My feet were blistered and aching after two weeks of nonstop walking through the French Quarter. It was the last day of my stay in New Orleans. Salvador Giardina was on my long list of interesting characters to photograph for my book project. A street musician known as the Bob Dylan Girl told me, “One night I was on my bike headed home. My light was out. I got hit. I was okay, but my mandolin broke in half. Sal fixed it for a really good price.”
I’d been wanting to meet Sal for a long time, so I dialed his number, half expecting to be put off and told to call back another time. Instead, Sal said, “Come by any time. I go to lunch between noon and one o’clock.”
Twenty minutes later, after a taxi ride up Canal Street into Old Metairie, I found his tiny shop. As soon as I stepped through the door, I thought I might be on the set of Storage Wars, but in fifteenth-century Europe—in a room filled with piles of decaying wooden instruments waiting to be restored. Violins, guitars, banjos, bases, ukuleles—even dulcimers—were stacked everywhere. A few looked like works of art. Others looked as if they’d just been rescued from a garbage can. I had to carefully pick my spot to stand on a floor sprinkled with wood shavings. I tried to make sense of it all, scanning the walls, where more violins, guitars and mandolins hung high above shelves piled with tools, bottles of glue, stains and violin bows. Every inch of the place was covered in a gentle snow of fine Renaissance sawdust.
Sal greeted me with the warm sandpapered hand of a craftsman. He smiled, standing behind a cluttered counter, working on the bridge of a splintering bass. Sal’s weathered face and long hair reminded me a little of Neil Young, his skin sepia-toned, aging like the rest of the stained orchestra behind him.
Sal grinned, confessing, “I’m an artist. One thing I’m not is neat. You can shoot as many photos as you like, but I’ve got to keep working. I get so far behind trying to get this stuff out. Customers come in and yell at me, ‘You know how long you’ve had my instrument?! When is it going to be finished?!’ I just tell them, ‘It will be done when it’s done.’” He shrugged, adding, “I never know. I don’t own this shop. I don’t run it. It runs me.”
Salvador Giardina’s workshop is in Old Metairie at 101 Focis Street, 504-832-4955.