Thursday, June 9, 2016

Living Like a Local

A restaurant near my apartment.
I have wanted to live in Europe for as long as I can remember, so on this five-week trip, it was important to find a place that would make me feel as though I belonged. I wanted to slip into the shoes of a Florentine and shuffle around in them. I wanted to know what day-to-day life is like for someone who is not a guest, for someone who has to do laundry and take out the garbage just like everyone else who lives in this fascinating city. And, of course, being a tightwad, the place had to be inexpensive.

Last fall I spent many days scouring the listings for this medieval apartment that is ideally located, close to many attractions including the British Institute, and yet still far enough away from the tourist throngs to be quiet at night.

For €500 a month, or roughly $18 a day, I am the proud tenant of a spacious one-bedroom flat with a modern kitchen (full-size fridge and large freezer) and living room area; a very large bedroom with two nightstands, a dresser, and a wall of closets; a bathroom with bidet; and a washing machine at the end of a long hallway. While the modern conveniences such as double-glazed windows are wonderful, I also like the medieval touches. The tile floors and beamed wooden ceiling are original. The iron arm that attaches to the front door deters intruders more effectively than any modern-day alarm possibly could.

I'm also intrigued by the cleverness of my Italian landlady who has used net drapes with weights in the hem to act as window screens. But I have not mastered the outdoor clothes-hanging method. There's a window in the hallway with easy access to the clotheslines you see in the photo. My fear is that I might drop something which will be lost forever in the inaccessible space bounded on four sides by buildings. I can't afford to lose any of the few clothes I brought, so I may have to develop another approach to laundry. Either that or make a trip to the outlet stores on the outskirts of town!

Just as my neighbors do, much of my life is spent outside going to the market in the Santo Spirito piazza or the Conad supermarket near the Ponte Vecchio; emptying the trash bins (Europeans have been recycling far longer than Americans.);

walking to class or a museum; having dinner with a friend in a little bistro, or enjoying a gelato in my own Passera piazza just down the street.

Living like a local means that I enjoy the same advantages and suffer the same difficulties as Florentines do. In my case, the problem is my elderly upstairs neighbors who are expressive, voluble Italians who wouldn't dream of whispering if they can shout instead. And shout they do. The lady of the house hobbles to the market in the morning and returns to scream at her husband when lunch is ready. He yells back at her until it's time for him to sing at the top of his lungs. (While I haven't checked, I suspect he leans out the window so the entire neighborhood can hear his melodious voice.) He also stomps on the floor, my ceiling, in time to the music he believes he's creating.

They surely have been married seventy years or more but the first few days I was here, I worried that one of them would kill the other any moment. It's difficult to believe two people can scream at each other all day long and still remain married. Or, that is what I thought until Monday when my French doors were open to admit the sultry night.

Around 9:00, I heard the usual shouting at one another that indicated it was time to go to bed. She screamed one last sentence or two while he belted out part of an aria and yelled a few instructions at her. Then it was blessedly quiet. I revved up the laptop planning to do a bit of reading for tomorrow's class, when I heard a noise I'd never heard before coming from upstairs.

My cantankerous neighbors, the ones I feared would kill each other any moment, those old coots who screamed at each other and the world for hours at a time, were in their room--whispering and giggling in bed like teenagers.


  1. Good thing you're gone most of the day, Dru. I hope you can persuade them to allow you to photograph them before you leave.
    As for the clothes, I would definitely opt to checkout the stores before you go, and if you don't lose any cloths to the space, then leave some behind and get fresh Italian ones. The quality of threads may be much better than you can get in America.

  2. Dru, the net curtains are to let the sun in during the day and to provide privacy as they're totally non-transparent. At night as soon as you turn a light on, one can see right through them. I use net macramé curtains on my windows during the day and at night, I close my persian shades.