Friday, May 11, 2012

Junkyard Sally

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the lack of posts, but ol' Campobello has been feelin' tired. Listless. Limp. I've been enshrouded in a tabarro of ennui.

But something has roused me from my stupor--a sight so ridiculous, so farcical, so indicative of how my life here in Italy is so NOT Under the Tuscan Sun. Or even Eat, Pray, Love (well, except for the eating part).

One recent morning as I lingered at my kitchen window, which overlooks the shared courtyard and the in-laws' lair, I saw my MIL's pious, narrow rump thrust meekly heavenward as she bent over a large, thick paper baker's sack the size of a petulant child, which was on the ground in front of her door, and was rummaging around in it like a raccoon at the dumpster of a Dunkin Donuts in Bakersfield. (I know, I really should avoid gazing out the kitchen window, or at least paper it over with Hello Kitty decals--I see far too many unappetizing things there, like this and this, for instance).

My MIL gathers all the day-old bread from the nearby alimentari--which is regularly set aside for her or even dumped at her doorstep. This stale bread is ostensibly for the chickens and rabbits the FIL keeps, but hey, if it's good enough for beast and fowl then it's good enough for my in-laws. Dozens of sacks of the stuff lie around the house and yard (yes, she even crams them into her kitchen), the once-bread petrifying into the stuff bowling balls are made of. They eat this bread, of course--God forbid they should live a little and, in the land of heavenly cheap baked goods, buy it fresh every day. The MIL was always trying to foist this travesty of flour and water off on us, too--even squirreling it away in our house (before I finally took my keys back) while we were at work--until I put my foot down and said "LOOK, I DIDN'T MOVE ALL THE WAY TO ITALY TO EAT STALE, MOLDY BREAD!"

But, my friends, this is merely the tip of the stale iceberg.

The larger issue is that my in-laws are known in the neighborhood as the folks who will eat anything, gladly and greedily accept anyone-and-everyone's rejects, and never, ever throw anything away. The MIL, in particular, is known in these here parts as the Queen of Salvage, the Countess of Cast-offs, the Duchess of Drek. As I write, rats are doing the tarantella on a pile of ancient wool mattresses tossed into the old, open-air fienile--I believe the MIL's great great grandparents slept on them and they still may come in handy one day. The property is littered with ramshackle shacks full of--er--litter. Detritus. Junk. What have you. It's like Sanford and Son.

Their dual reputation for hoarding is legendary. Once I answered the phone at the MIL's and an old biddy from the 'hood said, "Tell your suocera I have some yogurt that's expired and I wondered if she wants it." She did.

I am not making this up.

Contractors and construction guys, upon gutting nearby houses, regularly pull into the courtyard with their trucks and dump all the debris into great, dusty piles while the FIL looks on with glee. Then he spends hours with his table saw reducing the rubble to manageable bits, and carts off the bigger, un-sawable behemoths in an ancient wheelbarrow to his hidden cache at the back of the property, underneath the old acqueduct.

Their intercom is always buzzing:

"Hello, I have some old toys [mildewed stuffed animals with missing ears, scary naked dolls with scissored hair and the eyes permanently rolled back in their sockets] and wondered if you want them for your grandkids?"

"Hi, I've got a wicker chair [the seat has been eaten away by weevils, but if you have cholera it could be useful]--you want it? It's still in good shape!"

"Buongiorno, my mother finally died [in bed, and it wasn't pretty] and I don't know what else to do with her bedsheets. Will you take them?"

"Hey, I've got this set of cookware [a chipped set of crockery from the 1970's, festooned with flowers the color of which is not to be found in Nature, lids missing] and I hate to throw it away. Do you want it?"

All to which my MIL answers eagerly--a kind of perverse, dross-gathering Molly Bloom--"Yes, yes, yes and YES!"

A piece of freakish flotsam washed up on the MIL's effluvia-strewn shore
(It's been sitting there, creepily, for eight months now.
It smells like cat pee and my children are forbidden to touch it). 

Lucky me. I've landed in the one place in beautiful, heart-searingly scenic Italy where you can--upon seeing it and marveling that it hasn't been condemned as a squatters' den/gypsy camp/health code violation--quote Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest with absolute conviction:

Yeah, literally.

Yours from the scrap heap,



  1. Welcome back...I want to say to the land of the living but in your case I naturally hesitate...what a dump indeed.

    eating the stale bread and storing it around...I don't even want to think about the rodent issues...are there many many cats?

    1. Ha! Hi debbie--yes, thankfully there are a couple of cats that hang around. One, in particular, is a rough brute--a real bruiser who feasts on lesser rodents and fowl like a feline Caligula.

  2. Can you send me your MiL's address? I got some junk I need to get rid of!

    1. LOL Isabel! I'll give you the coordinates and just send all your old stuff--the crappier, the better--along. (If you wouldn't mind having your cat pee all over it and scratch it up beyond recognition, though.)

  3. Sounds like your MIL and my late, ex-MIL are kindred spirits. We had to stop visiting because no room was open enough for everyone to sit together. We stood in tunnels, surrounded by junk up to our shoulders, and pretended it wasn't there. I hope it doesn't ever get that bad. Eventually someone (and it won't be them) will have to get rid of the stuff.

    That wasn't nearly as uplifting as I meant it to sound. Sorry.

    1. Tunnels?!! Oh dear God.

      Michele, I often think of the huge job that awaits the family once the MIL/FIL depart for the great scrap heap in the sky.

      Don't worry about being uplifting--I have reserves of inner strength or else how could I possibly survive? ;-) Thanks for dropping by!


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