Italian living isn’t all about truffle infused risotto and cappuccinos. It’s not always rolling Tuscan hills taken straight from a postcard, adorable little Fiat Cinquecentos, and bottomless grappa. Everyone once in a while there is an actual reality here.
Last week, while seeking a little RnR after Paris-Nice, I played host to a visitor on this Italian adventure in which I find myself. We truly had an amazing time and since you asked, yes we did imbibe on truffle infused risotto and seemingly bottomless cappuccinos, in addition to circuitously navigating our Fiat Panda (the car rental place was fresh out of 500s) over hill and dale all throughout picturesque Chianti. And while we’re on topic, we leaned more towards the Sangiovese than the grappa, in order to avoid being the lush of the party.
En route to the Pisa airport on the final afternoon I thought one last tourist stop was necessary and what better place than central historic Pisa and to see the leaning tower. Pisa is a walled city and we parked just along the outside of town for a quick stroll amongst the tourists before going to the airport. There was a nice 1.5-car sized spot in a convenient place, so I pulled in, then courteously backed up to remove that final 1/2 spot. In perfect Italian fashion, I thought I would allow that half spot for the next incoming scooter or person who parks nose-in, half-way into the road which is perfectly customary and acceptable here. Just throw on your hazard lights and you’ll be good for up to six hours of illegal parking!
We strolled in, saw the Leaning Tower – which you’ll be happy to know is still in fact leaning – and sipped for one last cappuccino.
This being a weekend of spring break and having heard a seemingly endless American voices all throughout our touristy week, I decided to err on the side of safety and we set off to the airport a few minutes earlier than originally planned. I’ve seen Italian airports swamped around the holidays and it’s a che casino! Walking back towards the car, I forget if my heart stopped or went from a calm 50bpm to 180 when I saw a dozen police officers, flashing lights of all colors everywhere, and a tow-truck all circling our otherwise reliable Fiat Panda.
Usually here in Italy, I like to pretend that I’m quite the local and have deep conversations in my nearly fluent Italian. This, however, was a case of pleading the ignorant Americano. “Mama Mia! Officer, no I didn’t know that I was blocking someone’s garage door! Pardon my ignorance and please let me go on my merry way”
I kid you not, my car was literally a foot off the ground as it was being lifted by the crane onto the back of the tow-truck. Yeah, MID-air. Thank the good Lord that I was erring on those few extra minutes of safety to get to the airport or in those few minutes the car would be entirely missing and off to the impound. Continuing my idiotic American schtick – which I suppose in this instance is perfectly accurate – the friendly police officers somehow convinced the tow-truck-man that my car should be on the ground and neither in the air nor on the back of his truck. Meanwhile, the old man who’s garage I was blocking didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry either, so with the exception of a 39 euro parking ticket, life was once again gravy.
Now it’s simply time to pay the parking ticket. Let the real headache begin.
“Pardon me officer, how do I pay the ticket?” Three cops converged and proceed into a lengthy argument about how to accomplish this seemingly mundane task. They settled on going to any Tabaccheria – which is equivalent to an American corner convenient store – is the easiest way to pay up. They pointed me to one down the road and “around the corner near the photo shop.” Those were explicit enough instructions for me, so after a couteous drop-off at the airport, I was en route to being free and clear of this parking debacle.
The first tabaccheria proprietor “around the corner near the photo shop” caught a glimpse of my ticket and immediately said No! This first tobacco shop owner then pointed out that I need to go to a tabaccheria that sports the Lotto national lottery system. Okay, that makes sense. I’m paying a fine to the state and therefore paying at an establishment that does state-benefitting-lottery seems perfectly apt. Tabaccherias are as common here as bakeries and butcher shops – that is to say, there are about three on every single block. However, two more tabaccherias later and two courteous denials later, I was beginning to scratch my head.
I thoroughly read the back of the ticket and I learned that I can pay this fine at Lotto endorsed tabaccherias (or so says the ticket), as well as three different banks in Lucca or at the post office. Anyone who has read this blog or my twitter with any regularity knows that Italian post offices and I get along like oil and water, so having struck out now at three different tabaccherias, I’m ready to try the bank.
Feeling lucky, the next day I swing through just one more tabaccheria on the way to the bank. I try this ticket just one more time, and after one much more cautious denial, the friendly clerk goes well out of her way to look up how to assist me, before saying, “No, I cannot help. Try the bank” Okidokie Smokey.
The bank opens at 8:20am. But that’s 8:20 here in Italy so it’s closer to 8:30am. It’s a very bad omen when I show up at 8:16am and there are four people in line ahead of me. Ahh, correct that, five people. Inadvertently being polite or maybe looking for a bit of good karma, I open the door to let another patron pass ahead of me so I stand listlessly in sixth place. Anyway, I wait and wait. And wait. And wait. Conventiently I hear the customer two ahead of me speaking about multa, which is Italian for fine. Mind you, I have no idea if I’m in the correct place any more than thinking I’m in the correct place by going to the half-dozen tabaccherias previously. Heck, I could open my own smoke-shop if I had purchased a few cartons at each tobacco shop I’ve visited already.
But hearing multa makes me giddy with excitement and it’s only about fifteen minutes later when I find myself face-to-face with the kindly bank teller. I whip out my parking ticket and before I can even utter a word I hear the cutting and indisputable utterance of, “No.” I am so nearly defeated I want to cry. Maybe this is why Italy is in an economic crisis – if everyone who has a parking ticket would actually pay them, this country would be leading the global economy. Some further extrapolation from the languid bank teller enlightens me that neither this nor any bank will be able to appease my ticket-paying need – despite what the ticket itself actually says – and that I should go down the street to our friends at the post office. The dreaded post-office that consumes time in the same quantities that a dragon breathes fire. Uugh.
It’s around about ten in the morning at this point so I need a coffee. I know that going to the post office is sometimes an all-day affair and a caffeine jolt is just what I need to make this otherwise crappy morning a success.
I enter the bank with the chipper giddiness of a well caffeinated youth seemingly defeated by 48 hours of futile bill-paying. When you enter an Italian post office you punch a button on a machine which immediately spits out a piece of paper with a sequential number on it, much like an American deli counter. Although instead of the straightforward simplicity of one number, you have the Italian disarray of three letters preceding a series of numbers. There is a woman scurrying about the post office lobby and I quickly explain my conundrum and without a word she punches a button for me and hands me my number. A007.
Convinced that fate is finally on my side, immediately after taking a seat eight people separately walk into the post office and punch the wait-in-line-paper-producing button. Suckers. Ha ha A015 (…or E149?!), I’m wouldn’t sell my piece of paper to you for the world! I’m being serious here, if you ever walk into an Italian post office following seven other people, just give up. Go home. ‘Cause you may have all afternoon, but the post office will definitely close before you get your chance at the head of the line.
Fast-forward a half hour and there I am face to face with the post office woman. At my wit’s end, honestly not having any idea what to do beyond this point, I silently hand her my ticket. She smiles, asks what town I’m from for clerical purposes, I explain briefly my situation, she compliments me on my Italian, and requests 39 euro. The weight of the nation – the Italian nation – is immediately lifted off my shoulders. Even though I’m sure I’m the first person to pay a parking ticket in this country in more than a decade, just knowing that I’m no longer indebted to the Italian police or parking agency makes me want to weep with joy.
Her next words while handing over my receipt are, “You will want to keep the paperwork with you for a minimum of two years. Sometimes this doesn’t get processed correctly and they may come after you looking for the payment.”
Just another day in the life.