Thursday, September 16, 2021

Can we survive in Montecarlo without a car? We’ll find out in October

The unpleasant discovery that the cost to rent a car in Italy has skyrocketed in the last two years has prompted me to once again consider buying e-bikes for our Montecarlo lives. I had anticipated a process of research and comparison shopping, but instead—uncharacteristically—I went home after a short conversation and medium-long test ride with a (nearly) brand new e-bike.


I had test-ridden an e-bike five years ago. An older Italian man had purchased it and didn’t like it, and he asked Franco Natali to help sell it for him. Franco let me ride it from Pescia to Montecarlo, and when I arrived dripping with sweat at my home, I knew immediately this bike was not powerful enough for me. It did get me up the hill, something our old mono-speed bikes could never do, but we were looking for something that we could comfortably ride from home to the Esselunga in Pescia or to our church in Altopascio. And, of course, back again, which is the real trick, since Montecarlo, as the name suggests, is a hill town 100 meters higher in elevation than Altopascio.

But technology has advanced, bike prices have dropped, and renting a car for two or three months will now cost us from $2,000 to $3,000. I figured that if we buy one bike this fall and then another next spring, we could save around $5,000—more than enough to buy two decent e-bikes.

A bike shop in Lucca that we used previously to rent bikes for guests has received high reviews, and the co-owners are very simpatici. Laurie is a transplanted American married to an Italian, Mauro. Both formerly raced bikes and have a ton of knowledge. Laurie is friendly, chatty and the kind of person who immediately inspires trust. She said we could easily buy a bike that would get me up the Montecarlo hill for around 1,500 euro. The current problem, though, is supply, as Covid has resulted in a shortage of parts for the factories, she said.

Laurie did have in the warehouse one 2020 Italwin, though, that had only been used as a rental a few times. She would sell it for 1,300 euros and throw in a helmet, and it would include a five-year warranty on the battery and a free tune-up when we come back in the spring. I took a test ride and came back with my mind made up.

Mauro said he would clean it up and check over all the components, and I could pick it up the next day, which I did. I took it on the train from Lucca to Altopascio, and then came the real test—Marginone to Montecarlo. I set the power to the highest setting and found I could easily surmount the incline, averaging between 17 and 23 kilometers per hour while pedaling easily, as if on a flat plane.

On via Roma, Montecarlo

For the ultimate test, I decided to ride up the wrong way on the one-way street leading to the Porta a Firenze, a steep incline, and from there try the even steeper grade up to via Roma. I made it most of the way, and to do so, I did work up a decent sweat in the 80-degree weather. Though I had to walk the last 20 meters or so, I was satisfied with the results, because I hadn’t really expected the bike to climb the steepest and roughest streets of an Italian hill town (I tried it again the next day with fresher legs and a bit more initial momentum, and I did make it all the way up).

Since we still have a car for the next few weeks, and two friends from America have just arrived, the bike won’t get a lot of use for the next few weeks. But when the guests leave, we’ll be turning in our rental car, and the bike will be thoroughly tested for the last three weeks of our current stay. If it passes, we’ll be getting a second one when we return in March.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Challenges mostly complete, we can truly relax and anticipate peaceful days

After a week of trouble-shooting, Lucy and I have begun to truly relax and experience what we love about being in Montecarlo—slow, simple and delicious food, warm weather, friendly people, creative and fascinating architecture, relaxing and uncluttered days, and the challenges and rewards of learning another language and culture.

One by one, obstacles have fallen by the wayside: parking permit obtained, utilities bills paid, gas turned back on, toilet flushes, Italian cell phones working, lost luggage delivered, house (mostly) cleaned up, flowers planted on our terrazina.

Waiting for missing suitcase.

Of these, the most frustrating was waiting for the missing suitcase. We arrived on a Friday, and the suitcase arrived on Saturday and was picked up by the courier service. Each day, we were promised delivery, and one of us had to stay home almost constantly in case the courier arrived. We didn’t have our phones working yet. Our old phone numbers had been reassigned to other people because of our long absence, and for our preferred phone plan, we had to wait until a new shipment of SIM chips arrived on Tuesday.

The courier service gave us the run-around. “We’ll check on it and call you back in 10 minutes.” No return call. Next day: “It will come today.” At 5:50 p.m. I called again. “We’ll call you back in 10 minutes.” No return call, and the office closed at 6, so there was nothing else to do but wait for the next morning. I called at 7:50 a.m., but there was no answer. I called 10 minutes later. By now, I didn’t have to give them the ticket number. They knew who I was and hung up on me. It was time to bring in the heavy artillery: Elena Benvenuti, a true force of nature.

Elena is a fiercely loyal friend, but if you are not her friend, she is simply fierce. While the lower-level employees tried to put her off, she persisted until she earned the voice of a supervisor. He first said he had been told that the suitcase had been delivered, but when assured that was not so, he turned sympathetic and cooperative.

“You should have heard me,” Elena told me later. “I was very heavy with him.” I wish I had been there, as listening to Elena negotiate is an experience worth paying for.

Lucy rejoices that jam from
Frank & Annette survived the
missing suitcase ordeal.

We were promised delivery by noon of the next day. We called several times ourselves to verify this deadline, and we received the same promise. From 8 a.m. to noon, I planted myself by the window and poked my head out at every passing vehicle. Several vans marked courier drove by. One even stopped for a few minutes and then drove on. At 11:45, Elena called and said she had been told the courier was almost there, and we went outside to wait by the door. As the clock tower was striking noon, an older gentleman in a small car drove up with a single cargo aboard—our red suitcase. I signed for it, and our long wait had ended.

We’ll never know why it took so long to arrive, or why it had been reported to the manager as having been delivered, but everything inside was in order; we were finally free to go wherever we wanted. We celebrated by going to the nursery and buying flowers, and then we took a trip to the used goods market, the cheese store and Esselunga, our favorite grocery store.

Getting the gas turned out could have been even more difficult than the luggage snafu, but once again we have Elena to thank. She called the gas company, and in a rapid-fire conversation that would have left me baffled had I made the call myself, found a quick solution. We had to go to the bank and pay the bill with an IBAN transfer, then photograph the receipts and email them to the gas company. We did that the next day, and the day after that, a technician showed up and we had hot water again—no more cold showers! We also emailed the same company the receipt showing we had paid the electric bill, because—Elena told us—they were just about to shut off our electricity as well.

I did handle the trip to the bank and phone store myself, and also the visit to the Municipio to get my parking permit, all of which required me to speak only Italian. I do much better in face-to-face encounters. Now we have a few days to fully enjoy ourselves before friends arrive on Wednesday. Heaven on earth!

I am ready to enjoy the sunset on our terrazzina with the flowers we bought at a local nursery.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Montecarlo has changed but little since we left two years ago

Dinner at the Festa del Vino, Montecarlo.
Lucy and I have missed two years of life in Montecarlo because of Covid. Well, not really two full years, because our plan for now is to live three or four months a year in Montecarlo and most of the other time in America. But
we missed being in Italy for all of 2020 and most of 2021, and that’s set back our Italian social life. It’s hard enough to develop bonds with people here with our limited contacts and language skills—not to mention that we are both introverts—but it’s impossible if one doesn’t see people at all.

The former bank across from our house.

Of course, it wouldn’t have helped much if we had been in Italy these last two years, because for much of that time, people were shut up in their homes, as we would have been as well. So in that respect, we can at least take comfort in the fact that we didn’t lose any ground by not being here. It’s as if Montecarlo was just frozen in time, while our lives in Gig Harbor basically moved ahead. We worked, we played, we visited with family and friends—outdoors, certainly—but we were never lonely or felt cooped up.

We are sad to see that the farmacia here has closed, and so has the bank and ATM that were conveniently right across from our house. Granted, the bank brought some noise and traffic, but our borgo seems less like a town without these two essential services. We are also down to one hole-in-the wall all-purpose grocery story instead of two, although that happened a couple of years prior to Covid. Fortunately, the women’s clothing store and the regionally famous shoe store survived.

Juri & Silvia outside their negozio.

The most visible change is that new restaurants have opened, the main street has become a ZTL (limited traffic zone) and many more tables for outside dining have been set up. Parking spaces have been reduced, and Via Roma is now a lively restaurant row. Another bright spot is a small women’s accessory store that has opened by the teatro—owned and operated by none other than Silvia Benedetti and Juri Nesti, our downstairs neighbors. Così Fan Tutte will be a nice place to show to our out-of-town visitors. Lucy already bought some orrechini—earrings—there.

The Trattoria di Montecarlo, ready to serve cena.

This is the first time we’ve been to Montecarlo in September, and it’s a perfect time to be here. The weather is like Gig Harbor in August—warm but not at all uncomfortable. Despite Covid restrictions, the town is still buzzing with activity, and for the first time, we were able to experience a little taste of the regionally famous Festa del Vino. Usually, this event occupies the entire town, but it was scaled back to provide more control. It was limited to three piazze, and reservations were required. Juri reserved us a space for a Sunday night dinner that included a sampling of five glasses of local wine (all refillable upon request—but it was already more vino than I have ever consumed at one meal). The exquisite five-course meal, prepared by two local restaurants, lasted nearly four hours and was worth every centesimo of the 35 euro per person cost. The ravioli was particularly remarkable, indescribably sweet and savory, but the antipasto and Italian taco were also memorable.

Check out the gorgeous antipasto!

We had our vaccination cards and temperature checked at the door upon entry. The evening was interspersed with explanations about each wine and dish, along with some guest speakers—including our neighbor, the illustrious Dottor Sergio Nelli—talking up a book on local history that is in the works.

Our progress in becoming more native is slow, and we know it will never be complete, but we feel a smidgeon more montecarlesi each time we are here. Hopefully, our progress will not be interrupted by any more anni pestilenti (years of pestilence) in the future.

Guest enjoy aperitivi during "happy hour" at Carlo IV


Monday, September 6, 2021

Life in Italy has its mundane aspects along with the sublime

What was it like to drive into Montecarlo and walk into our home after being away nearly two years? I felt an odd mixture of euphoria and depression.

Montecarlo looked vibrant and full of life, the streets crowded with tables packed with restaurant clients. The wine festival was in full swing. The weather here is perfect, sunny and in the mid- to high-70s during the daytime, perfect for outdoor dining—which is all that is permitted during current Covid regulations.

Entering our house, it looked the same, and we were reminded instantly of all the improvements we had made since we bought it in 2015—all new electrical outlets and circuits, a gorgeous wooden stairway to the attic, three operable skylights and a floor and walls in the attic, new paint in the hallway and main bedroom. The view from our terrazza is still breathtaking. The once crumbling stucco exterior has been refreshed and repainted. Our roof does not leak anymore. Our downstairs neighbors kindly left a basket of food in our kitchen with a welcoming message.

But then we started feeling weighed down with numerous problems we had to face. Calcium build-up in the water lines meant our toilet didn’t flush and the cold water tap in the bathroom sink didn’t work. The house, especially the bathroom, smelled terrible, the likely source being sewage gases coming up from the bidet drain after many months of disuse. The doorbell was inoperative, which meant we couldn’t open the door for guests without running down two flights of stairs. But we wouldn’t know if we had guests anyway, since the buzzer wouldn’t sound. This presents an additional problem, since one piece of luggage has been lost in transit and will eventually, we hope, be delivered by a currier, but how will we know when he arrives?

Our gas has been shut off for lack of payment, a byproduct of our bank account having been frozen for eight months because of my identity theft issue. Fortunately, the water and electricity were still on despite our unpaid bills (we received notice only two weeks ago that our bank account has finally been reactivated, two months after Simecom told us we were not responsible for the unpaid bills incurred by a fraudster in another city).

What else? Our Italian SIM cards are not longer valid because of inactivity, so we have to buy new SIM cards and will be assigned new phone numbers—but the phone store we use was out of cards for Digi Mobil Italia, and we will have to come back in a few days. We have no internet in our home, so we have to go to the gelateria, the library or a restaurant to make a connection.

However, this is our third day here, and the problems are gradually falling by the wayside. After I flushed the toilet numerous times, it started working properly. The doorbell didn’t work because I had turned off some unneeded circuits when we left the house two years ago, including the ones to the doorbell and oven. Running copious amounts of water down the bidet several times a day seems to have solved the odor problem. Our neighbor Juri says he will have his internet back up soon, and we can use it as we did in previous years.

And so, piano, piano (slowly, slowly), our remaining problems will get ironed out. Hopefully our luggage will arrive today, and Juri will fix his internet sooner rather than later. We will finish unpacking, we will clean our dirty floors, we will get our gas turned back on, we will hire a plumber, we will get our Italian phone numbers, we will throw out the two-year-old food in our cabinets—and we can start living la dolce vita once again. Rome was not built in a day.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Strangely enough, we did not need Covid tests—but our experience would be difficult to duplicate


After studying several documents and listening to advice from dozens of people about what we would need to travel to Italy this month, the answer is still a disappointing and inconclusive mystery. Sorry for those of you who were waiting to see a firm and final answer.

When United Airlines called a month ago to say our flight had to be changed, we opted for an overnight stay in Switzerland. While we enjoyed a nice afternoon in Zurich yesterday, I think it invalidated the chances of our situation serving as an example for other people. We were not asked to show our Covid vaccination cards when we boarded this morning in Switzerland, and to our surprise, we were not asked for ANYTHING at all when we landed in Florence. When we went to pick up our checked luggage, one piece was missing, and it took us about 40 minutes to fill out forms to have our luggage delivered to us later. By this time, all the other passengers had exited the airport, and thus we don’t know if they were asked for any documents. We just walked straight out of the airport and took the shuttle to the rental car offices.

Montecarlo, our Italian home town. It's about 20 minutes from Lucca.

It’s quite possible that the Florence airport is not following all the rules of protocol because of its small size. It only has a few direct flights from the United States, and our Swiss Airways flight was probably just considered a domestic flight from one European country to another. I really don’t know why it was all so easy, but you cannot compare our experience with other flights, especially those that are direct from the United States to one of Italy’s large airports. Don’t assume that our experience was in any way typical.

So in the end, we didn’t need Covid tests to enter, but the peace of mind we had knowing we had every document possibly required in hand outweighed any inconvenience we experienced to go get the tests. I am writing this from the sidewalk outside one of our favorite Montecarlo restaurants on a gorgeous sunny and mild Tuscan afternoon. Two months of “dolce far niente” await. Siamo contentissimi!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

On our way to Italia . . . with negative Covid results now in hand

Waiting in San Francisco United lounge.
We’re finally on the way back to our Montecarlo home after nearly two years of forced exile because of Covid-19. When we made the reservation, Covid seemed to on its way out. We were double vaccinated in early spring, confident we would be able to travel in the fall. Having sold 90 percent of our summer asphalt maintenance business (Hurrah!), we decided to leave September 1 so we could attend the last weekend of Montecarlo’s wine festa.

But just two days before our flight, headlines and our Facebook group discussions were full of information about how Italy is now requiring a negative Covid test for entry. However, we were confused. After seeing the headlines about tests being needed, we read further down in the text, and the stories seemed to say that people who had been fully vaccinated were exempt.

I posted on one of my favorite Facebook groups, “Traveling to Italy,” that we did not have time to get a Covid test and would be going with our vaccination cards and would use our Italian identity cards as backup, but the majority of the comments said we would be denied boarding if we had not been tested. We made an appointment for free King County tests and altered our schedule to drive 45 minutes to Tukwila. The tests would be administered just 24 hours before our departure, but the website promised rapid results.

Meanwhile I filled out contact forms required by United Airlines, the Italian government and the Swiss government, since we would be spending a night in Zurich. The Switzerland stopover came about when United changed our reservation about a month ago because of a problem between United and Lufthansa. After filling out the form and reading the links from both United and Swiss Air (United put us on a Star Alliance flight with Swiss Air), the information seemed to say that we were supposed to have a negative test . . . but there were exemptions, and one was for people who were fully vaccinated no more than 12 months before arrival. This exemption applied to both Italy and Switzerland.


We were not able to check in online because of the new requirements, but when we reached the United desk at Seatac airport, check-in went fairly smoothly. The attendant looked up the requirements for Swizerland and Italy and asked for our negative test results, but when I pointed out the exemptions below the mention of the test requirements, she agreed that the vaccination cards we had were sufficient. We were given our boarding passes without showing our test results—good thing, because our negative results did not come to our cell phones until we were actually in the flight waiting area.

We are currently in the United lounge in San Francisco, with a three-hour layover before our Swiss Air flight. We expect to have to show our vaccination cards again for Swiss Air, and now we have negative Covid tests to show as well.

Had I known how easy—and free—it was to get our Covid tests, I wouldn’t have hesitated when the news of the new requirements came out. It’s just that we had so many things to do before our flight—packing, preparing for our house sitters, finishing striping a few parking lots—that I considered bypassing the swabs. We might have faced having to quarantine in our home, and we wouldn’t have minded that. But I’m thankful for the warnings I received from my Facebook group, even if they weren’t completely accurate. I don’t like leaving things to chance, and now I feel completely secure that the rest of our travel will go well. We won’t have to face getting Covid tests in Italy or any additional red tape we might have faced.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Simecom lawyer says company will abandon ID fraud case!

It wasn’t wordy or dramatic, and it contained no explanations or apologies, but it covered the most essential item. Here is the latest letter from Simecom’s legal representative.

Egregio Sig. Spadoni,

Le confermo che Simecom abbandonerà la causa senza pignorare il conto corrente.

Cordiali saluti

Google translate:

Dear Mr. Spadoni,

I confirm that Simecom will abandon the case without foreclosing the current account.
Sincerely
Dott.ssa Ginevra Mizrahil

I sent a note of thanks to attorney Mizrahil and financial officer Federico Bonaventura. I will probably never know if my carefully crafted letters to Dottoressa Mizrahil helped turn the tide. It could have simply been the cold, hard facts of Rob’s forensic report.


But I like to think that my appeal to her compassion and humanity had some small effect. Thinking about this, I decided after the fact to Google her and find a photo. I also found an inspiring “Thought for the day” she posted on LinkedIn. I feel that even though the job of a lawyer is to make or save money for their clients, lawyers can also reflect on their responsibility to humankind to do what is right regardless of the financial interests of the client company.  I would rather think that Dottoressa Mizahil did not drop the case solely for financial reasons (or my hint that she and Simecom would become the villains in my blog and next book), and that she is heroic for listening to me and agreeing to drop the case.
Many managers feel they have fulfilled their
duty by providing a salary. But that's not
enough if you want stimulated and productive
collaborators: You also need to make them
feel appreciated.

All that remains is to confirm with my bank that the proper actions have been taken to truly free the restraints on my account, and then to find out if my utility bills are being paid again.

I hope that Simecom can track down the imposter, though he is probably long gone. The contract was signed in 2017. I have little doubt that I will have to battle this slippery guy again in the future.

So there will be no unplanned trip to Lucca in July to defend myself, and no all-expenses paid trip for my forensics expert. But when Lucy and I go to Montecarlo again in September (and Rob next May), it will be purely for pleasure.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Forensic examiner reports that all 13 signatures on contract are false

Here is what hand-writing expert Robert Floberg has concluded about the signatures on the Simecom contract that I supposedly took out.

Mr. Paul Spadoni of Gig Harbor, WA contacted me on 6/16/2021 and requested a forensic examination of a scanned document in .pdf form: Q1 – copy of a Simecom Utility Contract “Contratto” bearing 13 of his questioned/ostensible signatures. Mr. Spadoni also provided copies of his passport and Washington State Driver’s license for “non-requested” samples of his signature. (By “non-requested” 

this term refers to authoring a valid or holographic signature during the course of everyday business - at a time when disguise or alteration of one’s signature is not consciously an issue in the creation of the  signature.) While copies, these documents are clear and adequate for examination. 

Visual examination was made of all writing characteristics: writing size, slant, letter forms, comparative relationships between the size of the upper case to lower case letters, letter connections or lack thereof, pen pressure, rhythm, spacing, baseline relationships, tremor, pen ticks, unconscious handwriting habits, and several other handwriting characteristics that are evident in natural handwriting and that are unique in combination to each individual writer. All of the above submitted material is scanned and/or machine copied, not original inked documents, but noted to be clear and adequate for examination. Original documents may be requested at a future time. 

The disputed signatures of Mr. Spadoni on document Q1 show little or no consistency with the habits and characteristics observed in Mr. Spadoni’s known signatures that are provided for this examination. The 13 “signatures” examined on the disputed contract Q1 are simulated forgeries. 

Some of the false signatures

Mr. Floberg then offered to testify in court, using jury exhibits and overheads. Wouldn’t that be a great experience—being an expert witness in Lucca, Italy? We could ask Simecom to pay all his travel expenses once the company lost its case! I forwarded the report, along with Mr. Floberg’s extensive and impressive curriculum vitae, to the lawyer and the company’s finance and account director.

Coming tomorrow: How the Simecom lawyer responded to my two latest letters.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

I receive a settlement offer from Simecom--and the long awaited contract copy

I have been patiently waiting to hear a response from Simecom. Will they continue their case against me, or have my pleas for reason and compassion found a sympathetic ear? And will they please send me a copy of the contract that I have supposedly signed, as I still have been given no information on why they think I owe them some 3000 euro. I was about to write the Simecom lawyer again when I woke up to a letter from avvocato Mizrahil with two important pieces of information. Here is what she wrote:

Dear Mr. Spadoni,

I am attaching a copy of the contract with Simecom.

My client is willing to renounce to distrain the Bank account for conciliatory purposes only, as legally you should have had to oppose the injunction.

Since your debt is currently € 2,799.18, I ask for your willingness to spontaneously pay the amount of € 1,000.00.

Should I make this all go away by paying 1,000 euro? That’s a lot cheaper than flying to Italy to defend myself, or hiring a lawyer to represent me.

But let’s look at the contract. It has been signed 13 times by the imposter Spadoni Paul Robert. And the signatures, while bearing a slight resemblance to mine, are very obviously not mine. If the scammer tried to copy my signature at all, he did a poor job of it, thankfully.

I’m not going to pay to end this. I don’t care if I have to spend more money. I want to see this through to the end no matter what it costs. This has just become too interesting to settle so easily.  I’ll send a copy of the contract to my friend Rob, who is an expert on handwriting and has testified in numerous courtrooms, but in the meantime, I’ll send off another letter to Simecom. Here it is:

Gentile Dotoressa Mizrahil,

Many thanks for your response and especially for the copy of the contract. I have sent a copy of the contract to a professional handwriting consultant that I have retained and await his response.

However, I can see from your offer to renounce the pignoramento del conto that you and your client realize that the signature on the contract is not mine. In truth, it does not take an expert to realize that. I have no doubt that you and your client can plainly see for yourselves the obvious differences.

I appreciate that you have offered to settle the case for a relatively small amount, but I also believe that by now you realize the evidence against me is false, and that it is unfair that I should have to pay anything to settle. I have already been made a victim once, and your attempt to collect from me makes me twice a victim. You are an attorney, no doubt a good one, but you are also a human being with a sense of fairness and compassion. I’m sorry your client was cheated, but it was not my fault. You have caused me stress and additional expenses, although I understand you were acting in good faith and, in the beginning, acting on the only information that was available. In light of the new information, it appears to be an unfortunate situation for both parties, but we don’t need to make it worse by continuing to pursue a path that will lead nowhere except to cost both parties additional expenses.

I already have incurred expenses in this situation. I must make a payment to the handwriting expert. Since my bank has not been paying my utilities bill, I will have fees for late payments. If I must fly to Italy and hire an attorney, there will be substantial additional expenses for my travel and attorney. And would you like me also to bring the handwriting expert? That will incur additional expenses. For all of these expenses and more, I’m certain my attorney will advise me to file a countersuit against your client demanding reimbursement.

I will include a couple of additional documents that show my signature for your use in comparing, and I look forward to hearing the good news that your client is renouncing the pignoramento del conto so we can all move on to more important things in our lives. I wish you the very best, and I appreciate you sending the contract copy and the kind and professional tone of your letters. All of this will make an interesting chapter in my next book about my experiences in Italy.

Sincerely,
Paul Spadoni

Coming next blog: The professional handwriting analysis

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

I must see the contract I supposedly signed to fight my identity theft

For the record, here is my latest letter to Simecom in response to the recent letter from one of the company's attorneys.

Egregio Dotoressa Mizrahil,

Thank you so much for responding, and it was especially kind of you to write in English as well. If it is easier, you may write to me in Italian, as I am much better at reading Italian than I am at speaking or writing. And of course, I can always get help from Google translate.

I also must tell you that it is difficult for me to refute your claims because I have not seen the contract you speak of. In fact, since I have never received a letter from Simecom, I have no idea why you believe I owe the company anything.  Could you please provide me with a copy of the said contract and any letters you have tried to send me? I would also like to see a copy of the document of identity that the person who took out the contract provided, if one was required. I understand that Simecom may have tried to contact me at my Montecarlo address, but I have been away from Italy for almost two years and have received no communication except an email notice from my bank that you have filed an Atto di Pignoramento against my account. I also do not have an Italian phone number.

I am not surprised by your answer, but I must appeal to your common sense and humanity. I believe that if you research my history, you can see I am not a “furbo.” If I was, why would I take out a contract in my own name, when it is especially easy to find me. In many ways, my life is an open book. In fact, I have written both a book and a blog about my experiences in Italy, so it is plain to see I have nothing to hide. You can even look at my blog and see when I am in Italy and when I am in the United States.

You say that the contract “should have been disclaimed.” Good point, but it is hard to disclaim something that I have not seen and only recently been made aware of. I will point out that when someone bought and sold cars in Roma using my name fraudulently, I did file a denuncia with the Carabiniere in Altopascio, Lucca (see attachment). I will gladly do the same with the contract you speak of the next time I am in Lucca, if you would be so good as to provide me a copy.

I realize that you may wish to use my lack of presence in Italy and mediocre skills in Italian against me. You represent your clients, and you want to be successful, both for your sake and that of the company. You may see me as easy prey. However, I am not so cynical to believe that you and the officials of Simecom are uncaring and without conscience. My grandparents and parents, citizens of Italy but living in the United States, taught me to love Italy and Italian culture. I have had nothing but the best of experiences in Italy, which is why I am trying to learn Italian and hope to divide the remaining years of my life between the United States and Montecarlo, the birthplace of my ancestors.

You point out that I have given “no proof of ‘furto d’identità’.” What kind of evidence would you accept? I would be happy to provide a letter from a handwriting expert to compare my signature with the one on the contract. I can also provide evidence of my whereabouts during the time period of the contract (assuming that you provide me with a copy of the contract and that it lists the dates in question). Without further information, I do not know what proof to provide.

I wish to make one final point. I have no training as a lawyer, nor do I wish to hire a lawyer. However, I do have training as a journalist and author. If you wish to persist in your legal strategy, I will use all my experience as a journalist to bring your actions into public view. I will start with my blog, which has had more than 500,000 page views in the last 10 years. From there, I will contact newspapers in Italy with my story. Some of them will respond, some will not. Lastly, I have written one book already about my experiences in Italy, and I have already started the sequel. And I will point out that it is not considered positive publicity for a big company to persecute an innocent individual. As you can see from this link, I have already started this process: http://livingwithabroadintuscany.blogspot.com/2021/05/here-we-go-again-another-attempt-to.html

I hope to hear from you very soon and wish you the very best.
Paul Robert Spadoni

Monday, May 24, 2021

Simecom lawyer writes me; a hopeful first step in my identity theft case

My message to Simecom made it through! I received a pleasant though insufficient response, and I’m happy I actually have someone on the company’s legal team I know I can communicate with now. They were kind enough to write me in English, though from the very first sentence I get the impression that my Italian might be equal to this person’s English. However, I will continue to write them in English, because I feel it will make a bad impression to write in imprecise or ungrammatical Italian.

Here is the letter:

Egregio Signor Spadoni,

You’d like to apologize me for my enghlish. I spoke to my client, Simecom s.r.l., telling your reasons.

However, we have a undersigned contract that, according to the Italian law, should have been disclaimed. Furthermore we have no proof of “furto d’identità”.

Therefor we can unlock the Bank account only if you pay the total ammount due: € 3.199,18. Otherwise we have to go to trial.

Please let me know by May 27th.

I hope to hear from you soon

Dott.ssa Ginevra Mizrahil

This is pretty much what I expected at this point, because Dottoressa Mizrahil is correct: I haven’t provided any real proof of identity theft. To do that, I will need a copy of the “undersigned contract” she mentions. My best hope is that the contract has a signature which does not come anywhere close to matching my own. That was the case with the auto bought and sold in my name about five years ago.

But my passport does have a copy of my signature, and the identity thief could have attempted to create a reasonable facsimile of my signature. But even in that case, I am prepared, because I’m friends with a certified handwriting expert who has more than 25 years of experience with disputed documents. He has examined “thousands of cases and tens of thousands of forged documents,” his website says. He has experience testifying in multiple courtrooms and administrative hearings. He has already messaged me and volunteered to write a letter or testify, if needed.

I will write back and request a copy of the contract and any other correspondence that Simecom has sent me—or tried to send—regarding the dispute. If they have tried to send letters by registered mail, I’ve not been in Montecarlo to sign for them. And if they have sent messages by regular mail, they have no proof I’ve received them—which is accurate, because I have not.

So while I feel confident I could prevail in a legal case, my goal is still to convince Simecom that it’s a waste of time to take this to court. I don’t want to hire a lawyer, and I don’t want to make a special trip to Italy just to clear this up. I will use all my skills in persuasive writing to compose my next letter to Simecom. I will post the letter on my blog soon.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Here is my appeal to the managing director of Simecom and his lawyers

For an explanation of why I am sending this letter, please see previous blog entry: Another attempt to scam people . . .

Egregio Signor Federico Bonaventura

I am writing in the hope of saving both your company and me from hours of unproductive time and money. The ten minutes it takes to read this could save you many hours and legal fees, all of which will be wasted.

Although born and raised in the United States, I became an Italian citizen jure sanguinis in 2011. I am writing in English because I speak only very basic Italian. In 2015, I purchased a home in Montecarlo, Lucca, with the hope of living there after my retirement. However, I am still working part time in the United States, so I have not been able to spend more than a few months a year in Italy, and I have not been to my home in Montecarlo since 2019 because of Covid-19 restrictions.

At some point after I became an Italian citizen, someone obtained a copy of my Italian passport and has been using it to assume my identity and avoid paying fees and taxes. This person has bought and sold cars and telephones in my name and made false Facebook pages using my name while  attempting to befriend and then defraud people. I don’t know who or how this person obtained a copy of my passport, but hotels and cruise ships routinely hold or copy a person’s passport for identification purposes, so it is not difficult to imagine how it could be done.

Why am I writing to you? Because I just discovered that my bank account in Pescia has been frozen because of legal action your company is taking against me. I do not know the details yet, since I have not been in Italy since 2019 and have not been receiving any mail. However, my bank has just informed me that your company has filed an Atto di Pignoramento (see attachment) against my account, and since I have never even heard of your company before this time, I can only assume that it is another case of a Furto d'identità.

I can offer various proofs of my whereabouts in the years since I obtained my citizenship and passport, and my life and times in Italy are well documented because I write a blog during my days in Italy. In this blog, I have written about some of the troubles I’ve had with identity theft. Here are some of those articles, which I encourage you to read:
https://livingwithabroadintuscany.blogspot.com/2018/03/facing-high-stake-challenge-i-must.html
http://livingwithabroadintuscany.blogspot.com/2018/04/slow-progress-in-my-case-of-furto.html
https://livingwithabroadintuscany.blogspot.com/2018/04/another-scam-attempt-using-my.html

I realize that you may ignore this letter and let the justice of the peace and courts sort out the truth, but that will cost us all a lot of time and trouble. Why waste your company’s money on something that is obviously going to be unfruitful?

Here is more information about me that might prove useful. I am a freelance journalist who has been published in more than a dozen American magazines and newspapers. I am the author of an Amazon best-selling book “An American Family in Italy.” I am a speaker at civic meetings on Italian culture and my experiences in Italy. In fact, this whole misadventure of my identity theft will make a good chapter in my next book, but it might cause some unfortunate and negative publicity for your company if I must write that you ignored my letter and went ahead and tried to collect on a debt that you had been warned was a scam.

In addition, I can give you the following timeline of my vacations and residencies in Italy, from 2011 until today. I don’t know when the truffatore using my name incurred a debt with your firm, but it is quite likely during a time that I was in the United States.

Paul Robert Spadoni, Sequenza temporale

Nato: 26-01-1953 a Tacoma, Washington  USA

Genitori: Julius D Spadoni e Margaret M Wagoner

30 genaio-7 maggio 2011
Vacanza in Italia. Ho soggiornato al Casolare dei Fiori, Montecarlo, LU, per la maggior parte del tempo.

Aprile 2011
Citadinanza: USA. Riconosciuto come cittadino italiano all’estero (AIRE) jure sanguinis 7 aprile, 2011. Registrato a Pescia, Pistoia.

Codice fiscale: Ricevuto codice fiscale nell'aprile 2011 presso l'Agenzia delle Entrate, Pescia, Pistoia.

Ottobre 2011
Passaporto italiano: Ricevuto 11 ottobre 2011 a San Francisco, California  USA

08 febbraio-7 maggio 2012
Vacanza in Italia. Ho soggiornato a Padova per un mese ed al Casolare dei Fiori Montecarlo, per due mese. Ho anche preso una crociera di 5 giorni con Costa.

02 marzo-28 aprile 2013
Vacanza in Italia. Ho soggiornato al Casolare dei Fiori Montecarlo.

29 gennaio-30 aprile 2014
Vacanza in Italia. Ho soggiornato al Casolare dei Fiori, Montecarlo, per la maggior parte del tempo. Ho anche preso una crociera di 12 giorni con Costa.

5 febbraio-28 aprile 2015
Vacanza in Italia. Ho soggiornato al Casolare dei Fiori, Montecarlo, per la maggior parte del tempo. Ho anche fatto una gita di 10 giorni in Sicilia con Rick Steves Tours.

29 ottobre-13 novembre 2015
Sono venuto a Montecarlo per fare il pagamento finale e prendere possesso di una casa in via Roma, 49, Montecarlo, LU 55015

9 febbraio-6 maggio 2016
Montecarlo in casa mia. Sono diventato residente a Montecarlo 21 marzo.

26 settembre-10 novembre 2016
Montecarlo in casa mia. Ho anche fatto una gita di 10 giorni in Italia Sud con Rick Steves Tours.

11 febbraio-8 maggio 2017
Montecarlo in casa mia.

9-30 ottobre 2017
Montecarlo in casa mia.

5 marzo-9 maggio 2018
Montecarlo in casa mia.

8 ottobre-8 novembre 2018
Montecarlo in casa mia.

29 genaio-29 aprile 2019
Montecarlo in casa mia

3 novembre-25 novembre 2019
Montecarlo in casa mia

If it would help, I can also provide many positive character references from my acquaintances in Montecarlo, including officials from the comune and pastors in our local church. I hope to hear from you soon.

Cordiali saluti,
Paul Robert Spadoni

 

Here we go again! Another attempt to scam people using my good name

My evil “twin” has struck again, claiming my identity to run up some utility bills with Simecom Gas e Luce, an energy company located Crema, near Milano. I know absolutely no details about when, where or how my name was used, but I know that Simecom is taking this seriously, because they have filed a court action claiming that I owe them € 3.199,18. Furthermore, they have frozen my Italian bank account, which is set up to automatically pay for my water and garbage, and my real energy bills, which are to a different company.

I found out about this on May 3, when I received an email from an official at my bank:

Buonasera Paul,

Stiamo cercando di contattarla per comunicarle dell'avvenuto pignoramento del saldo sul conto presso la Sede Alberghi da parte della ditta Simecom Srl.

La prego di chiamarci allo 0572 459580 oppure di comunicarci per mail il suo recapito telefonico.

Grazie,
Susanna Finocchi

Basically, this says Simecom has filed to foreclose our bank account and claim the money in it. At first, I suspected that there was something fishy about Simecom, but it is a legitimate company that has been in business for more than 60 years. After requesting help from dear friend Elena Benevenuti, we received from our bank an emailed copy of the court filing from March of 2020 asking the justice of the peace in Lucca to freeze our account. Furthermore, I am supposed to appear before the “Tribunale di Lucca il 7 luglio (July 7) 2021.”

No details are given of how I supposedly ran up this bill. Elena wrote me: “The bank highly recommends NOT TO SEND ANY MORE MONEY TO YOUR ACCOUNT until your position is clear, because they are compelled to stop all your money (the one in the account and the future income). I stay constantly in touch with the bank. I am sure we will solve the problem.”


Readers who have been following my blog will know that a fake Paul Spadoni in Italy has also used my name and codice fiscale (similar to a Social Security number) to buy and sell cars and take out a phone contract, as well as trying to scam private individuals in various ways.

It is likely that Simecom has sent notices in the mail to my Montecarlo address, but because of COVID-19, I have not been in Italy since fall of 2019. The letters could be in my postal box, or they may not have been delivered at all if they required a signature.

In any event, I would just as soon keep my money, but what am I to do? My Italian language skills are only so-so, and because of work and family obligations, I can’t go to Italy in July. Of course, I have Elena and another friend, Angelika, to help me, but I should probably hire a lawyer to represent me in court, or at least to request a continuance.

However, I have some faith in the common sense and humanity of the people in Italy (well, not in the guy who keeps trying to assume my identity, but most Italians), so I’ve decided to appeal directly to the lawyers at Simecom. I will write them to explain the situation and hope that someone takes the time to read my rather lengthy plea. My next blog entry will be a copy of my letter, which I will write in English in the confidence that some of the lawyers at the firm must read English better than I write in Italian.

You can click here to read the letter.

 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Italy still calls to entice, soothe, educate, even during trying times

 While the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from traveling to Italy for now, it is never far from my thoughts, and Lucy and I are looking forward to returning to our Montecarlo home in the fall. In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what makes Italy and Italians special, from guest writer Jim Pantaleno.

When you finally make it to Italy, it is so tempting to try to see as much as you can. And there is much to see. People rush through the cities ticking off boxes for the places of interest almost like a homework assignment. Some of the nicest moments, though, are the quiet ones where you sit in a sunny piazza or under the shade of a grapevine and just let it all soak in.

The people, no matter their social status, have such dignity. They dress carefully and carry themselves with grace. The sounds of the language, no matter what part of the country, are like music to your ear. You sit there with a coffee or glass of wine just listening. It feels in your head like some lost language you once spoke, familiar but just beyond memory.

Italians know how to enjoy life. They spend more than they should on clothes because they know something well made and properly fitting will make them look their best. Meals are occasions for joy, whether it’s a croissant and espresso for breakfast or a special dinner with wine. They walk more than we do. La passeggiata is a daily evening stroll with friends to socialize and be seen.

I miss being among them…the feeling of connection they give me to the past. We could learn much from them.

***

Jim Pantaleo is the author of SPALDEEN DREAMS: A Boy Comes of Age in 1950's Brooklyn, available on Amazon.

 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

New Netflix movie about little-known Rose Island, filmed in Italy, inspires, challenges and entertains

For fans of movies set in Italy, Rose Island—released on Netflix in December—is an entertaining choice. I suppose one could say that it’s not really based in Italy—but more on that later. Rose Island is a comedy drama based on a true story about a geeky Italian who built his own island on steel pillars 6.8 miles from the coast of Rimini.


Early in the film, we are introduced to Giorgio Rosa, a creative but socially challenged engineer who built his own weird little car as a school project. It is shaped like a door wedge and uses his late grandmother’s couch as a seat. He didn’t bother to register the car, or get a license plate, or even get a driver’s license. Earlier he had built an unregistered airplane as well. When his ex-girlfriend tells Giorgio he can’t live in his own little world, it sparks his thinking. Why not build his own world, an island in international waters, where no one can tell him what to do.

He hits up his pal Maurizio, who works at his father’s shipyard and is quietly embezzling money from his father, which is convenient, because this project requires a ship and some money. They design and build some telescoping legs, float them out to sea, drop them to the bottom of the ocean, build a 400 square-meter platform, drill for fresh water, construct a bar, find a few flaky allies including a bartender and a promoter, and turn it into a tax-free party spot. They call it Rose Island, named after their “president.”

Giorgio is determined to make it more than just a nightclub, though. He wants to change the world, and Rose Island is a symbol of freedom from government controls and repression. He asks the United Nations to recognize Rose Island as a sovereign nation and begins taking applications for citizenship. All of this, however, attracts headlines and the attention of Italian government officers. They are missing out on collecting taxes, and if they ignore Rose Island, it will set a bad precedent. The Vatican has also complained that a lawless society like this will glorify immoral lifestyles.

The pressure becomes intense, and Giorgio and Maurizio must decide if all this freedom is worth the hassle. The Italian government fires Giorgio’s father from his job of 30 years. Other members of the island are enticed with offers of money and privileges, but Giorgio refuses to back down. The Italian government must decide if it should risk flouting international law to put an end to the experiment. Giorgio’s ex-girlfriend must decide between a life of ease with her current boyfriend or risk her career to follow Giorgio’s wild dream.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but Rose Island truly did exist from 1967 to 1968--and now it doesn’t. And in a way, Giorgio did change the world. Rose Island stands as a historical footnote as the only nation to ever be attacked by the Italian republic. As a result of his attempts, the United Nations extended international waters to 12 miles offshore instead of six, rendering similar artificial island countries next to impossible.

The acting is first rate, as is the cinematography. It’s a classic underdog story that will encourage people to take risks and a stand for their beliefs, even against insurmountable odds. One could complain that not a lot happens in the movie, that the plot could have been spiced up a bit more—but that would mean straying further from the true events. And the truth is, Giorgio’s passion is inspiring and reminds us to fervently pursue our ideals and not let society crush all our creative instincts.