European Diary

The Buffalo Harp

Inutile asking me why this column is called that, or what a buffalo harp might be.  I honestly do not know, except that it is the name of an old ironmonger’s near my house.  One still happens here and there, in the less progressive European towns, upon those ancient shop signs, faded black or gold lettering against a background of dark green lacquer.  Once upon a time, murmurs the sign to the passerby, a true craftsman sold his wares here.

“I want to die the day you die,” I said to the local cobbler in Via Paternostro who had repaired some shoes and an alligator belt from my gigolo days.  He is 65, and has been plying his trade since he could walk.  For three decades, beginning in the 1950’s, he made ladies’ handbags in aristocratic python, bourgeois crocodile, and parvenu ostrich, and if you’ve ever made a lady’s handbag, even if it be of plebeian calfskin, believe me, a pair of man’s shoes or a belt is a doddle.

“They put me to work when I was four,” he says, pointing to my wife.  Not because he thinks this to be her age, but because he has seen a poster at the Teatro Politeama and realizes she is a concert pianist.  “I bet nobody thought it reprehensible that Signora was breaking her back learning the scales when her feet could not reach the pedals.  Did anybody say it was ruthless...

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