The mice of Fiesole have a plan.
I stop at the local hardware shop today. Well, stop is not the right word. I’ve been waiting three days to get there, having either forgotten to go or I was at the mercy of wacky Italian afternoon opening hours. It has been three days since we came home from holidays and discovered our house had been done over by a gang of mice (certainly it was more than one). So as the bell tower rings out four times, I’m outside the shop. I want to buy mousetraps*. But it’s not open, she’s not there yet.
I buy a few things at the Coop three doors down. Back to the shop five minutes later and someone else is waiting outside. Along comes the owner – I don’t know her name yet but she’s the young, busy, bustling, bespectacled type that makes you feel comfortable and has a Florentine accent you could spread butter with – and we follow her in. I love this shop, in fact I love all Italian hardware shops. It is covered from floor to ceiling with stuff, all of it useful. There are wonderful things in plain sight, which you didn’t know you needed, and others you desperately need and only she can find for you (and at a good price). In fact the shop is called a Utilità (meaning Usefulness, well in this case just Utility) which is one of the several cool names for a hardware shop, another being the even more lovely word, Mesticheria. I don’t know why it’s named Baobab, I’ll ask her next time (along with her name).
In an Italian hardware, you can step in and embrace the visual jumble, browse the mugs and tablecloths, mango slicers and egg timers (only some of which are fancy Italian design). Or you can just enjoy asking for something specific and watching the owner – who probably grew up in this family business – disappear into the back, under the counter, or up a ladder to where you thought only the wicker baskets were hanging. Many people seem to come in here just for a chat, it being right on the main street though far from any kind of legal parking possibilities.
“Oh, that’s a stink of someone’s bad cooking oil!” she says as she storms in. “Is it from the Indian restaurant across the road?” I ask. “Oh no, they use the right oils, there are always lovely smells coming out of there.”
I foolishly let the waiting woman go first, should have guessed she was a local and I get frustrated when I can’t completely follow the train of their conversation. We’ve only been back a few days and I’m rusty again. Money is passed over and put in an envelope, something scribbled on a piece of paper: it must be to do with the dinner in the piazza on Friday night.
The shop door has been left open to let in air (and smells of pungent oils). In the doorway a man has partly lodged himself, turning backwards to talk to someone further down the street or, judging by the volume, across the road. Maybe even the Indian restaurant owner. It’s another of those conversations I never get my head around, there always being something to talk about. But living here, I try my best anyway to initiate what I think to be similar-style chats with the shopkeepers I meet – about the earthquake, the school schedule, their elderly father. The man disappears after a few minutes without having come in for his chat.
My turn comes, my patience starting to thin as I consider the town’s diligent parking meter guy. The owner is already looking at the nervous-looking blonde tourist beside me (who’s doing a much better job of nodding her head and smiling along with all the conversation) especially when I mention the word mice. The departing woman/Friday night dinner guest hears the word too, and – as far as I can follow – offers her own brief story involving her cat catching a mouse, in fact it was a rat, brought into the house, in fact it was jumping onto her arm.
I can tell right away I’m not the first person to come to the shop looking for help with mice murder. The hardware lady’s tired expression gives her the appearance of a local miracle-worker – why do they all think I can sort out their household problems for them, why can’t they just get their houses in order? – and sure enough she tells me she’s all out of traps, the old-fashioned kind, the gluey ones and the little tent ones. In fact, she tells me – “Fiesole is full of mice”. She won’t have any more traps in till the end of next week. “Oh Dio!” I say, and mention that I’ll be in Florence tomorrow and may have to take my custom there; she surely understands the urgency. She digs around and shows me all she has left – a packet of scary-looking poison tablets – but isn’t really suggesting I buy them. “It’s much better you buy a trap that ensures you can see the dead mouse, not just guess that it went off and died its (horrible) death somewhere else.” I nod my head. Certo.
She keeps talking before I have the chance to tell her that we have, sort of, a cat on the case. (We have in fact starting brazenly inviting the neighbour’s cat in for a few ganders around the house and it’s becoming quite fond of one particular floormat and some of the Lego.) But she’s already noting in her order book which traps she needs to get in and she tells me I should really get the tented one – “put them in this location at this time of day, make sure you touch them with gloves or your smell will put them off.“ Will the mice guess from my smell that I’m not Italian? I wonder to myself.
“Why do you think there are so many mice around these days?” I ask her. “It’s not really turning cold yet.”
“I don’t really know”, she answers. Then she fixes her eyes on me and says “Si stanno organizzando”. I take this to mean, they’re getting themselves organized, plotting something. She says this with seriousness. And of course she must be right.
As I run back to the car empty-handed, I look around me thinking of the mice mini-gangs of Fiesole and neighbouring hamlets setting up a network wide enough to cover these streets, the ancient groves and crumbling walls, and the decaying old basements and ill-fitted kitchens, plotting a way to finally take over the three hills of Fiesole.
I go to another hardware shop I know down at the bottom of the hill, in the Le Cure area of Florence. It’s a bigger shop and as usual there are several people milling around the counter but I’m beckoned forward, the husband of the couple will help me. I tell him I need some mouse traps.
“Fine. Do you want them alive or dead?”
“Um, dead.” (Should I want them alive?)
“And are they small or big? Small like this?” – his hands relatively close together. “Or big, like this? Like a cat?” Oh no, I react, they’re not quite so big. “Right, those are the mice you get from the river.” I assure him we live right at the top of the hill, relieved that we decided against living down here.
He disappears into the back of the back, even though the front of the shop looks like it would have everything. He comes back a minute later with some fancy-looking metal traps, with little teeth on the edges. They’re made in Germany. He tells me the wooden ones are no good. I know that already.
As he rings them up, the customer beside me who’s buying serious lengths of waterproof fabric takes notice. “How much are those?” she asks. “1 euro 80 each.” “Fine, I’ll take a couple of those too then, thanks.”
So far I’ve caught one. Sure enough it was a small, normal sized one. Different cheeses don’t make any difference, nor does chocolate or honey. It must be all about the placement.
Now off to Florence to the really serious hardware shop down near the market.
And a weekend of murder.
*Note to readers: I offer no apology for my topocide. Having learned in several previous cities that I cannot live with a mouse in the house, I have found it best to do them off the quickest and surest way there is.