Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pope Benedict, Beatrix Potter and the broken boiler

I had a really nice dream about Pope Benedict the other night. I thought I'd share, (since I'm nervous and babbling senselessly in front of the whole internet world is a good stress reliever).

I dreamed that he came over, in disguise wearing a grey suit and tie ... but of course, a really, really nice suit ... to help me fix my hot water heater.

This is the hot water heater that helps to remind me that I'm still living in Italy. I have a really nice apartment in which nearly everything works nearly all the time, the neighbours are very nice and hardly crazy at all, and it's close to the beach and the train. But the hot water heater is probably as old as I am and we have had the fixing guy in about seven times since I moved in last June.

It is a crucial piece of equipment since it not only provides hot water for showers and whatnot, but runs the heat for the apartment by some magic process involving steam and radiators. After I spent the first four months without hot showers (it was OK since it was June, July, August and September, months where no non-schizophrenic person takes a hot shower in Italy) it has worked most of the time. But it's touchy and takes practice and delicate handling to operate. Every now and then its pressure dial rockets way up into the red and it starts gouting steam and pouring water out its lower extremity.

At moments like this, I have learned not to panic. At first I would call the landlord who would call Giampietro the technico and I would spend a day at home dumping out buckets of water while Giampietro went out to buy a new valve. Nowadays, I know to just calmly shut the water off, dump the buckets and wait. It invariably starts feeling better after a day or so. This, I have learned is the Italian Way. "Don't Panic" should be written in large friendly letters up and down the length of the Boot.

Aaaaanyway, I had this dream where the boiler started getting its usual upset tummy and a bunch of friends were over and everyone was fussing over it. We couldn't reach either Luca or Giampietro and no one could shut off the water valve. Then the doorbell rings and it turns out to be Pope Benedict. Everyone is very pleased to see him and he offers to take a look at the boiler.

He peers into its depths and says in his nice German accent that it probably needs a new valve. I said that I knew where there was a good ferramenta but I didn't know enough Italian to ask for the right kind of valve. He says, "It's OK, I speak Italian, I'll go with you. And I've got my driver here so we can all go together, then we can get some lunch." Everyone thought this was a great idea and we all piled into our new friend's very large and fancy car.

We went to the ferramenta, but, it being Italy, when we got there although the doors were open it was pretty close to riposo time. We went in, and the pope asked for the valve and the guy went into the back to get it. But he never came back. It was riposo, you see, so, like the Coyote and the Sheepdog, when the riposo whistle blows, all work in Italy stops instantly, no matter what. Even if the pope is in your shop asking for a boiler valve.

We waited around for a while, but eventually it became clear that the guy had gone home for lunch. Pope Benedict, having lived in Italy for years, said not to worry, this was just how things are here. "We should go to lunch and come back later."

We got back into the car and went to Bettolino, our favourite seafood place in Santa Marinella. While in the car, I noticed that the pope was wearing very interesting glasses. They looked very expensive and seemed to be made of enamel with little tiny pictures on them. I complimented him on his glasses and I could see that the little pictures were all from Beatrix Potter stories, Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, Jeremy Fisher et al.

The end.



Robert said...

Can I dare to be pedantic, since as an incorruptible grammarian you might be interested enough not to be annoyed?

I used to sell water heaters, and the redundant expression "hot water heater" has always driven me crazy.

HJW said...


You're exactly correct.

But it's a heater that heats up hot water...

no wait...

It's a heater that heats up water to make it hot, therefore, a hot water heater.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know if I dare to get Freudian here, but it seems obvious that you’ve been concerned about the (ahem) “plumbing” recently. If none other than the Vicar of Christ is helping to find a solution, that’s got to be a good thing. Good luck with your “verdict’ at the hospital.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


fairly plausible.

But where does Mrs. Tiggy Winkle fit in?

Anonymous said...

If I hadn't today already encountered allusion to Dante's Beatrice I might not make much of B16's Beatrix Potter glasses in your dream.

(And in NYC a hot water heater may well be stolen property.)

Great story. I'm still praying for you Hilary. My father just had surgery for a kind of "plumbing cancer" last week, and he's been dreaming a lot too.


Anonymous said...


Good question. I didn't have any thoughts about the Beatrix Potter characters, but since you asked I'll venture a guess. Maybe it's a recollection of the comforts of childhood, before one ever contemplated mortality, or worried much about sickness.

I get flashes of that state of mind whenever I walk into an old church. There's something about the light through stained glass windows, and the smells of old wood, candle wax, incense, marble, (does marble smell?) and even holy water, that brings me right back to peaceful childhood memories.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Hilary Jane:

Just wanted to wish you good luck on your interview with the doctors. Hope all turns out well. Will pray for you.

Sincerely, Sean

Anonymous said...

The dream definitely means good
providence.Beatrix Potter and her characters call to a perfect innocence and majical land where everything seems to run well in beauty and life. That Pope Benedict fits in with Pope Benedict's desire for truth and beauty. May you fare well.
Lauren Margaret

Unknown said...

I'm going to pretend this really happened

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Fern, it's like we're sharing a brain.

Steve said...

Every now and then its pressure dial rockets way up into the red and it starts gouting steam and pouring water out its lower extremity.

I was just thinking. Maybe it's not a hot water heater at all, but rather an antiquated espresso machine.

Does it by any chance look like this?