Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rome's Itinerant Knife-Sharpener: Last of a Dying Trade

Dianne with Il Messaggero. Piazza Cavour in the background, right. 
We were fresh from a thorough examination of Piazza Cavour, the one behind the Palace of Justice on the Tevere.  Relaxing in a nearby café.  Dianne was pretending (just kidding!) to read the local paper.  Then the knife-
sharpening guy showed up and began sharpening knives.  And I took this photo, of a one-handed knife sharpener (arrontino) doing business from his truck.

Thanks to Elizabeth Povoledo and The New York Times, we later learned that the knife sharpener, Carmine Mainella, then 74, is either the last itinerant knife-sharpener in Rome, or one of the last.  As Mainella explained, there isn't much business to be had.  Many of the delicatessens and small butcher shops that once gave him their business have been replaced by supermarkets that make their own sharpening arrangements, and most restaurants use knife rental services that replace dulling knives with newly sharpened ones on a regular basis. 

Mr. Mainella has only 5 "shop" customers, down from 10 before the economic crisis.  He has also been hit hard by increases in the cost of living as well as low-cost competitors.  Some years ago, he says, "you could survive by sharpening 50 knives.  Now, because you can't increase the price, you have to sharpen 500."  Even so, Mr.Mainella enjoys his profession.  "I am sorry that one day I will have to leave it," he notes.  "But like everyone, sooner or later we all have to leave everything."  True, but a bummer. 

This photo, by Alessandro Penso for the International Herald Tribune, was obviously taken from inside the truck.
Why didn't I think of that!


Jenni Oh Crafts said...

Great piece and a little sad knowing that this is a dying craft and trade.

Have you guys seen the knife sharpening man who sharpens using his bicycle? We've seen him cycling around Monti and when he has a customer he switches where the bike chain is and uses the pedals to turn the sharpening stone. Incredible and ingenious!

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

No, we didn't know of the clever Monti guy! We'll be on the lookout. Thanks for the info.