“Do you have these in size 37?”
“No, only these. What kind you want? I make and you come back tomorrow.”
Italy: land of pasta, gelato, and leather. The former two, pasta and gelato, are inevitable additions to any Italian travel itinerary. I would consider it a superhuman feat to avoid either for longer than 24 hours. Leather, on the other hand, proved to be far more elusive. The only glimpses I had caught of any leather goods were on the kitschy sidewalk stalls, imprinted with the touristy and often crooked trademark of the city of Florence.
I soon learned that the more refined establishments for Italian leather were to be found in the back alleyways of the city. Beyond the rush of tourists from Il Duomo to the Uffizi Gallery, I found the cool calm of these small winding streets comforting. Wandering from shop to shop, the unassuming storefront of Francesco caught my eye and upon closer inspection, the rows of leather sandals and shoes lured me in.
The rich smell of the shop was the second thing I noticed, because, let’s be honest, my eyes were already wide in shoe shopping anticipation. The strong aroma of what I can only describe as salty antiquity hit my nostrils with force; cured leather, cleaner, and dye mixed to create an almost toxic ambience that welcomed rather than revolted. After serving my due diligence in admiring the hand stitched soles and quality of the leather, the fashion show commenced. After many trials, side-by-side comparisons, and reassurance from the shoemaker himself, I finally decided on a pair.
I’m not big on souvenirs because they tend to become accessories lining shelves, or clutter among objects without a true purpose. But at 60 Euros, that pair of sandals became my only Italian souvenir. Rather than become an obsolete relic of time spent abroad, they are a functional representation of the survival of traditional Italian handiwork and a continuous reminder of a culture beyond my own.