December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Elusive chic

By |2018-03-21T19:48:52+01:00February 29th, 2016|First Person|
A Fisher Price dollhouse? Not quite...

ately, I’ve been considering getting a new bed. My current one is from IKEA and was bought for €100, mattress included. Technically, it’s not even a bed but a pullout sofa for overnight guests and visiting family. The third wooden slat of the bed frame is broken, and there’s no headboard. The little black legs it stands on are spindly and remind me of a beetle. The bed sprawls out lazily, a large, plush symbol of my tardiness to adulthood.

It’s not just my bed that bothers me, but my apartment in general. Most Italian rental spaces are old family apartments inherited by children from their parents or grandparents and typically used as a source of extra income. I share my current house with my sister, and while it’s more spacious than our previous rental, its decor harkens back to the life and times of an Italian nonna of the 1970s: the kitchen has burnt orange parquet and brown woven chairs, the oven doesn’t work, and the sink faucet is inexplicably detached. “Sometimes, it feels like we’re living in a Fischer-Price play house for kids,” my sister sighs.

When we first moved in, we discovered an infestation of bugs, or more specifically blatte tedesche, translated as German roaches. I called the landlords after finding one in a box of breakfast cookies. “It’s good you called me now,” the exterminator exclaimed heartily. “Another week and you would’ve come home to find they’d changed the locks on you!” He did not mean the landlords. The roaches, he explained, had eggs that looked like Tic Tacs and lived in dark, damp spaces. I promptly threw away my breath mints.

I’d always equated a proper living space — well-decorated, well -lit, worthy of dinner parties — as proof of “grown-upness,” of having safely docked in the harbor of my late 20s.

My new sister-in-law shares this sentiment. She and my brother are in Washington, D.C. scouting apartments, looking for a home that matches the seriousness of their married life. They look forward to an end to a mattress on the floor, spotty overhead lighting, and a socially awkward roommate communicated with via post-its (“Please wash your dishes as we’ve run out of plates.” “Did you pay the gas bill?”) They want cushy sofas, a living room color scheme, and matching silverware. My cousin’s New Orleans apartment has a doorman and a skylight. He also has a very well paid job at a law firm and now works on Sundays. He recently gave his girlfriend a 1.5-carat diamond.

I daydream about my future home. I picture black and white vintage photos of my grandparents hanging on the walls, a terrace with flowers, a Queen-size bed. While I lust after my fantasy, I also realize how far I’ve come. My first home away from home was a dorm room reminiscent of a shoebox. Space was so limited the school recommended we buy “risers,” blocks of plastic that fit below the bed legs like high heels, making room for extra storage space underneath. I decorated my side of the room with Polaroids from my senior year of high school, but they stubbornly refused to stick to the tiles. My new roommate gave away our room code so liberally that once I found a stranger napping in my bed after coming back from my 9 a.m. poetry class.

Studying abroad did little for my dreams of a chic home. I was assigned to stay with a forty-something woman named Patrizia, who I actively avoided once I realized her penchant for polishing off bottles of Prosecco before noon. One Thanksgiving she yelled at me for turning on the oven, which she said caused “pollution.” I had been trying to make a pecan pie. Sometimes she left cold bowls of rice on the counter for dinner. My bedroom was the one she once shared with her now ex-husband who had run off with a university student of his. She still kept his suits in the bedroom and often leafed through their wedding albums.

My Rome first apartment was nicknamed la tanaccia or the little ugly cave by my attorney cousin from Calabria, who helped us out of the rental contract when mold was discovered creeping up the walls.

Since then, I’ve made feeble attempts at re-decoration. I replaced the knobs of my desk, where I write these columns, adding a burst of color to an otherwise beige palate, and I’ve stocked my shelves with my favorite novels. I’ve accepted that a dream apartment isn’t in my immediate future, same with my aspiration to write a book or learn how to play the cello. Distant future seems more like it, far away but not impossible.

About the Author:

Alexandra's "Second Generation" column ran from 20012 through early 2017.