Charity Begins at Home

One of the major effects of the continuing economic crunch is reduced individual spending power. With no more jobs for life, mortgage application difficulties, steadily inflating daily costs, the housing market a wreckage, reduced public social welfare, poor interest rates, sudden taxes and all the rest of these monetary miseries, we are uncertain of what financial cushion we really do have and become ever more penny (or euro) wise.

In Italy these effects are noticed first by the retailers themselves. Fewer holidaymakers are coming to this part of the world and those who normally come are coming less frequently, and when they do come the daily restaurant meals become weekly ones (in our case monthly ones…), theatre tickets are for the cheaper rows, car journeys become shorter, the majority of food shopping expeditions head to discount stores, free beaches are targeted, and bargains are devotedly hunted down.

The UK with its social benefits (now being drastically reviewed and cut down by the present government) and its charity shops (I hesitate to add, the charity is for the good causes these shop sell their goods for, not the customers who visit the shops) provide a certain amount of shock absorption from the dread of becoming an inmate of the Marshalsea.

In Italy, I have yet to see a charity shop (they do exist but are usually fund raising, not for medical research or third-world hunger alleviation – although there is now, regrettably, space for first-world hunger alleviation – but for political parties). This may be because Italians tend to do the recycling of items themselves, handing down clothes to younger family members, giving unwanted domestic items to immigrant families, setting up church bazaar stalls and so forth.

However, in and around Bagni di Lucca I have found two sorts of second-hand, charity-like, shops which, rather than selling over-priced pseudo Louis XVI furniture, have given me much browsing and buying pleasure.

The first type was, before it moved to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, housed in what used to be Bagni’s main private mini-market before that folded up. It was a real fun shop and my wife and I found some great reading matter, paintings, clothes and kitchenware.

I was also aware, however, that the goods spilling out on the pavement in front of the shop (although it was their property) raised a few eyebrows among some of the local populace who felt it was somewhat of a disgrace to have this kind of shop in their petite-bourgeois environment. Anyway, the place was very popular, too, with brits who suddenly found that the local centre now had a de facto  English bookshop.

The second kind of shop is one in which you bring all those unwanted items you’ve turfed out of your attic or cantina. The shop-keeper advises you on a suitable price, which you can accept or refuse as you like, puts your item on the shelves and on their computer database, and lets you know when it is sold (if ever). You get half the profits, which isn’t bad if one consider that one might have had to spend hours at a stall to sell them or incur advertising fees or, even worse, face the hazards of eBay.

At a recent foray into one of these shops my wife came out with enough stunning dresses to provide for the majority of her summer social engagements, I found some prints to enhance the room where I’m writing this and also got a great DK travel guide to Australia so well-illustrated that I found myself transported in Kakadu National Park without having to lift a finger or suitcase.

Full marks for this kind of shop which not only helps one’s pocket but also contributes to a much-needed ecological sensibility. Chances are, if you are in this part of the world, there will be one near you.

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