Monday morning Italy wakes up.
Saturday is considered a work day, but usually only until lunch. Then shutters are drawn, metal doors rolled down, and phones are silenced—all in anticipation of Sunday, when everything seems to be closed. Trying to find a loaf of bread on Sunday is like a squirrel searching for an acorn in December.
So, on Monday morning, Italy rubs her sleepy eyes and comes back to life—EXCEPT in August. We’d always heard that ferragosto meant all Europeans vacation for seemingly the entire month. Frankly, we thought it was an exaggeration. And maybe it is, but only a very slight one.
We stopped by Riccardo’s for a caffè and pasta, coffee and pastry. Normal. Then we thought we’d buzz on down the street and pick up some tomatoes from our favorite little produce shop. There was a beautiful hand-made sign on the door: Chiuso per ferie. Agosto 8-23, closed for the holidays. Oh well, now we know.
On to the gas station to ask if Simone can change the oil. No, Simone pumps gas and checks the oil, but can’t change it anymore. But wait! There’s a meccanico, mechanic who could probably do it and he might still be working. “Dov’è il questo meccanico, Where is this mechanic?” we asked Simone. He dashed across the terrace and peered over the rail. “Lui è qui, e l’autofficina è aperto!, He is here and the shop is open!” The repair shop happened to be located underneath the gas station with a narrow little access drive on the next street over. Who would have known?
We drove around the block and with only minor difficulty, found the Autofficina Bini, tucked into the middle of a residential area. “Puo cambiare l’olio, Can you change the oil?” we asked, thinking that we’d get scheduled in for later that week. “No, non ho il filtro. No, I don’t have the filter.” Okay, so we asked when he could get a filter. “Non lo posso prendere. Il negozio è chiuso, fino a settembre. I can’t get one. The parts shop is closed until September.” We sighed and walked through the open door, saying, “Tutta l’Italia è chiusa! All of Italy is closed!” Signor Bini laughed.
As we were about to get back into our car we noticed a restored Fiat Cinquecento, the famous Fiat 500, parked near the door. It was beautiful. Perfect—a white Cinquecento that looked like a marshmallow that someone has picked up, slightly squishing the top. We remarked at the condition of the car and Signor Bini told us that he’d restored it himself. Then Signor Bini and his friend encouraged Em to get inside, saying how amazingly roomy they are for such a small car. So Em slowly climbed in. Not so roomy if you happen to be due metri, 6’5.”
His feet were crammed in, nearly on top of each other in the foot well. The four of us laughed as I took pictures of Em in the car. What a sight!
We concluded that since all of Italy was closed and we couldn’t buy tomatoes or have our oil changed, at least we could still find pleasant and amusing people around, like Signor Bini. Even in ordinary, everyday life, Italy is full of wonderful snippets. Every event seems to be a unique shared experience and—another one of those rare Italian moments just begging for someone to write about it.