It takes a village

A gentleman is never without his pipe. Or e-cigarette, as the case may be
A gentleman is never without his pipe. Or e-cigarette, as the case may be

Signor Crigio, who owns the men’s tailoring shop that used to be at the bottom of the building, is tiny, dapper and slim, with round glasses and a white, perfectly-trimmed moustache – the archetypal tailor. He’s recently closed the shop down, but when it was open he could usually be found outside it, sitting bolt upright on his moped, smoking an electronic cigarette and watching the world go by. One morning a year or so ago Davide and I were woken early by an insistent leaning on our buzzer: turns out it was Signor Crigio warning us that a delivery lorry was gouging and ripping wing mirrors off the cars parked on either side of our street right, left and centre as it tried to manoeuvre its way through the too-narrow space available. Davide’s jeep was in danger of being the next victim, and Signor Crigio had worked out (a) who it belonged to and (b) which doorbell to ring to find us. He’s the kind of neighbour you really need, in other words.


“I said hello to you the other day, but you didn’t see me!” says the woman on the stall where I get my tomatoes, onions and lemons, with a big grin. I look up at her, wide-eyed. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Where were you?” She laughs. “Don’t worry! On Corso Italia.” I ask her for some red onions and she passes a paper bag over to me. “Here: I can’t reach – but you can!” We’ve never chatted before, but now that the conversation’s been started she’s bursting with questions, which could well have been brewing for months. “So how tall are you, exactly? A metre sixty-five, seventy?”  I stuff onions into the bag as I answer. “Try one metre eighty!” Her eyes go wide and her mouth drops open. “No! Wow! Where are you from, anyway?” I tell her I’m English and she gives a sage nod. “Ah, of course; you’re all tall over there. Not like us midgets here!” I can’t help but laugh at her turn of phrase, and tell her that my dad and my brothers are all even taller than I am. Her face goes inquisitive. “So are your family all in England? What are you doing here?” I give her the potted history: arrived in southern Italy to teach; discovered I liked it; met a boy; getting married. She chuckles, a cheeky grin on her face. “So is your fidanzato tall, too?” I shake my head. “No – he’s actually a bit shorter than me.”  The woman standing next to me chips in, “Yeah, my husband too – ballerinas all the way, right?” We glance down at each other’s feet and nod in humorous solidarity.

Unexpected conversation starter
Heavier than you’d think


The shopping bags weigh a ton. I’m sweating buckets as my fingers cramp and my arm muscles quiver from the strain of hauling everything back from market, but I’m on the home straight, so tough it out rather than put them down to rest yet again. Half a kilometre never seems so long as when you’re laden down with kilos of vegetables; and said vegetables never seem so heavy as when you’ve only got ten metres to go. I reach the front door to my building and put everything down as gently as I can, given my shrieking muscles, before rifling through my bag with shaking fingers in search of my keys.

The door to my building is 15-foot tall and made of solid metal: to open it from the outside requires putting your full weight against it and leaning hard. Today, as I do this, the bag of apples and kiwi fruit that I’ve wedged between the door and my feet so that they don’t roll all over the place starts to slump. I let out a tiny wail, visions of my fruit and veg ending up covered in god knows what from the pavement running through my mind’s eye, and make a grab for the bag.

Two things happen: (1) I fail to reach it and (2) I unbalance myself completely, knocking over another bag of different vegetables in the process. I could cry. I almost do, but as I scrabble about, trying to steady my ever-more-precarious pile of shopping bags, I hear a soft shout from behind me. “Signora! Let me help!”

I've had better days ...
I’ve had better days …

I look round and see Signor Crigio, who picks up my bags and hangs onto them while I haul myself upright. When I’m up to full height I’m a good foot taller than him; his eyes crinkle with amused concern as he looks up at me. I smile back at him and hold out my hands for the bags that he’s picked up for me. He tuts kindly. “But which floor do you live on, signora?” He says it fast, and not in standard Italian, so I don’t understand him at first. I have to ask him to repeat twice, which he does with good humour, slowing down each time. When I finally get what he’s asking, and why, I’m so embarrassed and touched by his thoughtfulness that I can hardly answer, and my words tumble out in a mess of English confusion. “Oh no, it’s fine, honestly, I only live on the first floor, it’s barely twenty steps, I can easily manage, don’t worry …” He takes my wittering with good grace and hands over my bags with a smile. “Well, if you’re sure …?” I nod, flushing to the very roots of my hair as I feel my eyes, ridiculously, starting to prickle with grateful tears. “Yes. But thank you. *Thank you*.” He nods and gives me a broad smile with just the hint of a wink. “I’ll close this door for you, shall I …?”

3This post was written for the Italy Blogging Roundtable, a group of seven like-minded women – either based in Italy, in love with her, or both – all writing about a single monthly topic in their own, individual ways. 

This month, our chosen topic was Community. We love to receive your comments and feedback, so do let us know what you thought of each post, either in the comments section below each one, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Now, without further ado, here’s the list of posts for this month. Read and enjoy …

Jessica – The Dark Side of Community
Gloria – Why you should spend your vacation in a small community
Rebecca – Italy Roundtable: Partytime at Assisi’s Calendimaggio
Alexandra – The expat community in Florence
Melanie – In Rome, Communing Over Coffee 

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
This entry was posted in Italy Blogging Roundtable, Living Like a Maniac and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to It takes a village

  1. georgette says:

    Kate, I loved this post and I love this topic! These every day interactions are what I adore more about living in Italy because it is more of a community than I have ever felt, anywhere. We have a neighbor who is like your knight in shining armor here, once there was a series of car-scratching incidents around our streets and we were all in hot pursuit of the idiot doing this senseless act. Each neighbor was asked to diligently keep an eye out since all of our cars were ‘at stake.’ By the way I have been there with awkward shopping bags and keys-fanangling. I almost dropped an eight pack of water down the stairs last week and the bags they give at coop almost disintegrate on sight.
    georgette´s last post ..How To Get Married in Italy: Help is Here

  2. Krista says:

    Ohhh, what a lovely, lovely man. My eyes are pricking with tears too. He’s a keeper. :-)
    Krista´s last post ..Smashing Pumpkins and The Healing Power of Validation

  3. I’ve become a proper Italian nonna now, Georgette, with my canvas shopping bags to get around the disintegrating ones that cost you 10 cents a pop. I’ve even got one of those enormous plastic-coated ones that they sell in the supermarkets, emblazoned with the name Sidis. The amusing thing is that I’ve moved since I bought it and I now shop at Simply. I can feel them glowering as I pull it out haha.

  4. Krista: I know, right? He’s lovely! And I’m not sure if he’s actually looking out for me or if it’s just coincidence, but these days he always seems to be just appearing round the corner as I get home from market, ready to help with the door :)

  5. Pingback: Italy Roundtable: The Dark Side of Community :: Italy Explained

  6. Kathryn says:

    Good neighbours are an absolute treasure. Love the way you’ve brought this scene to life.
    Kathryn´s last post ..In search of Inspector Montalbano

  7. Lara Dunston says:

    Kate, I’ve just discovered the link to our blog Grantourismo and clicked through (thank you, by the way), and what a delight! Just poking around and thoroughly enjoying your tales. I think it’s the first time in years I’ve been so engrossed by a blog. Loved this story – you certainly have a unique and very charming voice. Looking forward to reading more! And will also be clicking through to read your friends’ stories.
    Lara Dunston´s last post ..Cambodia Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat Dates

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