Tax evasion has become a major problem for a cash strapped Italian Government though there are people who claim it’s an honorable blood sport tradition that goes back to the Etruscans. A few weeks ago Prime Minister Prodi suggested that rather than issuing Ten Commandments for Driving and involving themselves in the legal debate over common-law/same-sex marriage, Big Ben and the Boys (aka The Church of Rome) would do better to preach a few sermons on not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. He said that tax evasion is, after all, a form of theft and forbidden in that earlier set of Commandments. For his pains he was branded anti-clerical and told that the State should stay out of the affairs of the Church – though given their activities during the same-sex marriage debate apparently the reverse does not apply. His predecessor, Mr. Berlusconi – that great upholder of all of the Commandments, except it appears that one about Adultery – accused him of attempting to introduce communist ideas into the doctrine of Holy Mother Church. My father always told me it was Christ who did that but….
Tax collection and evasion has led to the creation of an incredibly large bureaucracy including a branch of the military: the Guardia di Finanza. These official looking gentlemen in their tight gray trousers, gray shirts with gold braid and smart caps are involved in customs, duty collection, and tax evasion big and small. And it often seems they go after the small with more dedication than the big. When you make a purchase in any establishment – whither it be a cappuccino or a new Lamborghini – you must be issued a receipt and when requested must present it to a member of the Guardia who may just happen to be lurking outside. If you don’t have a receipt both you and the shop owner are subject to an immediate and sizable fine.
As I was heading to the Embassy to check my e-mails yesterday – need I repeat still no Internet at home – I came across a small scene, the sort that makes life here interesting, between the G di F and a very attractive lady of a certain age. The two officers, like nuns they always come in pairs and they seem to do this stud cop-dud cop thing, are obviously challenging her on a purchase. She, well-tanned, dark-eyed, and of voluptuous figure, is wildly contesting the accusation being leveled at her. Stud Cop is just standing back surveying the scene and scenery while Dud Cop is sourly reading her the riot act. Broad gestures, much drama, rapid dialogue – Stud Guardia nods sympathetically and Dud Cop scowls. At that point I continued on my way, but I have a feeling Stud Cop’s Christian charity and love of God’s creatures would prevail and the miscreant would get of with a warning from Dud Cop. Not sure if that constitutes mixing Church and State?
23 agosto – Santa Rose di Lima
Our friend Betty Jean donated plants from her terrrace when she was moving. I’ve never had much luck with hibiscus but this one seems healthy and is now on its second set of blooms in a week.
23 agosto – Santa Rose di Lima
We had dinner on Sunday night with old friends of Laurent’s: Gülay, Julien and Elizabeth. He met Gülay and Julien when he was posted to Jordan. Over the years they have kept in contact from their various postings through the world. Laurent attended their wedding in Istanbul, visited them in London, they’ve visited him with their daughter Elizabeth in Beijing. They were returning from holiday in Tuscany and stopped off to say hello, meet me for the first time and show Elizabeth a bit of Rome.
At dinner Elizabeth – who is six years old – amused herself by drawing pictures of those present. When I thanked her for not showing my gray hair she stated the obvious: That’s because I don’t have a gray pencil!
22 agosto – Santa Maria Regina
Lynette was asking if Laurent (I thought I’d include a picture of my Lione with a Lione at Villa Borghese) and I were on our honeymoon here in Rome and as romantic as it would be to say yes, I’m afraid the answer is no.
There has just been too much going on over the past few weeks. We’ve been dealing with the following, in no particular order:
- A new dwelling – a very nice apartment in a lovely area but with its problems (more about that in another post.
- A new neighborhood – where do you find what?
- A new currency – those Euro coins are confusing as is any monetary system when you’re not use to it and we really have to stop thinking that 1 Euro = 1 CAD.
- New Kitchen appliances – as silly as it sounds European washers, dryers etc are very different from their North American counterparts. You have to remember to dump the water out of the dryer when a cycle has finished or it will overflow. It takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to dry a small load and it’s often better to hang things out on the balcony to dry in the sun.
- Laurent is trying to adapt to a new work environment – office set-up, colleagues, system, type of cases etc. That has put a great deal of stress on him and he is handling it well but ultimately we are here because of his work.
- A very complex but efficient, public transportation system. We don’t have the car yet – and honestly the thought of driving in Rome has me a bit scared but we’ll leave that for another time. So far we’ve been able to get most places quickly – but then it is Ferragosto.
- Ferragosto! (see almost every previous posting)
- Language – see below
- Only part of our belongings are here – Laurent’s air shipment arrived from Beijing but the two sea shipments (including most of my clothes) won’t be here until some time in late September. However we seem to be able to survive on what we have. I do a bit more laundry than normal but still have a clean shirt every day so I suppose I really don’t need a two-week supply of Land’s End Polo Shirts. And we’ve had people over for dinner twice since we arrived so it is possible to cook without that set of graduated French White casseroles!
- A minor thing but a very different television system – did you know that out of 898 possible channels 1/3 are in Arabic, at least 150 are sex related – including 15 in Arabic! And I must do a post about Italian TV at some point – it’s hilarious.
- We are trying to get to know each other and live with each other after three years apart.
And it’s that last point that probably is the most demanding – all the rest is inconsequential. There have been no great spats – well okay one… alright two – just that we are both use to living on our own and having things our own way. After all, despite what Laurent says, I’m the one who knows the correct direction to insert the toilet paper roll! And toothpaste tubes where given lids for a purpose.
But Odd Couple comedy routines aside it’s the adapting to each other’s rhythm that is creating the greatest challenge. Knowing when a silence simply means there’s nothing to say and when it means there’s a problem. I’ve lost count of the number of times either one of us has said: Everything okay? And got the reply: Yeah, Why? But fortunately those episodes are becoming fewer and fewer as the days go by. We are still able to finish each others sentences and often requests only have to be half-voiced to be met. A few more weeks and we should be into the same routine as any old married couple.
As for a honeymoon, well we have two long weekends coming up – Labour Day in September and Canadian Thanksgiving in October – and maybe a weekend at an inn in Tuscany may not be a bad idea. We are heading to Parma for the Verdi Festival at the end of October. We’re planning to stay at an Inn run by the great – now retired – tenor Carlo Bergonzi and his son. Word has it that it is comfortable and has an extremely good restaurant. So we can mix music, food and a chance to see the countryside around Parma.
22 agosto – Santa Maria Regina
There are many countries where language is not a problem for Laurent or I – the U.S., England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain, France. Sure there may be the occasional problem understanding quaint local accents and idioms and often the natives have trouble understanding our mid-Atlantic or Québécois accents – though in the case of the later its mostly done to let you know that you are from a former colony (lost to Britain back in 1763) and therefore your French is inferior to the nasal, English-laced, honking of the average Parisian. But we can get by.
Here in Rome it has become obvious that getting by just won’t do, learning Italian is a must. In the major tourist areas English may be the lingua franca but here in Nomentana it’s Italian. Not that anyone is obnoxious about it – we’re in Italy not France – just that the average person here doesn’t speak English. I do have some vocabulary based on years of listening to opera but the chances of having to scream Ohime and faint into the arms of a fat tenor or husky barihunk (Ohime!) are extremely remote. Laurent has Spanish and there are enough similarities that he can get by for basics. But we are going to be here for four years and frankly Sunday night when we had to explain to the maid upstairs that water from her flower pots was cascading onto our balcony and soaking our guests, basic wasn’t enough.
So starting next Monday (27 agosto – Santa Monica) I will be spending four hours a day, five days a week in a classroom – Laurent will be taking a more intensive course in late September. At the moment we are five in the class – two young girls from Africa, a French chap, an Iranian woman and I. The school, Ciao Italia, has a good reputation and has come recommended by several friends and colleagues. We’ll see how good they are – if they can teach this old dog some new linguistic tricks they are good!
21 agosto – San Pio X Papa