Reporting from Milan: NeatPipes The Party 2.0

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Lori Brown
It was a typical Sunday morning in February.
I was still in bed and Kevin was checking his email and Facebook notifications. He walked back into the room and said "Honey, we were invited to a pipe show in Milan in April." I immediately started laughing because we always joke about being invited to events on Facebook half way around the world that of course we are not going to attend. When he said, "No, I am serious." I immediately stopped laughing. He then explained about Luca’s Pipe Show, which he calls The Party, and then said that Luca Di Piazza specifically private messaged him on Facebook and asked Kevin to come. Kevin said that it probably wasn’t in the budget but I could check it out anyway.

I immediately grabbed my iPad and started checking on flights. I found a great rate on round trip flights to Malpensa airport near Milan and when Kevin heard the price he was happily surprised. He left the room and returned with his credit card. An hour and a half after we woke up that morning we had flight tickets and were going to Italy for nine days. We decided on three days in Milan, two days in Rome, two days in Venice and our last night in Milan for our return flight. This was all happening the week before my Birthday, so Happy Birthday to me. Needless to say I was thrilled!

Because he felt I did such a good job writing the article for the Seattle Pipe Club’s Annual Dinner, he asked me to write this article as well, from my newbie perspective, as The Party would be my first experience at a real pipe show.

Two months flew by very quickly and before we knew it we were headed to the airport for a long flight to Italy and we were most excited. In order to keep the flight cost the same as what I originally found we had to fly out on Thursday and would arrive in Milan at 6:00 am on Friday morning … the first day of the events.

Having slept most of the flight, I was not that tired. We had arranged to check into our Hotel, the Ca’ Bianca Corte Del Naviglio, early and Kevin slept for a few hours off and on. Our original plan was to attend the pipe maker’s workshop between 2:00 and 6:00 pm, but with adjusting and settling in, we didn’t make it there until around 5:00 and it was mostly over. We said hello to Luca and met a few others, retrieved our welcome packets and tickets for that night’s dinner and then headed next door to a little bistro called Caffe Tobagi to have a bite with some other attendees that Kevin knew.

Most of the events took place at the Fornace Curti. It was a very large, beautiful stone structure with a gorgeous courtyard and winding corridors. This is where Luca houses his business and where the pipe show and The Party were to take- place the following day and night.

That evening we attended a lovely dinner at a place called Certe Notti at which Luca had arranged for our group to have the entire restaurant. You could feel the excitement in the air as everyone enthusiastically went from table to table greeting each other and catching up. We were seated at a table for two and served a lovely bottle of bubbles, Bottega Brut 2014. Oh how I love bubbles! Dinner was delicious. We went straight back to the hotel afterwards because we had a big day the next day and jet lag was beginning to set in.

Back at the room, Kevin attempted to prepare me for how we would handle our work at the pipe show. We would first go to every table and from the first run through I would then select four or five pipe makers, that interested me, to write about. We would then return to their booth, explain what we were doing and then interview them. Kevin and I would then collaborate on the interview questions. We would also take pictures of several of their pipes to add to the article. In college, I once thought I wanted to be a journalist so I was excited.

Jet lag hit me hard that Saturday morning. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it, but I dragged myself out of bed, we ate our complimentary breakfast of cappuccino, fresh squeezed juice, cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs and off we went.

As we were leaving the hotel, Kevin saw Anne Julie walk by and he was a bit star-struck. It was quite cute. She was gone before he could go up to her and introduce himself. He explained to me how famous she was in the world of pipe making. She certainly looked fascinating.

When we arrived at The Fornace Curti it was vibrant and alive with excitement. Everyone was buzzing about chatting, smoking and admiring all of the different pipes. We were greeted with free samples of a few different tobacco blends and then we began our adventure of going from table to table. The first few tables were in the corridors before we arrived in the main hall. I spotted Anne Julie’s table in one of the smaller rooms off of the main entrance. I already had it in my head that she would be one of our interviews.

Luca Di Piazza

Before heading to the main hall, we spoke with Luca to get some background information on the show and the fascinating Fornace Curti.

Luca explained that the Fornace Curti was a factory from the 19th Century that produced large amounts of terra cotta used in the restoration of churches, monuments and ruins. Once the terra cotta business slowed, they rented some of the rooms to local artisans. The Neat Pipes studio has been housed at the Fornace Curti for three years now.

This is the second year for "The Party". The first year was a much smaller party, which was kept closed to only the Neat Pipes carvers. They received such overwhelmingly positive feedback that they had many requests to open it up to everyone for this party, which is aptly called The Neat Pipes Party 2.0.

This year "The Party" had 45 exhibitor tables, approximately 10 represented countries, and over 500 attendees throughout the day.

Luca then gave us some background on the business. Neat Pipes itself is actually a retailer, whereas Italian Pipemakers is their distributor. Neat Pipes exclusively represents ten pipe makers among them Don Carlos, Rinaldo (not in the U.S.), Radice, and their newest addition Mario Pascucci.

We now moved into the main hall, which was very crowded. It was difficult trying to maneuver close to many of the tables. We tried to go in some semblance of an order, but it was quite futile. So we just kept track of who we missed, made mental notes to go back to those tables and set on our mission to pick out our featured pipe makers.

Sykes Wilford of Inspects a Potential Purchase

In the end, the pipe makers I chose to interview were Anne Julie, Cristian Galeazzi and his wife and partner in pipe making Cinzia Evangelisti, Manduela, Jon Vesterholm and a special guest interview with Nikolaj Nielsen of The Danish Pipe Shop.

All of our visits with these pipe makers were interesting and engaging. You can read the accompanying article on each of them here.

I own four pipes now. The first two were from Kevin, and one from The Seattle Pipe Club dinner, but while at the show, I fell in love with a pipe made by Cristian Galeazzi and his wife Cinzia Evangelisti and made my very first pipe purchase on my own. The brand is Regina Scarlatta. It is a grade 4 out of 5 due to two very, tiny sand pits in the wood. I absolutely love it! (There is actually a grade 6, but Cristian said there has ever been only one of these.)

Lori’s Regina Scarlatta Pipe is named "Nefertari" by the pipe maker, and Brian Levine says it is a "Lilly" shape.

I was amazed at how fast the time flew by. At the end of our day at the show, I was a bit fatigued but exhilarated with all the amazing people we had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.

We went back to our room to freshen up before "The Party" that night and decided to relax and smoke our pipes in the gazebo outside of our room. We decided to sample the tobacco that we were given when we arrived that morning. The name and distributor of the tobacco is unknown but it was a medium English blend that both Kevin and I really enjoyed.

It was exciting to me at how much better I am getting at lighting my pipe and keeping it lit. Something I need to be better at for when we head to the Chicago Pipe Show the first weekend in May. Kevin has attempted to prepare me for how massive of a show Chicago is.

We headed to "The Party" at 7:00, which is when it was to begin. It seemed like we were going to be earlier than most since we were seeing people who were just leaving from the day’s event. We were almost there when I noticed a cute place called Ittolitto’s and we decided to stop in for a quick bite and a drink.

What a diamond in the rough Ittolitto’s was!! We sat at the bar and our bartender, Sylvia, spoke no English. We all had such fun as I attempted to use an app on my phone where you speak into it and it translates for you. We laughed a lot and we had two amazing pasta dishes as we were not sure what food would be at the party.

We then joined the festivities, which were in the main hall at the Fornace Curti. We missed the complimentary sweet and salted appetizers but when we arrived it was packed with people and they brought out the most gorgeous cake. We were treated with glasses of Prosecco while listening to live music and mingling with people we had met that day and other new friends. We ran into Cristian and his lovely wife, Cinzia, the makers of the pipe I bought that day. We toasted, took pictures with them and all became Facebook friends. It was a lovely way to end an amazing weekend!

Sunday was our last day and night in Milan. Luca had arranged a fashion tour that morning but we couldn’t quite make the 8:30 am departure time. The show that day was reserved for dealers, so we decided to tour Milan and went to the Duomo, had a delicious lunch on a rooftop restaurant with a fantastic view of the Duomo, we window shopped in the fashion district and then took a fascinating tour of the Villa Necchi Campiglio. We wrapped up the day with an amazing dinner at the Ristorante Giacomo.

What a weekend! To quote Kevin, "Leave it to one of the younger generation pipe guys, like Luca, to come up with a pipe show that doubles as a party." The setting was truly spectacular! It was like being in a magical, mystical pipe party world filled with wonderful, friendly people. We are both so glad we attended and feel honored that we were invited and were able to make the trip. I would highly recommend that you add this to your calendar for next year.

The Author, Smoking Her Nording Bulldog

9 Responses

  • That was a wonderful report, full of excitement and wonder and great photographs. I just love enthusiasm for any aspect of this hobby, and Lori did a fantastic job. I have heard great things about “The Party,” but several pipe makers have told me they haven’t gone because it is too close to the Chicago show and they are too busy making pipes for that show. I wish Luca would consider a different date, perhaps a month earlier. In any event, I am jealous of Lori and Kevin and hope someday to attend. I can hear my Italian mother, in heaven, urging me on. Thanks for a terrific report.

  • Thanks so much, Rick! I understand what you mean. We are just barely catching our breath from Italy, and have one day left to get everything in order before we leave for the Chicago show. I’m looking forward to seeing you there and introducing you to Lori. Listen for her on the radio show coming up in 15-minutes … or tomorrow on the podcast. 🙂

  • Thank you, Rick! I am glad you enjoyed it and it was an honor to attend and write the article. I look forward to meeting you in Chicago!

  • Great pictures and write-up. I think I’d be a bit hesitant to chat up Anne Julie, as well, supposing she speaks English;).

  • Luca certainly has the natural charisma to make a success out of whatever he sets his mind to. I look forward to attending a future iteration of the NP party! Thanks for bringing us all along with you Lori.