Donald and Mimi in Italia, 2001

The great car adventure; or All about Italian bureaucracy or
i carabinieri a Sersale sono molto gentili

We stayed for a week in Sersale, about which I will describe later, but I will start with this little adventure. Please remember in Calabria, there has not been much of an emphasis on learning English, and actually, most of the Calabrese WE spoke to didn’t speak Italian as their first language either, so communication was always a challenge. I had been assured that all over Italia, the main language is Italian. Whoever said that hasn’t been to Sersale. Even teenagers speak Dialect first, Italian second.

Fiat Punto, our rental car
Our cousin Adrianna had showed us a good place to park our car, behind her house, but as in any tight spot, if you don’t get there early, you will not get a parking space. We went to another town in Calabria, Tiriolo, for the day, and got back about 1130pm. There was no parking around my cousin’s house, so we parked in the town square, in a legal parking space. We were both tired and cranky, and were discussing who should carry what as we got out of the car. Apparently we had either left the car unlocked or the window open a crack.

The next morning we got up, walked over to where the car had been, and IT WAS GONE! As we stood there with our mouths agape, two guys came out of a building and asked “Are you the americani? was that YOUR car? The carabinieri have your car! the Sportello was open!”

We continued to be stupefied, so the guys felt sorry for us, and drove us down to the station, about 2/3 of a mile down the hill from the town. After ringing a bell in a cute little archway, a very relaxed (and un-policeman like) officer invited us into this apparently empty except for him large building. Oh yes, we have your car. Well, no it’s not here, we have it somewhere safe, but we have all of the things that you left in it, including two camera cases and only one camera, do you have your camera? yes. So it was determined that nothing was stolen, so why in the heck did they take the car? oh yes, the sportello, it was open. Now I thought sportello meant window so we were irritated that they would tow a car because the window was left open! How can we get our stuff? oh, come back at 4. How can we get our car. ? well, after 4pm, you should be able to get your car too. Where is it? oh, about 15 miles down the road! (oh great). how do we get there? take a bus? sorry, there is no bus. So the very polite and genteel officer gave us the phone number for the place that had our car, and we walked back up the hill to our cousin’s house. Now, as we entered town, we are suddenly famous. EVERYONE knows the car belonged to the Americani. Many act disgusted with the “system” for taking our car.
We called the Tow yard, and were told they would not release the car until we paid the ticket (multa) to the police and got some documenti, without which, we would not get our car back. Document? Ticket? the police officer never mentioned this stuff! So while I was trying to find someone with a car to drive us to the tow yard in Sellia, my husband, volatile at best in these situations, decided to go back to the police station!! After walking for 15 minutes, he had formulated the correct words in his head to communicate with the policeman (who didn’t speak English, but did have an Italian/english dictionary) They rapidly reached an accord, and the policeman laboriously started to type up the document, which included remarks from the dottore who reported the car to the police, and a list of the things that were in the car. It took almost a half an hour for this typing job to be completed, and when he was done, he showed it to my husband. One of the things on the list was sunglasses. Sunglasses? Donald said, We don’t have sunglasses! someone else’s sunglasses had been left in the rental car. So the carabiniere took the paper out of his typewriter, and started the whole thing over again…

Meanwhile, I continued on my quest to find someone to get us to Sellia, because we had no idea where it was, or how to get there. I finally located a cousin of mine, the sweetest guy, Pasquale Riccio, aged about 75, whose wife Angelina immediately said, of course we’ll help you, if it was us in America, you’d do the same for us, wouldn’t you?

Donald with our hero, Pasquale
Cousin Pasquale does not promise us a car, remained very vague about this, and said he’d be back. after a short time, he returned with another man, Nicola Bruno, who spoke English (to try and help us sort things out I guess). At about this time, my husband comes home victorious, with the documenti! we did not have to pay a ticket, the police said. He had two copies of the report, one stamped and sealed, the other copy for us. So we gave the document to Cousin Pasquale and Nicola, they read it , mulled over it, then they determined that after la pranza, we would go down there and get the car. Phew! The little kitchen was filled with folks, both there to help, and there to visit us for other reasons. For the rest of the week, we could hear people making comments about our car exploit.

So after lunch, Pasquale and Angelina, his wife, drive up and honk the horn of their old, tiny Fiat, and take us to Sellia. they apologized for the car, “it’s for work” he explained. We didn’t care, we would have ridden in a donkey cart if that’s what was available! We had to pay a $100 tow charge. No kidding, ouch. My cousin Pasquale clearly said to the tow guy “if I had left MY window open, you would not have towed MY car” and of course the tow guy kept saying, it was NON MIA CULPA!!! The police made me do it!

Two days later, another cousin, who runs a bar in the same little town square AND speaks English told us “I also saw the car. First the door was shut, and then the door was open…” It was clear that someone had opened the door after we were gone, perhaps an interrupted robbery. So after all the fussing about mafia, kickbacks, and so forth, the fact emerged that the police had done us a favor, after all, this particular car could not be locked without its key!
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