Posted by: 4initalia | January 26, 2009

Rescue Me

One Sunday after a snowy Saturday, two days of familiarity felt like “The Shining.” The children were festering, and we needed to get out. So we went to a nearby park.

The park is but a stroll away, which in Italy means you pass gelato stands, excellent shoes, and 1000 years of history.

Let loose onto gravel paths and muddy fields, the kids used up some of the manic energy they had been spending on annoying me. Andy got in a run, and we all met up to read the park dedication sign. The park was dedicated to the memory of the fighters of the Modenese Resistence – i partigiani – who fought against Italian Fascists and the Nazis at the end of WWII. What a feeling to know that the parigiani actually hid in these fields.

We walked, we read, we learned, and the offspring were tired enough to be safely let back into captivity.

We climbed the seven flights up to our apartment. The building has an elevator, but “Let’s take the stairs!” is another ploy to wear out the kids. Besides, the elevator is about 200 years old and the size of an envelope. If I’m going to get trapped and die in something, I need it to be bigger than a coffin to begin with. It’s only fair.

Andy pulled out his keys, tried the lock, the door doesn’t open. A million tries, the door is still shut. Raimondo, our landlord, hears us on the landing. He tries his keys. Andy’s keys. His keys. Raimondo doesn’t want us to live on the landing. But it’s Sunday – in Italy, everything is closed, even the big malls. and locksmiths don’t do Sundays. But Raimondo has no other way to get us off the landing. He invites me and the kids into his apartment to wait for the locksmith while he and Andy pretend that this time, the key will work.

The locksmith arrives in 20 minutes, with a reassuring smile. 45 minutes later, the locksmith is not smiling, and neither is Raimondo. The doors to this building are at least three inches of solid, aged oak. Italian crime dramas must never show grim-faced detectives busting down doors with their burly shoulders, because the cop would end up with a shattered midsection. A battering ram couldn’t get this door open. And neither can a locksmith.

Raimondo sends us back into his apartment. But that was a poor tactical move on his part. Now that we’re in his apartment, he’s either going to have to send us back onto the landing, or get us into our apartment. Raimondo’s options are not good. He could put us up for the night and break down the door in the morning, or break down the door tonight. Raimondo is no fool – he’s better off taking his losses immediately. We can’t even go to a hotel: when Andy goes running, he leaves his wallet at home. I have no more money than…okay, with the debacle involving the loss of my debit card, everyone in the whole world has better access to money than I do.

To lighten the mood, I ask Raimondo about the Italian Resistance, Fascism, and the Nazi occupation of Modena. As a guest, I leave a lot to be desired. So Raimondo opts for a desperate and potentially expensive solution: he calls the fire department. For Raimondo, calling the fire department brings up the spectre of splintering wood and shattering glass, but that is preferable to discussing a national tragedy in fractured Italian.

Twenty minutes later, the vigili del fuoco arrives. In a ladder truck! I am five years old, and there’s a ladder truck outside our building!! Things are looking up.

The firefighters take the elevator – they are braver than I thought. They try Andy’s keys. They try Raimondo’s keys. They try to slip a plastic thing between the jamb and the door. Nothing. They insert a sinister looking metal thing into the jamb – I wince for Raimondo. Niente.

How many firefighters does it take to open an Italian door? More than this. And they’re not getting a battering ram up in that elevator. I think this cheers up Raimondo, as much as a landlord can be cheered up when there are four Americans and six firefighters on his landing.

They can’t open the door from the outside. That’s bad. And then dawns the delightful possibility: will they use the ladder? Just for us? How cool is that? Okay, readjust expression to concerned grownup face. (Better – go on Raimondo’s balcony and giggle maniacally.)

The firefighters enter the bucket – ascend through spiny trees, up and up…seven stories. Neighbors have begun to gather on their balconies, onlookers to cluster across the street. “It’s the Americans!” they must think. “They’re too stupid for keys!!” The onlookers are probably remembering that the Americans bombed Modena in order to liberate the city from the Nazis. And here we follow up with this. On a Sunday.

The firefighters land on the balcony, and…the balcony window is unlocked!! They enter, past the soup we left on the stove, and the roast potatoes we left in the oven. THANK GOD I decided to shut everything off before we left, because I actually did think: “No, what if firefighters had to enter the building – and the stove was on?” Sometimes, I am actually good at this Applying Life Lessons thing.

The firefighters open the door from the inside…and what was the problem? The door chain, that hangs innocently beside the door jam, caught in the door as it swung shut, and made it impossible to open the door. So diabolical, and so simple. The harder we pushed, the more the metal of the chain embedded into the iron-hard wood. And so there was no solution besides firefighters using the very cool bucket ladder.

All were happy. The firefighters were happy. They demonstrated their unparalleled courage in using the elevator, and they made everybody jealous by going up so high in their cool bucket thing. We were happy, because we were inside. And Raimondo was happy, because nothing was broken in the rescue. And he didn’t have to live with us for the remaining eleven months of our lease, and discuss the Resistance.

A great adventure involves cool hardware and no claims against insurance. It was a great adventure.


  1. […] Or then there was the time we had to be rescued by Italian firefighters….. […]

  2. […] […]

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