Springtime is my absolute favorite time of year. The air is perfumed by the acacia trees which are in full bloom. I’ve planted my window boxes, my lemon and orange trees are just beginning to flower. I love sitting out in my garden for breakfast, sipping my fake coffee (I had to give up the real thing a few years ago), and doing my word puzzles. But the other day my idyll was broken by the Postina (Mail lady) bringing me two pieces of registered mail to sign. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. She comes by a few times a month bringing multe (tickets). These are normally speeding tickets. They are never mine, but since the cars are registered in my name, the multe come to me. Dante, my speed-loving compagno, has to write that he was driving the car and he has to pay the tickets. It’s annoying to me but it’s really his problem to deal with.
As usual, I opened the tickets to see what they were for. I suppose it’s possible that sometime the ticket could actually be for me. These two were very differently worded than all the other tickets I’d seen and when I looked at the penalties, I almost fainted! If paid within 5 days together they amounted to 1,000 euro. If paid after 5 days, it would be 1,500 euro! Seems a bit exaggerated, don’t you think? So I began reading. I was looking for the date and time and the street name where the infraction occurred. But I couldn’t find it. All I could find was a sentence saying that one ticket was for driving in Pistoia (our provincial capital) without insurance! What? That didn’t make sense! I never drove my cars without insurance! And the other one was for not responding to a summons to show proof of insurance that was supposedly sent to me in January of this year.
In Italy, you have to display your insurance card in the windshield. Normally, it goes in a little pocket beside the “Disco Orario” which is a little clock face with an arrow that you use to point to the time when you arrive in a parking zone where it’s free to park for some limited time. Nobody ever uses the ones in the little pocket because you can’t see the clock face from inside the car to set it. You can only see the time from the outside, so it’s pretty useless. We have another Disco Orario which is larger and can be easily set and left in the window.
Anyway, back to the multe. Now my morning is ruined and I go inside and find the stack of tickets that Dante has set aside to be paid when Equitalia, the tax collection agency, sends a notice. God forbid he should pay them before the last second! I shuffle through them thinking that perhaps I had missed seeing something that came in January. I was sure I had never seen anything that wasn’t a speeding ticket, but I needed to reassure myself. There was nothing there so I waited for Dante to get up and showed him the tickets. I told him we needed to go to Pistoia and talk to the police there. He said he would go but he was pessimistic about the outcome because he thought it would come down to a case of “he said, she said”. And, of course, the “he” is the police and they are always right. I said I didn’t care if it came to that, I’d fight it to the end. Then, reading the fine print on the back of the letter, I found the date when this alleged infraction occurred. It was back in October and must have been one of the days when Mariella and I went to talk to our publisher. I rarely go to Pistoia and on the occasions that I do, I normally drive our VW. But the tickets were for our Fiat, which was another strange thing. I thought that perhaps the policeman made a mistake in recording the license plate. Then I saw the signature of the policeman who issued the ticket and I was ready to go and do battle.
We arrived at the police station and after explaining what the problem was, the man, who originally wanted to send us to the cash window, said that the person we needed to speak with was called out for something and would return in an hour. So we went food shopping and then returned to the police station.
We met with a female police officer who surprisingly was actually quite willing to listen to the problem. I had brought my insurance policy from last year and gave her both tickets along with the policy. She looked at the papers and looked me up on her computer. She explained that the ticket was not written by a policeman. In fact, it was generated because I had entered a restricted zone where there is a camera. Now, this gets complicated, so pay attention!
Pistoia is very difficult to drive in. There are many restricted areas marked by signs with a red circle under which is written the type of restriction. There’s never enough time to read the entire sign, so, it’s possible that I could have entered a restricted area without realizing it. And cameras never make a mistake in recording your license plate so I must have been there.
According to Ms. Nice Policewoman, the camera probably wasn’t able to see the insurance card very well, so the system went on a search of Italian Insurance companies to find out who insured the car. What they found was that the car hadn’t been insured since 2010. That was the year we bought it. So then the report was sent somewhere where they decide on the fine. This must be where the policeman who signed the tickets works.
Now, the rest is a bit speculative. My cars are insured by USAA, which is a bank and insurance company located in Texas and serves the American military. I have been insured with them for near 20 years and, naturally, I pay the Italian tax and the insurance is certainly valid here in Italy. Back in January, this policeman was probably supposed to send me a letter saying to come to Pistoia with proof of my insurance within 15 days. Had I received the letter, I would have gone and avoided this mess, but it was never sent. Also never sent was a ticket for entering the restricted zone. Perhaps with all the excitement of possibly receiving 1,000-1,500 euros for the city of Pistoia, the ticket was forgotten along with the January letter. Although, it’s only 7 months, so the ticket could still be on its way!
So there was no battle. One of the very few times that I’ve become entangled in the Italian bureaucracy that was resolved quickly, without rancor and in my favor.
The bottom line—-they annulled the tickets and said they would send me a letter confirming the same. Dante was stunned!