So it got my attention when I heard the bell ringing.
At first, I thought it was the church. But it wasn’t the right note or the right rhythm... and the wind wasn’t coming from the right direction. Then I thought it might be on the TV.
And then I realized what it was: the rémouleur, the knife sharpener.
|Wallace Fountain, pl Emile Goudeaux|
|Vitrier, by Willy Ronis|
Just as I’m ready to give up, it starts again. And then he comes around the corner at the end of the street. A real rémouleur.
He stops in front of Number 12, rings his bell and waits. Then rings and waits again. But no windows open. No doors. Nothing.
“Haven’t seen one of you in ages,” I comment.
“There aren’t many of us left,” he replies, matter-of-factly.
“Not many vitriers either,” I add.
“No, the last one retired at the end of the year.” All these street people have known each other for ages, walked the same routes, crisscrossed the same neighborhood. “You have knives to sharpen? Or scissors?”
He waits patiently while I zip back to the apartment to gather up the knives that need his ministrations.
“I’m 67,” he informs me. “I’ve been sharpening knives and scissors for 50 years. And my parents before me.” My imagination visualizes generations of rémouleurs stretching back well into the 19th century, pushing the same timeless cart but dressed in different styles of clothing. He says he has no intention of stopping, but may have to if his legs give out. Or else he’ll just slump over his cart one day.
“I have my customers,” he smiles as he tests the knife’s sharpness on his little finger, then hangs it on the frame of his cart. Based on his pause in front of Number 12, I’d say he keeps a mental list of each and every building he’s sharpened something for. Now I’ll be on his list. One of his stops next time.
Tourists walk by, snapping photos of him, with or without his permission. But then so do I (after asking if he minded). Who knows how long this street scene will be around to witness, how long this page of history will survive?
Eight euros a knife. A store would ask more. But then, they have accountants to pay. For all I know, the taxman may not even realize my rémouleur is still working. Maybe he doesn’t hear the bell as it passes through the streets.
Then he smiles, doffs an imaginary cap, and sets off down the street, ringing and walking, walking and ringing, until he disappears around the corner.
But I can still hear the echo of his bell.