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June 11, 2009

The great elevator escape.

June 11. Day 346.

Italian elevators, like mediocre wine, are best enjoyed in moderation and ideally not too aged.

Italian elevators are like gnocchi in summertime: sound better than they taste.

Italian elevators are like Stalin. They suck.

Ok, so I'm not inspired tonight. But I think you get my drift.

All this because of the blasted Florentine ascensore of via Calimaruzza, 3.

I was running around all day, meeting with people, and I was pretty tired. All I wanted to do was leave some books in the hotel room and have a final meal before leaving this enchanted city.

I stepped in and hit the button labeled "4."

At the fourth floor, it stopped. I opened the inner doors. (Italian elevators are like trauma operating rooms: they have two sets of double doors and you're lucky to get out alive.)

Outside, the next set of doors was blocked.


Almost sealed, save for a thin crack of light shining through.

I closed the inner doors, tried again. Closed them again, hit the "4." Then, the ground floor button. Niente.

A few thoughts went through my head. Fragments, disorganized, a cacophony of ideas, worries, possible approaches. All in a flash.

--Is it just stuck, or is something really wrong -- i.e. could it fall?
--Am I strong enough, or do I have any tools, to pry or break the outer door?
--Would messing with the doors cause the elevator to plummet?
--Should I wait for someone or take immediate action?
--Can people hear me if I scream?
--Would those hearing me be inside, or across the open window and in the next building or street?
--Am I liable, will the hotel blame me, or what's Italian law like?
--How long until someone passes by?
--Is there enough oxygen in here?
--How long is my cell phone battery going to last?
--Should I post this on Blogger, Twitter or Facebook? (I kid you not, I actually considered this, along with the next equally essential question:)
--Where would I go to the bathroom?
--Damn it, I'm really can't afford to miss my meeting tomorrow morning.
--Damn it, I really don't want to spend my last night in Florence in an elevator.

Several of the answers came indirectly, from the horrific and beautiful video clip I was now replaying in my head -- the video that made waves on Youtube a year ago. If you haven't seen it, DO. It's amazing.

I saw I had a lot of cell phone juice left, and a strong signal, so I called the hotel.

I could hear it ringing, somewhere in the cavernous rooms behind me.

No answer.

I let it ring and ring, and finally someone picked up.


"Hello, I am a guest in your hotel, and I am stuck in your elevator. Can you help me?!" I asked.

"Ah! I'll be right out!"

A guy emerged, smiling but anxious looking.

He instructed me to try the door, try pushing a few buttons. Then he told me to press "ALT" or stop.

He said he'll be right back. I could hear him run down a flight of stairs, where he stopped. A moment later, the elevator car lurched down, then resumed its calm course to the third floor.

This time around, all the parts lined up, both sets of doors opened and I tumbled out.


"I'm very sorry that happened. It happens quite frequently. They don't maintain the elevator very well in this building."

Italian elevators are like Italy, come to think of it: Ancient, attractive, comfortable, quaint, but rotten beneath the seams, and damnably predictable for those who know.

Gained: Freedom.
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