The Tobacco Man

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A couple of times every week, I go to one of the shops, known as ‘tabacchi’ to buy stamps to send letters or postcards. I like to write letters. Moving to Italy has allowed me to indulge in this now-quaint pastime of laboriously writing down on paper what I could send easily in a text (which would take less half the time to write), then digging out the address of the person I am sending it to, then walking down to the tabacchi, purchasing a stamp, then finding a letterbox and posting it. It then takes between one and three weeks to arrive at its destination, where the information is now far outdated, as I have continuous daily contact with the recipient or, if not, they have probably seen something on social media, so are informed about how life here is going for me. It’s all a bit of an unnecessarily large rigmarole.

Nevertheless, I love it. I love applying my thoughts to one task. One cannot be doing a million other things when one is writing a letter. One can easily text whilst also making a cup of tea, putting the pasta on to cook, talking to one’s flatmate and listening to an audio book. A letter, though, refuses to take a backseat. It will have centre stage or nothing. If your flatmate wants to talk to you, you must stop writing until silence again reigns and you can return to the letter. I like the totality of the experience. I also like the routine of buying the stamp and posting the letter then waiting excitedly to hear that it has been received.

Going to the tabacchi to get a stamp has almost become the part I love the most, though. I always go to the same place. It’s between Piazza Marsala and Piazza Corvetto, on the right, near the roundabout.

I go in, holding my letter, rehearsing in my head the Italian words for what I want. I see the man, who I refer to in my mind as the tobacco man, although a tabacchi sells way more than just cigarettes. They are more like English convenience stores, but smaller. The tobacco man is sometimes at the back of the shop, but usually behind the till on the left, often hidden away, kneeling down, unpacking something, doing something important.

“Buongiorno,” I greet him.

“Buongiorno.”

He smiles, imperceptibly. On my first visits to this tabacchi, he stayed straight faced. he was polite but not friendly, as such. He was helpful but not demonstrative. Yet something about him made me smile, made me want to get my stamps from him only. Over the weeks, as I visit every few days, his manner has shifted ever so slightly, from politeness to recognition, from helpfulness to friendliness.

“Avete il francobollo, per favore?” I ask – do you have a stamp, please.

He asks me where the letter is going to, even now, when for seven weeks I have only ever asked for a stamp for the same place.

“È per Europa,” I say.

He asks me for the letter, while getting the stamps and asking for “zero, novantacinque,” 95 cents. He peels the stamp off the sheet then sticks it in place for me. He always does it himself. He never hands the stamp to me to do.

I hand him a one euro coin and he gets me 5 cents change.

“Grazie,” I say warmly. “Buona giornata.”

“Anche tu,” he says, politely, as I smile over my shoulder, thinking, one day we’ll have a chat about the weather or something, just you wait and see.

Not yet, of course, that would be far too much now. I mean, it’s taken seven weeks to get that slight smile from him and something resembling familiarity. One can’t rush these things, you know.

But sometimes I think about the tobacco man and I think about how it is when you move to a new country and have to learn a new language and make new friends etc. It comes slowly, very slowly. The new place has to get used to you, to the fact that you gave it no choice but are now existing in its midst, demanding it’s time and attention, poking your face into it’s museums, fancy churches, cafes, shops, demanding that it allow you to make a life here.

Sometimes it feels like Genova has chosen to say no, you may not just blend seamlessly in here, you must struggle, you must feel intimidated, afraid to even conduct basic conversations due to the certainty that you’ll get it all wrong. And then sometimes, it smiles a little, makes room for me, engineers a chance encounter that will lead me to new opportunities, help me see the beauty and wildness of this country, with it’s unforgiving mountains which turn you around, get you lost, throw brambles at you, and it’s unevenly surfaced hills and steps, which trip you up and throw you, sprawling, to the ground, to remember that, just because you are living out your dreams, does not mean it will be easy.

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One response to this post.

  1. I am excited for you. Living in a different country, even for awhile, would be scary, fun, exciting, and give you that feeling of loss and language struggle.
    Have fun and keep posting. They are much fun to read.
    Scott

    Reply

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