Monday, February 14
We go to Lucca early today so we can go to the negozio di sport that we saw last week near the Coop. We need to buy a second bike helmet, and this store looked promising, based on some of the items we saw in the window. It had been closed after we finished shopping at Coop last week. Following normal Italian business practices, it closed from 12:30-3:30 in the afternoon. This is something I think I will never remember, but Lucy has it down quite well. I will say something like, “We can always go there after lunch,” and she will remind me that stores close here at 1 p.m. Most then re-open at 3 or 3:30 p.m. and close again anywhere between 5 and 7 p.m.
Another difference is that stores and restaurants are not big on names. There may be a large sign that says Pizzeria, but the actual name of the pizzeria is usually small, if it has one at all. Our favorite pizzeria in Padova we called “Sempre Aperto,” because that was the only sign we could see on the outside other than the word pizzeria. We later noticed on the menu that it said Pizzeria da Nadia, but by that time it was too late; it will forever be Sempre Aperto to us. And in case you are wondering, sempre aperto means always open, even though it wasn’t really. It had normal pizzeria hours, except that it was open seven days a week.
The negozio di sport is not the real name of the store we are going to today either, but we have been calling it that because we saw sports items for sale in the window and have been trying to plan our schedules for the past busy week. Now we see that it is called, as we ride up on our bikes and chain them to a post, Mercatone Uno, Big Market One. To our surprise, it lives up to its name quite well. It looks small from the front, but actually it is a large department store with an unusual design. It consists of about 10 different rooms, each attached to the next, and each room has one large entrance and one large exit. As you exit one room, you enter the next. We pass about 30 brand new motorcycles in the first room, and then rows and rows of power tools in the next room, followed by a large electronics section, where I try to pick out a DVD as a Valentine’s Day present for Lucy without her noticing, but she sees me and helps me pick out the right one, or rather ones: Eclipse, and You’ve Got Mail. These will have been dubbed into Italian, which will help us learn the language, and we will be able to turn on subtitles in either English or Italian. Then there are some household rooms, where Lucy buys a water purifier, and a laundry basket.
I have just about given up on the bike helmets by now, but wait, there is another room, and here are bikes and accessories, and we get a helmet and some bike lights. Now it is time to check out, but where? There were people back at a counter by the entrance, in the motorcycle section, so we walk back there, but there is no cashier. We walk all the way back to the household section, all the time looking for a checkout station. None. We ask the clerk who had helped Lucy earlier with the water purifier. “La cassa, dov’e?”
“Al fondo, poi a destra,” he says. So we walk back past the bikes, which we thought had been the very end of the maze, but no, there is another opening, leading into still more rooms and still more products. By now we are so focused on finding the checkout counter that we don’t notice what is in these last two rooms. We finally find the checkout counter and exit the store at a point only about 30 feet away from the entrance. What we have been through is a grande mazzino, a department store somewhat like a K-Mart, but it has been designed so that customers will pass through every section, and each room seems more intimate, like a specialty store for just a certain type of product. I have not been in an IKEA, but I have been told the floor plan in IKEA stores is something like this, only IKEA stores have shortcuts to the end. I don’t think this is a typical Italian store, but it still says something about Italy, where style and design reign supreme. In America, every department store has very much the same basic design. If an architect suggested something like Mercatone Uno in America, it would be dismissed as an interesting thought; no executive would dare approve a store this radically different, and indeed, American customers are accustomed to a certain sameness in their stores and probably wouldn’t tolerate such a design.