In 2007 we spent a sabbatical year in Rome and I decided that it was a great opportunity to learn traditional bookbinding skills. I traveled to Florence where the year before I had seen a binder teaching a Japanese woman how to sew a headband into the spine of an old book.
I remembered exactly where the small shop was because we discovered it just doors down from our hotel. It was an easy walk from the train station, across the famous Ponte Vecchio and straight up Via Romana. When I arrived at the shop the binder and a younger woman greeted me and asked “Cuando cominciamo?” When do we begin?
The next meeting Omero took a large book down from a high shelf and showed me how to take it apart, first removing the cover and then carefully separating the signatures, all the while speaking in Italian and smoking cigarettes which he put down on the table as he worked, creating hundreds of tan burn marks.
After we had deconstructed the book, he showed me how to repair the torn pages and how to sew it back up, tying each signature firmly to the previous one. I watched Omero complete each step in the process, and then he had me repeat it. My hands learned new skills.
The following week I brought Omero a book in English about Dante, and we ripped off the cover, then made new endpapers and cover using leather and marbled paper. Omero “aged” the leather using paraffin, he stamped Dante using gold foil into the spine, and he shined it with shoe polish. It was the most elegant book I had ever handled.
I had been reading several bi-lingual books of Italian poetry to improve my vocabulary, and one day I asked Omero if he could recommend a poet to me, and he said, “Why would you want to read another man’s thoughts?” Omero had been making books for 60 years, but he was not much interested in their contents. He was interested in their covers. He was generous man who forever changed the way that I experience books, craft, and life.