Maybe it’s because Italy is such a slow place. Since April, I’d been putting all my energy into trying to figure out the conservatory requirements, getting Sarie through exams, and planning for next year’s academics. But it didn’t feel like I was making much progress. So one fine spring day, I thought, “It’s time to paint the IKEA shelves. I always said I’d do it in the spring.”
Yup. I mean those 1970s, hippy-dippy IVAR shelves, probably the first thing IKEA ever produced. For less than 100 euro, or dollars (they’re the same price in either currency because of VAT tax), you can snap together a double set of shallow, open, pine shelves and paint them yourself. I’d put mine together in utter desperation before the kitchen ever arrived, but I’d put off the painting until I could work with the doors open. So I set to work pulling everything off the shelves and putting on the transparent varnish (avocado green, what else?), eager to accomplish something by the end of the day.
Only it wasn’t so simple. The first coat looked awful. Halfway into the second coat, I ran out of paint (even though I’d read the coverage instructions on the side of the can). Another trip to IKEA being now inevitable, I started putting together another list of things that I needed. The idea was to enable as much civilization as possible while spending little. After seven months in our lovely apartment, it still felt like we were camping out. We were still using cardboard moving boxes for wardrobes and lamp tables. To find more than the most basic files, I had to dig into cardboard boxes in the storage room. We were embarrassed to invite people over to dinner because we didn’t have enough chairs. We were all ready for the next step.
So away we went, Bob and I, with a list. Well, Bob went with a book–Crime and Punishment. I needed him for chauffering and lifting, but saw no need to torture him with decorating. An hour or two later, I emerged from the showroom floor with a list of printed out order sheets and a cart full of accessories. He was sitting at a picnic table in the cafe, a table no doubt placed there to encourage people to think about holding barbecues and buying picnic tables. But he was mentally in St. Petersburg. It took another couple of hours to wait for everything, load it into the car, and unload it at our apartment, but Bob was happy to have his part over with. Mine had just begun.
It has been a very satisfying, if still somewhat makeshift, week. On day one, I painted shelves while listening to the teenager across the courtyard play bad American music on an electric piano, and the toddler girl a couple of apartments over chirp greetings at passersby. Capitalizing on the funky 70s theme, I had bought a small, modern glass lamp for 13 euro and now put it on the completed kitchen shelves so all the light wouldn’t be on the side of the room with the sink. Sarie was enchanted. “It’s a mushroom! It’s like something from Phantastes!” she exclaimed. “It’s like the chapter with the glowing fireflies everywhere! I really, really like this lamp!”
Day two was filing cabinets, put together while listening to one of Dr. Keller’s sermons. The cabinets are rather sterile and metallic (I keep wanting to stick big bold flower stickers on the drawers for some color), but now I have enough drawer space to make a drawer for Italian documents, a drawer for US stuff, a drawer for Bob’s work, and an entire drawer just for Sarie’s high school coursework. I’ll be working on filing for quite some time.
Day three, after I’d taken down five loads of trash and boxes and shopped for food, was about dining chairs and arranging books and kitchen equipment on the shelves. On day four, I took a break to go to womens’ Bible study, but was back home in time to put together a sofa table and empty some more book boxes. Today, I’m back working on files.
Sometime during the week, I mentioned to an expat friend what I was doing, and she said, “Sometimes IKEA is just what we need, even if it is semi-disposable Swedish furniture.” I love the phrase, which is apparently from the book Generation X, which is also the source for the name of people who at the time were in their twenties. The irony of it is that, in a land in which people inherit apartments from their parents and accumulate furniture for a lifetime, in which elegance matters and life happens slowly, our family has just left most everything we’ve accumulated for a typically American entrepreneurial scheme. Semi-disposable Swedish furniture just fits our lives right now.
I’m grateful for my new IKEA furniture. But I’ve reserved a spot in the front entry way for an Italian farm table. And I’m going to look at a real wooden armoire this weekend. And after that, I’m hiring someone to remove all those bare wires that are sticking out of the walls and ceilings, and look for something to put on the walls. After all, this is home.