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Keeping traditions alive (Language level B1-C1)

Aprile 2016
Partito da Potenza, Nicola Pecchia arrivò a Manhattan 50 anni fa e aprì una bottega di calzolaio. Non è mai più tornato in Italia, neanche in vacanza. Suo figlio Gennaro lavora ancora lì, punto di riferimento per i newyorkesi del quartiere. Il resto ce lo racconta lui stesso.

di Laura Giromini | vivereny.com

File audio:

Gennaro and Nicola Pecchia
Gennaro and Nicola Pecchia

When we think of New York we think of skyscrapers, celebrities and a frantic lifestyle. But there’s also an “old world” New York of artisans and small, family-run businesses.  This is evident in Brooklyn, but there are also plenty of examples in Manhattan. If you go to the Upper East Side, you can find a place called James Custom Shoe Repair at 1427 Lexington Avenue, on the corner of 93rd Street. Here Nicola Pecchia repairs shoes for local residents, and he has been doing so for 49 years.   
Nicola was born in Potenza, in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Then, as now, there wasn’t a lot of work and so he emigrated to Switzerland when he was 16. Later he moved to Germany where he tried his luck as a cobbler. And it was in Germany that he met a Sicilian girl called Maria. She moved to New York but came back to Europe three years later. Nicola and Maria got married in Italy and moved back to New York. Nicola was 25 and Maria was 23. They found a small apartment in East Harlem, which had a large Italian community in those days.

changing names

Nicola soon found a job with James, a Hungarian cobbler who was about to retire. James sold the business to “Nick” (as he now called himself). Five decades later, Nick still runs the shop with his Ecuadorian assistant, Luis (who has become an “honorary Italian,” Luigi), and his son, Gennaro (who talked to Speak Up: see interview, above).    


the italian dream


Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

James Custom Shoe Repair at 1427 Lexington Avenue at 93rd Street is something of a New York institution. It was founded by Nicola Pecchia, an immigrant from Potenza in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, nearly 50 years ago. We asked Nicola’s son, Gennaro Pecchia, what sort of New Yorkers took their shoes to be repaired there:

Gennaro Pecchia (Standard American accent)

It’s funny, it ranges. I mean, long-time customers that have been coming to us 45 years or more to ballet students, because there’s a ballet school near the shop and, I mean, just putting on straps and things for them, it’s so cool because they come in and they’re so proud of what they’re doing and they understand that their parents say, “You know, you have to meet Nick, you have to take your stuff there, to James Custom Shoe Repair.” They come and it’s, you know, you never know when you’re going to gain a customer so, and then we have people, actually, you know, who are very, very big in the financial world, actors, actresses, anybody who’s doing anything, other artisans as well, that understand, you know, we have a lot of designers, fashion designers, a lot of interior designers. It’s amazing, on a Saturday when I’m there, it’s like I’m meeting the world.

The centre of the universe

And Gennaro Pecchia believes that New York is the centre of the world:

Gennaro Pecchia

I think that New York City is the focal point for anything in the world. The people are looked upon as role models. We’re tough and we’re often seen as very, very kind of hard, but it’s certainly not true, the people I’ve met through my business and what we do, I think with care and love, that’s the way that things get done. Yeah, you could look around the country, at Chicago, L.A., everywhere else, there’s amazing people everywhere in the United States, around the world as a matter of fact, but New York is the centre of the world, the centre of the universe.

no thanks  

So does Nicola Pecchia ever go back to his native Basilicata?

Gennaro Pecchia

My dad definitely had a dream to come to the United States and, I mean, to a certain extent where he has never been back to Italy in nearly 50 years. When people ask, “Why haven’t you been back to Italy?” and he just basically says, “I worked so hard to get out of Italy and now I’m going to fight back to go back? It doesn’t work that way!” My father hasn’t taken a vacation, a serious vacation, in all those years that he’s been working. And my father doesn’t know time off, he used to work seven days a week, and now he cut back to six days a week just so he could be home with the family. On Sundays we... at three o’clock we still enjoy our big family dinners and staying with each other and telling stories and, you know, just helping the family grow. We have... nieces and nephews now and his grand cousins and grandkids that he has to really nurture and show what hard work’s about. My father is one of the hardest workers I ever met, and I know a lot of people!

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Near the shop. Vicino al negozio. Qui Gennaro Pecchia usa la parola shop nel senso americano: un’officina, laboratorio dove si riparano le scarpe. Per un negozio nel senso più comune, dove si comprano prodotti (shop in British English), gli americani dicono store.

I’m going to fight back to go back? Devo lottare per tornare indietro? Gennaro Pecchia (che, come molti newyorchesi, parla rapidamente) fa un piccolo errore: doveva dire fight to go back e non fight back to go back. To fight back vuol dire reagire, contrattaccare.

Grand cousins and grandkids.
Anche qui c’è errore dovuto alla rapidità della parlata. Si può dire grandkids per dire nipoti (nel senso dei figli dei figli), ma non si dice grand cousins, bensì cousins.