Our apartment is in a working class neighborhood of Florence. We love it. Like the classic Hitchcock movie Rear Window (with Jimmy Stewart nursing a broken leg) – and because we can’t always be tourists – we have some time to observe our backdoor neighbors.
Our balcony faces an interior courtyard where we have a clear view of three other apartment balconies and a tiny glimpse of their curtains, lamps, artwork … and of course, their laundry! You can tell a lot about people’s lives just from these simple clues.
The first thing we learned is that none of these balconies are meant for sitting and enjoying the outdoors. These are workhorse balconies meant for drying laundry, and storing sports equipment, ladders, mops and brooms. We use ours to sit outside, eat lunch, sip a glass of wine … and dry laundry!
Since we don’t know the neighbors we tend to give them nicknames.
The first neighbor to present herself was an older woman with flamboyant red hair … well, it’s actually more burgundy than red. She sensed immediately that we were interlopers, and always sneaks a furtive peek our way with the occasional stern glance if we seem to be having fun. Her day has a definite rhythm that revolves around laundry management. Each morning commences with the “Ceremony of the Shutters.” Her Dutiful Husband opens all the exterior door shutters, then the cavalcade of clothes begins.
Mind you, this is not the exuberant laundry display we saw in Dubrovnik, where the wash is pinned to clotheslines that span the streets, and reeled out to spend the day frolicking with the neighbor’s undies!
This is a much more subtle, regimented, kept-below-the-railing enterprise, involving multiple folding racks. And this routine goes on every single day. She comes out midday to give it a turn. Then precisely at 5:15 pm she reemerges and retrieves the laundry; then Dutiful Husband performs the final “Ceremony of the Shutters” and closes down tight for the evening. By the way, we call them “Red ‘n Ted.”
“New Guy” only showed up a few days ago. He inhabits the balcony directly next to ours – a little too up-close-and-personal for comfort. He’s a good looking twenty something, cell phone to ear kind of dude, whose balcony is filled with a skateboard, bike, and dead plant. He only comes out to smoke, talk on the phone, and of course, hang laundry. His inside walls hold paintings of nude women. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
The penthouse directly across and up from us houses “The Couple” – a young, fashion-forward pair. They buck the neighborhood balcony trend. The view from outside is nearly Ikea perfect. The window panels sport the signature Ikea orange bullseye pattern, and the dining table is illuminated by a huge drum chandelier. There are potted herbs in window boxes … but no chairs for enjoying the outdoors. The only other thing that’s missing is laundry. Incredible! What do you think they do with it? We’ve concluded that they are the first people in the neighborhood to own a dryer. Or they just hang their laundry on their front balcony. Hmmm. Didn’t think of that.