One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people. I was fortunate enough to meet six new Italians one day in Pordenone, Italy (the city I primarily stay in when I’m there). Unfortunately, they happened to be members of the fire department.
I was standing in the kitchen, making soup as it was pouring rain. I decided to go outside to take some quick photos of the rose bushes, persimmon, olive, and palm trees, and a kiwi vine in the yard. After fifteen minutes outside I was chilled and decided to go back inside to check on my soup, but as I walked up the stairs I had a horrible realization. I had closed the front door, which locked automatically. My only link to the outside world—my cell phone—was also inside. I threw my body against the front door in hopes that it would magically open. No matter how I finagled the doorknob and pushed with all my strength, the door did not yield.
My next thought was to try to climb through a window I had left open. The window was on the top floor and 20 feet up. I ran around the house three times, searching for a ladder. I discovered an old, rickety, wooden one and prepared to make my shaky ascent.
I made it to the fourth rung when I realized two things 1) even if I climbed to the top of the ladder I would not be tall enough to reach the window 2) if I climbed to the top of the ladder I would probably plummet to my death. I weighed my options and decided against the climb; I like to believe there are at least a few people who would be disappointed if I were to die.
After ruling out scaling the building, I grabbed a rock, ready to smash through the glass of the front door when I thought better of it—I didn’t imagine my boyfriend would be very impressed if I vandalized his home. I finally accepted defeat and decided to use the rational side of my brain.
I knew I should call the fire department—my boyfriend had locked himself out of the house several times and had relayed stories of calling the fire department. Since I had no cellphone and did not know anyone in the neighborhood to ask to use his or her phone, I decided to walk down the block to the grocery store.
I walked into the store, approached the checkout attendant, and asked, “Do you speak English?”
She shook her head “no” and I was afraid I would have to proceed with a desperate game of charades when a young woman behind the counter of the espresso bar said, “I speak a little English.” I could have hugged her, but decided against it and asked to borrow her phone to call the fire department.
She smiled and asked if I knew the fire department’s phone number. I said I did not so she dialed the number before handing me the phone.
What proceeded was an embarrassing reminder that if I’m to live in Italy I should probably learn some key words other than “bongiorno, ciao, arriverderci, and grazie.” Key words such as “Help! I have locked my keys in the house and need assistance as soon as possible since I also left a pot of soup on the stove and may burn the house down and actually need the fire truck anyway.” You know, common phrases.
As it was, I barely knew the address and after giving them the wrong one (the street name is Giovanni Batista Morgagni not Giuseppe Batista Morgagni) was told to wait thirty minutes. I thanked the man on the line, the barista who let me use her phone, and slunk out of the store.
Alternating between being on the brink of tears and running down to the front gate every time I heard a vehicle approaching, I waited. After only ten minutes I heard a large vehicle and saw the universal red of a fire truck.
I waited for my saviors at the gate and flung it open for them to enter—all six of them. The whole troupe followed me up the steps to the front door carrying several interesting wires, screwdrivers, and a shiny piece of what looked like industrial tin foil.
The lead firefighter jammed the tin foil in the crack of the door and wiggled it. The other five firefighters struck various relaxed poses as they watched the work of their colleague. I too tried to strike a casual pose, but couldn’t keep myself from making dramatic cheers as I watched.
With a click and a pop the firefighter opened the door with minimal effort. I was so relieved I put my hand up for a high five and after a few seconds of awkward hesitation each firefighter laughed and gave me five.
I would say that day was a great success as I got to meet some outstanding citizens and every time I went to the grocery store down the street the barista made a point to smile and wave at me. I don’t mind seeing her regularly, but I hope I will never have to see the firefighters again…unless it is while they are helping someone else break into their own home.