Neighbors and neighborhoods, with some tomatoes thrown in

by Laura A

I’ve been looking at apartments all week. At first I couldn’t figure out how to find the ones I wanted, but now I seem to have gotten into the network and I’ve got realtors calling me. I’m getting to know all the different neighborhoods and different kinds of apartments. I’ve learned all the names of the rooms and real estate terms in Italian. I’ve gotten over my fear of the salutation “Pronto!” which is how Italians start a phone call. Sure, sometimes I miss who it is that’s calling, but eventually I start hearing familiar apartment descriptions, and an address.  That much I can understand.

So far I’ve seen two apartments that I was interested enough in to take Bob back for a look, but nothing is just right yet. I want central, but not on a busy street, light, old, enough rooms but not too much money, hopefully a furnished kitchen (Italians usually take their kitchens with them when they move), and something that doesn’t require too much work before we move in. I can usually get one or two of these things, but getting all is tricky here, as it is everywhere.

Tomatoes from heaven, close to the roof

As you can guess, since this is Italy, the food is consistently wonderful and the people are charming. Earlier this week, we had some tomatoes that were so perfect that Bob said, “If there are tomatoes in Heaven, they taste like this.” Ever since we’ve called them the heavenly tomatoes. Yesterday I waited in line with several nonne (grandmothers) to buy some more. It took a while–apparently they’re popular! (Update:  I’ve found out that these tomatoes are called cuore di bue, or ox heart. For salads, Italians like them not quite ripe.)

The proprietor of another stand put a bunch of parsley in my bag for free (does he know they charge $2 for a bunch in NYC?), and later, when I couldn’t remember the Italian word for chard (it’s bietoli), stuck a bunch of some other kind of greens in. I still don’t know what they are, but I’ll cook them tonight! And then there was the guy who shook my hand when I told him I was from New York. He was a stout, red-faced man wearing an apron. I asked him if he had been there and he stuck his hands together in a praying motion: “Before I die. Before I die!”

I met a proprietress today (that’s what they call apartment owners) who owned a whole building in a neighborhood in the south part of the center. She was probably close to 80, considerably shorter than me (which is saying something), and she wore one of those shapeless blue house dresses that old Italian women wear indoors. For some reason she couldn’t let us in the regular front door, so she took us through her apartment and out the back to the kitchen entrance. You could tell this was one of those apartments that had been lived in for a lifetime. It had antiques, books, rugs, and interesting momentoes everywhere. Unlike most Italians we meet, she spoke some English, and seemed to want to use it. She said she had been in New York many years ago.

The apartment she had to show us unfortunately didn’t have a second bedroom. I wish it had, because it was very interesting! The living room had the original stone floor with a geometric pattern and a small fireplace. “Un gioccatolo,” she mused. (A toy.) “Only good for roasting chestnuts.” There was a sort of square hallway with wide planked wooden floors, and then three marble-topped steps up to a bedroom with a coved ceiling with a frescoed border. It reminded me of something from some cheery catacombs, if there are such things. There were archways all over, and she had a lot of her own old armoires in the apartment, some of which she offered to leave for us to use. Though the building was built in 1882 (these buildings often have the year set in mosaics at the entrance), it didn’t look Victorian, but much older, because of the thick walls and shuttered windows. That’s typical of Torinese apartment buildings. They also have huge wooden entry doors which often open into a courtyard.

When we left the apartment and went back outside, it was starting to drizzle a bit. Some old ladies would be fussy about getting wet, but she said, “Piove!” in a lovely enthusiastic voice and held up her hands with a gesture as though starting to dance or conduct an orchestra. Then she said that if we ever needed anything, to call her. I think she just liked the idea of having us as tenants!

And this is only one of several lovely people I’ve met this week. The older people are particularly wonderful. And listening to them is a great way to learn Italian. I hope we end up with one of these people as a neighbor. And I hope we get invited to dinner.