Vetralla, though, was on the other side of Orvieto, not far from Viterbo and the lake of Bolsena, on the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route from France to Rome. We had been told there was a potter in Vetralla, who made traditional red ware, rather coarse, but beloved by the German tourists who come to Umbria and Lazio every summer. We only knew that his name was Ricci, but not just where he had his workshop. Surely someone in the town could tell us.
It was still early morning and while we had had our usual coffee before leaving Orvieto, that was over an hour ago and we were hungry. Right outside the city gates we saw a bakery and pulled up. They had just taken what they called French loaves, rather like baguettes, from the oven and we went into the alimentari next door where they cut our loaf in half lengthwise and layered it with rosy slices of mortadella, dotted with white leopard spots of lard and green pistachios. Warm crusty bread and fragrant mortadella. A taste sensation that has remained with me over the years.
The next step was to find the potter. Un vasaio. Felice Ricci. All we got were blank stares. Someone who makes pots. Oh, you mean Checco Lallo. Yes, he has his cave where he works out there in the woods and we were pointed in the right direction.
Checco Lallo. A spare elderly man in a cave, wearing a light blue shirt and jeans, smudged with clay. Could have been a character from a fairy tale. There was red earth all around and we went in to where he was throwing casseroles and pitchers. He shook his head in disbelief when he told us about the Germans who would come back year after year for some of his vessels. They even ordered them from one year to the next. There were some stacked at one side, and others were still drying, waiting their turn to go into the kiln. The clay – yes, he dug that from the earth itself. That’s why it was so red and porous.
We chose a dozen pieces to take with us and then I saw a strange shape near the kiln. What was that for? It had been a cylinder but was now deformed and showed signs of its age. Oh, I use that to fire the small plates for my coffee cups, Checco told us. Those separator pins are in refractory clay and don’t stick to the plates. No wonder this strange looking object had caught my attention. Can you sell it to me? I asked. You mean you really want that? Can’t use it anymore, so take it. It’s yours. And off we went, with my treasure, as well as a selection of coarse red ware to sell to the German tourists.