What is good about newspapers is that the next day, when the news is “old”, they can always be used to make a paper hat. Pippo’s hands had become expert at transforming a page into a boxy work hat. He would take a sheet of newspaper, put it on the table and fold it in half and then after folding and creasing the paper in the right places, swiftly turn it into a hat. A paper hat could last days in the dust and sweat. Of course, there was no relation between the news randomly picked out for the hat and the hat’s sturdiness. Ever since he was a child, Mimmo had seen his father wear a paper hat crammed with words that interwove geometrically, so losing their original meaning to become a form of protection, and he had felt at home. Just as when his mother Adalgisa made him help her to make tomato sauce during the summer holidays in Calabria. What a lot of tomatoes he had had handled and what fragrance! An aroma that smelled like home, like the dry, sharp smell of the sawmill in Taggia, which also smelled like home. He was so proud of his father at school. How many children could say that their father was a wood-cutter, like in fairy tales? When the teacher asked them to bring material to lessons to create objects, while the others brought plasticine, play dough, or at most flour paste, he would bring a piece of briar.
What was solid in his life was the set of values based on certainties, like the paper hat, tomato sauce and the coffee that Adalgisa made every morning at 11. When she called everyone in the sawmill they took a well-earned break, and then went back to cutting briar. It was hard work, surrounded by noise, danger and dust. A child could think it was poetic, but seeing Mimmo’s wish to follow his father’s footsteps, Adalgisa knew that a mother should try to dissuade him from doing so, as she wanted him to do something different, just as she had wished for a different life for her two older sons. Then he finished school. One morning Mimmo took a page from an old newspaper, laid it on the kitchen table, folded it in the way he had seen his father do it and made his first work hat. It was time to see if he, too, would become a briar cutter. There followed eight months of hard work by Pippo’s side carrying out tasks that were so familiar that it seemed to Mimmo that he had done nothing else in his life. A coffee break at 11 and then back to work.
It was 1988, and he had to leave for his military service. It was lucky that he interrupted this work experience, as a way to understand what he felt was his future, but also what other path he could take, as his mother had advised. Mimmo was also a good sportsman and if he had really wanted to he could have become a physical education teacher. Yet, in those 12 months far from home and familiar rituals, fragrances and gestures with which he had grown up, the desire to follow his father’s footsteps only increased further. This was fueled by a chat with his gym teacher, who had warned him about the difficulties of being a teacher and when he returned from his military service he had already come to a decision. Despite the paper hat, there had lain too much briar dust in his curly, raven hair while sitting next to his father to forget it all. Moreover, in spite of his mother’s initial protests, later everyone had to admit that it was the right path to take, not only to continue the family tradition, but also to fulfill Mimmo’s dream. He had grown up with briar, and its fragrance permeated all his memories.
Now he had to make his mark. He had frequently perceived a potential pipe in a block of briar and felt that this was where his career should lie. However, there were also some problems here, and it was not his mother this time who was against him, but his father who dampened his spirits, as good old common sense told him there was no need to change things that were going so well. However, one day Teddy Knudsen showed up at the sawmill. Mimmo could not hide his wish to become a pipe maker from the person that initially was a client but then became a good friend, and this re-ignited the spark of his creativity. Teddy advised him to go to Denmark on a study holiday to learn the techniques and language of pipe making to shape his own pipes. He could draw his creativity from his experience, what he had seen, breathed and lived during his life up to that time. Needless to say, with such a background Mimmo was soon turning out high grade pipes. The first pipe emerged and Mimmo proudly sold it during a fair in America in 2001. Last year, he proudly managed to buy it back from a collector.
Nowadays, when he sees his logo designed by his brother-in-law, featuring a mouthpiece viewed from the smoker, in some way he sees his life story, made up of briar and quality breathed in ever since he was a child, because it is the mouthpiece that often reveals the quality of the finished product. Even now, it still gives him pleasure to make his paper hat to go and work in the sawmill, just as it gave him pleasure when his father did this, as he feels at home. His one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sara, has already had her first paper hat. If you are a member of the Romeo family, you must protect your energy with a sheet of newspaper. Throughout the years Adalgisa has made coffee at 11, and still continues to do so. She was the one that seemed to be the most reluctant to let Mimmo join his father, but she still treasures Mimmo’s first paper hat with “Mimmo 1988” written on it in pen. So as not to forget when everything began, or rather, when everything continued.
Special thanks to Mr. Domenico Romeo "Mimmo" for his precious contribution
Milano, June 2013