But the most interesting to me was the arrotino--the knife grinder. He trudged through the neighborhoods past the Victorian era apartment buildings on foot. I would hear him coming because of the bell he rang while walking--a rather large brass school bell that he swung in sync with his walking gait. When people heard that bell with its distinctive ca-clang-ca-dang pattern, they would grab their dull knifes and scissors or tools and head down to the street to meet him.
In Italy, the arrotino has a long history. You can even see a sculpture of L'Arrotino in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence from the days of the Roman Empire. For a few thousand years, people have needed their knives and swords sharpened--a skilled trade not everyone could do well. In many towns and villages throughout Italy, you can still see arrotini, some with their old grinder rigs, some attached to bicycles or mopeds or scooters and others with their grinders set up in the back of three-wheel vehicles, cars or small vans.
Even in a neighborhood like Trastevere today, you might still hear chanting, "Donne!, E Arrivato... L'Arrotino!" ("Ladies! The Knife Sharpener has arrived!") or simply shouting "Ah-ROO-TEE-nooo!" and see a man riding slowly through the streets on a bicycle with some odd-looking contraption jury-rigged to it. And often you might see an older casalinga (housewife) lower down a basket (O'Panar! The Naples Basket Lift) with her knives in it to the waiting arrotino on the street... there are still these touches of Old Italy if you just look for them.
Next came the Vespa scooter and the Tre Ruote Ape (three-wheeled vehicle). In both cases, the motor also drove the grinding wheels. The rear compartment of the Tre Ruote was large enough for arrotini to expand their services--refurbishing and refinishing traditional knives, selling new knives and scissors, offering repairs and parts for old style gas kitchen cookers, and selling and repairing umbrellas, of all things!
Some arrotini opened shops in busy shop areas of villages. When people came to do their daily shopping, they'd drop off their knives to be sharpened. By this time, these shops were offering more and more kitchen products and utensils... pots, pans, drain boards, towels, etc. Some have turned into workaday Drogheria (household & kitchen items) shops that are seen in most towns throughout Italy.
Donne è arrivato l'arrotino e l'ombrellaio; aggiustiamo gli ombrelli.
Ripariamo cucine a gas: abbiamo i pezzi di ricambio per le cucine a gas.
Se avete perdite di gas noi le aggiustiamo, se la cucina fa fumo noi togliamo il fumo della vostra cucina a gas."
"Ladies! The Grinder is here! Sharpen knives, scissors large and small, sewing scissors, prosciutto knives!
Women, the Grinder and Umbrella Repairman is here; we fix your umbrellas.
We repair gas cookers: we have spare parts for your cookers.
If your gas is leaking, we'll fix it, if your kitchen is smoking we remove the smoke from your gas cooker."
Sharpening blades, indeed... Reminds me of the old bawdy blues song lines: "Yea, Babe, I'm your Handyman..." or "Stick out your cans, here comes the garbage man!"
And in Our Video Collection:
Old Roman Knife Grinder (Arrotino) Explains his Craft
L'Arrotini in Venice: Calling All Knife Grinders
L'Arrotino: Knife Grinding on a Vespa
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