It was a hot and humid evening in late spring, 2006. It was May I think. I was new to the job, having lived in Italy, in Rome for just over a month. Home was a nondescript apartment paid for by work, in a mediocre suburb called Gianicolense. The area was nothing special, but it was just up the road from one of the most beautiful areas of Rome, Trastevere, the beautiful old Jewish quarter. The apartment was ok, nothing special, but I was living my dream, I was living in Italy so would have settled for much less.
I lived with my English colleague on the second floor of an eighties apartment block. On this particular evening, I returned home late from work. There had been a problem with a customer and since I was new to the job I was slow in resolving the issue. My feet were sore and tired after having traipsed around the Eternal City in high heels, so I decided to take the lift, something which I never do since I lived on the second floor and a bit of exercise is always good.
It was one of those small, claustrophobic, old lifts which fits a maximum of 3 people, 3 small waif like people that is. You have to close the door manually in order for the lift to work. I was a few seconds into my journey when the lift stopped. Not on my floor mind you, not on any floor. It just stopped in between floors. Ok, try not to panic, I thought. I rang my colleague who was at home and she rushed out to see the lift stuck between floors, and she could hear me in it. Go and get help! I yelled out to her. Ok! She called back rushing off to knock on some unknown neighbours doors. People living in massive apartment blocks don't normally know one another, they aren't normally trusting, so it took a while before someone opened the door. It took even longer for them to understand what was going on since my colleague spoke absolutely no Italian, a few words of Spanish at best.
I was starting to get nervous, images of me being stranded in the lift, dying of dehydration were starting to fill my over active mind. Stuck on the wall of the ancient lift was a phone number and thanking god that part of my job included a mobile phone, I called the number. A man answered and in very, very bad, almost non-existent Italian I tried my best to explain the situation. He had no idea what I was saying but was very nice trying to calm me down as I was rather hysterical by this stage. I hung up, having gotten no where with the phone call, and instead rang my twin in Australia to ask if I should save my water in case I was stuck in the lift for a long time, or drink the water and risk having to pee myself should I be stuck in the lift for a long time. Call waiting was beeping, so I had to go, having decided to have a few small sips of water at regular intervals. Beep, beep went my phone. It was the lift maintenance man who was trying to help me by telling me that he couldn't actually help me. I was calling the wrong number I eventually gathered and one of the only words I could understand was fuoco which he kept repeating.
My English colleague by this stage had found an obliging neighbour who understood her 5 words of Spanish and 1000 hand gestures. I yelled out to her that we had to call the fire brigade, I had no idea what the number was, or how to explain my situation. The obliging neighbour made the call, and I tried to calm myself with thoughts of a sexy Italian fireman coming to rescue me (I was single at this stage). It didn't work and by the time I heard the sirens wailing down the road I was a complete wreck, crying like a lunatic and talking to the kind maintenance man who kept calling me back to check my progress, even though we didn't understand a word that the other was saying.
It only took a moment for the fire men to rescue me, since the lift had only been stuck between the two floors. Slowly the door of the lift was wrenched open with some sort of equipment and I burst out, crying and hyperventilating into the arms of a startled, rather old and chubby fireman.
Welcome to Rome!