Life in Italy: ‘Now I’ve got the hang of it, doing the washing has become almost a pleasure’

Freed from concerns about the unpredictable Scottish weather, Damian Killeen writes about his newfound enjoyment of hanging out laundry since moving to Taranto, southern Italy - along with a new companion.

In the shop the woman said, in Italian, ‘You speak Italian very well’. It was a welcoming lie.

I had struggled to explain that I wanted one of those things over there, to dry my clothes on. “Uno stendino“, she said. I paid what I now know was over the odds to possess my first domestic purchase in Italy and carried it back to my apartment, scrutinized, it seemed, by everyone in the street.

Did they share my pleasure and pride in this new acquisition? Or were they staring curiously at this foreigner – a male at that – being seen in public with such an item more commonly associated with a housewife, to whom, I learned, whole emporia full of stendini and other household items are dedicated.

The stendino and I lived together in Taranto in the south of Italy, in a third floor casa vacanza, or holiday let. The owner allowed me to rent the apartment for a longer period than legally allowed so long as I would vacate it for a few days to allow him to let it, for much more than I was paying, to Navy personnel attending an annual recruitment drive. A working trip to Rome meant that I had no problem with this arrangement and I stayed in that flat, with my stendino, for several months.

Not that we were entirely alone. I had friends and other visitors round and even the occasional stopover. But my stendino was a daily presence.


I realised that I had not felt the same way about the conventional British ‘clothes horse’, that bore no relationship to any horse I had ever seen, provided limited hanging space and seemed to be more of a nuisance than a help. In truth, I was proud of my stendino; my pride was growing and warming into a feeling of companionship that I had never experienced with any other domestic appliance, except, perhaps, for the double oven in my Scottish home and a few other kitchen gadgets that I remember fondly.

Do Italians, I wondered, feel the same way about their stendini as I do about mine?

The logistics of washing sheets, towels, tablecloths and clothes for myself and guests took a while to sort out in an apartment with no drying machine and no outdoor space, except a small balcony facing the street and a slightly larger one facing the well at the centre of the apartment block.

This balcony also faced all the other balconies in the block, several with their stendini on display.

Stendini, almost invariably white plastic, have X-shaped legs and two wings that, when extended, double the available hanging space. From where I am sitting now there are several to be seen on the front balconies of apartments up to eight stories high, basking in the evening sunlight, some working, i.e. draped in clothes, others just enjoying the final warmth of the day.

Whilst the stendino is good for smaller items of clothing, another fix is needed to cope with sheets, big towels and anything else requiring space and greater exposure. This is provided by three or four lines parallel to the balcony and attached to brackets fixed to either end. 

For someone whose ankles turn to jelly when faced with even a picture or film of an edge leading to a drop of more than a few centimetres, the vertiginous prospect of leaning out to hang a sheet on the farthest line brought on an attack of what, in childhood, I had learned to call “the collywobbles”.

However, faced with the necessity to get my bedding dry, I forced myself to accept the support of the balcony rail, spread the items out and fixed the pegs with my eyes barely open and my stomach in my mouth. It gets better, but it is still a challenge.

Now that I have got the hang of it, washing has become almost a pleasure, with the washing machine on in the early morning and most things dry by lunchtime. A few hand wash items that take longer to dry decorate my stendino and are ready to come in before the sun goes down.

In contrast with the vagaries of the Scottish weather and the constant anxiety to “bring the washing inside before it rains”, the south of Italy offers a degree of laundry security for most of the year that I find particularly reassuring.

Photo: Erin Doering/Unsplash

Meanwhile, if, as happens quite often in the early months of the year, the weather turns foul and the rain buckets down, my stendino accommodates a surprising amount of washing with none of the trauma associated with the lines and can easily be moved inside

The stendino moved with me when I changed apartments to house-sit a granny flat for a friend. There was a stendino already in residence and my first thought was that I should use this rather than replace it with my own; after all, this elderly stendino belonged there.

But it wasn’t long before I began to feel guilty about abandoning my new companion. The resident stendino was soon relegated to a cupboard and mine was re-installed in the role to which we had both become accustomed. This apartment also had its hanging balcony at the back, where my stendino now lives.

I am looking for somewhere else to live in the city, a more permanent arrangement that I can call my home. While the friends who accompany me to view possible purchases explore the size of the rooms, the plumbing arrangements and assess the expanse of the ingenious, above ceiling storage places, I sneak quietly out to the balcony to investigate the clothes drying arrangements and, in particular to see if my stendino might be happy there.

I find it hard to imagine life in Italy without il mio stendino but a recent event brought me face to face with a reality that, so far, I had avoided.

One of my regular tasks is to take the domestic waste out to the array of bins located close to my apartment which are emptied every night around midnight by the City’s waste disposal team.

On this occasion my attention was caught short by the sight of a stendino leaning against one of the bins. Wire framed, not plastic, its paintwork was flaked and scratched. Structurally, however, it appeared complete. What had led to this rejection, this dismissal from its home? A younger, brighter model, perhaps. Or a move, like mine, to a new home with an alpha stendino already in place. Was it a dead stendino, what might that mean? If it was still alive, should I rescue it; should I, maybe, create a sanctuary for abandoned stendini? Should I stop thinking like this?

I left that stendino where it was, cradled in the light from a neon crucifix atop an adjacent church, and returned to my apartment.

Certainly, the old stendino in the cupboard might one day find itself in the piazza waiting for its midnight transport to who knows where but, whatever accusations my friends make about my obsession, I will keep company with my own stendino until one or the other of us is no longer able to wear our clothes or perform any other useful purpose.

Until then, we will sit together on the balcony watching the sun go down over Taranto in all its multi-coloured glory, preparing ourselves for another day.

Would you like to write about your life in Italy for The Local? Get in touch.

Photo: Hayley Clues/Unsplash

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Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

As Italy swelters in the early summer heat, writer Richard Hough in Verona shares his tips for keeping cool in the city this summer.

Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city
Photo: Tommaso Pecchioli/Unsplash

With the temperature in Italy soaring and this year’s first wave of the famed ‘caldo Africano’ sweeping the nation, a number of coping strategies can be employed to try and stay cool in the brutally hot Italian summer.

In Verona the temperature is now well into the thirties, and even through the night it rarely falls below 20 degrees.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and there’s barely a breath of wind in the air. Even performing simple tasks, like putting on a pair of socks (to be avoided at all costs if possible), cause an alarming outbreak of perspiration. Anything as vigorous as cycling to work or going for a jog becomes an energy-sapping endeavour that inevitably results in an unpleasant sweaty drenching. 

READ ALSO: Fried eggs and sweaty underpants: 10 phrases for complaining about the heat like an Italian

With the effective use of blinds, shutters and air-conditioning, some of our neighbours and friends boast of being able to keep their house at a relatively stable 19 or 20 degrees, a feat of household management we’ve never quite managed to achieve.

Noisy, expensive and generally unsatisfying, we tend to use our air conditioning system only as a last resort and instead endure the heat of our apartment like some kind of mildly unpleasant act of self-flagellation.

Ice-cream, of course, is an altogether more pleasant way to confront the summer heat.

To my squirming delight, the local gelateria even offered me a loyalty card earlier this week. On closer inspection, I was somewhat dismayed to calculate that I’d need to consume €100 of ice-cream before I received any reward! When you consider that a cone costs as little as €2 a pop, you have some idea of the scale of the task that lies before me.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Iced tea is another vital source of refreshment in these sweltering days. Before moving permanently to Italy ten years ago, I had always mocked the idea of cold tea. For me tea was brewed hot and strong with a splash of milk. The notion of ice-cold, sweet, peach-flavoured tea just seemed ridiculously self-indulgent. The first summer I spent it in Verona I consumed the stuff by the gallon. It remains one of the few things that can quench that insatiable summer thirst.

Another, of course, is beer. 

Verona is well-known principally as a wine-producing region, but in the summer months that intoxicating blend of barley, hops and water comes into its own, as the full-bodied red wines of the region momentarily take a back seat. Even my wife, who never drank beer before we came to Italy, is known to enjoy the occasional birra media in the summer months. 

Some of the best birreria in town even serve their beer in chilled glasses. If you can avoid getting your lip stuck to the glassware, this is a delightfully refreshing way to enjoy the ancient amber nectar.

As the popularity of locally-brewed craft beers has soared in recent years, a number of new bars have sprung up in Verona to cater for the seemingly insatiable demand. Amongst the best of these new arrivals is the Santa Maria Craft Pub, near Piazza Erbe. Perhaps I can persuade them to introduce a loyalty card?

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Verona’s Piazza Erbe. Photo: Shalev Cohen/Unsplash

The hills above the city also provide some respite from the stifling heat below, and the Verona Beer Garden in the Torricelle hills opens every year from May to September. The Beer Garden offers the standard range of German beers and simple fast food, as well as live music, crazy golf and beer-pong, in the blissfully cool surroundings of the Veronese hills. 

This year has also seen the launch of the Mura Festival which runs from June to October. Mura is Italian for ‘wall’ and this exciting new addition to the local events scene takes place in the green ramparts of the ancient wall that surrounds the city. With everything from yoga and children’s theatre to Thai street food and arrosticini abruzzesi (barbequed lamb skewers), it’s another refreshing place to chill out and cool down after a day under the fierce sun. 

Of course, the best strategy for avoiding the heat is to leave the city behind you and head to the beach. In recent years we’ve done exactly that, exploring Sicily, Sardinia and Elba when the heat of the city gets too much. The region of Puglia, famed for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear water, has long been on our list too, but this year we’ve opted to stay local. With the ever-evolving pandemic situation, we took the decision not to be too ambitious with our travel plans. 

REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer

With three months of school holidays to contend with, many Italian kids have already been dispatched from the sweltering cities, often with their obliging nonni (grandparents). We too will soon be decamping, returning this year to Bibione, a popular beach resort to the east of Venice on the Adriatic coast, where we’ve enjoyed simple family holidays in the past. 

Like many families, we’ve opted for a ‘camping’ style resort, but will be treating ourselves to a luxurious, six-berth ‘leaf tent’, fully equipped with air-conditioning, fridge/freezer and the all-important mosquito netting, as well as two sun loungers and a parasol on the nearby beach.

The only slight cloud on the horizon is that I’ll have to tear myself away from the beach for a few hours to return to Verona for the second dose of my vaccine. As long as I’ve got a supply of chilled peach tea for the journey, I think I’ll be ok. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be back on the beach in time for a quick pre-lunch dip in the cool Adriatic.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His new book, Rita’s War, a true story of persecution, resistance and heroism from wartime Italy, is available here. He is currently writing his next book about wartime Verona.