Smooth operation

One last job before I collect my six-year-old son from the school bus stop. Armed with bathroom rugs, I step onto our balcony and shake them out. A gust of wind slams the iron shutters behind me. I turn around and see… no door handle!

The Neapolitane  (anti-burglary shutters) make it impossible to get inside. So here I am: in flip flops, without my phone, in the blazing sun. The hinges are clearly running smoothly, but I am not! The dog whimpers worriedly on the other side. Quickly, I look down from the balcony into the street. No one in sight…

I climb over the balcony railing onto the adjacent porch roof and edge towards another window. Yes, the shutters are still open! Hopeful, I try to open the window. Locked! Oh, of course, I had started to lock up as I was about to leave the house. Panic; I really have to go pick up my son – now! I crawl back and see… a neighbour sweeping his garden terrace. He looks up, but does not react. It seems like it’s every person for themselves.

I climb back onto our balcony and hesitantly call out: “Aiuto!”  (Help!) No response. I try again, louder: “AIUTO!”  And suddenly – luckily – neighbours appear from everywhere. Curious at first – this is Naples after all – and then full of understanding and action. The street works together to help la straniera  (the foreign lady); complete with hand gestures, intense discussions, and quick briefings for those who are just arriving and need to be brought up to speed.

Time is ticking away… We make a video in which I give permission for my son to be picked up, and a neighbour jumps in his car. Another one calls the landlord, who sends the gardener with the spare key of the outside gate. Gallantly, he helps me down a ladder. Applause… My son is dropped off at home and someone else drives to my husband’s office to pick up the house key.

My saga has a smooth ending, and more than ever I’m convinced: Wherever you live, a good neighbour is worth more than a distant friend.

A column by Joletta de Man

Joletta de Man is an expat partner who lives near Naples, southern Italy, with her family. She writes regular columns for Global Connection.

Main photo (top): Joletta speaks with her Italian neighbours while stuck on her balcony, before the Covid-19 lockdown

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