Saturday, March 19, 2011

Buying a pair of boots without losing my shirt

Monday, March 14
Even the dolce vita has a few moments of misery. Okay, I am exaggerating, but I don’t like shopping for clothes. Perhaps more accurately, I don’t like the thought of spending money on clothes. Nevertheless, after our rainy Sunday afternoon in Viareggio, I have to concede that I need boots. I am tired of walking around in wet tennis shoes all day every time it rains.

Steve and Patti Gray, our friends from Padova, have come today for a three-day visit, and since they have a car, Lucy suggests that Patti take me out shopping while Steve does some work on his computer. To find a good shoe store, we stop at Torello Abbigliamento to ask for a recommendation. Lucy and I came here a few weeks ago to buy me a couple of shirts, and the proprietress remembers us. Today, though, we meet the patriarch of the store. Torello Luporini, who looks to be in his eighties, is sitting at the cashier’s counter. Another customer is making a purchase, and the sales lady passes the customer’s money to Torello, who makes the change and passes it to the sales lady, who gives it to the customer.

Naturally, when Torello learns that we are American, he tells us about his cousin who lives in Chicago. Everyone in Italy has relatives in America, and it always makes a good ice breaker. With some help from Patti, we find that he once had a supervisor who was friends with a Spadoni, and that a Spadoni was once the sindaco, mayor, of Montecarlomore information for me to look into on another day. Torello recommends a shoe shop in Montecarlo, and he gives us a nice calendar and pen with his store’s name on them. I am ready to go, but meanwhile Lucy has been checking out the men’s sweaters and has something she wants me to try on.

I know where this is leading. Everyone will ask me if I like it, and if I do, I will be expected to buy it, and this is what happens. Then comes the painful moment when I find out the price, which is considerably more than I would pay at Macy’s during a sale. However, I remember that I am paying for more than just a finely made Italian wool sweater. I am shopping like an Italian and we are becoming acquainted with this nice family that operates a traditional clothing store in the hometown of my grandparents. On the wall are photos of the San Salvatore of eighty years ago, and Torello is inviting me to stop by again for another chat. So my wallet is opened and I have a new sweater.

Now it’s up the hill to Montecarlo, where we find a small but well-stocked shoe store with a friendly proprietor. I explain that I need boots, not elegant ones, to keep my feet dry in the rain, and I am shown two styles, both reasonably priced but not exactly what I am looking for. The third pair, though, is perfect, simple black leather that covers my ankles and has waffle-like soles. I brace myself for the price and am amazed to find that they are less than half of what I had expected to pay. I am assured by the salesman that they are made in Italy by a well-respected company. Patti is also impressed by the price and quality and says she will tell Steve about this place.

So what started out as an activity that I usually dread has ended pleasantly. I have gone shopping in an Italian way, practiced my language skills and met some charming local shop owners. And as a side benefit, I also have a nice sweater and pair of boots, purchased, on the whole, at decent prices. Even the unpleasant tasks of life here seem sweeter.

This is from the enlarged photo on the wall at Torello Abbigliamento. It does not say when the photo was taken, but I have a picture taken in 1969 which shows a gas station where the family on the left is sitting, and now there is a very popular bar there. The house where Pietro Spadoni and Maria Marchi lived would be just to the right of the viewable area. 


  1. No Wallmart or Target? Sounds like a great experience.

  2. When you say you went shopping "in an italian way", do you mean you offered a lower price than what was on the tag and then settled for something in between?

  3. No, the headline doesn't make that very clear. In fact, the stores here do not bargain like that and it would be un-Italian to try to bargain (una brutta figura). I meant I went shopping in the specialty stores instead of the big and impersonal department stores, where one doesn't have to speak to the proprietors. It is always tempting to shop only in department stores because it is easier and the prices are usually clearly marked and lower than in the specialty stores. But in so doing, we miss out on the personal interaction and chance to practice our language skills, which are among the main reasons we came here.


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