The apartment we had rented for the next few days — Appartamento Cartari — was on Via dei Cartari, just off Corso Vittorio Emmanuele.  Although Via dei Cartari is tiny and narrow, it was surprisingly busy and our transport driver had to deposit us at the corner rather than in front of our door so as not to block traffic.  We pulled out our bags down the short street to the black iron gate marked “6” and pressed the button.  A buzzer sounded and the lock clicked.  In we went, two flights up.

Dad, Mom, and Gino on Via Cartari

Since it was after hours, it wasn’t the apartment owner, but the cleaner who greeted us  — an Eastern Indian man who spoke little Italian and just as little English.  He showed us around the apartment with brief explanations and gesturing how to work this and that, then presented us with one set of keys. We requested an additional set but he stated we must contact the owner the next day to arrange for a second set.  Then, after a brief demonstration of how to work the keys, he left.

After a quick assessment of the apartment, which included a completely private, open-to-the-sky inner terrace, Gino and I flung our bags onto the bed and prepared to head out, anxious to soak in the warm Roman night air.  Mom and Dad opted to stay in, resting after the day of travel.

Our private open-to-the-sky terrace

It was now around 10:00 p.m.  Grabbing the only set of keys, we locked the apartment door behind us, tiptoed down the two flights of stairs, and inserted the smaller key into the glass door of the lobby, leading to the outside.  But try as we could, it would not open the door.  Upside down, backside up, in and out and in again, shaking and pounding the lock, nothing worked.

After several minutes of complete frustration, we realized we were actually LOCKED IN the apartment building!  What if there was a fire? We couldn’t get out!  I dashed up the stairs to fetch mom’s phone and called the after-hours emergency phone number to the apartment rental company.  They were not in, we were told, but someone would try to reach them.

We fussed with that lock for an entire hour, making several more calls and becoming more and more angry and exasperated.  Getting no results to our predicament, in desperation and panic I threatened to call the police to report we were dangerously captive in a potential fire hazard.  Finally we heard back from someone who could actually help.

The woman’s voice was calm and reassuring.  She asked if we were American. Yes, I replied, a bit suspicious and nervous why she wanted to know.  Without malice or impatience or disgust, which she easily could have shown, she told me to look for a button or switch near the door that looked like a light switch. Nothing.  If there had been, believe me we would have tried that long ago.

She explained that usually Americans not used to having to press buttons to unlatch apartment doors often miss this important detail. I told her there was no such button near the door, nor had the fellow who given us our brief tour of the house told us of this necessity. He had just given us the keys and demonstrated how to use them in the locks to get into both the lobby and the apartment itself.  We hadn’t thought we needed to ask him how to get out.

With the woman still on the phone, I kept looking around and finally, at the far end of the lobby well away from the door, right at the bottom of the stairway in shadow, I spotted a light switch — or so I had thought.  It turned out to be the elusive outer door buzzer!  I pressed it and bzzzzzz — the outer door was unlatched.  We were free.

Sheepishly, I thanked the woman.  She in turn graciously told me all this should have all been explained to us upon arrival, and that the actual apartment owners would have done so had they been there to greet us.

No matter now — we knew how to get out.  Securing a promise to have a second set of keys delivered the next morning, we raced back upstairs, tossed Mom her phone and told them the trick to get out.  Then we flew back downstairs, pressed that button and bolted through the lobby door.

A black iron gate posed the final barrier between us and the streets of Rome, but  it swung easily outward when we pushed and our feet danced as they met the shiny cobblestones of Via dei Cartari.

Wasting no time, since time had already been wasted, we headed directly to Piazza Navona, a few minutes’ walk away.  Using the map to orient ourselves from this new direction, we padded confidently through the familiar streets.  And soon there it was.

Musician at Piazza Navona -- he was playing beautiful Spanish music

Always more like a circus than a a square, this lively piazza is where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the Roman nights:famous floodlit fountains surrounded by late-evening revelers and street performers, wine-sippers lounging on the piazza’s perimeter watching artists displaying their work on easels illuminated by small spotlights, locals mixing with gelato-licking tourists shuffling past souvenir hawkers and fortune-tellers.

Slowing to a relaxing stroller’s pace, we melded into the melee’, happy the air was warm, happy to be in Rome  — it was good to be back. Close to midnight, we hustled back to the apartment to sleep for the next day’s activities.

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