Sunday, March 02, 2008


For all the years we’ve lived in Italy and all the time we vacationed here before, we’ve never run into the dreaded Guarda di Finanzia, the police who check to make sure you have a receipt when you leave a store or restaurant. What they’re really checking for is to make sure that the shop has rung up the sale, thus generating a record and ensuring that taxes will be paid. We’ve had shopkeepers run after us to make sure we had our receipt, even it was just for a bottle of water. Apparently the Guarda di Fianazia are not to be messed with!

So, fast forward to last week, when Belinda and Giacomo told us that our favorite pizzeria, Nestor’s, down in Marsciano, was going to move! Since we hadn’t been there for a few weeks it was the first we’d heard about the move, and of course we were concerned and confused. The reason for the move was supposedly because of new air pollution regulations requiring special filters for wood-burning ovens. Of course Nestor’s has a wood-burning oven, but we didn’t know who was responsible for the chimney. Belinda and Giacomo thought they might relocate to somewhere in the country, which wouldn’t be nearly as convenient for us, or any of their many, many regular customers.

I’d wanted to go to Nestor’s for our anniversary last weekend, but Art wanted to go to Angelino’s. When he happened to run into Angelino one day, and Angelino asked “How come I haven’t seen you for a while?”, Art told him we’d come up that weekend to celebrate. Since we didn’t know when Nestor’s would close for their move, we thought we’d better get down there ASAP, so tonight was the night.

I asked Mara if it was true they had to move, and she said yes. I asked if it was because of the new law but she said, no, they were moving because they’d been unable to come to an agreement with Pino, the former owner. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll remember that the pizzeria used to be called Ternana’s and was owned by Rita and Pino. We stumbled upon the pizzeria just four days after our move to San Venanzo, and it's been like a second home ever since. The Testatonda family had treated us so kindly, and when Mara and Giuseppe took over the pizzeria two years ago they were every bit as warm and welcoming.

Mara explained that they’d just been unable to come to terms with the Testatonda’s. The bank wouldn’t lend them what they needed to meet the asking price, and the counter-offer they’d made to the Testatonda’s was rejected. Mara said tonight was their last night! Sad as that was, we were both glad we’d decided to come.

Pizza and WineWe each enjoyed a pizza, and saved the leftovers in a box to take home. We had a bottle of water, a ½ liter of wine, and Mara brought some sweets with Art’s coffee. When it was time to go there were tears in Mara’s eyes. She’s put so much of herself into the pizzeria, and moving, even if it is just down the street, will be hard. I’m not even sure there will be tables at the new place….it looks pretty small from the outside. (BTW, it’s going to be right across the street from the hospital in Marsciano, right next to the small parking lot.)

So that was it. We thanked them for all their kindnesses and wished them well. They told us they hoped to be up and running in about two months, so we told them we’d call when we got back from the states. Once we were out the door Art told me that Giuseppe wouldn’t take any money for our dinner! Knowing that they’d be out of business at least temporarily, I felt terrible, but Art told me Giuseppe said the pizzas were their gift to us.

As we walked down the street to the car, two men stopped us and asked how much the pizza cost. Thinking they wanted something to eat, I said about €12. “Twenty euro?” they asked. No, much less than that we said….twelve, not twenty. And then it happened. One of the men flashed a badge and announced “Guarda di Finanzia”, and asked if we had a receipt. We explained that no, we didn’t…that it was the last night of the restaurant, that we were friends of the owners, and that our pizza had been a gift for being good customers for so many years. Although I can’t tell you exactly what their response was, I can tell you that it wasn’t good.

One of the men walked back to the restaurant and returned with Giuseppe. He told the same story we’d told, but apparently it wasn’t good enough. Mara came out, and was obviously upset. Although Giuseppe may have known what was coming next, we had no clue. One of the officers asked if we had our documents, and Art pulled out his Carta d’ Identita. The men started walking back towards the pizzeria and indicated we should follow.

The officers then took out an official looking pad of paper, and I asked if we were getting a ticket…a multa, I think it’s called. We were told no, but still, what was it they were writing, and why? And what would happen to Giuseppe and Mara? Would they have to pay a fine? I tried to explain that when they asked me what the pizza cost I thought they were just curious, maybe looking for someplace to eat. I felt as if the whole thing was my fault, that if we’d said the pizza was a gift in the first place we could have avoided all this, but Giuseppe assured me no, that wouldn’t have made any difference. Apparently when you have a business you’re just not allowed to make any sort of gift.

Once the man had finished with Art’s identity card he handed it back and dismissed us with his only English: “Byebye”….indicating we should go. I asked again if we had to pay a fine but was told no. I’m sure he was tired of hearing all four of us protest, explain and complain, but at least he kept his temper. If one or both of the guarde had been arrogant and/or hot tempered, things could have gotten really ugly really quickly. That’s about the only nice thing I can say about the men….they were both very patient and very even-tempered. They never raised their voices to us, or acted in a threatening manner. Everything was handled very matter-of-factly, but the very idea of it was so upsetting.

Mara and Giuseppe both tried to reassure us that it wasn’t our fault (and Giuseppe once muttered “This is what I get for being a nice guy”), but still, we felt responsible. Would a different answer have changed anything? Had we handled the situation incorrectly? And in the end, what would it mean for Giuseppe and Mara? Would they have to pay a fine? Could they challenge the fine? Of course we don’t know the answers to these questions, but hope to find out more details in the next few days.

Before we left the pizzeria I took a few pictures and a few quick movies. As soon as I’ve uploaded them I post them here. For now, we’re both sad and mad. We’re glad we made it in time to say goodbye, but very upset at how the evening ended. And that’s how a sad evening got even sadder.

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At 3/03/2008 03:56:00 AM , Blogger Bryan said...

Giuseppe does something nice for you and you try to be helpful to someone you think is looking for information - then it creates this headache. I would be curious what happened with Giuseppe after you left.

At 3/03/2008 10:47:00 AM , Blogger erin said...

oh, I'm so curious to know what happened after you left. You'll have to update us. We (knock on wood) haven't had any run-ins, but have heard the stories.

At 3/03/2008 11:16:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

After telling the story to several Italian friends, they all say we were very lucky not to pay a fine, and that most certainly Giuseppe and Mara WILL have to pay afine....and that their books may now be examined for other discrepencies! Also, some of our friends thought it was rather odd that the guarda di Finanzia were out at such a late hour, on a Sunday evening, in such a small town....some have suggested that maybe they were 'sent' by someone. I'm sure we'll never know for sure, but even for the fine, we hesitate to ask Giuseppe and Mara, not wanting to re-open the wound!

At 3/04/2008 01:21:00 AM , Anonymous Jane said...

I am so sorry for your friends as you describe them as such nice people. I hope that it works out OK but am afraid it won't. We were stopped one lunch leaving our favorite little enoteca in Greve but fortunately Ken had the receipt in his wallet. We had a few anxious minutes while he searched for it. We would have hated to cause problems for our friends. Some people don't believe this happens and laugh but clearly it does.


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