In my quest to bring you a look at the lively and interesting characters in my neighborhood, I’d like to introduce Ascenzo. (Ah-shen-so) He runs this little shop called “Spaccio Carbone.” It’s a pretty old-fashioned name, for a pretty old-fashioned shop. It means something like “coal dealer.” When I stopped to chat with him the other evening, he proudly handed me his business card, which states that he sells: bombole (propane tanks), kerosene, carbone (charcoal), and legna (wood). All of which is true. But just look at this picture! The man has just about everything stuffed into this little corner of history.
When I asked Ascenzo how many years he’s been working in his little shop, he stopped for a moment, did a bit of math on his fingers, and then proclaimed in his super scratchy yet very jovial voice: “Cinnnnquannntaaaa duuuuueee …. (fiffffftttttyyyy twwwooooo)… assspetttta! (Wait!) Cinnnnquaannnnttaaa ssssseiiiii… (fifty-six).”
That’s really something. The man has seen it all. He knew Vincenzo, Alessandro’s grandfather who ran the restaurant downstairs in the days of “La Dolce Vita.” Every day I see Ascenzo sitting in his little chair, either reading the newspaper or doing crossword puzzles. I love it. Just the simple act of always seeing him there gives me this great sense of stability and community. He is one of my favorite neighborhood people. Quiet, humble, and sincere.
I remember when I had first moved into the neighborhood about 4 years ago, barely spoke Italian and in desperate need of clothespins. (Can you be in desperate need of clothespins? For me in the beginning, without much Italian, every need seemed a bit desperate.) I walked into his little shop and used my golden phrase in Italian: “I don’t know how to say this in Italian, but…” and then proceeded with hand gestures and my limited vocabulary to describe the act of hanging out clothes to dry. Not only did he give me a mini-Italian lesson (pinze, people, pinze), he told me all about some family members he has, living in Philadelphia. He even gave me a free bar of “rose-scented” soap, patting my hand and telling me, “This is so you’ll be a happy customer and come back again sometime.”
He was overjoyed that I wanted to take this picture. Afterwards, you should have seen the look on his face when I showed it to him on the digital camera screen. Delighted. I didn’t go into explaining the idea of a blog… some things are just better left unsaid.
As I walked away, he called out: “Remember, if you ever need anything… just let me know… and please, come over and buy something once in a while… help me out…”
When you make it over to Trastevere, go by and see Ascenzo. He’s on Via della Luce 68, near the crossroad with Via della Lungaretta. I’m sure you’ll find something you could use in his shop. Maybe you can even help him with his crossword puzzle.