My apartment in Florence is in an old building – a very old building – and I have realized that living in the U.S. I have kind of forgotten how different many European buildings are because of age as each apartment and building has its own cute quirks or annoying oddities – depending on what mood you are in and what you are trying to accomplish. My apartment had plenty of quirks for me in store.
Doors and locks seem to be pretty temperamental around here as I have heard several people comment on this. My lock seems to have a mind of its own and needs to be approached like a horse ready to bolt at any time. It can take anywhere from half a minute to several minutes to figure out the right combination of key pressure, jiggling, turning, and pushing or pulling at the handle to get the door to open. Every time I think I have finally figured out the right combination, it won’t work again the next time.
Another surprise for me was that buildings in my area do not have individual garbage cans that are stored in an interior courtyard or cellar or something but only communal underground garbage with collection points every few blocks. This makes sense to a degree since the streets and sidewalks are so narrow, I cannot imagine where to put the garbage cans on the curb and how a truck would fit through. New morning ritual – do not forget to take the trash with you on your walk to work.
My apartment does not seem to be designed to have a bathroom in the place it has one now, which means there is no plumbing for a toilet and I guess opening the floor to add sewage pipes is not always an option. So the solution is a Sanitrit toilet that pretty much acts like a food disposal in American kitchen sinks (I spare you the detailed description), but this means that the plumbing is temperamental (there seems to be a theme here) and nothing – not even toilet paper – can be flushed. A large sign in the bathroom warns about this. This might be a unique trait to my apartment though since it seems this is not always the case with all these set-ups.
Doors, window frames, and flooring all already have that worn look that is so popular in design and photo shoots (shabby chic) and is often tried to achieved artificially especially in US décor. Well, here there is not really another option – everything is old and even with good maintenance, it will show some age and wear. In addition, ceilings are very high, walls are a foot thick, and doors and windows are tall – again, all traits that many new houses try to emulate but are just standard here.
Another quirk of my apartment has to do less with its age but with its location and use. Since it is right next to one of Florence’s famous sights, it is often rented out to foreigners, who are staying here for a few weeks or months. So the apartment includes signs of its previous occupants. For example, I have now five umbrellas; I brought my own, and I am sure at my departure, I will leave my umbrella behind and pass it on to the next renter, who will then own six or more umbrellas. The apartment also includes a large easel and a collection of watercolors and colored pencils – I guess a previous renter was an artist, but now it seems that the apartment is telling me to go out and draw. I have an odd collection of books on a variety of interests and in a variety of languages – mysteries, Italian opera, poetry by Michelangelo, home décor, guidebooks to various towns in Italy. I also have a choice of six different comforters – I am assuming that previous renters were picky about their comforters and decided to buy their own. Similarly, I have bought a tea kettle and will leave it behind at the end of my stay and pass it on to the next renter.
The apartment has much to explore and still provides surprises each day. For example, what seemed like a large broom closet and was stuffed with several buckets, a handful of brooms and another handful of mops turned out to be a second half bathroom (unheated but a bathroom). I did not feel the same sense of individuality and surprise when I moved into a typical apartment complex in the US where every apartment looked the same. I feel as if my apartment should have a name because of its individuality.