Early Inventions - The "Capettone!"

While living in Italy, my husband and I were shamefully reliant on a low cost airline which was (and still is) notorious for very minimal free carryon allowance and high fees. To avoid the fees, our typical practice was to avoid checking baggage, pack minimally, and wear abundant layers.

One Christmas, we decided to visit our good friend in London and purchased some unbelievably inexpensive tickets with this bargain airline. We accepted that we would be severely limited in our carryon allowance and our choice of seats. In thinking about a gift for our friend, we considered our local delicacies and our luggage constraints. Olive oil and wine were eliminated as options since we could not take liquids in our carryon. Most things larger or heavier than an a pair of socks could be ruled out unless we wanted to pay extra baggage fees.

At a recent holiday party in our Italian town, I had just tried some panettone made by our friend and local baker, Enzo. Panettone is a traditional Christmas cake which usually comes in a box and often has a mildly unpleasant, chemical aftertaste. Enzo’s panettone is nothing like these boxed versions. Moist, buttery and flaky, Enzo’s version is light and delicate, instantly dissolving in your mouth, leaving you craving for more. I was determined to share this discovery with our friend.

Knowing that we couldn’t sacrifice valuable packing space for a large and delicate cake, I had the inspiration to make a Christmas-themed hat that could contain the cake and allow us to wear our gift, thereby avoiding extra baggage fees. But why stop there? I decided that we had to bring TWO cakes, one for our friend and one for his partner. While my husband was a bit distracted, I asked him to promise me a single Christmas gift. Would he wear a home-made hat on the plane? He readily agreed without asking questions.

I bought some festive fabric and sewed two hats that would hold the panettones securely on our heads. I made the hats Santa-style with sufficient girth to avoid compressing the airy cakes. On our way to the airport, I requested that we stop at Enzo’s to get our freshly-made panettones, carefully wrapped for our trip. I loved that my husband didn’t question this unexpected detour. My conviction that I had married the perfect guy was yet again confirmed when my husband good-naturedly donned the panettone under the hat at the busy airport.

We wore the hats as we stood at the ticket desk while the attendant completed the required luggage-weighing. As we waited nervously, sweating in our abundant layers, we were uncomfortably aware that others in line were giving us a wide berth. My hat remained upright while Jim’s leaned a bit to the side, clearly outlining the shape of the cake underneath. When we finally approached the desk with our papers and passports in hand, the attendant barely looked at us, graciously ignoring our headgear. She handed us our boarding passes and waved us on. We celebrated our success with a glass of wine at the bar before boarding, slightly giddy from our accomplishment.

With regard to “function”, the “cappettone” hit the mark. It served a purpose to share an amazing local delicacy with a good friend. This experience was also joyful and fun, allowing us to anticipate a wonderful vacation and secondarily, distract me from my annoying fear of flying. However, with regard to “form”, the capettone looked…well, ridiculous. It made me think about other options. Could travel gear actually be functional and elegant?