Rental diaries, vol. 3
Get 1 year from 27.50 €

Digital and paper subscriptions available worldwide

Subscribe now

Rental diaries, vol. 3

Tue 11 Jul 2017 7:00 AM

The Lady Downstairs is not a washed-up horror film, but a name my former roommates used when referring to Elena, guardian of the ground floor. She had an uncanny sense for when anyone was lingering at the hallway mailboxes, emerging from her cave ready to castigate.

Amber and I were her only company in the building one August night. When the power went out and we were caught without the fusebox key, we considered ignoring the problem and going to sleep. But downstairs we went, convinced a butter knife could work as a key substitute.

Not so much. My tear-smeared fingers were wedged in the crevice between the box door and the wall, while Amber maneuvered the knife in vain. Elena appeared, yelling operatically.

“My television’s gone out! What have you two done?!”

Her television always puttered out whenever there was a power issue in our apartment. This was the basis of most of our hallway exchanges, even when everything was functioning just fine. She continued.

“You’re making too much noise. What are you even doing with that wall?”

“Getting power back so you get your TV back. Please abbia pazienza, la preghiamo.

By the time we’d ripped open the wall to find a purposeless compartment and no sign of the fusebox, it was clear she’d been yelling because the switches were overhead—and unlocked.

She agreed not to rat out our wall-ripping (we patched it up nicely) if we agreed to generally be less stupid.

In the absence of Mother, The Lady Downstairs knows best.



Rental Diaries column by Mary Gray is now a book, buy it directly or on

Related articles


Forgive us our trespassing: Editor’s letter

Christmas markets, mulled wine and satirical exhibitions, such as Banksy, are plentiful this December in Florence.


La Compagnia di Babbo Natale: Santas spreading sunshine

Find out about the charitable endeavours of La Compagnia di Babbo Natale, a foundation helping those in need.


Work hard, play harder: Rob and Kim Murgatroyd

The Murgatroyds are settling into life in Florence, from buying entire new outfits to befriending their local greengrocer