Honestly. They spend more time scrubbing, washing and generally sanitising things than they do in any other activity, save possibly ironing.
This year, I am joining in the spirit of things by spring cleaning early. I didn’t want to, but my Mother-in-law made me. I admit the place has become a little grimy but, frankly, I thought the fact we no longer have running water was a more than adequate excuse. In fact I don’t even know how one cleans a house without using water. But my Mother-in-law does!
Of course she does. She’s Sicilian.
Well, I am far too busy dry-cleaning my home to write a blog post this week. I think the best way to keep you in the picture is by re-posting my report on My first ever spring-cleaning activities directed by my Mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law is a fairly typical Sicilian woman of the older generation. She has a big nose, big hands and a big bottom. When her mansize hands are not busy flaying and massacring vegetables or scrubbing household objects to the brink of oblivion, they fiddle with rosary beads. She goes to church twice on Sundays and is godmother to seven children. The Godmother. She likes to feed children portions of food which weigh more than they do, indoctrinate them in the ways of the Lord and scrub their faces by a method plastic surgeons call ‘dermabrasion.
She is a magnificent and warm-hearted woman and like all Sicilan old ladies she looks cute but, trust me, you do NOT want to be naughty in her presence. Her hands could probably spank even a decent-sized adult man into low-earth orbit.
When I worked in a bank in London, I thought that being able to sew would stand me in good stead when I became a housewife. I thought it meant I had potential. Then I met The Godmother, who is the very walking definition of uxoriousness in flesh and blood, and I realised how much more difficult it was all going to be than I had ever imagined.
For example, I had always thought – foolishly, as it now turns out – that there were certain objects in this world which it is simply never necessary to clean. Ever.
The pavement, for example, was something I had never once looked at in my life and thought, ‘Well now, I think I’ll give that a good scrub.’ Yet, apparently, to be a decent housewife, a decent Sicilian one at any rate, it is essential to wash the pavement outside one’s house quite regularly, on one’s hands and knees, using a scrubbing brush that could flay an elephant and the kind of cleaning products that you probably need a special license to purchase in England.
Similarly, I had never once been tempted to lather up a set of iron railings and then rinse them down, dry them and buff them up with a soft cloth. I just figured that the rain took care of removing clumps of dirt… slattern that I was!
Another item I imagined could be left unwashed throughout its whole existence was my wardrobe. I had spent years in England squirting it with Mr. Sheen and giving it a quick buff-up with a cloth to get the visible deposits of dust off it. Once I moved to Sicily, however, I was made to realise I had been leaving it to accumulate filth and that the only way a respectable housewife would treat such an item of furniture would be to wash it thoroughly with ammonia and water and then dry it with a series of special cloths, first a cotton one and then a woollen one and then one in microfibre.
One day, The Godmother came round to my house when I had just swept and mopped all the floors. She was wearing her black skirt and black blouse, which is what Sicilian housewives put on when they really mean business. She gave me a pitying, or perhaps critical, look and said,
“Oh, you poor thing! You must be so worn out with all this unpacking and organising that you haven’t had time to clean the floor.”
“Erm, yes,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” she said, her nose already in the cleaning products cupboard she had given me as a house warming present. “I’ll take care of it.”
She extracted a thing which looked like a broom with no bristles and then wrapped it in a cloth which she dipped in something that smelled pungent enough to make my nose run, and proceeded to rub it all over the floor with so much verve I thought she might actually erode the glaze off the tiles. “That’s just given it a quick removal of the main dirt,” she said, as she got on her knees and proceeded to pull the plinth away from the fitted cupboards under and around the kitchen sink.
She put the steel strips on the balcony and then proceeded to remove the entire underside of the island unit as well. Not satisfied with this, she then prised all the knobs off the hob, did something that looked downright painful to remove the oven door and then turned the extractor fan over the cooker into no less than eighteen separate, yet almost identical-looking, pieces of plastic grille.
Whilst I was profoundly shocked to see her calmly pull my kitchen to pieces, I was also flabbergasted that she was actually able to. For my whole life, up to that point, I had believed you needed men with exposed bum cleavages to do that type of thing.
While I was still searching for appropriate words, she filled the sink with several potent products, which foamed and gave off a greenish hallucinogenic vapour, and put all the small components of my ex-kitchen in it. While I sat down to regain some breath, she filled a bucket with whatever the Mafia use to dissolve dead bodies away to nothing except a few gold fillings, and started rubbing it into the pieces of stainless steel plinth she had yanked off the cupboards. I had chosen a matt finish but she kept working away at each piece of metal until she had made it look like a mirror.
I felt exhausted simply from watching all this manual labour, but I also began to realise I was suffering some kind of acute respiratory crisis. I was wheezing loudly and my vision was clouding over as if there were some type of jelly stuck to the front of my eyeballs. Apparently my eyes were turning maroon and I sounded like a Fiat that had accidentally been filled with diesel. I was having a severe allergic reaction to The Godmother’s cleaning products.
I dashed into the bathroom and begged her to identify the pack of antihistamine I knew I had
stashed away somewhere. She rummaged about and asked how many tablets I wanted. I told her to give me all of them. As I was shovelling them into my mouth, I realised she was buffing up the mirror with a dry cloth between popping the pills out of the foil blisters. She is the kind of woman who, if one of her children got his head stuck in a saucepan, would give it a jolly good polish before taking him to the hospital. If someone broke into her house by throwing a brick through the window she would wash the brick before calling the police. If she ever drank tea she would iron the teabags before using them.
I made my way out of the house, out of the chemical inferno which had once been my kitchen, sneaked into the lemon orchard behind the house, and sat on a patch of scratchy grass under a tree. It was still swelteringly hot but at least there was some shade which protected my watering eyes from the full power of the sunlight. I would like to say, especially if any minors are reading this, that overdosing on oral antihistamines and snorting kitchen de-scaler is a stupid and dangerous thing to do.
I felt as if I were drifting out of my body and wafting around among the leaves of the lemon trees in the form of a curly green waft of vaporised ammonia, carbolic acid and hydrogen peroxide. I think I hallucinated the bit where the lemons were talking to me about how they liked me wiping them clean with my eyeballs. I think the bit where I slumped against the trunk of a tree and slowly keeled over through lack of oxygen may have been real. The bit where The Godmother shouted ‘Veronica, Veronica, wake up!’ was definitely right here on planet earth, and it worked.
Eventually I recoved from this experience and came to an important realisation: I may be a Sicilian housewife now, but I shall continue housewifing in a very English way. I’ll never manage to do it the way Sicilian women do. I salute them, and I give up.
So please excuse me while I step over a thick smear of ketchup on my way to the kettle, because I need a cup of tea.
I am excited by the international nature of my blog followers. I would like to take advantage of this cosmopolitan company I am now keeping, by conducting a cultural survey.
Answers in the comments box below, and please remember to state your nationality when responding!
1. Do people wash the pavement outside their house in your country?
2. Do the builders have exposed bum cracks where you come from?
3. Have you ever had a hazardous/frightening/life-threatening experience with a domestic disinfection product?
Enjoy this post? Try this book, which is part 1 of The Godmother Trilogy. Follow the link to find out more about The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife on my author blog, or tap on the photo.