There’s a basement in the place where I live in Milan. I was shocked when I inadvertently discovered that the key to my basement door would also unlock other people’s basement doors—nearly all of them, in fact. Surely the other residents know about this, and I find it fascinating that they are so laid-back about it (I guess?) that they just quietly ignore it rather than make a fuss.
Incidentally, there’s something I still think about every time I go down to the basement.
About thirty years ago now, a Japanese acquaintance of mine told me about a trip they took to Venice for their honeymoon. They had finally arrived at their gorgeous room in a beautiful five-star hotel after a long journey from Japan. After heading out to see the sights and getting their fill of Venice, they returned to their room exhausted only to discover that something had changed. The room was different somehow, but they couldn’t tell right away because they were so exhausted from the jet lag and long trip. When they realized that the furniture in the room was arranged differently, they innocently checked the room number, only to find that they had somehow entered the adjacent room. Naturally, the furniture arrangement had the same symmetry to it as the room they were originally given. They hurriedly returned to their own room, but they couldn’t stop staring at the key and wondering just how many rooms it would open.
Luckily, nobody with the not-so-secret matching keys to my basement has gone in and stolen anything. Car theft, incidentally, is one of the common forms of robbery in Italy. There was a time when several of my coworkers had issues with it—one had their car broken into, another had theirs stolen, and so on. One day, in the midst of these repeated upsetting incidents, I headed down to the street parking after work to get into my car and go home, only to pale when I discovered that it was missing from the spot where I had left it.
“They finally got me too!” I thought. As I stood there at a loss for what to do, my coworker Francesco drove by and asked me what was wrong. “I can’t find my car,” I told him. “I guess they finally stole it like everyone else’s…” As I rambled on with my muddled complaints, I heard him ask me what color my car was. “Black,” I said. “I think I saw a blackish car,” he told me. “Go back and look. Sorry, I’m in a hurry, gotta run.” I had no memory of parking my car where he was pointing, but I felt bad keeping him when he was in a rush, so I thanked him and we parted ways. I wandered around aimlessly for a while, when it suddenly hit me where I had parked. Disgusted with myself, I headed towards my car.
I looked for Francesco’s number, thinking I should let him know that I ended up finding the car since he had been concerned about me. But I was so tired and flustered that I could only find his email address. I figured an email was better than not contacting him at all, so I sent him a message saying “Thank you, Francesco, I found my car.”
The next day, I got a message from someone unexpected. “Yuriko… thanks for letting me know… sounds like you couldn’t find your car… happy to hear that you finally found it.”
Then I realized what I had done. I had sent the email to a different Francesco! When I told my friends the story, they gave me their typical laid-back Italian advice: “It sounds like you need to take some time off and relax!”