When country folks like us get to go to a city, they always squeeze in a little shopping. All five of us had a wish or two, but while the three men in this family had in mind super-quick shopping trips, the ladies planned to let the shopping take as long as needed. Rebecca remembered the large Feltrinelli bookstore from our visit to Rome a year ago, and asked to go there. Which we did. Twice. I, on the other hand, had in mind some yarn shopping, and I'd spotted a promising shop within seconds from arriving in Rome, and couldn't wait to visit it. Which I did. Thrice.
Shopping for yarn in Rome was my Roman epiphany in a way. It showed to me that my love-hate relationship with the city had indeed turned into the former, because despite all the Roman obstacles, I eventually got what I needed without experiencing any of that old irritation that used to plague me when I lived here.
Lana della Vecchia ("Yarn of the Old”), as the shop was called, was closed the first time I went there, in the mid-afternoon, but having lived in Rome for four years, I knew to enquire at the shop next door. They told me to go to the lingerie shop down the road, where I’d likely find the assistant from the yarn shop. And sure enough, there she was, helping two nuns, and said she'd be with me in a minute. She meant a Roman minute, of course, since we were in Rome, after all – but I expected this, because having lived in Rome, I knew that the Romans had excelled at building aqueducts, roads, amphitheaters and other marvels, but were decidedly not gifted at customer service.
Yarn of the Old was a tiny hole in the wall, with steep, narrow stairs leading to additional storage areas below and above the ground floor shop. Every square inch of the place was stuffed with yarns. Since a sign on the front door mentioned the historic yarn company Grignasco, I asked to see Grignasco wools, which I'd wanted for a long time. Alas, I was too late: the company had closed 18 months ago, the shop assistant said, and all they had were some remainders.
I absolutely love remainders - because they're discounted, of course! But when the shop assistant asked me what I was looking for, I must have answered wrong, because she told me that it'd been so long since Grignasco had closed that they'd probably had none left after all. Which I could clearly 'read' to mean that she wasn't willing to walk the few narrow steps up or down to get the yarn remainders for me.
Rebecca was very patient during my yarn shopping, and just read one of her books, which made other visitors to the shop exclaim, "Oh, my, it’s been ages since I’ve seen a child with a book and not a tablet!"
I returned to the shop the following day, and a different assistant was on duty. This time I specifically asked to see the Grignasco remainders. It took a little chatting and more asking, but she eventually walked upstairs and returned with a large plastic bag full of single balls of Grignasco yarns partly unwound and mostly in dreadful colors. It wasn't all a futile exercise though, because while she was gone, I was able to take a good look around, and had found three balls of Laine du Nord 100% silk at half price.
Did they have more of that silk in the light blue colorway, by any chance? While stuffing the Grignasco balls back into the plastic bag, the shop assistant replied that unfortunately they only had it in black. Because I've lived in Rome for four years, I knew not to take this as a definitive answer. I started planning my third visit to the shop.
This time, when I asked for Laine du Nord 100% silk at half price in light-blue colorway, the shop assistant reached to a little shelf beside the cash register and grabbed it: five more balls. There’s probably more light-blue 100% silk yarn at half price in that tiny little Roman yarn shop. Perhaps there’s another shop assistant - almost certainly a relative of the others - who might be inclined to look for it. But eight balls were enough for me, and even if they'd costed me three visits, I eventually left the shop with a smile. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is good advice. But you've got to know how.