It is just our second summer, and it’s the first time we are having guests at the old farmhouse in Le Marche that my husband Jesse and I have restored. Though the house isn’t quite ready for prime time – it still looks like a construction site and is really pretty empty – our respective sisters and brothers in law want to see it for themselves, as much to wish us well as to confirm their opinion that we are crazy reckless to have done this.
There are about a week’s worth of things to do in our small town – a day at the beach, an afternoon at the public pool, visits to the market, lunch under the oak tree every day, lots of meals in and meals out, chatting with friends at the bar. Also it’s common in our area to take visitors shopping to the designer outlets near Civitanova Marche, and we’ve never done it. There are loads of designer shoes, sweater and clothing stores where allegedly the prices are excellent, tempered of course by the exchange rate. My sister in law proudly claims to have some 20 pairs of Tod’s driving shoes in her closet, but hungers for the next bargain at the Tod’s Outlet. And my brother in law Nick would never pass up the chance for a pair of Fratelli Rosetti’s. After a morning at the outlets and no bargains to show for it, we take the relatives to Macerata, the capital of our province, so that they can see one of the larger towns near us, view the majestic Sferisterio, an XVIII century opera arena, and the gracious upper and lower squares of this ancient town. There is praise for this beautiful city and complaints about the hill climbing and eating too much gelato, and then we pile into our two cars to head home. These are the days before we all have GPS on our phones, and I ride with Jesse and the map in the front car in order to navigate. Nick follows.
Just as we are about to leave town, two carabinieri with the red STOP side of their lollipop signs facing us, motion us to the side of the street (they’ve gotten two for the price of one, since Nick’s car pulls in behind us). The female officer is quite stern and requests our documenti. Jesse, who has foresight about these things, has gotten an international drivers license before we left New York, and hands it to our poliziotta (police woman). She and her male partner take this to their car and pore over it for what seems an inordinately long time, examining it carefully and nodding solemnly to each other. Finally, he strides back to our car, peers through the window at us, hands the license back to Jesse and says tentatively in a lilting accent: “Florida?”
“No, no, Brooklyn… the license is issued in Florida, but we’re from Brooklyn.”
Trying to be as friendly as possible, I chime in: “Yes, there are many Italians in Brooklyn. Do you have family there?”
“No, not in Brooklyn, but she has a cousin in Canada.”
“Ah, yes, Canada, it’s not far.” We lie.
“Brooklyn, it’s nice?” He asks.
“È fantastico – Jesse says – Ma mia moglie ama molto i fichi…” (this is a phrase we’ve learned from studying Italian through the Pimsleur method, a series of 60 lessons on cd that we study religiously. The Pimsleur phrase is actually mia moglie ama molto i fiori, but being clever Americans, we make the more practical leap to figs)
“… e non ci sono fichi a Brooklyn (there are no figs in Brooklyn) so we’ve bought a house in Le Marche…”
“Ah, fichi, vi piacciono fichi?” (Ah, you like figs?) Now this carabinieri is a big beefy man, not fat, but plenty intimidating. He’s wearing a hat like a Texas ranger, and he’s trying hard to impress upon us the gravity of our situation as established by his more serious female partner, who we now see is starting to feel a little useless as she tries to overhear our conversation, blocked by this plus-sized man. But at the mention of figs, his irrepressible good nature can no longer be contained. He smiles a wide, embracing smile, revealing an endearing space between his front teeth, and launches into a long description of the figs near his house, how they generally fruit twice each season, but the second fruiting is not nearly as sweet, how they are best when just plucked from the tree and eaten at once warm from the sun, asks where we live in Le Marche, how old our trees are, and advises us on the correct combination of water, sun and fertilizer.
After much handshaking, a few shoulder slaps and a patient smile from the carabiniera – this is likely not the first time her good natured partner has foiled some healthy intimidation with jovial conversation – we part good friends with directions on which signs to follow to get back to our town. I run back to Nick’s car to let our bewildered relatives know that all is well, no one’s been arrested or detained, and we’re free to go. Unfortunately, the directions out of town are wrong, or maybe we’re just too incredulous at this incident to pay proper attention, and we wind up in some lush farmland on the opposite side of town from the superstrada (highway). We circle back into Macerata and find ourselves at the same point where we’d been stopped. We never did understand why we’d been halted, and the carabinieri are no longer there, possibly having filled their mysterious quota for the day and gone to the bar for an aperitivo…
Furthermore, there was the story of the considerate thief. The considerate thief came to our house while we were in New York. He did not break into the house but, instead, broke into an area we call “the bunker” at the side of the house where we store gardening soil, leftover tiles, charcoal for the grill, brooms and tools. This area is closed off with a big iron gate, like you might find guarding the entrance to a dungeon. The considerate thief neatly removed the hinges from this immense iron gate, leaned it forward and stepped in, helping himself to the chain saw that a friend had given us. What he didn’t realize was that this chain saw was broken and James had given it to us saying: “Here, have this broken chain saw. Get it fixed if you like, I’ve got a new one.”
The considerate thief filled the chain saw with gasoline and then realized it didn’t work. So he brought it back, returned it to its place in the bunker and took our wheelbarrow instead. Time to file a denuncia (statement) thought Jesse, and he gathered up his courage to approach our town’s two part-time carabinieri as they were leaving the bar after a coffee. Jesse began to explain that we were the Americans who live down the hill on the other side of town, to which they replied: “We know who you are.” The situation was explained in broken Italian peppered with broken English – the concept of a steal becoming clear to the carabiniere when he related it to the basketball move. The denuncia – a word I love since it conjures an official denouncing of one’s enemies – was filed, the wheelbarrow has not been recovered, our tools now have yellow spray paint on them, and we continue to hope our stuff will be safe since we’re only there a few months out of the year. Where do these reports go? Who knows. But we like to think in this case, and hopefully others, the law is on our side.