Update from Italy: La vita normale

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

When we moved into our apartment it was fully furnished with furniture and rugs, pots and pans, bath mats and bed linens, cutlery and china, tea towels and linen napkins. Drying racks and heaters, lamps and mirrors, fine art and a coat rack. A wood and glass hutch stuffed with stemware and espresso cups, saucers and egg cups, tea mugs and capacious bowls for café au lait in the morning. Maybe some French people lived here before us. Café au lait is not a thing in Tuscany.

The apartment furniture is all family cast-offs from the signora’s grander homes possibly in the countryside. A new Natuzzi sofa and armchair set in white, stuffed with goose feathers, is now worn to a dirty grayish color, but no matter. They are true comfort. I have slept sick in them many a night since we moved here, with a stomach bug, a sinus infection, bronchitis. The massive dinner table weighs at least a couple hundred pounds and fills half of our common room. An old terra cotta urn meant for olive oil or perhaps brining olives is our umbrella repository. The floors are tiled in terra cotta, burnished with beeswax for a century and a half. They are deceptively warm-looking in the winter, for given their depth of polish, the eye believes they retain and radiate heat. But they are as cold as a pizza stone in storage. All the signora’s spotless and ironed linens are neatly stacked in a tall cabinet built into the wall, no longer filling some bygone bride’s handsome wooden dowry chest that now holds fleece and merino throw blankets and spare goose-down comforters. 

It is a genteel life. Had I only known into what well-heeled Italian dream we would wheel our suitcases, late of Oklahoma City via Spokane, I would have shipped nothing. As it was, we slipped quite easily into the life that awaited us here. I missed nothing. I let it go easily and without regret, all of it. It wasn’t the first time I’d efficiently dismantled my life – I’d done it in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004. 2006, 2007, 2010. I don’t know what that string of years proves. My rootlessness. My inherited ability to feel at home after three nights anywhere. I am a human hermit crab, a tiny house upon my back, scenery changing, regretting little.  

The kitchen is ordered to a galley plan, long and narrow, windows facing north and looking up into the signora’s rooftop rose garden and her husband’s art studio, tucked up into the lofty loggia on the top floor where her great-great grandmother shouted at the housemaid to hang the laundry properly and early enough in the day to catch the breezes that wafted down from Fiesole so the sheets wouldn’t smell of must. The entrance is under a plaster arch, down the smooth lip of a step laid with pietra serena. It is definitely a kitchen for one chef. If a second person should attempt to squeeze by the cook or maid during a meal service, shouting will occur. There simply isn’t enough room. The dishwasher with the door down creates a sort of drawbridge barrier that prevents passage to the icebox or the slab of a marble sink that reminds me of a baptismal font or a Yorkshire tombstone. 

Over the weak microwave that couldn’t power a string of Christmas tree lights is a dual portrait of some bacon-rich sows, their black spots slung across their hides, one facing east, the other west. It is not old art. Someone bought it in a shop, acrylic on wood, but I like it. The sow facing west stares pointedly at a glossy ceramic rooster in bright primary colors. The cock is an idiot. All plumage and no point, his black eyes flat, avoiding the microwave’s single-minded stare.

On the other side of the galley’s narrow corridor, from the knob of a bottom drawer on the spice rack, hangs a styrofoam ball. It started out white. Our son made it as a holiday ornament four or five years ago. It was covered back then with bits of glued-on tinfoil, a finger’s length of yarn attached to suggest a mouth. At first it smiled, but over the years the humidity and heat and cold in the tiny kitchen ironed the grin into a dash. The poor ornament now looks with stern judgment indeed on the sows, the rooster, the microwave. The ornament is in such a state that we cherish it for its whimsy, scowling at us as we step down from the dining room into the bitty kitchen. Get rid of those two sows, and that ridiculous rooster wile you’re at it, I can hear it grumble. Cannot cope with the crowd you’ve put me with here. Please recycle me.

3 Replies to “Update from Italy: La vita normale”

  1. I’ve never actually seen inside but I can see it from your words. I want a tour when we’re back. Buona domenica!

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  2. This is so evocative and almost tactile in the way you describe your home and kitchen. I love your reference to life as a hermit crab, which is true for me as well. Except for my rolling bags and the contents I pack therein from time to time, I have nothing of note to call my own. What a life . . . !

    Liked by 1 person

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