My first year and a half or so in Italy was spent grasping at any sort of anchoring point. For a brief period in this trial-by-fire, I bunked—“lived” would be pushing it—in a sterile shared apartment where an Ikea fruit bowl was the closest thing we had to décor. This bowl was perpetually empty, or worse, would sometimes hold a lone browning apple.
Graduating to a four-bedroom walk-up with three friends, two succulents and some matching plates, then, was a thrill. On my first day in this exciting new building, I bumped into Elena, the ground floor’s lone resident (see RD vol. 3). She was a condo version of the village elder, as indispensable to the palazzo’s architecture as the stairs or ceilings.
Wanting to seem neighborly and naively not able to read her raised eyebrows, I extended a hand and introduced myself, to which she responded, “Oh, cara, that’s sweet, but I’m never going to remember your name.”
Fair enough. Further comments from her helped me gather that our top floor flat had indeed always been a revolving door of “ragazze biondine,” as she put it.
At that stage of my life, I hadn’t yet felt that fatigue that sets in after one hears enough Joe Fiorentinos throw all foreigners into the same sack, without regard for depth of roots, command of Italian, dexterity in the kitchen. If you’ve read this far, you likely know that fatigue, and have learned to brush it off and pick your battles when you meet a Joe.
Elena, though, was not “Joe Fiorentino”. Not even Gioia, really: just aging and wonderfully frank.
My then-landlord, who recently resurfaced after a nearly two-year silence, is a different story. Before I moved out—bidding goodbye to Elena and life with roommates—I’d contacted him a reasonable amount of times in an attempt to procure my Final Balance Due on around two months’ worth of utilities. Crickets! I’d have been a loon to keep pushing for this after four or five attempts.
Well, my takeover tenant—a friend who moved into my old room and has also since abandoned ship—recently got the brunt of this when the silent landlord suddenly reared his head, casually requesting close to three years’ worth of bill payments in a lump sum, with no breakdown, consideration of individual tenants’ timelines, or indication of how it was to work. In this situation, she went to the contract.
Within the first paragraph it was clear that each time our Joe re-registered it with the new tenants’ names, he hadn’t bothered to change the data. Her name was indeed in the contract, but was accompanied by my birthplace. A former roommate’s codice fiscale. Myriad other never-trimmed traces of the many ragazze biondine (and even some brunettes) who’d occupied the apartment. Contractual pandemonium.
For him, we really were all the same. But it’s to be expected: as we learned, he likes to operate in lump sums.
Read all Rental Diaries columns by Mary Gray here