The American traveler to Italy certainly notices shutters. They grace most windows, offering security, direct sun blockage, and a way to use up all that green paint that Italians would otherwise have absolutely no use for.
Besides, it’s sexy to throw your shutters open to the sun-drenched Lunigiana landscape in the morning. If that sounds far-fetched what can I say? It’s my big fantasy and I’m sticking to it.
But one of the great things about the Lunigiana is tradition, and how people hold to the old ways—which often involve craftsmen and tools you thought went extinct in the dark ages. Slow tools, like slow travel and slow food.
By now you’ve been clued into the direction of our plight. We needed a set of shutters for our house. We needed to ask the neighbors where we could procure some. Not too expensive, if you please.
Now, in the US, if there were such a thing as shutters common to 99 percent of all houses, we’d have a Shutters Are Us Superstore on the corner. The shutter department at WalMart would compete so prices could remain low, and there’d be a ShutterDepot on the drawing board over at the planning commission. No need to ask anyone where to go, you’d just browse the newspaper you buy to start the grill up with. Full page adds: Shutters—All Green. Sale! This Weekend Only!
And they’d be bright, shiny, cheap, and…crappy as hell. Plus you’d have to assemble them yourself.
And there’d be a screw missing. This phenomenon is common in the US, most often in high government offices, but not unheard of in do-it-youself junk either.
Anyway, we heard the neighbor women gossiping on the patio downstairs as they often do, so we went out on the balcony to say our buona seras. Not knowing the Italian for shutter, we pointed to one on our house, asking where we can get another one like it. There was silence for a moment.
“Giovanni in Bigliolo,” Gabriella said finally.
Then it’s like firecrackers going off. Italian firecrackers:
“The son took over, I’m pretty sure”
“The shop is near the Bar.”
“The bar isn’t there anymore.”
“Well, it’s not a bar, exactly, but the building is still there. It’s just empty.”
So, that’s it. You go. You have to. If you don’t they will nag you. Then you park the car and ask. Bigolio is a two street town. How hard can it be to find the falegname?
A woman dusting her windowsill is a target for our question. We are succinct and to the point. “Dove si trova il falegname?”
“Ah, yes, the house with the flowers! Just down the street”
Certo. Starting off, we realize that most of the houses have flowers. Then, right away the street forks. We take the wrong fork. Then back up the other way. At the last house, 20 feet from where we’ve left the car, the sound of a power sander punctuates the dense summer air. No sign on the place, just that sander noise and the smell of freshly shaven and slightly burnt wood.
In our moment of uncertainty, we stand outside the door silently, like dimwitted salespeople who’ve suddenly forgotten what they’ve come to sell.
A man comes out, wiping his hands on a rag. We suddenly remember we’ve forgotten to look up the word for shutters. After much stammering, I launch into a long spiel about the green things that cover the windows.
He gets it. We haven’t driven here for nothing.
I hand him the sketch I’ve carefully drawn. He is pleased. I’ve measured everything that could be measured. I have a degree in Engineering
Then he announces he will come to the house to do his own drawing.
Fine. A week later he comes. A week after that we go to his shop to get the estimate. It’s over 400 Euros for a set. That’s one window. Not even a big window.
I’m torn. It’s a dilemma all Americans face when they take a place in Italy. We love the traditions. We want to keep them going. We are self-appointed savors of The Italian Lifestyle that attracted us in the first place. We don’t want no stinking WalMart in our pristine back yards, with their lush gardens and lovely olive groves. But when push comes to shove, we desire that Shutters Are Us like we desire excessive wealth. We desperately want the crappy shutters for $19.95 with the two year warrantee in the box with all fastening hardware items minus one. Then, if there is a God, Shutters Are Us would burn to the ground at night when nobody’s around, keeping our fantasies intact.
In November, when the shutters are ready, I know I’ll be running my fingers over those sensuous, individually hand sanded slats, thinking, “dang, I made the right decision. These aren’t shutters, these are ART!
November. Michelangelo worked faster than that.