Sunday, January 19

Life in Italy: Paradise in a Handbasket?

Friends & I got to reminiscing about the good ol' days of Life in Italy.  Basically, my building in the center of Milan had been bombed by the Allies.  But my staircase survived, which is how my neighbor - living high up on what I counted as the ninth floor (and what Italians unabashedly called the fourth) rushed her kids out of the building and over to safety.  You see, I have a theory:  When they rebuilt the building, the other three stairwells were outfitted with elevators.  Ours was not.  And while I cursed each and every time I came home from a trip to the USA with two over-stuffed suitcases filled with goodies, or every time (make that three times per day), I had to go out and walk my dog, well, I was better for it.  And so was my neighbor lady who lived to the beyond-ripe ol'age, actually, totally mature one of over 116. The woman upstairs from us (on floor 9 1/2 by my count), was still going strong last time I saw her at 97. With her rosy cheeks and strong countenance, I had always assumed her 70+ year old son was her husband.  There were no other old people in any other part of the building.  Case in point. 
But, what would I have given for one of those old-fashioned Italian baskets and pulleys that I could have used to hoist my bottled water up those nine floors all those years?  We had a tiny drugstore just below.  I would have pledged my unbridled allegiance at the expense of paying three times more for my groceries, if the grocer could have blithely given a tug week after week. Heck--I would've put my old dog in the basket rather than force him up the staircase of doom.  We still even had the pulleys in place.  [Although I'm glad I didn't, he lived to be 20 in the end].
An old Panaro - or wicker basket used for groceries
still in use in Italy's south - and still necessary everywhere else
- picture & excellent Italian writeup on this & more at
Le Mille e Una Storia - 
So a friend here in Rome then told me that her building still had one of these.  One so strong you could actually put a person inside [but who's going to do the heavy lifting, well, that's another story].  I was totally green with envy.  In Milan, we had outlawed the hanging of laundry on balconies.  The baskets I'm sure went out around about the time they decided to asphalt the glorious canals that had made Milan look more like Amsterdam.  The noisy old trams have their days numbered while Milan grows ever more modern.
Call me nostalgic, I for one, would love to bring the canals & the baskets back to Milan, along with the breadmakers or panettieri from whom the basket gets its name.  
Milano - Then & Now

You can join the Association lobbying for the reopening of Milan's 
amazing canal system here
Riaprire i Navigli


Harm said...

Wonderful post; how ultimately useful that basket would be! The slightly-more-manual equivalent of a dumbwaiter. A little like the pulley system still at least partially attached (when I moved in, anyway) to the exterior brick walls in back at Vera's place, on Ohio Street. For a different purpose, of course! Or the fairly primitive intercom on the wall when I took that architecture tour of the Palmer Park apartments. Love discovering these old things, that worked.

Unknown said...

Great post! A basket really would have come in handy for you. I can't believe they have baskets that could hold a human. Crazy! I need some new culture in my life. I was thinking about checking out some villas in Tuscany Italy to rent for a few weeks. I have been researching others experiences, that is how I came across your post. Wow, I love the then and now picture. Its amazing how much things change over the years. Thanks for sharing.

Connie said...

I live in Abruzzo and many of our neighbours have a pulley system for hoisting logs for the stufa up from the ground floor. I think we'll be installing one very soon!