Stories of Old Paduli: “The Shoemaker (il calzolaio), Zio Antonio”

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Coat of Arms of Paduli Coat of Arms of Paduli


“The Shoemaker” is one of many stories of old Paduli dictated by Giovanni Saccone in Padulese dialect and translated into Italian by Maurizio Luongo.  The stories were gathered into a book entitled Le Tradizioni di Paduli: Storie Padulesi raccolta da Giovanni Saccone.  Every piece of literature loses somethiing in translation.  This is especially so when the original was in a dialect with many unique phrases and phreseology such as Padulese.  Maurizio told me that he had a difficult time faithfully translating the nuances of the dialect into Italian. He decided to leave many dialect phrases intact. You can imagine how challenging it was to translate it fhe dialect phrases into English in a way that would give the reader some flavor of the uniqueness of the dialect. It was impossible.  In the end, I decided to include a smattering of dialectical usages such as Zi’ for Zio (Uncle) and ‘Nto for Antonio, but mainly translated the dialectical phrases into standard English.  I also tried to give it some flavor of dialect here and there by using English colloquialisms such as “wadda” for what do you, “gonna” for going to, etc.

Giovanni Saccone has preserved a great legacy of Padulese culture by recording these stories. They reveal much about life in Paduli before and during the Second World War.  All of us who cherish this legacy owe him a debt of gratitude and praise for his gift to us.

I intend to follow up with more stories from Paduli. I also intend to post both the translations and the Italian versions together.


 My dear, you ask me to share my recollections, the stories of my life. For me life was hard! I have seen life materialize and dissolve into a plate of “macaroni”.

You speak about achievements, satisfactions and success, whereas I worked to fill my belly, and eating itself was already a success. I could talk well into the night about the subterfuges and astuteness that I employed just to eat. That was my victory.

How many things I’ve seen in my 80 years! Today it’s easy to be a superman with a full belly and all one could want, but years ago conditions for us were different. Many of those today who are arrogant and presumptuous would have perished back then.

As for stories, I can tell you so many. Every day was a challenge, but there is one story that I remember with great pleasure because it was it was both sad and happy at the same time.

We were in the full throws of the war. Hunger and desperation reigned in Paduli. I practiced my trade as a shoemaker, and I had an assistant named Vincenzo. There wasn’t much work. Shoes were expensive. Whoever had them took good care to preserve them, to the point that when in the house they went barefoot or with make-do footwear while the shoes were only for going outside. A pair of shoes would be passed down from father to son and would even last up to ten years.

Thus, in order to make a little money, my disciple and I would carry our materials and tools on our backs and travel around the countryside asking at every house whether they had shoes needing repair.

The episode that I wish to tell you about occurred on one of those winter mornings made even more miserable by a fine drizzle. Dear Vincenzo , as he did every morning, presented himself in the shop very punctually, partly by habit and partly in order to flee from his own misery that was no less miserable than my own.

There we waited behind the workbench that we had set up hoping for a client to arrive, and always talking about the same things:

“Vinny, what did you eat last night?”

“Zi’ ‘Nto (Uncle Antonio), a scrap of bread and two dried olives.

Vincenzo was like a son to me for fifteen years. I felt sorry for him, and he had the appetite of a wolf.

That morning we decided to go around the countryside. It rained, and yet this turned to our advantage because when it’s raining in the countryside no one goes out to work. Everyone would be at home and therefore it would be possible to find a little work. Assume that we did not limit ourselves only to making shoes. We would do any kind of work in exchange for a meal and perhaps a little something else, such as more things to eat.

We took shelter until the rain lessened and set out toward one of the many settlements in the countryside prepared to make our own meal along the way as it wasn’t a sure thing that we would be offered a meal even if we did find work. Many folks would set us to work in a shed and might not always invite us in to eat.

Here’s how we designed our plan:

“Vinny, today we must eat at all costs. Even though I may have give you a good slap across the face a few times, I assure you that we will eat. At noontime, you say that you’re hungry, then leave the rest to me.”

Now let me tell you how it went.

We stopped in a farm hamlet where several families lived. We were fortunate because they had some shoes needing repair. We decided on a price as follows: thread would pay us in cash for the thred, but would pay us in food stuffs for the labor.

We quickly took out our work tools and began. They were kind in that they had us stay in a small room with a hallway, a type of kitchen with a big oven for making bread. We in one corner contended with the old boots that needed miracles rather than repairs in order to return them to their old splendor. The women of the house, in another corner, were intent either on mending or on knitting. The bambinos and adults both were curious to see what we were doing.

Also, people in the houses nearby knew we were there.   So, every so often someone would arrive with a pair of shoes to be repaired, and thus we had enough work to last us into the evening.

Time passed, but as the hour for lunch approached the ladies of the house didn’t hurry to prepare the meal, which made me think: Either everything has already been prepared or we’re not going to eat!  My doubts caused me to survey the surroundings directing my words to the grandfather sitting close to me.

“Zi’ Arturo, when will the women prepare the meal? “

“Almost always at half past noon, but today the men killed a calf and took it to market to sell, so we’ll eat this evening as they’ll be coming back late.”

We were all set. But how could we hold off until evening? It wasn’t quite time for lunch but already our my stomachs were making noises. So, with a quick glance at Vinny, we changed our plans. We were anything but actors, but Vinny began playing his part:

“Zi’ ‘Nto, I’m starving!!”

“Guaglio (sonny), it isn’t even noon yet” all the ladies said together.

“What can I do, I’m hungry!”

“Vinny, grab the backpack and eat what’s there,” I interjected, calmly pointing to the pile of things that we had brought with us for our work.

Surprised, even dumbfounded, Vincenzo got up and began going through our stuff scattered about us.

“Zi’ ‘Nto, the backpack isn’t here!”

“Vinny, wadda ya mean it’s not here? It has to be there.”

“Come and see for yourself.”

“Vinny, you’ve lost our backpack?”

“No, Zi’ ‘Nto, I didn’t bring the backpack.”

“Wadda ya mean? You grabbed it from the top of our workbench.”

“No, Zi’ ‘Nto, I didn’t grab anything. I left before you.”

“Oh, I could strangle you!! So now wadda we gonna eat?” I said as I began to go after him with a strap of leather, while everyone intervened to stop me.

“Forget about it!! It’s not the end of the world. We’ll take care of it,” said the ladies of the house.

Carmela, mix up some pasta dough,” said the lady who looked like she had the most authority. “Uncle Tony, we’ll get the chick peas that we cooked for tonight and make some pasta and chick peas.”

“No, no, don’t go to any trouble,” I said.

“Oh no, wadda’s it take except boiling up some water on the stove, and it’s done!”

And thus it was that, in less than an hour there stood a bowl full of pasta and chick peas, a big loaf of fresh bread, two forks, and, surprise, a nice bottle of red wine.

As soon as they had set the table, with great courtesy, they dispersed leaving us alone. What a meal! We ate so much that we had to loosen our belts that so many times we had been compelled to cinch even tighter.

Finally, it was evening and the men returned happily from the market as they had sold the calf at a good price. Our work was finished. Our clients looked over the shoes to see the large amount of work we had done. Finally satisfied, we proceeded to settle the account.

I recall how fruitful this day was despite all indications that morning. We returned back home with bellies as full as they could be, and with two loaves of bread, a rabbit, two cups of beans and two cups of chick peas, some lard, five kilograms of flour and three lire. You can’t imagine how happy we were on our way back to the shop and how we laughed on the road recalling the events of the day.

When we arrived at the shop, I quickly set to dividing up our goods to give Vincenzo his due share. I put the rabbit in a cage for our meal at Easter. As for the stuff we got that day, we had enough food to keep us from hunger for a week.


Translated by Alexander DeAngelis

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