Birthday Promises

I am not sold on adult birthdays, but this year I had been promised the gift of Wi-Fi.  In the morning, I assuredly left the Telecom tech in my apartment with my landlady. With a fancy ladder like that, surely he knew what he was doing.  I thought, with stupidly misplaced American assurance, that it would be easy.  Giving them the thumbs up, I ran out of the apartment with the flurry of a scarf and a passing comment about the threat of rain.  I rushed dangerously down four precarious flights of worn stone steps to catch the tiny electric C3 bus.  I made my way to Piazza San Marco sandwiched between the armpit of a nun and the wears of an Ethiopian street urchin in my bubble of American naivety.


This is Italy and, after all these years, you think that I would know better.


I returned home to find the shiny white new modem ablaze with green lights and the promise of the 21st century.  Surely this was the Ferrari of modems!  Insert a nasal Italian “no”.


I must have read that password 85 times in both English and Italian.  No matter how I sliced it, and in what language I read the thankless and obtuse string of characters, it was to no avail.


My landlord begged telecom for help over the phone. She tried gentility, anger, and resignation. When her diplomacy failed, and they feigned ignorance, she marched around the building conscripting a cavalcade of neighbors to send into my apartment.  One octogenarian after another appeared in my doorway.  I explained the same problem to each.  We analyzed everything short of the humidity in the air.  If ever there was a moment to shout “Porca Miseria” from the heaven’s, this was it.  Total shit.  A botched password for sure.  But Telecom was the best, they kept saying.  I nodded politely, but remain completely unconvinced.


A botched birthday I suppose.  But when thinking of the receiving line of well-meaning Italian neighbors who came to try to help and who wished me auguri, I noticed that they all took time to smell flowers from the market that I had set on the operating table next to my laptop.  As I tried desperately to connect to the web, I had almost missed the humanity in front of my eyes trying to help as best they knew how.  My landlord insisted that I take my computer and, without explanation, she ushered me into the next building and sat me down at a grand antique desk with the announcement that I use her Wi-Fi.  Her bat-eared mutt watched curiously from the couch.  She smiled at us both and told me he is very learned, but would I like to borrow slippers as he is very hairy.


That evening I stood at the base of Giotto’s bell tower, both picking dog hair off my black pants and waiting for a German and Japanese friend to cure the Wi-Fi blues with stiff aperitivi.  By the time we reached the bottom of a negroni, we stumbled through our second and third languages more confidently.  As the evening wore on, I could have cared less about social media and my departure from the digital age.


When I arrived home, I was surprised to see a carefully written handwritten note with a new login for the modem.  My landlord had sat in my apartment all evening trying to get the ungodly contraption to work.


Despite her efforts, it only worked long enough for me to call my parents for a virtual candle and a wish before it died.  Like everything in Italy, it is what it is.  And it is an unexplained phenomenon.


I hated to call my landlady at her job this morning to report, gently, that it (and we both knew what the unspoken “it” was) still wasn’t working.  Lunch time, we will meet at lunch time.  She will look at the schizophrenic white box, as will I, and I am sure nothing will come of it.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  The 21st century is overrated, and Italians know it.


  1. Jim

    If it weren’t for the pitfalls, you wouldn’t know when the path was smooth.
    Good luck in your quest to return to the 21st century.

  2. So funny as usual and being a full blown expat here, it is Murphy’s law at best. Just think…if these events didn’t happen, and I do mean events….you would have little to write about. Well done.

    • Christine Contrada

      Yes, they really are events! And I love your expat stories. Never a dull moment, and it’s good because I really would have nothing to say, ha. We looked at the lights on the modem for another hour today at lunch; it’s still not working 😉

  3. Paula

    I wish your birthday had been smoother. While the 21st century can be overrated, having wifi while you are teaching online is close to being actually “important”. May the Italian gods smile on you and ease your way. After all, this is the beginning of the next year of your life.

    • Christine Contrada

      It might not have been smooth, but it was memorable and I’ll take it! I finally got the internet sorted last night. One point in the Italian whirlwind for me! I’ve been enjoying teaching from beautiful libraries and I think my students benefit from the creative space. Thank you so much for the birthday well wishes, and I hope that your Italian adventures are delightful.

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