Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Source

I've found the Source of All Stuff.

Il Mercatino dell'Usato, a national chain of shops selling, well, cheap antiques.

It's Value Village (this is only for Canadians of a certain socio-economic category) if Value Village were jammed with decent antique Roman furniture, china, silverware, pictures, lamps and chandeliers, traditional Italian kitchenware and fabulous vintage clothes.

The one I went to today is ideally located about a block away from the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Ideal because it is on a bus route that takes me straight back to the office and to the train station to go home with my loot.

As y'all know in April I got freakishly lucky and scored the apartment of my dreams (the dreams that didn't involve a working hot water tank, slope-backed, claw-foot bathtubs or fireplaces...oh well) and discovered that My Stuff was nowhere near big or elaborate enough to properly furnish such a place.

I, and later my kindly and stoic roommate have been living since in a place that more closely resembles a cavern, sparsely furnished largely with an incongruously English arm chair and two-seater sofa "three piece set" that I brought with me, and little else. My pictures, of which I have quite a few, are all of a scale more suited to a tiny country cottage in Cheshire, and even the largest of them are somewhat forlorn on the great white expanses of the walls.

Before I moved in, I had asked the landlord to remove the mountain of egregiously horrible cheap and nasty modern furniture (two large and very worn faux leather sofas and assorted bits of appalling rubbish furniture that looked like rejects from a garage sale c. 1976) on the principle that it is better to sit on the floor than have to look every day at stuff that would crush the spirit. We kept the beds, the wardrobes, (never yet seen any closets in an Italian residence) the very large dining room table and the table-shelf-thing the TV used to sit on before I asked them to take it away.

(The very nice agency lady was horrified I didn't want that mountainous TV. I'm sure it was supposed to be a big attraction of the place. She said even if I didn't want to watch TV, what about my friend who was going to come live with me? I refrained from explaining that I could not possibly live with anyone who would want to watch Italian television.)

But indeed, though we have stuff to sit, sleep and eat on, the place is sparse. Cold, even.

There are no carpets, as is also usual in Italian homes (what these people have against domestic comfort is beyond me) and the very high-quality marble flooring is quite as icy at this time of year as I had anticipated. The place echoes like a warehouse in an economic downturn and is about as homey.

But I had more or less despaired of ever finding anything I could afford to make it nicer, warmer and more cozy. Furniture in Italian shops is of a style that would do little to create "cozy," (a concept for which there is no Italian word). The antique shops in Rome are so wildly overpriced that there seems little point in complaining that they are filled with furniture that would affront the aesthetic sensibilities of the most vulgar spenders of new wealth. "Overwrought," "overdone," "over-the-top" are also not really concepts that have Italian words attached to them. What they have plenty of are faux marble and gold-painted curlicues... dear God!

Italians like to boast about how much money they've spent on things and aren't big on admitting to having "previously owned" things in their homes. If it ain't obviously new and expensive they don't want it. Which all means that there really aren't any places where people with an abundance of taste and a shortage of funds can get nice things for their homes.

We foreigners aren't really expected to be setting down roots here and the places we are offered for rent are routinely furnished cheaply and hastily with the basic stuff. We're a mendicant race, we ex-pats, and tend not to be interested in becoming heavily domesticated.

I was trying to make my Brain get into the idea of a kind of "high austerity" as a new domestic aesthetic, but it wasn't buying it. It would often whisper whinily of an evening about how cold and unappealing the place is.

But things are looking up. I have found the Source of All Stuff and bought a carpet.

[photo to follow...sorry, I forgot to bring home the cable for my camera]
My first since Halifax, 12 years ago.

It's not huge (I was able to take it home on the train, rolled up very tightly in my wheelie shopping cart), but it's a start. It hasn't done a great deal to dampen the echoes, but there was more in that shop. And there are several other outlets around the City. And they deliver.

I'm going to go there and buy one or two bits of things at a time, and they said they will hold on to them until there is a truck's load worth and will charge me a flat €100 to deliver everything out to the seaside in one go. Cheaper than renting a van myself. And cheaper than Ikea's delivery rates out here ... and when I'm done I won't have to look at Ikea, I win!

You will note in the photo above the two book boxes that have served the last few months as an end table for my tea cup and toast plate in the mornings. The next thing on the list is going to be a pair of book cases, but clearly I'm going to have to get an end table at the same time. I have had my 18 boxes of books stacked up in the spare room - and making shift as furniture - since I moved in, boxes that have not been unpacked since I moved to Italy over two years ago. I've recently realised I don't remember what books I have.

I figured that I might be happier if I felt more like I actually lived here instead of just camping temporarily. A big part of that is going to be to buy Heavy Stuff. Stuff that will require a lot more thought before moving it again. Especially to some other country.

I've got my eye on this giant sofa and ottoman thing. (The awful little round chair doesn't come with it) the price has gone down. I looked at it in the shop today and they are asking €560 now, which I might be able to do next month. Forgot to ask if they take deposits.

I think people unjustly malign Getting More Stuff as a source of happiness and security.


John said...

Delighted to see you back. The relatives in the auld sod have been telling winter horror stories. I presumed it was all over Europe and had visions of you camping out in some snow-closed airport somewhere.

Merry Christmas!


S. Petersen said...

You referred to the coast being nearby. Have you before disclosed or are willing now to disclose what city you're living in? I had begun to assume you were back in Canada. You're the only blogger here, right?

HJW said...


I can't quite remember, did I ban you recently for being a prat and a pest? Something about your tone irritates me. Best to hold off commenting, I think.

Martial Artist said...

Dear Miss White,

Welcome back and I trust that you are having a blessed Christmas season. But I regret to inform you that Value Village also operates in the U.S., or at least in the Seattle area thereof. So your reference is not intelligible solely to Canadians.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

It's spreading!