Thursday, July 22, 2010

Me and Tonino and the Four Ferramente

We have been fortunate to find fabulous friends in Lucanella. One such gem is Tonino, without whom none of the work on the house would have been completed. He set up the quotes, called to confirm (and re-confirm!) their work dates, and helped make sure everything went smoothly.

He drops things to come help me, and he has a smile that makes his eyes dance. Now that I know him better he has opened up and I have discovered that he has a great sense of humor and a lilting laugh. His wife invited me to lunch in famiglia, and I love them all. The daughter is pretty and whispers questions to her babbo for him to ask of me. The son is precocious and cute, much as I imagine Tonino was at his age. Antonia is a doll, who improvised a last-minute lunch better than most so-called Italian restaurants in the US could serve with a week’s worth of planning.

One afternoon we were all at my casa, Tonino, the falegname and the muratore and his son to get final measurements. Tonino had to translate between me and the thick, heavy accent of the falegname, and to tell him that I needed a new door lock. They sized it up, take measurements, discussed the type of lock I needed…because of course in Italy one size does not fit all when it comes to locks- or anything else for that matter. Tonino also tromped off in the rain looking for the destination of the kitchen drain, accompanied by the stone mason and his son, all three curious about the mistero of the invisible drain pipe. They have not yet figured it out, despite their soggy efforts. They think it might dump into the neighbor’s garden, in which case we are all to keep mum.

At twenty minutes to seven the stone mason reminds him that we still need to procure the necessary door lock for the woodworker install in the morning. “Porca miseria! Chiudono alle sette! Andiamo!” We race for his car, and then the southern Italian version of the Indy 500 along narrow, pitted, winding roads commences. We bump over hills and thud into potholes enroute for Potenza. We hit the autostrada at full speed, commendable given the short onramp, and screech around curves. Meanwhile, Tonino’s demeanor is that of a man on a country jaunt – “ So, Vah-leriee…did you enjoy lunch? Antonia is excited about the barbecue tomorrow night.” Other sundry conversation pieces were lightly discussed whilst he zoomed at Mach speed and missed his exit. Porca vaca, but no problem…we’ll still make it in time, he says merrily.

He morphs from Indy racer to Neapolitan city driver like a Jekyll-and-Hyde. He passes the line of traffic that is waiting patiently to turn (so un-Italian), blasts by them to the intersection, interjects the station wagon so swiftly and smoothly through the traffic that the other drivers don’t even have time to react. Not a single horn blared and he grinned. “Ha, alla Napolitana!” Pedal to the floor, we cruise into the parking lot of the ferramenta (hardware store) to find it open. Alleluia, says my friend.

Alas, the ferramenta has only one lock that will fit the dimensions stated, and it is a very down-market low quality one, says Tonino. Checks his watch. Andiamo, sbrigati. We can make it. Back into the family-sized rocket-ship to the Brico-fer, where the lock department has a line. Tonino smiles slightly, taps his fingers on the counter, tries to catch the clerk’s eye. Finally he interjects, “Solo una domanda…” and asks about the lock. The clerk doesn’t look up, just responds that they don’t carry the type of lock he wants. Tonino grabs my arm and hustles me to the door.

We nearly get sideswiped as he backs onto the road, then a cop car swings widely around us without a side-ward glance. Uphill through neighborhoods I’ve never seen before, he continues his Neapolitan personality as we arrive at Ferramenta Number Three. Surprised that they still open, Tonino double parks and leaves his door open as he rushes inside to make sure they don’t slam down their shutters before he can get through the door. I catch up just as the owner is bringing out a lock. It is a fancy one, it requires additional parts, it is the top of the line. It costs a fortune. I gasp at the price audibly. Tonino tells the guy, thanks but no thanks while hoping we won’t have to return to eat crow.

One more place, he mumbles. I just remembered it, should have thought of it first, they’re probably closed by now, the guy is persnickety…he’s talking to himself about the best streets to bypass the traffic as he weaves through the cars, nearly grazes a pedestrian, and jokes with me all at the same time. “Sembra aperta! Sembra…” The lights are ablaze. There are people inside. We enter. We are sized up and told to take a number. Nevermind that there are only two people in the store, the owner and a crony who is not buying anything, just shooting the breeze. Persnickety, indeed.

Yes, I have that type of lock, he says. He climbs a ladder to retrieve the box and sets it on the counter. Then he leaves to find something else for another guy who has come in. Tonino tries to cut through the tape with his fingernail, unsuccessfully. We look at each other and stifle laughs. This guy is in no hurry. It is already after 8:00 pm. “His wife must be a terrible cook. Why else wouldn’t he want to hurry up and go home and eat like everyone else?” Tonino whispers. Three others arrive. We have become giddy after the rush and adrenaline. Ferramenta Man ambles to and fro, while wise-cracking with people. “You may not be the dumbest guy in Potenza,” he tells the crony, “but you’re surely the ugliest.” Other things are said in dialect that garner great laughs from everyone except me.

Finally he comes back to us with the parts needed to change the lock opening from a right side door to a left side door. Who knew? Well, Tonino did, thank goodness. The man ceremoniously slices through the strip of tape and opens the box. He painstakingly, slowly removes the screws, piano piano. He is ready to place the mechanism into the metal lock casing and something distracts him. Tonino grabs the piece and starts to insert it, which is not to be tolerated, bringing the man’s attention back to the task at hand. Just as he is about to twist the little screws back in to secure the whole contraption, a customer knocks over a display and nearly clobbers me with a tumbling box. The owner goes to set things right, and Tonino grabs the screws and quickly turns them into place. He tries miserably to put the whole thing back into the Styrofoam packaging to stuff back in the box. Tsk, tsk from the owner who has returned and slaps Tonino’s hand away. We are now busting out laughing, which only slows the owner down even more. Finally, I am allowed to pay, which brings some rather unflattering-like dialect comments onto Tonino’s head from what I could gather, and we run to the car. We look at each other and cannot stop laughing. We start saying the same thing at the same time, right in succession: Aho! Mamma mia! Che avventura! Che un personaggio!” This makes us laugh even harder.

Finally we start back toward Lucanella, slightly less speedily but not much. He drops me off at my car and I call out, Ciao bello, which makes him blush.  He and his wife have become dear friends very quickly; we’re the same age, so they’re as happy to have new friends in the village as we are.


Gil said...

Great story! It just proves that there are still some real nice people in this World.

Joe said...


Hilarious. I just found your blog on a Link from Becoming Italian Word By Word. I love the story of the drive to and around Naples. I have only been there once but was totally amazed at the chaotic nature of the place. Not indeed especially unusual for Italy but nowhere else had I seen a city bus run a red light in heavy traffic.

I will sign up for either RSS or email notification when I get back to your home page. I don't see a place here to leave an email address or website but I invite you to see my relatively newborn blog at


Miss Footloose said...


Your story was like watching a movie. Really enjoyed it. Glad to know the renovations are underway! I've been traveling but will now read earlier entries. Ciao.

Valerie said...

Gil - There are some really nice people in the world; fortunately for us, many of them live in our corner of Italy! :)

Joe - Thanks for coming by! Hope to see you around again!

Miss Footloose - Glad you enjoyed it. It was a hysterical evening. We still need to try to meet up, now that you're back home.

travelingsuep said...

What a fabulous story and with such fabulous prose.