Sometimes I wish the world would stop just for a little while. Just enough to realize how much society and values have changed so rapidly in the last few decades.
After meeting a retired knife grinder in Italy I could not help feeling slightly moved when he described how a long time ago he started his profession through hardship and hard work. My region, Friuli in “Val di Resia” in the north east of Italy has a history of knife grinders.
Val di Resia is situated in the Alpine valley about 90 Km from Trieste. As it was an isolated valley people where transport was difficult especially in the winter, people there had to think of a profession that would bring bread to the table to feed their hungry and often big family.
They were called “arrotini”, or knife grinders; it was a profession handed down from father to son. They would leave in the early summer to go all over the region and beyond, sometimes all over the world too to sharpen knives, scissors and to fix umbrellas. Sometimes they would come back after the birth of a son they had never seen as they would stay away for months at a time or even years. What was typical of these craftsmen was their attitude to hard work, their strong desire to do an excellent job in order to build a name for themselves.
It is interesting how the “arrotini” have adapted through times: the first grinders were carried on their shoulders and this was class equipment class later they dragged the machine on a cart through dirty and dusty roads.
In 1929, the grinders used a bike and subsequently they moved to seats of “wasps” and “Lambrettas” or other scooters and also on mini motorized vans where the grinding wheel turned by means of the same engine.
Nowadays all their equipment is fitted in the luggage of modern cars and the wheel is turned by a powerful battery. It couldn’t be more different to the old times!
In Val di Resia there is a museum dedicated to the life of the “Arrotino” which is worth visiting if you are in the area.