Friday, April 6, 2012

Tied up with string

I've searched for the right word, but I can never seem to find it. When I try to describe what I see as defining characteristics of the Italians, the right, perfectly descriptive word always escapes me.

"They pay attention to detail," I'll say. But that isn't quite right. "They're meticulous," but that seems more off base. "They're polished?"

The best I can do is give examples. Examples like the woman who I met in the piazza the other day. Examples like how well-dressed their children are, wearing shoes every day long before they can walk; their impeccable window displays; their luxury products and the care they take of them . . .

This morning I found another example when I bought some pastries at the pasticeria around the corner: packaging.

They were in some wrinkled brown paper sack. They were placed on a tray and wrapped in the shop's signature paper, then tied with a ribbon. But it's so typifying of many things you buy here.

Flowers don't come in cheap, noisy cellophane, they come wrapped in paper and secured with a ribbon. When you buy something at a store, the paper bag is stapled shut at the top, forming a neat little parcel. Every shop seems to have their own custom packaging; paper stamped with their  founder's face and flashing their logo.

Maybe this has to do with the pedestrian culture. When someone buys a cake, it gets carried home on foot, so the boxes are wide and flat with a handle on top. The packaging is really just advertising (cakes look fun to eat even when you can't see them through the printed board box). When you walk to work, store windows hold your attention so the mental note to come back isn't lost in the noise of the day. You (and your child) are seen by hundreds of people every day, not just the checker at the grocery store, and not just from the waist up in your car.

It may sound materialistic, but it's more than that. Maybe the word is: care.

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