Italy / People / Travel

Rear Window: The Rhythm of Florentine Life

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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!

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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.


22 thoughts on “Rear Window: The Rhythm of Florentine Life

    • Hey Steven, so glad you stopped by! As you’ve learned from all your adventures and living on your Thai island, it’s the people and local life that are so fascinating. All the best, Terri

    • Thanks Lisa. The “New Guy” was quite a hoot. And the funny thing was that his nickname originated with our “balcony neighbor” in Amsterdam who always stood on his balcony in his black speedo. 🙂 ~Terri

    • Thanks much Jo! And you’re so right about the Med. It reminded me of when we hiked through all the wonderful villages along the Cinque Terre in Italy. Every passageway between houses was festooned with the day’s laundry. ~Terri

  1. Ah, for the casual pace of life! Just yesterday Florence said she would enjoy just sitting with a book and a cup of tea, and we both sighed in unison. This tourist stuff is rather exhausting! I love the nicknames for your neighbors. – Mike

    • You’re right about the “tourist stuff” Mike, but I must admit I was pretty jealous when you were at Cadbury World! 🙂 A Cadbury Egg quickly became a coveted treat when we lived in England. Do you get to move into your apartment pretty soon? ~Terri

  2. Red and Ted, the Nude Dude, New Guy and the Couple: hours of entertainment I am sure. And did you make it to Naples? Talk about a forest of laundry. But the big word for me was balcony. I absolutely loved the balconies of Europe. –Curt

    • It’s been years since we were in Naples on our way to Sorrento. I’d forgotten about the “forest of laundry.” And I’m with you on loving the European balconies (or just about any balcony). When we lived in Athens we had a strolling accordion player who would serenade us regularly. ~Terri

    • Thanks Cathy! Sometimes you just gotta stop and smell the roses! So by my calculations you may have arrived back in the USA by now. Welcome Home Cathy! 🙂 Can’t wait to hear more. All the best, Terri

      • Thanks, Terri. Yes, your calculations are right. I’m home now and have a lot of stuff to do to settle back in. In three days, I’ve bought a car, bought a phone, and unpacked three suitcases and two out of 15 boxes from Oman. And tried to tackle the mess in this house after leaving it to the devices of my two sons and husband for a year! 🙂

  3. Many years ago when I worked in Germany as a chamber maid in a small hotel I made the mistake of hanging laundry outside on a Sunday morning. My boss was horrified and I had to retrieve the wet clothes and put them in the dryer.

    • Carol, I bet that was an interesting job! 🙂 And Isn’t it fascinating how different cultures handle the “laundry issue.” Whenever we rent an apartment abroad, we always ask the landlord what their policy is on hanging laundry outside because it’s definitely a “hot button” issue. ~Terri

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