Other People’s Bookshelves

In the course of looking for a place to live in Lecco, we’ve seen the insides of many strangers’ homes, up for sale (for the moment we’ve ended up renting, but that’s another story).

The décor was extremely variable. Many Italian homes run to a type I think of as “classic” Italian: heavy, dark wood furniture, with family photos in silver frames, and lots of silver gewgaws of the type that you give as gifts when you want to give something costly but don’t know the recipient’s tastes (I loathe these things: too ugly to display, too expensive to give or throw away).

We did see one place stunningly decorated with masks and sculptures from all over Africa; the owner has travelled there a lot. The interior design of this house was also stunning, with an iron spiral staircase going up to a loft office under the peak of the roof. But the furniture was a little too well-matched for my taste – and it was green! As was the kitchen. What is it with green in this country? Do we have to pay homage to the olive in everything?

Another place had furniture clearly designed by an artist and custom-built for the house. It was made of laminated layers of different woods, cut away in strange angles and curves and polished to a sensual smoothness that made you want to stroke it. If the furniture had been included in the (exorbitant) price, I’d have wanted the place on the spot.

What I found surprising in most of the houses we saw was the lack of books. I admit that we probably err on the side of excess. But I’m always suspicious, and somewhat uncomfortable, in a house with no books. You can tell a lot about a family by what’s on their shelves, and you can always find something to talk about. In one friend’s home, I could see instantly that someone was a classicist. In another, it was downright hilarious how many books we had in common, right across the spectrum from science fiction and fantasy to Indian novels.