Miniature dramas and things to be repaired: A snippet of everyday life

Posted on November 28, 2017

Rome has been truly luminous these days, full of the kind of vibrant colours and particularly soft light that seem to have been designed specifically to distract from the fact that winter is lurking just around the corner. The trees here cling onto their leaves long after the Christmas decorations have gone up around the city, and the result is both seasonally confusing and, at the same time, oddly comforting. And right now, I’ll take comforting.

November has been somewhat strange, with a whirlwind work trip to the United States (involving six flights and two layovers exceeding five hours each) at the beginning of the month landing smack in the middle of my parents’ visit to Rome. By the time I got back into Rome and my parents headed off towards Canada, I was ready to shut myself into the apartment to recharge my introvert batteries and sleep as much as possible. And so after its busy beginning, the second half of November has been very quiet, save for the usual miniature dramas that Rome likes to throw into everyday life just to make sure nothing goes too smoothly.

On the subject of miniature dramas: it seems as though the hot water in my apartment is – once again – not working properly. The bathrooms both have hot water, although the water no longer arrives at any temperature that could be considered “pleasantly warm” and instead leaps suddenly and violently from skin-searingly scalding to absolutely glacial with no midpoint whatsoever. This tends to make showering challenging and borderline dangerous.

On the other hand, the kitchen sink now gets absolutely no hot water – which is basically the only possible way to make washing the dishes even less pleasant than usual. The very first item on tomorrow’s to-do list is to call our trusted plumber, who has seen us through some very unpleasant bathroom-related situations and now greets me with a huge smile and cheek kisses when our paths cross somewhere in the city.

Sometimes, living in a very old apartment, I feel as though things are prone to breaking if I turn my back on them for too long. I love my apartment and have no intention to move anytime soon, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, it toes a very thin line between charmingly quirky and quirkily exasperating. Lights mysteriously burn out long before the estimated lifespan indicated on their boxes. The heating is woefully, laughably ineffective, while the energy bills it racks up are definitely no laughing matter. The floor is subtly and strangely sloped where the living room connects to the hallway, the living room windows vibrate noisily when the motors of passing cars hit a specific pitch, and the bathroom door will not stay shut on particularly humid days.

Considering that the building dates from the early 1500s, none of this is very surprising – particularly if you spend any amount of time staring at the network of pipes, cords and cables making their way up the external courtyard walls. I’m fairly certain that everything in the building has been repaired, reworked and redone countless times.

Just around the corner from the apartment, there’s a calzolaio (shoemaker) tucked into a tiny storefront, the window lined with freshly made shoes in gleaming leather. In five years, I’d never really given it more than a passing glance every time I walked by – I wasn’t in the market for a pair of custom-made shoes – until I pulled my favourite knee-high boots out of the back of the shoe cupboard last week and noticed, dismayed, that they looked a little less elegant and a lot more beat-up than I remembered.

Rome’s cobblestones have a way of banging up and chewing through shoes in record time, and I think I must have been the last person walking around this city for any length of time without realizing that around here, people take their shoes and boots to be repaired regularly rather than just wearing them into the ground and then mourning their premature death.

Since repairing broken things seemed to be the theme of the week, I grabbed the boots, walked them less than 100 metres from my front door to the calzolaio, and dumped them out on a scarred wooden counter for inspection by a guy with a shoe-polish-smudged face and a hand-rolled cigarette clamped between his teeth. He looked over the boots while I looked around the shop, a sort of barely-organized chaos of swaths of leather, wooden shoe forms and bins of nails, the whole space smelling strongly of leather and various glues and polishes. It felt like a glimpse into a bygone era, one where shoes were handmade and then carefully repaired rather than bought sight-unseen off the internet, one of thousands of identical pairs.

The shoemaker, finished with his inspection of the only pair of boots that has ever looked truly perfect on me, scribbled my phone number on a scrap of paper and promised that my boots would come out looking almost as good as new by the end of the week. The whole exchange took less than two minutes.

What are the odds that the process of getting my hot water working properly again will be so quick and painless?

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Donna White 4 December 2017 at 9:20 pm

I want to hear how the boots turned out!!!

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