Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Over the Top in Newness

I've never had so many new things at once.

I moved into a house last month that my husband and I bought, after 6 years of renting fully furnished apartments. In Italy, the rentals normally come with furniture; yet once you buy, you need to get EVERYTHING from normal furniture such as sofas and beds to bathroom sets, light fixtures, curtains, rods and all appliances.

We could have used the old kitchen, from the former tenants, but my last post showed you why that was not an option for us.

So we embarqued on a crazy shopping spree. Trying to critically decide on best value for your money on every single item needed in a new house, all at the same time, was torture. Washing machines, dishwashers, oven, lights, sofas, beds, mattresses, wardrobes and more: all purchased in 30 days or less.

Eventually everything was bought and installed and assembled, some by us, and some by professionals. But then we had to learn how to use all the stuff! The appliances had strange light sequences and odd cycles that we weren't familiar with. For example, the washing machine basically gets "turned on" twice, by 2 separate buttons.

In addition, we weren't very experienced with all of these contraptions. F had never had a dishwasher in his tiny house while growing up in Venice, and I hadn't used one seriously since I left the States in 1993. The technology has changed. The products and instructions are different. We were reading manuals and getting depressed at night because we would discover we didn't have certain materials to allow us to use the machines properly, especially for the first time: e.g. special dishwasher salt. So then another day or two would go by and we still didn't know if the machines even worked! That's what you get for only being able to read manuals after the shops close at 8 p.m., after a long day of work.

Then there is the oven mystery: why is there an "extra" metal piece when the oven has supposedly been put together and installed? It seems to work fine without this certain piece but we should probably use it anyway. The problem is that it probably needs to go in the very back of the oven, which is now well sealed off by cabinets and floorboards.

The complications of newness made me think about how seemingly different this experience would have been in the US. My husband and I would have met and moved in together with our old furniture from previous apartments, some dating back to the first move while in college which included rummaging through the second-hand stores and Salvation Army. We would have taken the good old stuff and chosen to buy only certain new things based on finances, space and necessity. Here, it feels like all or nothing. Before I owned nothing. Now I own everything. And it's all new!

Funny thing is that most Italians gut their newly-acquired property even more than we did, only focusing on the kitchen and a few fixtures in the bathroom. Italians typically walk into completely, spankin' new digs with fresh flooring everywhere, new wood, new doors, often new walls and plaster and paint, not to mention brand new furniture, even when their building may be over 300 years old! They usually take 6 months to 2 years to accomplish this mission. Now much of this can happen because so many Italians never rent property. They go from their family's house to their fancy remodelled house, maybe just after coming back from their honeymoon. Often both sides of the family pitch in to help with the high costs and the rest was saved by the couple by years of not renting while working. It's all very traditional and formal, in many ways.

In the end, we have accepted much of the "old" house elements like groovy '70s tiling for most of the flooring (will display soon) but changed what bothered us most, while also being forced to buy all our furniture at once. You could say we did our move and remodelling with a mixture of Italian and American mentality.

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