Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Firenze: Stolen Things/Le Cose Rubate

I was so engrossed in my work that I did not even hear him open the door. “Signora?” he said softly. “Signora, mi scusa.”
I was sitting that day right where I am sitting now, impervious to the tactile world, lost in my remote work and meetings.
He was about twenty-two, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, tattoos on his arms. He was not unhandsome.
It quickly became apparent that he spoke neither English nor Italian fluently. He spread an enormous map on my work desk with some incomprehensible blue ink lines. I could barely understand him, and he seemed confused. Very confused.
It often happens in the Sprachcaffe that there are new students starting. I am here all the time; I am almost my own institution here. Monica that American who seems to work a lot. I assumed he was a new student.

He wanted to go where? To the other end of the Lungarno? What, was he walking to Pontassieve? Why?
He didn’t understand where to go. He needed to go somewhere.
I took him out to my Evita balcony as we surveyed Piazza della Reppublica together, the map still out.
By this time, Helpful Monica had a pen in hand and was explaining which bus he might be able to take to his improbable destination.
Are you sure you’re a new student? He nodded his head vigorously. But the front desk won’t help you? He smiled a broken smile that signaled his ever-deepening confusion. No, no, no help.
I took him back to my desk. He asked if he could use my laptop. He opened a new tab and found the Google translate interface. Suddenly we were typing in English and Romanian.
I need a place to stay, he typed.
I need money, he typed. Can you please help me?
Look at my son, he typed. He is in a room upstairs but we have nowhere to stay tonight.
Your two year old is upstairs alone? I asked. Alarm bells began to faintly sound.
Please help me, he begged. We have nowhere to stay. I do not know this city.
He produced a worn and dirty image of a toddler.
I fumbled for my wallet. When I opened it, a five-euro and a ten-euro note each fell out and fluttered to the parquet floor. I was embarrassed but gave him just the five-euro note.
Thank you, mamma bellissima! he started to kiss my hand.
By this time, the afternoon at the improv had been going on for at least fifteen minutes. I watched my chat windows ping and open again and again.
Come with me, he begged. Let me show you my son.
I am sorry, I said. I must work. I must work.
I walked him down the hall and to the door.
I closed it and heard it latch, and walked back to my desk. feeling very funny. What had just happened?

I went back to my desk and sat there for a few minutes, responding to messages. I got up and went to the WC to wash my hands.
On my way back, I stopped in at the salon where two wan French women lounged. The ginger one said the brunette one was very ill. They were taking a train tonight. Sssshhh, the friend was very very ill. See? She was covered in a rash. Uh, well, ok, gross. I had a conversation with Ginger. Had they seen the man? Ginger said no.
I returned to my desk. My phone. My new phone was gone. My $400 LG6. I had bought it the week before. I looked everywhere. Phone phone.
No phone.
Phone gone.

I went to the front desk to explain what happened. I was very pale, and felt shaky. How in the world could this have happened, on my second-floor euro, third-floor US office, in this ritzy address, overlooking my familiar sunny, tourist-filled piazza?
The front desk was shocked.

The next day the Romanian woman who works here apologized on behalf of Romania. She then asked me if I knew the map trick.
The map trick?
Yes, she said, they take a map and lay it on the table where you are working, then they steal everything underneath it.
A map.
She continued, they usually do it at outside cafes.
Nope. I was definitely not on guard for the map trick from my locked office high above the city.
I honestly thought he was a student.
Who tailcoats into a hotel to talk randomly to people and steal their valuables while they are talking to them?
I could not believe that I had also given him a five euro note.

Yep, looks like this should just about cover four wallets and six phones. Let’s go.

By my accounting, we are averaging at least one incident of fraud or loss every six weeks in Florence. Or in Spokane.

Jason’s bike was lifted from its parking space on Via Nazionale last fall. To be fair, he had not locked it. Everyone knows Via Nazionale is Florentine argot for Hustlers’ Alley. Shooting out perpendicular from the train station, it is a thief’s banquet of confused tourists sullenly hauling rolling suitcases along uneven flagstones, and arguing amongst themselves.

Via Nazionale

My bike lock (an expensive one) was cut and my bike stolen last December from the rail in front of our palazzo, on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (being a child of the 80s, it is really hard to not type “Collection.”)

My debit card was scammed in March, at the ATM machine next to my office that I always used. Two hundred euros. It was restored thanks to USAA, but also a very otherworldly experience. I actually stared at the paper receipt for a while and wondered why I did not have the cash in hand. Did I dream it? I had a confirmation. Where was the cash?

Our Spokane VRBO was cleaned out in July of all valuables, resulting in a police report and a significant claim. That was huge. And rattling.

And then this, with the map trick and my phone being carted off by a beggar whom I took to be a student because he was standing in my office in the language school.

I wonder when USAA is going to start asking us more questions.

I swear, years of boring life in Oklahoma and nothing was ever stolen. I bought one bike in 2004 and another one in 2007, and had them both every year we lived there.

I feel sometimes like I need a personal assistant to keep up with all this crap.

I do have a new Italian cell phone now, thanks to the helpful assistance of my husband. My T-Mobile replacement continues to wind its way through a logistics puzzle. I might have it back in hand by mid-September. If I am lucky.

We are also so careful in airports, train stations, rest stops. It rarely, if ever, occurs to me to be careful in my office. In our residential neighborhood. In a tony historic rental in Spokane’s South Hill neighborhood. At my closest, most frequented ATM.

Topics next up: Late summer’s weekend day tr
ips. The rientro scolario (back to school) song and dance for the kids. Tuscan drought. Any preference? I am happy to treat all of them.

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6 Responses

  1. How horrible for you! I would hate to be made by a jerk to be less trusting and less helpful but that is what happens!! Taking that from you is worse in a way than losing the physical objects. Boo Hiss. And a pox upon his house and his probably non existent son.

  2. I know, right? I feel so naive. I really was trying to help him. Those faint alarm bells did not even begin to sound until he pulled out the grubby picture of the kid.

  3. I hate being in that situation, feeling like its a scam but worrying that shutting it down means not helping someone who actually needs it. That's one reason I might choose to not work in a café, but working in your office didn't protect you. Ugh.

  4. They said the telecamera was not working at the back entrance where I think he tailcoated in. A new unit was purchased and is being installed soon. The back of the school is pretty much an airbnb so the people aren't students and are only short-term tourists and tend to be jetlagged, sick, clueless, or touristy, or some combination thereof. There is no way he could have ever made it past our front desk and office gauntlet.

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