This past weekend, there was an amazing Flea Market here in Rome. Amazing, not for its size or scope, but for the fact that it took place in the first place.
You see, Italy still remains unwaveringly beholden to the Bella Figura lifestyle, in all its forms of expression. And, selling your used belongings is one of the last bastions. In fact, for Italians, they believe that the Mercato delle Pulci means that the stuff most certainly is full of fleas. Basically, you will never find great pickings perched curbside in Italy. For us New Yorkers, rummaging down Madison Avenue was almost a weekly pastime. I have furnished entire kitchens, recovered gorgeous sofas and resurrected fine chaise lounges from the pickings.
In the U.S. suburbs, signs even on the haughtiest of boulevards call out ‘Garage Sale’. Almost everyone takes a drive by to see what's on offer.
In Italy, these signs are tantamount to declaring, “My husband ran off with his 20 yr. old lover leaving me unemployed and penniless and my children in torn rags playing in the gutters, so I have nothing left but to sell my dishes."
There is, however, another reason for this madness. The Tax Man. Basically, the government wants to get its hands on “unofficial business” or, the 20% Value Added Tax receipts (even though you already paid in spades at the cashiers' for the items in the first place). So, if you wanted to hold a garage sale, you’d have to first obtain a permit (5 years), then open a business (another 2 years and $48000 later), and then issue receipts for your business engagement. In fact, since the advent of Ebay, the government continues to wrack its collective brains about how they can ‘stick it’ to all these mega-millionaires out there selling their Spiderman action figures, old Topo Gigios and outdated Readers Digest cassettes.
Thus, in building after building, apartment after apartment, people confine in sort of makeshift museums the hordes of grandma’s china, huge ugly-as-sin dressers, clothes, nightstands, videotapes and every sort of object inherited over the decades – never to be thrown out and certainly not to be sold. Italy's housing shortage is not due to the fact that apartments are filled, but rather, that they are left empty as warehouses of generations of belongings.
In the event that you actually do find an apartment rental, you are forced to live with the cheesy junk as it was left, circa 1947. And I ask, what kind of Bella Figura do you cut when friends come over for dinner?