Over the last two weeks, we have lost our DSL three times (never for less than two days at a time, and topping out at 4 days), and on Monday we were without electricity for 7 hours.
I know the people who went through the US and London blackouts will be all sniffy and "big deal" about our plight, but this tiny taste of powerlessness still felt endless to us. Because the truth is, nowadays you pretty much can't do a damned thing without electricity.
When it first went off (of course, while I was in the middle of something semi-important on the computer--then again, I'm pretty much always in the middle of something on the computer, so the odds of that are pretty high), I wasn't too concerned. I checked our salvavita to see if it had tripped: no. I waited around a while.
A while stretched into, uh, a longer while. I figured it would be a good
time to take a nice, leisurely bath. Since it was pouring down rain and rather
chilly (not that I'm complaining: chilly is heaven to me after the
hellish summer we've just had!), the idea of soaking in a nice, warm tub was
pretty appealing. Considering that it was 4 p.m. and the rain meant it was
pretty dark, I lit a couple of candles in the bathroom, for basic illumination
as well as atmosphere.
I plugged the drain and opened the hot water faucet all the way, then dumped in a rather decadent amount of amber bath gel. Hell, if I was going to have a blackout bath, I figured, I might as well pamper myself.
While the water was running, I made sure to put candles in all the key rooms, for later. There was still enough light coming in through the French doors in the living room and bedroom to see fairly well, but the rooms that don't have southern exposure--or, like the hallway, that don't have any windows at all--were already pretty dark. I felt all competent and on top of things, I did.
Until I went back into the bathroom, where the tub was already filled about
a third of the way with richly-scented, bubbly water. Richly-scented, bubbly,
cold water. How could that be? Our water heater was gas, I was sure
of it. Pretty sure. Almost positive, I was. I went into the kitchen and peered
up at it. Yep, sure enough, there was a flame. That meant gas, right? I mean,
I can hardly claim to be a domestic engineer, but that seemed basic enough
for even me to grasp. Flame = gas, because electricity runs on, you know,
wires and stuff. No fire. Never use water to douse an electrical fire. I knew
Apparently--although please don't ask me how, because I've given up any hope of understanding these things--the water heater is indeed gas, but the, uh, sparker thingy (mind the technical jargon) that ignites the heating flame (as opposed to the pilot, which appears to do nothing at all helpful) is electric. As is the sparker thingy on the stove, which is also gas, but which is also virtually useless during a power outage. Oh, sure, we had a couple of leftover cigarette lighters lying around, from back in the day, but neither of us really wanted to put our hands that close to something we were trying to set on fire. Yes, we're a couple of wusses. We ordered out for pizza. But that was later, I'm getting ahead of myself.
After the bath débacle, I decided this nonsense had gone on long enough. It was clear this was no simple case of a momentary lapse or mistake by Enel, of the kind that would miraculously fix itself in the space of a few minutes. It had already been nearly an hour. It was time to go take a look in the basement, at the meter, which has switches for each apartment that sometimes get tripped by a system overload, and which I kinda vaguely remembered how to adjust. Probably. Once I got down there and saw them I'd remember how they worked, I was sure of it.
Our landlords, the two brothers who live with their families in the other two apartments in this building, were holding an impromptu meeting on the landing below. They'd already checked the meter switches (sigh of relief), but there was nothing amiss (puzzled expression). Even more baffling was the fact that the light on the stairs worked fine, as did the doorbell, but all of the apartments were senza corrente. As were the other buildings in our little cortile, and the ones across the road. A right riddle, it was.
"Well, time to call Enel!" I said cheerfully. The two brothers
looked at me in surprise and not a little worry.
"Call Enel? Do you really think that's necessary? Maybe it'll come back soon," the dark-haired brother said.
"No use waiting any longer," I told him. "And I've learned it's never a good idea to assume that someone else has made the call--you can end up waiting a lot longer than necessary." I was thinking unhappily about our recent DSL experiences, but realized there was no point trying to explain broadband to these two.
"But how--do you have the number?" the white-haired brother asked. He made it sound as though it were some kind of secret code that only initiates could access. "It's in the phone book," I assured him. He looked doubtful.
I tripped back up the stairs and began the adventure of trying to notify
the electric company of the outage. They are kind enough to provide a nice,
user-friendly number for service calls (800 900 800, in case you ever need
it), but they are early adopters of that nasty American export, the voicemail
labyrinth. Press 1, press 1, press 1 again, enter your CAP (zip code), be
put on hold. Music, music, sorry our operators are busy, please hold, music,
music--"due to a technical error, please call again later."
Round and round I went, experimenting to see just how much of the recorded messages I could skip by pressing the buttons early (answer: not as much as I'd like). At one point, while I was on hold, the doorbell rang. I set the phone down without bothering to hang up, and opened the door to find the white-haired brother with his usual sheepish expression. He asked if there was any news.
"Sorry," I told him, "I've been calling and calling, but keep getting cut off." He asked me for the number, and I swear I got a flash of the little boy he was once when he said, "I'll call them too!" in the exact same way a child would say, "Let's build a treehouse!". It was too cute.
When I got back to the phone, I was still on hold. Mus--"due to a technical error, please call again later."
Just as Dario walked in the door, there was a change. Instead of music, music,
music, I got a message informing me that "the following areas are currently
suffering a power outage", and that the "estimated time for restored
power is 18:45." Still over an hour away, but it was nice to have a definite
time frame. We were relieved.
Heh. You'd think we'd just got off the boat, or something. Dario, especially, eternal pessimist that he is, was displaying an uncharacteristic degree of faith in the level of service. Well, we learned our lesson, we did.
The minutes dragged on. At one point I brought the (battery-operated) clock
from the office and hung it on the living room wall, so we wouldn't keep asking
each other the time (since neither of us owns a watch, it's a useless question,
but we continue to ask it because we are clearly a bit dense). Our pizza came,
and it was okay but not great, because the really good place that delivers
is closed on Mondays. We talked a little. We lit more candles. We stared at
the clock. We took bets on when the power would come back--the recorded message
was later updated to state that "the estimated time for restored power
is 21:00". We listened to the rain that continued to pour down incessantly.
I tried to initiate a game of charades, but it was too hard to see clearly
in the candlelight (we obviously need more candles). We tried to come up with
ways to pass the time without electricity, but didn't have much luck.
Life is very boring when you're powerless, it turns out.
Finally, I announced I was going to take a nap. It was about 8:30, I'd been sitting around in the dark for over 4 hours, I was bored, I was tired. What else was there to do? I felt all old-fashioned departing to my bed-chamber with candle in hand. I stretched out under the covers, still fully-dressed, asking Dario to wake me when the lights came back on.
About an hour later, I felt him slip into bed. "Still nothing?" I mumbled. "Nope." We both fell asleep instantly.
I woke up the next morning, very well rested, if a bit rumpled in the previous day's clothes. Dario informed me that the lights had come back around 12:30, which is when he woke up from our "nap", and he hadn't slept since. Needless to say, he was not very well rested. He looked a little bleary, as a matter of fact. Me, I'm thinking we should invest in a generator, or at least a deck of cards, in case it happens again.
The worst part? Having wasted all that yummy bath gel.