How to say Chimney Sweep in Italian

To stand in front of hundreds of adoring fans under a soft Italian sky is nothing short of surreal.  And yet, while none of these people actually know my name, they definitely know who I am. 

I’m a chimney sweep.  Better yet, a chimney sweep’s wife. Usually in the States, when I tell people what we do, I’m met with surprise and almost disbelief. Today, in this small village in northern Italy, I’m met with Beatles-Mania obsession.  Women scream. Children squeal.  Men shout and dance.  Spazza-camino!!  Actually, its more like…SPAZZA-CAMINO!!!!

Nothing quite prepared me for the very official, even calm, sounding International Chimney Sweep Festival in Santa Maria Maggiore. This annual event has been attracting thousands of sweeps and spectators for years and there’s nothing calm about it. Imagine the Mardi Gras meets the liberation of France, and throw in some soot. 

My husband and I decided to make the trek from Colorado to Italy this last fall along with our three boys, ages 16, 12 and 3. Our itinerary sounded like smoothing from a Rick Steves PBS special: Rome to Milan to the Alps to Germany. And yet, the course of true travel never runs smooth. There was jet lag with a toddler, COVID-aint-got-nothing-on-this grime (don’t step in that), canceled trains (we’re stuck how long?), and potty training on a moving bus (mommy, I need to go number 4). Yes, I know…first world problems. 

The Schramm Family

The thing I admit to almost not handling was finding Alpine scorpions (who knew?) in the kitchen of our Airbnb. There was also the nightly visitation of a something gnawing in the thatched roof.  In all fairness, though, the location was incredibly picturesque: a 16th century Jane Austen farmhouse with white roses, a small vineyard and bubbling brook.  The scorpions?  No problem.  I had an epi-pen.   

The day before the main festival, my husband and two older boys donned their uniforms to make sure they were in bristol fashion. The sweeps attending the festival were bidden to dress in black pants, specially tailored black coats with gold buttons, white kerchiefs (ours had large, bold American flags thickly embroidered on the white cotton) and heavyweight wrestler-esq American-eagle belt buckles. We attended a church mass with a few hundred chimney sweeps, where a blessing was given, St. Florian was remembered, and children sang. A beautiful prayer was offered and we were sent out, singing our way down the cobbled streets as children played football in the vacant fields.  

The next morning, we took our place, literally and figuratively, in a long line of sweeping tradition. We lined up behind the American banner, which my children were asked to hold (a hearty thank you to whomever made their year), and watched the other participants line up.  Romania to Italy, Bulgaria to France, England to Germany…on and on. Some of these sweeps were 6th generation! There were bands, sweeps, more bands, women and children in costume.  Belgian sweeps sooted from head to toe, swept through the crowd silently kissing cheeks, marking faces, then disappearing like puffs of smoke. Others would playfully sneak up behind unsuspecting and thankfully good-natured souls in khaki pants and white sundresses, planting a sooty hand you-know-where. As we marched through the shouting crowds throwing candy and necklaces, the enthusiasm was palpable. 1,200 sweeps.  30,000 spectators. One small village. Organized Italian bedlam. We even brought home chimney sweep earrings, keychains, cookie cutters, and Playmobil chimney sweep figurines complete with top hats, brushes, and lucky pigs.

Each country represented was supposed to bring country specific swag to throw around during the parade.  So for us it was gobs of American candy, American pins, US flags, and red, white and blue necklaces. Bringing the All-American goodies was a philosophical exercise in itself. To deliberately purchase American flags to hand out in a foreign country felt odd to me. But despite my worry about being overly patriotic on someone else’s turf, we were the living end. It seems that America is the lovable, rowdy teenager brimming with new ideas, not a lot of experience (on the historical timeline) and a whole bunch of success to show for our brazen ambition. And they love us for it. A lot. The feeling is mutual. Traveling around Italy and Europe, we felt we were sitting at our elders feet with old and wise lessons to learn. 

Everything in Europe is just so much older than what we typically see in the States. Europe was already old 1000 years ago. The Pantheon in Rome is 2000 years old and still standing brilliantly, but then there’s Stonehenge at 5,000 years old just over in England. The inhabitants thought in terms of generations and built in terms of generations. Everytime my husband passed a stone house in Europe, he would touch it wistfully, wondering how we might start thinking generationally. The chimney sweep industry in America might arguably be young, tracing its roots back to a 1970’s Mother Earth News advertisement, but our collective roots go back much, much further. If my husband and I learned anything at our time at the festival, it was to feel free to pass on our chimney sweep heritage to our boys. In short, we all left Santa Maria Maggiore with our heads held high.  I mean if Playmobil makes a chimney sweep action figure…well, then. 

So when people in the States respond to your professional occupation with, “Is that even a thing?” just think of cypress trees waving in the Italian countryside and streets filled with sooty confetti, and know that, Yes! Chimney sweeping is most definitely a thing.

As published in the NCSG Sweeping Magazine, May 2024

About the Author: Verity Schramm (and husband Byron Schramm) are proprietors of Midtown Chimney Sweeps Franchise.

About the Author: Verity Schramm (and husband Byron Schramm) are proprietors of Midtown Chimney Sweeps Franchise, having presence in 15 US states. They recently concluded a seven-month family sabbatical delving into chimney construction and chimney sweep technology throughout Europe. They are deeply committed to generationally-held, family-owned businesses which hold tremendous under-appreciated value for employees, customers and the owners themselves.

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