I did not know much about Carpi until recently when I came to see an old friend. Just 40 mins from Milan by train, it is a quiet town off the tourist radar in the Emilia-Romagna region.
I got off the train at Reggio Emilia stop on a damp and cloudy afternoon. My friend Hong picked me up at the railway station and drove us to a meeting with his business partners. It’s been years since we last met in Vietnam.
From the car’s front seat I looked out to the window to admire immense fields of grape arbors lining both sides of the country road. In Emilia-Romagna grapes are usually harvested in the fall, I was told, just in time for tasty grape and wine festivals during September. These were probably the last crops of this season.
To be honest, I was not expecting to see these vineyards in a Northern Italian town. For a long time I’ve thought this is the Southern thing, but it seemed to be a false myth…
“This is the home land of Italian Lambrusco wine”, Hong told me.
Again I was surprised. To my limited knowledge of Italy, Emilia-Romagna has been hailed as the country’s food capital, home to its wonderful Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar and Prosciutto ham. But a premier wine region? It was the first time I heard something like this.
This new stuff was fascinating to me, so I kept asking my ‘local guide’ a lot of questions on the way. From what I remember Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine with a mixture of sweet and bubbly, tasting perfectly with pizza and rich foods like salumi and cheese. Usually it is made of different grape varieties, and the quality may significantly vary from one vineyard to another. Later I found out Lambrusco wine is actually inexpensive (no more than €5 for a bottle), and not really appreciated by serious wine lovers. It is a humble, everyday wine that everyone adores, mostly used to serve big parties. Having said that, critics have advised that it’s not impossible to pick out some of the good ones.
The following day, we went to visit some made-in-Italy factory outlets in the Carpi district with another friend from Russia. Hong told me that wholesalers through out Europe usually flock here to source the latest clothing and knitwear samples. This town, in fact, plays a key role on the Italian fashion scene, with more than two thousand firms, over a thousand of workers and a turnover of EUR 1 billion, half of which accounted for by exports.
It was interesting to know that over the past decades Carpi has grown from a small agricultural centre to the world’s knitwear capital. Back in the 1950s, local female agricultural laborers only worked in the farm for about 75 days a year, so they started producing clothes, especially knitwear for extra income.
“It is a very rare town in Italy with zero per cent of unemployment rate “, Hong proudly told me. (I have not been able to fact-check this). “Everybody has a job. No crime. Life here is therefore very peaceful”.
Passing by Carpi for only two nights while traveling to other cities during the day time, I have yet to discover the history, art and culture sides of a town that dated back to the 6th century AD. Well it’s safe to say I have yet to capture the essence of this town. But I’m grateful for the new knowledge I acquired during this trip, and there’s always next time…