These Are the Craftsmen

Tessellated floor in Borromeo Palace
This past May Nancy and I visited Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. We spent a morning on the Isola Bella. I took this picture. It is of one of the tessellated floors inside the Borromeo Palace. I was struck not only by the beauty of the floor, its patterning and workmanship, but also by its anonymity. Someone 300 or more years ago laid it with care, consummate skill and a flair for design. It has lasted for centuries. Yet no one has the slightest idea who the maker was. When I asked an attendant that question, he looked at me as if that were an odd thing to ask about, what with all those Bassanos and Crespis hanging on the walls of the palace gallery with their nameplates clearly legible for all to read.

This is not an unusual state of affairs. Who fashioned the gargoyles that protect Notre Dame in Paris. The sarcophagi of ancient Rome? The wall carvings of Angkor Wat? The carvings of the life of Buddha that ring Borobudur in Indonesia? These are among the great injustices of history. We know the masters, but we know nothing of the master craftsmen. It doesn’t seem fair.

Kirk and Joe
I have been fighting a small battle to rectify this. Last year when plumbers installed a shunt so that an outdoor spigot wouldn’t freeze in winter, I had them sign the trap door that hides the shunt. Last month when a plumber installed a garbage disposal under the kitchen sink, I asked him to sign the unit.

And now another occasion has arisen. Outside my front door, craftsmen from the J. Marchese Company of Everett, Massachusetts are laying down a new brick sidewalk. These sidewalk makers will not disappear into obscurity if I have anything to say about it. Here are three of them, Kirk, Joe and Mel. They are experts at exchanging new walks for old.

It isn’t an easy job. There are curbstones to be reseated. Tree pits to be relined and then there are those new bricks to be laid. If there isn’t a concrete foundation beneath them—and in our case there isn’t—then a whole new foundation has to be fashioned. The bricks will go on top of a black carpet of asphalt.

Kirk handles the backhoe as if he were driving a bumper car in an amusement park. Joe, the one with the Red Sox beard, maneuvers a huge dump truck as if he were riding a bicycle. Mel lays down the bricks. And I’m leaving out all the guys who support them, the ones who tote the brick piles for Mel or the ones who spread sand on the bricks and then sweep them clean to fill in the cracks.
Brand new sidewalk

Now I'm conscious of brick sidewalks. Bricks are like people. They shrink just like us when we grow old, .

I am grateful to these craftsmen for rejuvenating the sidewalk while I am still around to enjoy it. It will certainly outlast me. If anything, the sidewalk will watch me grow old instead of the other way around.

20 or more years later
This morning Mel said goodbye to me.  He is off to Colorado to shoot elk. His family likes the meat. He wouldn’t shoot it if he didn’t eat it, he said. Anyway, Mel said the sidewalk is guaranteed for 10 years, but that it will easily last fifty. I’ll be lucky to last another 15. That’s good. I wouldn't want to be around to watch the edges crumble.