Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Desperately Seeking Slippers

The secret of shopping in Rome is in guessing the type of shop which sells the object you are looking for. Pharmacies don’t sell shampoo, pyjamas are sold in bed linen shops, phone top-ups from the lottery ticket counter, saucepans are sold with dishwashers and fridges. Had I known that mens slippers were only sold in childrens shoe shops, my father might have got a new pair for his last birthday. After finally tracking down the desired item, the search is on for the courage to enter one of the hundreds of small, family-run shops in Rome, where the potential to browse without obligation is negligible as merchandise is neatly packed away out of sight in a wall of drawers behind the counter and guarded like the pentagon, by a parent-progeny sales team.

Years ago, I fearlessly, naively, entered such a shop in Via Nazionale, looking to purchase a robust umbrella. Before my eyes could adjust to the light, I was seized by a pocket-sized man in a padded gilet and delivered into the hands of his not-to-be-messed-with, middle-aged, unwed daughter who led me to a colourful line of brollies all sealed in plastic and tantalizingly out of my reach. She then proceeded to unwrap them, displaying each one in her hands like a bottle of fine wine. while painstakingly explaining and then demonstrating the self-explanatory use of an umbrella, (If an Englishwoman isn’t already qualified in this field, I don’t know who is). After having beige described to me and being presented with Scottish Tartan like it were a rare specimen of truffle, recently uprooted from Umbrian soil, I recoiled from her “Jack Russell” sales technique. As I stood, eyes fixed on the impermeable fabric mountain of unfolded brollies now shrewn across the old wooden counter, I was scolded for my inability to articulate "which exact fantasia I desired?" Now I know “fantasia” means pattern. Back then I just froze to the spot, contemplating my fate.

I endured a worrying number of brolly demos that afternoon including a Singing in the Rain inspired performance given by a supple young man,while his mother stood like a bouncer, guarding the entrance to their theatre, I mean luggage shop. These days this New Roman is better equipt to enter an establishment where the daughter patrols the entrance, zipped up to the throat in a quilted jacket, hands in pockets,Always be closingsales mantra running through her head. Apparently Gastro-gnome buys all his underpants from a bossy little, heavily-quilted Signora  next to the Vatican. 

Eventually, after being granted special permission from the Pope to touch the product, open it and model it from every angle before a full-length mirror ,(the only way to know if an umbrella really suits you I am assured), I finally went for a wind- resistant, compact, quick release, duck-egg-blue umbrella in the most obvious of places: A specialist wedding dress boutique in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

A note for visitors: Oxford Street:Via del Corso, Bond Street:Via Condotti and Via Babuino, Long Acre: Cola di Rienzo. Bluewater: nothing as good but Roma Est is ok, nice ice cream and a big Apple Store. Selfridges: Coin in Cola di Rienzo or San Giovanni, or Rinascente in Piazza Fiume.  Rome has been taken over by Zara, otherwise clotheswise other recognisable chains: Accessorize, Mango, H and M, Diesel,Timberland,Nike. No Gap or Jigsaw yet! Flower emergency? Flowers shops are open 24 hours a day. 

TO POSTS VIA FEED. Ice cream's on me in Rome!

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