OK, how about something more low tech: The umbrella. These days when one breaks, you might just turn away. But it wasn't always like that. In Paris, umbrella repair was once a thriving trade but now it's just down to one shop.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent this postcard.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Bonjour, Monsieur Millet.


BEARDSLEY: Thierry Millet's umbrella shop lies in a tiny passageway in what used to be a thriving artisanal district in Paris' 18th Arrondissement. Downstairs the tiny shop is bursting with elegant and colorful French-made umbrellas for sale.


MILLET: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Upstairs the umbrellas are all broken, lying in a pile in one corner. In boxes along the walls, Millet fingers stacks of ribs, springs, handles, and all kinds of umbrella parts you wouldn't even know the names for.


BEARDSLEY: On his scarred, wooden work table Millet repairs about 10,000 umbrellas a year. He says you have to be fast and precise. My first burning question: Why bother to repair an umbrella at all?

MILLET: (Through Translator) First of all, in France alone we throw out about 15 million umbrellas a year, and they're not recycled. But it's more than that. People who come to me are attached to their umbrellas for sentimental reasons. Many times they have beautiful stories about them. So I feel obligated to restore them.


BEARDSLEY: Millet says repeatedly buying cheap umbrellas costs more than investing in a one good one, which can last a lifetime. He harvests his parts from used umbrellas people give him. Millet wasn't born into the trade. He bought this shop 10 years ago after being laid off as director of a high-end furniture store. He says, luckily, his craftsman training at a French art school has made him very versatile.


BEARDSLEY: With his quick wit and convivial style, Millet has also become somewhat of a tourist attraction. His little umbrella shop from a bygone era is written-up in many guidebooks. It's also classified by the French government as a business of living heritage. Millet tells this group that umbrellas originated in China about 6,000 years ago. That makes repairing them the world's oldest profession, he says, with a wink.

MILLET: (Through Translator) Umbrellas began to be democratized in the beginning of the 19th century when the bourgeois class didn't have horse-drawn carriages, to protect them from the rain - so they started carrying umbrellas.

BEARDSLEY: Millet says umbrellas were popular into the 20th century, before falling out as a fashion statement. Later, the market was flooded with cheap imports from China.


BEARDSLEY: He says repairing umbrellas still brings surprises. Like the time he discovered a sword hidden in the shaft of one. Millet also found these brass umbrella parts engraved in the 1870s during the uprising of the Paris Commune.

MILLET: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: To the brave Parisians on the barricades, he reads.

Millet his work is seasonal - at best, nine months a year. Even though it's not raining today, 70-year-old Chantal Almeric has brought in two of her favorite umbrellas for repair.

CHANTAL ALMERIC: And I couldn't find another one which was automatic, and so light. You see? I bought it in Portugal many years ago.


ALMERIC: And I like it.


BEARDSLEY: Not surprisingly, Almeric loves umbrellas. She describes another one in her collection.

ALMERIC: With a lizard handles.

BEARDSLEY: A lizard?

ALMERIC: Yes, which come from my mother. And you see? And it is very nice one.

BEARDSLEY: And how old is this umbrella from your mother?

ALMERIC: Oh, I should say, perhaps hundred years.


ALMERIC: Oh, yes. Oh, magnifique...

BEARDSLEY: Almeric is delighted as Millet hands back one of her umbrellas, good as new. Millet says giving a second life to a much-loved object also gives a little youth back to its owner. And that's magic.

MILLET: Auvoir, Madame.

ALMERIC: Good-bye.


MILLET: Auvoir, Madame.


BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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