When we arrived from Cyprus with our stuff to start living in Puglia we still had bits and pieces from a house we had in the UK years before. For some reason ( I hate tossing stuff away maybe) this included a couple of pairs of shears for doing hedges , a lawn trimmer for lawn edges and a big pair of cutters for trimming small trees and tough undergrowth.
The problems was that after years of sitting in packing cases in storage with no use and no oil they were all blunt. No worries I thought Puglia seems the kind of place where some guy will drive around shouting something I won’t understand but just the sight of the grinding wheel will tell me what it is.
No such person has ever materialised and my visits to various ironmongers and repair shops enquiring about sharpening has merely resulted in confused stares or the simple advice to buy new ones. There does seem an Italian propensity to replace stuff rather than repair these days and clearly shears and the like happily fall into that basket.
Sitting at Bangkok airport the other day waiting for my delayed Air Asia flight to Saigon (it seems only foreigners call it Ho Chi Min City ) I was glancing through a copy of the Bangkok Post which another traveller had thoughtfully left on the seat and there found the answer to why no one had come down my driveway.
The cry he would have shouted was “Arrotino” but the last of them retired in Rome a few weeks ago at the age of 75 one Camine Manella by name. There are no more it seems in Italy now doing the sharpening role on a motor bike or three wheeler Piaggio and using the motor on it to drive the grinding wheel.
However I can give you a bit of history about them. Most of them in Italy came from the town of Frosolone in the Molise region. This was Italy’s answer to Sheffield and was full of knife making small factories. The guys who worked in the 100 or so factories were know as facciatinti which in dialect means black face which was caused by the smoke from the furnaces
From the town once the knives were sold other guys fed up with having a black face and who could blame them, branched out and moved around Italy becoming i arrotini sharpening the blades of the knives that had been sold to restaurants, butchers and housewives. They must have sharpened scissors too I guess.
China did away with most of the factories in the 70’s and 80’s and restaurants and butchers started to use knife rental businesses to rent and return knives that are then dumped rather than having them re-sharpened . Not a business I even knew existed I must admit.
Slowly numbers of Arrotini dwindled and dwindled and Rome was one of the few places left in Italy where they still worked.
Now the last one has gone from there as well. But all might not be lost and so I think I might hang on to my blunt gear a little longer. The Confederation of Italian Industry says that since the crisi started 4 years ago there has been a huge shift away from young Italians going to university to do media studies or travel and tourism and instead they are taking up trades. A trade is no longer seen as a lesser job and indeed is now seen as a way to make good money as there is a demand that is not being met. Try getting a washing machine repair person here in Puglia. The spokesman went on to say that jobs like sharpening household items could well make a comeback quite soon especially as Italians reign in spending further and look to make things last longer.
So hopefully there are already a few youngsters in Frosolone buying a few old Piaggios right now and heading my way and thanks to of all things the Bangkok Post I even know what word they will be shouting to get my attention. Arrotino.