Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Why Not These Cups?

Photo by Christian Bass on Unsplash

The mesticheria is a Florentine institution, a catch-all shop full of hardware and housewares, similar to the Mexican tlapalería. My favorite one is on Via dei Servi, just past the Tiger on the left side of the street as you walk toward the duomo, the inimitable Mesticheria Tucci. Yes, like Stanley Tucci, but the ancient and very local owner seems to have little in common with Stanley at first glance. He is strong, older, maybe in his mid-seventies, round of face and scant of hair. He wears multiple sweaters together. Most impressively, his hands, which seem equally well suited to farm work or any sort of outdoor endeavor, are huge and scarred, calloused and honest. But also kind of alarming, like he could dispatch you on a dark night in an alley without flinching.

The shop, which has probably been in the same place since Italian unification in 1861, is stacked floor to ceiling with everything anyone might need who lives in any stripe of domesticity: colanders and spoons, dishes and brooms, pot holders and oven mitts, dish drains and washtubs, cleaning chemicals for every possible hygiene scenario, minor electronics, cords and cables, plugs and adapters, bath mats and clothes hampers. It’s in there, carefully marked with handwritten tags in black Sharpie in the international font of shopkeepers. I’ve seen it in markets from Spain to Buenos Aires and everywhere in between. The catch is, the merch is not at all self-serve. One must enter the shop and explain to signore Tucci what one wants. Fortunately, signore Tucci is extremely friendly, obliging, pragmatic and, curiously enough for a businessman, thrifty on the buyer’s behalf.

I stepped into the shop last week with Victor. We planned to host that very evening our first dinner guests since B.C. (Before Covid). For different reasons, half of our last set of wineglasses, which I also bought from signore Tucci last year, have shattered. We are lazy and put them in the dishwasher. The galley kitchen is narrow, and woe to the one who attempts to squeeze behind the other doing dishes or loading the dishwasher, for verily I say until you, the diligent chore-doer shall be jostled and break some fragile dish or glass. So we found ourselves with not enough wineglasses, three stem for four adults, and no one felt it would make a very bella figura to drink wine out of tumblers or toothbrush cups or recycled Nutella jars on such a momentous occasion.

(The wagging finger of a German friend’s very German husband sticks in my memory as the mother of all chides, and in my own home. I’ll never get over it. They brought wine and we sipped it from tumblers. The husband was insulted. He was not kidding. Maybe next time we come over you can have wineglasses, he wiggled his brows at me, finger needling back and forth. I looked at my small children and our modest apartment and felt something close to shame, then a hot flush of indignation. Anyway, they went back to Germany and I never heard from the friend again.)

Signore Tucci sat behind the counter. I’m here for some glasses, I said confidently. Well, here you go then, he said. I have these right here. He held up a set of six shrink-wrapped tumblers on a miniature cardboard pallet.

Yes, but I need wine glasses, I said. Bicchieri per vino. I struggled with the metric volume. Trenta cinque … centimetri quadrrati?

Mom! Millilitri! Victor whispered urgently.

The normal glasses, I said. Sure, signore Tucci said. Let me check.

Victor and I watched the portly shopkeeper ascend a ladder into the shadowy heavens of his backstock. Oh my god mom, you shouldn’t have asked him to do that. Victor worries a lot about these sorts of things. Old soul. I didn’t ask him! I protested. It’s his job. This is his shop. I’m sure he knows his way around. The wooden ladder creaked and protested. Signore Tucci snuffled and softly swore. He came back down.

I’ll check in back, he said, and disappeared behind a red gingham curtain. More shuffling, rustling, and he emerged with a box of lovely crystal stems. These are fifteen euros, he said. He opened the box, as he does every time, to let me see that nothing is nicked or cracked. But my suspicious Italian grandma skills are of a low grade. I’m not a patient checker of housewares prior to purchase. No worries. Signore Tucci stands by his shop, mindful of the high quality of his retail commerce.

These look great, I said, thank you.

But they’re fifteen euros.

Yes, that’s fine. I was a little confused.

But these glasses – he once more held up the six tumblers, fetchingly etched with a diamond pattern – are made in Italy, and are only six euros.

But I need wine glasses, I said feebly, losing confidence. Victor shifted behind me.

Why? Why not these glasses? These glasses hold wine too. He looked genuinely baffled. I didn’t like the basic cups? These other glasses cost twice as much.

It’s fine, I’ll take both. I thought of all the glasses we break in our narrow kitchen during cleaning and dishwasher emptying.

Now he was really surprised. You don’t have to take both!

But I will, I said, now feeling impatient, and a little embarrassed, as an Italian family had come into the shop and was looking on our exchange with interested.

Signore Tucci shrugged, in the international ok, lady way, and took my cash. I have a bag, I said too quickly.

He raised his hands. Incomprehensible! Wanton buying of cups, and she carries her own shopping bags! Foreigners. Can’t understand ’em, love to sell to ’em.

Victor and I walked home with the glasses. They were heavy. Both bags didn’t fit into my string shopper, so the tumblers went into a paper bag with twine handles that dug into my palms. We were very happy though to have the stemware on the table for the dinner guests that night, and the diamond-etched tumblers sparkled in the flickering tealights. It was good to feel like things were getting back to normal after the last two years since the pandemic exploded.

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One Response

  1. One of my favourite stores in Siena is a mesticheria, which resembles the one you describe in you posting. It becomes a wonderland of decorations during the Christmas season. Otherwise it is a wonderland of trinkets and almost anything useful for keeping a household. Thanks for this lovely vignette!

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