The other day I walked by an elderly woman washing her car. As she got ready to leave, she left a pile of dirty paper towels stacked up around the basin. When I motioned that she perhaps should clean up after herself, I was given the usual treatment:
Basically, a defiant pout, chin jutted outward, hands positioned in a questioning manner which, according to Russell Peters, one of my favorite comedians, means “What the Fuck??” Followed by a slur of commentary of the sort I didn’t spend time on listening.
And, off she sped, most likely to run back into her house, in which she spends an average of 6 hours per day making spotless. I swear, you can identify cavities in back molars just looking into the stainless steel of most Italian homes' kitchen tops. Their houses are so spotless, you begin to think they are not, in fact, truly receiving you in their homes, but in the model home of the apartment complex.
The curtains get washed and ironed regularly – it must be a form of a workout. I’m sure that’s why Italian women are in such good shape. I once stayed with a family where they even ironed the socks and underwear. I pondered how many wrinkles socks actually get in their lifetime, and, if they iron the single socks which are leftover time & again, readying them, so to speak, for the day they meet their mate.
And, in keeping true to form, when they invite you in, they will always – always – apologize profusely for the mess. As you scrutinize the apartment, you wonder if ‘the mess’ signified that the cds were no longer in alphabetical order or that the milk cartons in the fridge were not all positioned face-frontwards.
Even in homes with small children this is the case. I cannot, for the life of me, determine if kids in Italy actually play with toys, or, if they’re simply forced to go and play with their foreign playmates’ collections. I’ve yet to spy a single toy on the floor of any Italian apartment. I sometimes envision scenes of Bewitched, with little baby Tabitha just making the toys somehow magically disappear when a guest arrives.
But, once out of the home, all bets are off. Whereas the rest of the world comes home to drop our shoes where we stand, lay around surrounded by candy wrappers while ignoring the coffee cup ring on the kitchen counter, the Italians leave this to the Great Outdoors. Under the cover of anonymity they sort of relax those tough indoor standards.
And if they get caught? They can always rely on 'the hand' and trust me, you'll suddenly feel as if it was your fault for catching them in the act.