Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Italian Art of Parking - Part Three

Written by Karen.

This is the final segment of a three-part story.

We began walking down the street in a dazed jumble of thoughts and reactions. Adam asked rhetorically, "Can you believe it? He just ripped it into pieces!" All I could muster was, "Unbelievable!"  Adam continued unabated, "And then he crumbled everything up and threw it in the gutter!  Who does that?! "Unbelievable," I offered my contribution to the conversation.  "Unbelievable!" I could see our unpaid simple administrative, no-big-deal 28.50 euro parking ticket multiplying over time as quickly as a happy pair of rabbits.

Eventually, we came up with another plan. The Polizia. We would track down a friendly community police officer, explain our story, and ask for advice. We circled back and found the scraps of our ticket still lying in the dirty gutter.  I took a quick look around for our problem-solving friend who had taken care of our ticket.  No ticket.  No problem. But he, as well as his acquaintance - the uniformed parking enforcement officer - were nowhere to be seen.  Adam picked up the pieces - it looked as though they were all still there -  but definitely a little dirty and grimy.  "You know," I said, "our story is really unbelievable. With our lack of Italian language skills, I wonder if the police will actually believe us? Maybe there's even a fine for defacing a parking ticket?"

Starting to feel a bit uncertain, it did not take long for us to find a couple of community police officers.  One of the women spoke a little bit of English, and the other pantomimed her partner's questions.  "A man on the street tore up your ticket?"  "Who is this man?"  "Bring us to him!" they commanded.  Visions of Italy's Ten Most Wanted came to mind - add us and it's an even dozen.  

The officers began piecing together the ticket, finding the important numbers and other critical details, and warning us that it must be paid! But where? "Molto Importante", they both repeated sternly, each time looking at us seriously over their reading glasses as if we were parking ticket scofflaws!  Adam and I took turns and launched into another rendition - complete with Italian, Spanish and English words and much pantomime - of our story and that - yes! - we just want to pay the ticket! 

Finally, the answer that we had been searching for the last three hours came. The official direction from the local police officers was not to pay our 28.50 euro parking ticket fine at the bank, City Hall, post office, or some bureaucratic office down the street, but at a tabacchi located a few streets away.  

Both officers used arm gestures to help us visualize exactly which tobacco shop we should go to.  I noticed with a very sinking feeling that they were pointing in different directions.  

Adam confirmed, "The tabacchi?" Go two blocks, then right, and it's before the mercado?"

Yes, the authoritative answer has been announced.  The tobacco shop. Each police officer again pointing off into the distance in different directions.

The police officers kept the majority of the pieces of paperwork and gave us several tiny slips of paper, which they assured us was more than enough to pay the fine. Adam placed the few remaining dog-eared scraps of the ticket carefully into his jean pocket. We thanked the polizia for their advice and set off to find the tobacco shop.

Of course, we could not find the tobacco shop that they suggested. We finally found a tiny tobacco shop, full of thick pipe and cigar smoke, and the elderly lady who sat behind the counter plainly told us that she would not be taking our money since the ticket was defaced.  Her equally elderly husband spoke volumes with his body language suggesting that we take our ticket scraps elsewhere.

We had run down every possibility that we could think of to pay our parking ticket fine over the past three hours.  We were hot, hungry and frustrated. It was time to feed the parking meter again and drop off the apartment key to Isabella.  

And then, I suppose, we would have to come up with another plan to pay  this no-big deal administrative 28.50 euro parking ticket. Well, at least try and pay the fine with the remaining tattered scraps of paper that Adam was carefully carrying in his front jean pocket.

"Sorry, you have ticket on your car," Isabella helpfully greeted us when she rang the apartment doorbell and we let her back into her apartment. "I see ticket this morning. Yellow-and-white parking for people who work in Italiano governo.  No problema for me.  My car has an 'I' on the back.  I could work for Italiano governo.  Your car has a 'D' on the back of your car.  You can't work for Italiano governo." (An 'I' sticker means the car is registered in Italy. A 'D' sticker means the car is registered in Deutschland, also known as Germany.)

It was the most English we had heard her speak. Neither Adam or I could muster up a response except for "Grazie, we know we have a ticket." Isabella continued in a helpful rush, "It's my fault you get ticket. My parking place. You give me 28.50 euros plus another 3 euros for the administrative fee, and I go pay ticket for you."

Her face fell when she saw the sweaty, grimy scraps of the original ticket that Adam pulled out of his jean pocket.  "But, it's not possible to pay this.  You don't have a ticket anymore".  Her warm brown eyes brightened and she laughed, "No ticket. No problem! It's O.K.!"  

Adam gave it one final shot.  "But, we do want to pay the ticket."  He showed her the ticket number - the one that the polizia had said was sufficient to pay the fine - and slowly counted out 31.50 euros.  "Grazie, Isabella, grazie."  

We didn't get a receipt from Isabella. I believe that she will follow through on her offer to take our euros and pay our parking ticket. She seemed to think that you can pay parking tickets at the post office. But, after our experience today, I'm not really sure if anyone actually knows how to pay a parking ticket in Genoa.  

Of course, we never reached the optimum outcome that we were hoping for: an official stamped receipt stating our 28.50 euro parking fine has been paid in full.  But, we got the best outcome that we could figure out with the cards that we were dealt and the personal interactions that we had.  

We had interacted with everyday residents who at times demonstrated both ingenuity and concern that we - as visitors - enjoy their city and their way of life, and not get pulled into the perplexing web of bureaucracy that they know exists.  And to help us do that, they offered solutions that would quickly solve our problem, so we could get back to the real art - the art of living.  

The Italian art of parking?  It's creative, joyful, frustrating, messy, absurd, confusing, distressing and wonderful.  It's also life.  And how sweet is that?!

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