08 June 2014

LIFE: This Clean Italian Life

CHIAVARI, ITALY – I have new neighbors in the apartment above me. I don't know them,   but I know they like to haul their rugs out on their terrace and beat them with a paddle. While this loosens the dust in the rugs, it also creates a dust cloud that, if the wind is blowing in just the right direction and at the right speed, then floats down and finds its way into my apartment.

Which bring me to today’s post. I wrote it a few years ago when I lived in Saronno, a suburb of Milan. It’s about dust but mostly it's about how neighbors can become part of your life even if you don’t know them.  

SARONNO, Italy - There’s something going on over at the Cleans. Something odd. It’s almost 8 AM and Mr. Clean has not come out on his balcony to start sweeping and cleaning. And he didn’t pull his blankets and pillows off his bed and carefully arrange them on the freshly cleaned balcony railing to air either. He didn’t even sweep the floor in his bedroom or make coffee.

Now l wouldn’t want you to think I’m some kind of stalker, spying on my neighbors, so let me explain: my morning routine usually starts with a cup of coffee out on my balcony. As I sit enjoying the morning and planning my day from my 5th floor vantage point, I can’t help but see the Clean’s apartment, which is on the first floor of the apartment building across the street. It’s like a theater performance. First the heavy taparelle that cover the balcony door of Mr. Clean’s bedroom slowly wind upward, like a stage curtain. Then Mr. Clean pops out and the cleaning starts. Except for today.

The Cleans have a set routine. The tapparelle in Mrs. Clean’s bedroom go up just about the time Mr. Clean is back in the kitchen making coffee after having cleaned the balcony and setting his bedding out to air. The first thing on Mrs. Clean’s mind is to strip her bed and drape her bed linens out on the sill of her bedroom window, which she has already wiped down. However their morning cleaning routine doesn’t begin in earnest until the bed linens have had enough air and are brought back into the apartment and the beds are made.
As soon as that is done Mrs. Clean shakes out the throw rugs and puts them out on the balcony to air, and then she starts to clean the bathroom in earnest. She buffs and polishes everything, including the bathroom window and the inside and outside of the aluminum window frame as well. She’s very keen to keep things clean and shiny.

But today none of that happened, and that’s what bothers me. Where is the steady buzz of the vacuum? Normally I can see Mr. Clean, often still in his pajamas, diligently tracking down and vacuuming up any and all bits of dust from every nook and cranny of their living room that he may have missed on the first sweep through.

Mr. Clean is like a kamikaze dust pilot. He spots his target, zooms in and poof, that dust ball is history. No wonder all the dust comes over here to hide out in my place. And usually, while Mr. Clean is attacking dust in the living room, Mrs. Clean is in the kitchen scrubbing and polishing the counter top and sink. Then she cleans the floor. Again.
They work as a team, cleaning and polishing, vacuuming and scrubbing and I’m so happy they found each other. It truly is a match made in heaven, which is why I’m concerned.

Now my neighbor in the back, Mrs. Mean, is another story. She used to be just as aggressive a cleaner as the Cleans, but all that changed because of an incident that occurred when I first moved into this building. She hasn’t spoken to me in years, and I doubt I will ever be forgiven for my mistake.

What happened was I hadn’t been in this apartment very long when one day I was in my office working on an article, and out of the corner of my eye I spot an elderly woman on her hands and knees keeling on the windowsill, outside of her bedroom window. My first frightening thought was that she was going to jump. I stood up and went out on my balcony to see if what I think I saw I really saw. I must have let out a gasp because she looked up and saw me standing on my balcony with my hand over my mouth and terror in my eyes.

You have to know that even though I say I live on the fifth floor, it is really the sixth floor since what we call the first floor in the USA is called the ground floor here, and they consider the second floor the first floor. Anyway it is long way down.

Then I realized she was trying to clean the inside of the deep flower wells that run along the front of our windows and as she scrambled to get back inside her window, I went back inside my apartment too. I happened to mention the incident to one of her sons a few weeks later and he obviously said something to his mother. She never got out on the window sill again, at least as far as I know, and she hasn’t spoken to me since either. Apparently it’s my fault  she’s a clean nut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for neat and clean, it’s just that my neighbors seem to take the concept to whole ‘nuther level. Someone told me once that the Italian kitchen cabinet manufacturers have to put dozens of extra coats of varnish on the cabinet doors because the Italian women scrub the bejeebers out of them and have been known to scrub the doors down to the bare wood.

I don’t remember my neighbors in Genoa or Milan being quite so fanatical about cleaning, but then again it may just have been that I was too involved in my work to bother looking out the window. It's possible. But here in Saronno my neighbor’s cleaning habits have become part of my routine too. So while I don’t know what is going on over at the Cleans, I hope by tomorrow everything will be back to normal and they will be out there sweeping and washing and dusting and wiping and making everything right in their world - and mine too.



  1. I hope you will let us know that the Cleans are okay. Maybe decided to take a day off?

  2. Thanks for your concern. As it turned out the Cleans were fine and were right back at it the next day. But I confess, I was kind of worried about them.

  3. My nonna was a nurse in the early part of the 20th century, so as you can imagine she had a fear and horror of "dirt" and germs which was passed down to my mother but thankfully to a much lesser degree to me. LOL! They also had a "name" for Italian people who were not as clean as they thought they should be. Oh my!