Last of the Mannequins


Coming home from dinner a few nights ago, Jennifer pointed out the number of stores that had closed along the Corso Buenos Aires. “The economy is definitely worsening here,” I replied. “Just look at how many folks have moved out of our building.” A few minutes later, we found ourselves staring at five for rent signs at our building’s entrance, (“affitasi” in Italian), along with a fresh advert for the sale of a live/work space.

If you’re used to living in apartment buildings, you get accustomed to people moving in and out, especially in densely populated commercial areas like central Milan. However, such a high turnover is especially noticeable when your building only has 14 units. Considering the immense political and economic turmoil Italy is presently undergoing, the exodus from our building helps personalize the turbulence, however uncomfortably.

Driving it all home the following day was the closure of the bakery on the ground floor. Ever since we first moved in, we’ve relied on it for basic needs like bread, beer and mineral water. Run by an elderly Italian lady, her establishment has been indispensable to us. If you were out of  breakfast cereal, you could always run downstairs and buy a delicious brioche. If it was dinner you were after, you could get an excellent slice of focaccia pizza.

What defined the place was not the food, though, but the presence of three enormous mannequins, caricatures of Italian peasants, wearing vintage clothing, sporting disproportionately large, workman-like hands and bulbous noses. Affixed to the rear wall and the ceiling, every time you entered the bakery, there they were, looking down on the baked goods, as though they had harvested all of their ingredients. Cliched, sure, but still impressive.

Hence how striking it was to see the last of the mannequins lying on the floor yesterday evening, grasping a bundle of fake wheat and a piece of plywood in its hand. Everything in the place had been cleared out, save for this lone, dismembered-looking farmer.