly. I told him then that I was going a long way on an airplane to see my Italian work-friends. He was sad he couldn't go with me, but needing to go see my work-friends made sense to him. And after a week in Italy, I realized that was exactly what I was there to do. These are my work-friends, and it is those longtime friendships, centered on, but not limited to, our working together with pipes, that knits this little industry of ours together.

Comments

    • Rick Newcombe on July 25, 2021
    • What a fantastic report! I really felt like I was in Italy with all those incredible pipe people. So many beautiful pipes, wonderful people and all of that delicious food!!Sykes Wilford is making it possible for all of us to enjoy our favorite hobby as if everything in the world is next door.Since the pandemic and lockdowns, there have been no reports of travel for pipes until this one. I felt like I was along for the ride, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it!

    • Paul Dunn on July 25, 2021
    • Superb report . Italy is really the center for fantastic pipes .

    • Ian H on July 25, 2021
    • Outstanding article. Very detailed, I enjoyed every word!

    • SO on July 25, 2021
    • Thank you for a great article. I look forward to some fresh Savinelli filters soon. But in my opinion,Savinelli's 6mm filter is perfect and functions well, and does not require a large shank. They should stick with that one. I think the larger 9mm filter is unnecessary.

    • Dave Daack on July 25, 2021
    • Excellent read that made my day. Wasn’t planning on a trip to Europe any time soon, but took one this afternoon. Well done.

    • Mark Irwin on July 25, 2021
    • Next to being in Italy with you, this is a superb 2nd. Food, pipes, friends: nothing much better is there (well, beer maybe...and coffee...and peach cobbler...and...). Thanks for making this supreme sacrifice for all of us, Sykes. I'm glad you could take the bullet. Please, please give us your adventures for the next 11 months as well. I'd love to read about and see Dunhill and the other makers / factories you visit. Namaste!

    • Koechli Stephan on July 25, 2021
    • Great and informative article, thanks. Like the part of Savinelli as 6 of my 11 pipes are Savinelli's including one 'Autograph'.

    • Gian Carlo Molinaro on July 26, 2021
    • Hi, I live in eastern Piedmont not far from the places of service. I can say it's all true, pipes, and good food. Best regards.

    • DAVE SOMMER on July 26, 2021
    • I WISH THAT I HAD YOUR TALENT BOTH AS A WRITER AND AS A WORLD TRAVELER. THAT MAY SOUND BORING TO SOME BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE A NONSTOP WONDERFUL TIME AND A LOT OF WORK. PLEASE KEEP US INFORMED OF YOUR TRIPS GOING FORWARD.

    • Michael Sinclair on July 26, 2021
    • Wow! The extensive travel surprised me and the writing impresses me!

    • Jack Koonce on July 27, 2021
    • Another great article. Thank you

    • Dave MacKenzie on July 29, 2021
    • I'm absolutely green with envy! Let me know if you ever need a roadie on one of your trips.

    • tastytobacco on July 31, 2021
    • What a fantastic article, I love the pictures and appreciate the effort taken to create this piece. I just purchased my first Claudio Cavicchi a "CCCC" bent egg and I'm so happy!!

    • Douglas F on August 4, 2021
    • A fantastic behind-the-scenes. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. It's great to see the relationships behind the business. (Bravo to Castello for doing everything they could under tough circumstances.)I'm interested to hear about a "shape revival" with the Savinelli models. You mention the 404, which I recently bought from you in the Oscar Lucite finish. That's a great smoker, and being somewhat on the trim side, is an excellent pouch pipe. A perfect candidate for a refresh.Continued safe travels.

Join the conversation:


This will not be shared with anyone

challenge image
Enter the circled word below: