For as long as I’ve known my friend Val, she has never had any trouble shopping … until she joined me on a trip to Italy. A new designer wardrobe would have been as simple as a credit card transaction in Milan. In Sicily, you might need to slip a few extra euros under the table to get a perfectly tailored suit. But I’ve dragged Val on a road trip around Basilicata and Puglia, two regions of Southern Italy where money doesn’t talk.

In Grottaglie, a village known for its ceramics, she spends hours seeking out the perfect pumo, a flower bud-like sculpture locals place outside of their home for luck. When she finally chooses a glossy white piece, the artisan tells her the glaze is not quite right. “Sell it to me for a discount,” she rationalizes. But he waves her off and she leaves rejected. In Ostuni, she attempts to buy an olive wood spoon, hand selected by the woodworker himself. But before she can take out her euros he grabs it from her hand: “It’s too special to part with.” He says the same about the bowl and then the bottle opener she tries to buy. “Well, is anything in this store really for sale?” she asks, flummoxed.

In a time of instant-gratification and click-of-a-button e-commerce, our trip around the arch and heel of Italy,…

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