Posted by Palma Hansen – www.palmabellasitaly.com
The concept of “Slow Europe” has a number of benefits. One of the benefits we’ve come to cherish most is the idea of an “authentic” experience. Because we spend more time in a travel destination, we look for more things to do than visit the regular tourist venues. That digging deeper can yield experiences that are truly unique to your destination, making your destination special. These are the kinds of experiences you won’t find referenced in a Fodor’s or Frommer’s. Sometimes only the locals know about them, or maybe it’s only likely that you could know about them if you speak the language. We recently had a great example of an authentic experience.
When we took our recent group to Umbria, Italy, we stayed close to a small town called Bevagna. Bevagna is a very charming place, with some excellent restaurants, and a couple of sites for the tourist, but not a place you would normally expect to find something extraordinary.
We did know that we just missed the annual festival in Bevagna that celebrates the medieval crafts. The festival, Mercato delle Gaite, transforms Bevagna into a medieval bazaar with many crafts stalls, and contests in four categories: medieval market preparation, medieval works representation, food and wine preparation, archery tournament. There are four “neighborhoods” in Bevagna, each with their own ancient medieval craft workshop(s). These are called the four Gaites of the city and they all compete in the categories above.
What we didn’t know was that we could actually visit workshops that make their living year-round using the ancient medieval techniques to create paper, religious art, candles and silk thread. These tours were all fascinating, but the paper-making was truly impressive. When we entered the “workshop,” we were surprised by the size of the space, like a small warehouse in the United States. The “maestro” demonstrated each step of the process.
First, cotton or linen cloth is collected into piles, then torn into smaller and smaller pieces, then cut on a blade to a size about 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch, and dumped into liquid to soak.
Once soaked, the cloth/pulp is then mashed under a huge stone which is lifted using the power of a waterwheel and dropped again and again on the cloth. This process assures a “fine” pulp.
That pulp is then used to create a slurry, and a screen is lifted from the slurry to capture the paper pulp and let the liquid drain, which is the beginnings of the paper. A watermark is embossed showing the papermaker’s special emblem.
After pressing and drying, and more pressing and drying, the paper can be used.
Working full-time with this medieval process, only 500 8×10 pieces of paper can be made in a month! The paper is thick and beautiful. One use was embossing art on the paper, which when backlit, created what was a beautiful, three-dimensional piece of art.
Who knew such an authentic experience was available in Bevagna?
We saw medieval processes used to create rare and beautiful products for the 21st century. And we realized that only in one place, this place, was such an authentic experience available.
When you slow down your travel, the opportunities for authentic experiences increase, which means your travel experience is richer, more memorable, and certainly more enjoyable.
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Palma Hansen is an Italian-American who enjoys cooking, music, art, and all things Italian. She and her husband, Brad, have been exploring and enjoying Italy travel since 2001. They live and work in Palm Desert, California, and are looking forward to sharing their love of Umbria with travelers who want to experience the wonders of Italy in a slow, personal, and casual way.