This Week in Italy 540
[The following was found on Bob's computer awaiting publication.]
Pricey Picture Frame
In a shop near my house in the window an item caught my eye – a picture frame where the frame around the photo was covered in cashmere. I thought this rather unique and stopped in to check the price. A frame for a regular 3” x 5” photo cost 98 Euro (about $135). Now I can buy a new cashmere sweater at the local market for let’s say 35 Euro. You might say that the quality of cashmere in a 35 Euro sweater is not high, but how high is the quality of the cashmere that someone would use on a picture frame? Even if somehow the picture frame has the world’s best cashmere (doubtful), very little is needed to cover the little frame.
Balancing the Budget
As the USA has been working toward a balanced budget and national debt repayment, the main tool so far has been to cut government expenses. (In the long run I think most unbiased economists believe this effort will also require tax increases.) In Italy it is the opposite. The government has raised taxes but is very slow to cut expenses although everyone knows that the key to the problem is lower expenses because Italy already is at the limit of feasible tax rates. Why the difference? In Italy the whole economy and political structure is more dependent upon government expenditures than in the USA so it is more politically more difficult to cut expenses.
Gambling in Italy
I’ve noted before that playing the lottery seems to be more typical in Italy than in the USA. It turns out Italy is the largest gambling market in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. The New York Times published an article on growing problems of omnipresent gambling and gambling addiction addiction in Italy
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/europe/fears-of-social-breakdown-as-gambling-explodes-in-italy.html?nl=todaysheadlinesHYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/europe/fears-of-social-breakdown-as-gambling-explodes-in-italy.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131229&_r=0″&HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/europe/fears-of-social-breakdown-as-gambling-explodes-in-italy.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131229&_r=0″emc=edit_th_20131229HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/europe/fears-of-social-breakdown-as-gambling-explodes-in-italy.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131229&_r=0″&HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/europe/fears-of-social-breakdown-as-gambling-explodes-in-italy.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131229&_r=0″_r=0
Of course gambling is a convenient way to increase government revenues as are other “sin taxes” such as those on alcohol and cigarettes without raising widespread taxpayer protest.
Comparative Postal Rates
It costs twice as much to mail a letter from Italy to the USA than to mail one from the USA to Italy. For packages, however, the postal rates to Italy from the USA are noticeably higher (seem to be close to double) than those from Italy to the USA. This is true even though Italy doubled these package rates about two years ago. I think the main difference is that package rates in Italy have wide ranges; any package between half kilogram to a full kilogram might pay same rate. In USA I think the cost goes up with each minor increment in weight.
The fabric in Italian clothes seems to be generally of very good quality, but Italians will tell you that the fabric of the “good old days” was even better. I saw a friend and complimented her on attractive coat. It turns out it was her mother’s and is about 40 years old. She told me her father had a suit from which her mother used the material for a skirt after the father’s death. After the mother’s death the skirt did not fit my friend, but she recycled the material to make a vest. Over 60 years the material has seen its original use and two incarnations.
The Airplane Type Black Box – in Your Car
You get a 9% reduction to you auto insurance in Italy if you agree to install a Black Box in the car. What is advantage to the insurance companies? If there is an accident there is objective information about your speed, the lane you were in, etc. It is easier to determine who was at fault. Actual miles driven are recorded in case rates are adjusted based upon amount of usage of the car. In Italy collision insurance is almost prohibitively expensive because of the fear that drivers will purposely damage their own car to get an insurance check. The Black Box can detect the difference between damage from an accident and that self inflicted.
Addendum by special guest columnist Christopher Nordvall
What is Italian for “Kafkaesque?”
Wednesday January 8th
I arrive and the first place I went was Dad’s apartment so the police could unseal the apartment. The seal was nothing fancy, It was just a computer printout attached to the door with packaging tape. I remember the police officer apologizing to the landlady for the marks the brown packaging tape may leave on the door.
I go in and look around and in typical Dad fashion I get on the computer first and send out emails. Thankfully his hotmail account opens up automatically. I find the addresses for his newsletter subscribers and I sent out an email from his account announcing Dad’s passing.
Paolo picks me up to get some boxes from the local supermarket. I told him it was a great way to honor Dad by getting the free boxes from the market before buying any from the store. On our way back to the apartment the police call back and inform us that we are not allowed back into the apartment.
The same two policemen who came to unseal the apartment are back and say that we have wait for other detectives and officers to come before proceeding. Oh, and by the way, can we see the form you signed that when we turned over the keys to you? We need to put the time that it happened even though we are now taking the keys back. Also we need you to confirm that nothing was out of order in the apartment even though you can’t go back in and you only got to spend and hour in it before having to leave.
Now begins the waiting. As we wait we find out the reason for the resealing of the apartment has to do with the autopsy that was requested by Dad’s doctor. The hospital found what turns out later to be low-dose aspirin. The hospital could not identify the substance. It was an American, over-the-counter medication. Because the hospital could not identify the substance they are required to call the police which starts an investigation. In talking with the hospital later Paolo finds out they did try to identify the “mystery” substance by talking to a pharmacist and various doctors but because it was an American OTC medication the police were called. The lab at the hospital which one might think be able to do analysis on said “mystery” substance was not equipped to do so. There was a lab in Florence that could do it.
Nobody was exactly rushing to get to the scene. The first to arrive was a crime scene photographer who started taking pictures of the apartment. Citing a “broad mandate” the photographer took pictures of the front of the apartment building and the stairs leading up to the apartment. The other officers came and all of Dad’s medication was taken, including I noted, the fiber laxative. It felt as if I were in a bad episode of “Pistoia CSI.” I told Paolo, “If that crime scene guy uses one of those blue CSI lights I am going to scream.”
Now it was off to the Pistoia police station where the officer writes up two documents that I have to sign, one stating that I was aware of my father’s general health condition and two, a request for the judge to release the keys to me so I can access the apartment. It was noted that none of the requests were any sort of pre-printed form, they had to be typed from scratch, which took forever because the prevailing method of input was “hunt and slowly peck” method of typing. While we were answering questions and waiting for documents to be typed, Paolo lets me know that Pistoia built a new police station but because of a change in local law, money from the European Union could not be used for local municipal projects. So the last part of the new police station could not be finished and the current station was crumbling and going to collapse at some point. We were taking chances of that happening with us in the building considering how often we had to go in this building.
Thursday January 9th
I go to an appointment at the US Consulate in Florence and then a meeting at the St. James, Dad’s church. Both went well. I had some time to kill after my meeting at the consulate so I decided to walk by St. James to make sure I could find it and I walk by at the exact time that Dotty, the wife of reverend Mark, was letting someone in to discuss Sunday school stuff. I was invited in for coffee and ended up spending the entire afternoon there until my meeting with Mark. We had a great time swapping Bob stories. It is not everyday that you hear from the wife of Episcopalian minister that your father was better at telling off-color jokes that she was.
Upon returning to Pistoia that evening we go by the police station again because I can get the keys back. We go by the apartment and get Dad’s computer and the cell phone charger.
Friday January 10th
We return Friday morning to the police station because the judge has signed the release so Dad’s body can be picked up by the Italian funeral home. But there is a catch. The release only specifies that the body can be released for burial, in case the police want to perform tests at some time in the future. As Paolo pointed out the judge just signed some standard form that does not take into account the possibility of cremation. “So now they start using forms,” I think.
So I have to sign a request for the judge to modify the order so the body can be release for cremation. The lieutenant, who had a lit cigar despite the ban on smoking in municipal buildings, said we should wait there while he faxes over the request. Within a half-hour we have the modified release order and he says that if we have any trouble at the hospital we should call him directly and he would take of it.
Now we are on to the new hospital is Pistoia. A very modern looking structure but apparently it too is sinking into the ground, just we hope not today. At the morgue we learn there is a catch. I cannot see Dad because the autopsy has not been completed. When the mysterious baby aspirin was discovered the autopsy was stopped. To resume it now would require a second doctor, only one is on duty today. Another doctor was sick and another was delayed because of the rain…his roof had a leak. Paolo, who is rapidly becoming the best consigliere one could hope for, engages the hospital staff in what I like to call “Italian discussion theater.” After much hand-wrangling by the hospital staff another doctor is on the way to help complete the autopsy.
Not so fast. As a nurse pointed out the autopsy probably cannot be completed today because Dad was in freezer storage for so long, he has not had time to thaw. When the second doctor arrives, they determine that, indeed, the autopsy cannot be completed that day, but possibly on Saturday or Sunday. They do prepare him so that I do get a chance to see him, but only his face.
Saturday January 11
I meet with Dad’s coffee group in the morning and hear more great Bob stories. We stop by the tourism office to see about getting a plaque or a bench named in Dad’s honor. We meet another Paolo at the tourism office, who course, knew Dad. He suggests that he could talk to the mayor, who of course knew Dad as well, about getting one of the recently completed bike paths around Pistoia named in Dad’s honor. We all agree it is a great idea.
I call the English language paper in Florence, “The Florentine” to place an obituary. The staff member who answered the phone said, “I knew your dad.” The editor he connects me with also knew him and said that the paper was already planning to write an article about Dad for their January 16th edition. I give them details about the memorial service.
We go back to the supermarket to get more boxes. We go home for lunch and after lunch we get a phone call, this time the morgue says the autopsy is complete and will be available for the funeral home to prepare for a viewing. The hospital says Dad’s body will be available for viewing around 1630 (4:30pm). We call the funeral home. I send out a quick email, post on Facebook, and post on the website that a viewing will be available that evening and part of the next day. Dad is put back into the tuxedo that his friends sent him with. He looks quite dapper, as if he is ready to go out for a nice time.
I finally get to see him. With tears in my eyes I say to him, “You must be laughing about what I have had to go though just to see you again.”
The journey is far from over. Dad remains at the morgue until the funeral home has the appointment at a crematorium which to my surprise will be today Wednesday. The Italian death certificate has to get stamped by the Pistoia city council, at which point the funeral home can pick up and take it to the US Consulate so that I get the US Death certificates. There is also the memorial service on Saturday at St. James which can now include Dad.
There is the issue of mailing the ashes to the states. We asked the funeral home about using a courier. They ask what courier do we want to use. Paolo tells them in Italian that it is part of their job to find out which courier services can take to the ashes to the states. The funeral home says they will research it and get back to us.
All this is and more lies ahead and would certainly be material for more wry observations about life in Italy. When this journey is over what I will remember is not all these little inconveniences or frustrations, although there are plenty of those to go around.
What I will remember are the smiles and the stories. Every single person I meet who knew Dad has some funny story to tell. You can just see their face light up when they remember it. I will remember the kindness and generosity shown towards me because of Dad from staying at Paolo & Pamela’s house to the church for taking care of all the memorial details. As one of Dad’s many friends said to me, “Your Dad may have lived alone but he did not live a lonely life.” Is that not what we all hope for, not to live a lonely life?
So I hope that you will laugh more than you will cry. That is what I plan to do anyway.
Remember the stories. Remember the jokes. Remember the laughter. Remember the outlandish clothing to include, but not limited to, ties, pants (of every color and description), shoes (I just had to box 33 pairs!), and suspenders. Remember the market and thrift shop purchases. Remember the trips taken and the pictures shared. Remember the emails and blog posts. Just remember the joy and happiness Robert Carl Nordvall brought into your life. That is what he would want.
Ariverderci Dad, Italy and the world was a better, less lonely place because of you.