For six years I worked in a beautiful store in Gaiole in Chianti. Maniera sold top of the line Tuscan Artisan Handicrafts and I had the privilege of being surrounded by the most enchanting items created by professional artisans. Blown Glass, Hand-hammered Silver and luxorious Tablecloths are just a few of the articles we sold. Olive wood was another. Now, although less exclusive than other objects, Daniela Ryan, the owner, selected more original pieces but we even kept some items which were carried by other shops in the vicinity. I love Olive wood pieces so it was easy for me to tell our customers about the care and maintenance of these items. (Perhaps, it was less enthralling with the fabulous silver because I had to regularly clean those pieces and after cleaning 15 to 20 pieces of silver, every month or so the thrill passes!!)
Once a bus load of Japanese tourists invaded the shop (the only time we had a big group of Japanese) and embarassingly true to the stereotype of Japanese tourists, they snapped photos of practically everything in the shop. At a certain point they were en masse assembled around the "Olive wood Table", I mentioned to a lady, that the pieces were olive wood. She looked at me and said, "Oliwoo? Brandname?" Had I lied and said yes, I probably would have sold much more than I actually did.
I have such fond memories of a customer who came in and announced, "I want to spend some money!" I love customers like that, it's hard work but very satisfying. She came in with some friends and it seemed as though money was very heavy and they really wanted to be relieved of it in exchange for lighter weight objects such as wool blankets, travertine chargers and the like. I was giving my spiel on the cheese graters (incased in olive wood boxes) by explaining to clean the grater, one removes it from the box and then can wash it easily in water using an inexpensive toothbrush. "What about putting it in a dishwasher?" she asked. To which I replied,"I suppose so, I never thought about it, because I don't own a dishwasher." This woman looked at me with honest compassion and said,"You poor thing, I bet you don't have a clothes dryer either!" I was living in Chiantishire, Tuscany where there are probably no more than 60 rainy days in the entire year. I admitted my poverty, but assured her that I did have running water and a flush toilet in my flat.
Maniera closed its doors after six hopeful years. There are many reasons for the closing but, I truly believe the main reason was, the social level of the Chianti tourists lowered and the very affluent become harder to come by. This sounds quite snobby I am sure, but to be fair, most people on holiday do not consider buying several thousand euros worth of silver, or hand chiseled crystal. It takes a special clientele to keep a shop like Maniera going and after 9/11, Sars, the war in Iraq and the euro gaining on the dollar, we weren't seeing those clients regularly enough. What I did notice was during the last year, three women (all American) on different occasions said to me while I was reciting my olive wood speech, "What do you mean, Olive wood? You mean olives grow on trees? I didn't know that." The blatant ignorance of these women who were vacationing in an area surrounded by vinyards and olive groves just flabbergasted me.
By the way, if you have any olive wood pieces, they need to be seasoned occasionally by rubbing oil into them. It doesn't have to be olive oil, any commestible oil does the trick. Don't use Murphy's.
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