Note: Here is an update on this case.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Mamma mia! Che casino! What a disaster!
Just a couple of weeks ago, Lucy asked me what I was enjoying about being in Italy this year, and one of my answers was that I felt good being able to deal with life’s issues on my own. I can now speak Italian well enough to handle most transactions, such as obtaining a parking permit for our rental car, paying my utility bills and even giving directions to strangers on occasion.
But as the Bible says: “Pride comes before a fall.” Now my ability to communicate is going to be stretched to the fullest, because someone in Italy has stolen my identity and rung up debts with the Agencia delle Entrate, the Italian version of the Internal Revenue Service.
I’ve received two notices from the AE, one last year stating that I owed tax for a commercial telephone line with the company Vodafone, and another this year claiming I owed taxes on my car. In both cases, they had my correct name and codice fiscale, but I didn’t have a phone contract with Vodaphone and I don’t own a car.
I essentially ignored the bill for the phone because I figured it was a clerical error and maybe the agency would figure that out on its own. But when I got a bill for 346.73€ owed in the region of Lazio for “tassa automobilistica” for the year 2014, I decided I had better get this cleared up. Probably there is another Paul or Paolo Spadoni, and when I became a resident of Montecarlo in 2016, my name accidentally became associated with his. There are other people named Paul or Paolo Spadoni in the world, but the likelihood of there being another Paul Robert Spadoni is slim, so I just had to find out the full name of this other Spadoni auto owner and that would clear up the misunderstanding.
I recognized that the AE is not an agency to take lightly, and I first e-mailed my cousin, Simone Spadoni, who is a lawyer here, to ask for advice. He wrote back to say that I could hire a lawyer to fight the bill, but there was no guarantee of success, and I might pay more in legal fees than it was worth. At a minimum, I’d have to pay a lawyer 250€, he said. I didn’t like this answer one bit, though. My first thought was that a lawyer could clear all this up with a phone call and a few faxed documents and charge less than 250€. And then, if I paid the AE bill once, wouldn’t I also run the risk of having to pay this other person’s debts year after year?
I considered asking someone to go with me to help translate, but the only friends I have who are bilingual are working people. I didn’t want to ask them to take time off and lose pay. And hadn’t I just told Lucy that I enjoyed the challenge of speaking Italian to take care of my own affairs?
So yesterday I went on my own to the AE. On my third try, I found the correct entry to the large and modern office on the outskirts of Lucca. I asked the man at the information desk if he spoke English. A little, he said. Okay, I answered, we’ll try Italian first and see how it goes. That would be better, he replied.
With documents in hand, I successfully explained the problem. He gave me a form to fill out, which took me a few minutes. When I came back to his desk, he was gone, perhaps on a coffee break, but he returned 10 minutes later. He then left to get two print outs, one with showed that I not only owed 346.73€ for 2014 but another 427.26€ for 2015.
I told him again that I had never owned a car in Italy and had not been in Lazio in either 2014 or 2015. In fact, I didn’t think I could have owned a car in Italy without becoming a resident (which I did in 2016). He was sympathetic but said he couldn’t do anything without more information. He suggested that I go to the office of PRA, the Pubblico Registro Automobilistico, to find out more details on the car I supposedly owned, and he gave me an address.
Unfortunately, the address was incorrect, but thankfully I now have a smart phone and used it to find the right place. All of this running around made me feel so sorry for other immigrants to Italy, those who are poor and can’t afford rental cars, smart phones or to miss time from their jobs. Not to mention language lessons, or an attorney or at least Italian friends who can help translate.
When I found the office, it had closed for the day. It’s only open from 8-12:30. But I went back this morning and found it bustling with activity. They have one of those little machines where you check in and get a number, depending on your need. I waited only five minutes before I was paged to the desk of Cristina Iacopi, who turned out to be extremely competent, friendly and helpful.
She understood my problem immediately and went to work on her computer looking up information—disturbing information, I should add. A person using my exact name, and codice fiscale, and listed as being born in Tacoma, USA, on my birthday, had purchased a Cooper Mini that came from Spain in September of 2013 and sold it in June of 2015. It is not a simple clerical error but a clear case of identity theft.
After about 10 minutes of trying to contact her colleagues in Rome, Sra. Iacopi finally got through. They can send her all the documents related to the purchases, which should show signatures and any documents used to prove identity. Of course, it’s also possible that the notaio who approved the transaction was on the payroll of the scammer. It will take at least a week before the documents arrive, so I left my phone number and e-mail address with Sra. Iacopi, who said I could decide after we see the paperwork what to do next.
And so, I wait. Or maybe not. This evening I met another cousin, Paolo Venturini, a retired engineer from Milano who shares an interest in genealogy. He advised me to go to the police and file a denuncia, just as I would do if someone had stolen a car from me.
“This person stole your identity, and you must file a report with the police,” Paolo said. “Then you’ll have a document to show the Agenzia delle Entrate. The document will show them you’re not responsible for the taxes on that car. The police have a special division for identity theft, and they can start an investigation.”
It looks like I’m going to get a lot of practice using my language skills in the coming days. And when I win my case—without a lawyer—I will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But I know I’ll need to be at the top of my game, because the stakes are much higher than they were for getting my parking permit or paying my trash collection bill.
Note: Here is an update on this case.
Note: Here is an update on this case.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
|The insignia of one of the Seghieri families of Montecarlo,
Lucca. The saw over the lion is the result of a probably
mistaken belief that Seghieri derived from the word sega,
Italian for saw.
Seghieri and Sighieri are rather unusual names that seem to all derive from the same source and location in Tuscany in the areas of Pisa, Montecarlo, Altopascio and other locations between those cities.
Doctor Sergio Nelli, distinguished author and historian who works at the State Archives in Lucca, believes the various versions of these names derive from the Lombards (Longobardi in Italian), a German tribe that originated in the far north of Europe, passed into and through Germany and then invaded Northern Italy and Tuscany. This tribe never seems to have stayed in one place for long, moving from north to south and adopting the language and customs of the people they conquered and leaving their architectural legacy as far south as Sicily. They established a kingdom in Italy that endured from 568 to 744, although Lombard nobles continued to rule parts of the Italian peninsula until well into the 11th century. The name of the region Lombardy derives from these people.
|Amerigo Seghieri wrote several books
on the game of chess. This was published
in 1892. He was born in Montecarlo
It appears that our name derives from two Germanic words, Sieg—which means victory or victorious—and Herro—the Old High German word for Herr, which means lord. So, victorious lord might be the meaning of the name. It is also possible that the second part of the name could have been Heri, which means army in Old High German, so an alternate translation could be victorious army.
|This memorial is found in the crypt of
the Church of Sant'Andrea in Montecarlo.
During medieval times, the name was Latinized and appears in lists of important residents between Pisa, Florence and Lucca as Sigherius, Segherius, Sighierius, Sicherius and Sicherii. Latinization would have been common at that time, because after the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe, the main bastion of scholarship was the Roman Catholic Church, for which Latin was the primary written language. Of the two most common versions of the name today, Sighieri is used more in Pisa and surrounding areas and Seghieri in the areas of Montecarlo and Altopascio. Another variation found throughout the same region in Tuscany is Sevieri, most likely from the same origin.
|This is also from the Seghieri pizzeria in Livorno.
Namespedia.com said the surname Seghieri occurs 75 times in Italy, 35 in France, 28 in the United States and 10 in Argentina. It has no listings for Sighieri, which causes me to mistrust its accuracy, since I know that variation is common in Tuscany.
|This popular Sighieri gelateria is located in Pisa.
Another website, forebears.io, says the Seghieri surname is found 190 times in Italy, 98 in France, 75 in Argentina and 31 in the United States. It also lists Sighieri: Italy, 157; Brazil, 64; and France, 49; United States, 0. However, forebears also says Seghieri is found in Algeria a whopping 446 times, and I find this hard to believe.
However, I do find a few people from Algeria with
the surname on Facebook, and it’s possible that the Algerian Seghieri families
have been overlooked previously because of an absence of central name databases
there. If any members of the Seghieri/Sighieri Facebook groups can add insight,
please contact me or leave a comment.
|Ettore Sighieri wrote the Floods of
the Arno, published in 1934. There
is a street named after him in Pisa.
Today we feel especially blessed that we chose Montecarlo as our place of abode in Italy. One of the many reasons for this choice is that we would be near relatives, which would increase our chance of being included in social gatherings and assist in our integration into Italian society.
|Elena, Flavia, Davide
That choice paid off in a big way yesterday evening, as we had the privilege of attending a big bash for the 18th birthday of Flavia Seghieri. Apparently, such grand parties are common here when children turn 18 and become recognized as adults.
The party included a multi-course dinner at the Poggio, live and recorded music,
appropriate decorations and, of course, an elaborately decorated cake. We
enjoyed sitting across Flavia’s grandparents Sergio and Silvana and next to
four of our Seghieri relatives from France who came down for the celebration.
|Sergio and Silvana
|Seghieri cousins from France arrive at the festa.
It seems like only a couple of years ago that we attended Flavia’s 12th birthday party at her home in Marcucci. While it was obvious at the time that she was unusually poised for her age, last night we had a chance to see her with all her friends from school and her musical ensemble—a group of nearly 50 teenagers. She was radiant, polished, confident, beautiful. She moved from table to table, making sure everyone felt welcome and important. "This is my life," she said. "These are all people who are important in my life."
|French tablemates Rose and Emilio.
In general, teenagers in Italy seem much more comfortable, friendly and accepting of each other than their counterparts in America. I taught in American high schools for 30 years, so I have some experience observing groups of young people. I think the difference is that Italian students stay with the same classmates for many years, and they also have more opportunities to interact in casual social settings. It could also have something to do with the small but generally stable families that emphasize rules of etiquette and civility.
|Matteo, one of Flavia's friends, entertained on the drums.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
|Yan stirs the mushrooms for bruschetta.
Lucy and I, along with three friends and two strangers who quickly became friends, recently learned to make two types of bruschetta, ragù bolognese, balsamic chicken and various types of pasta. We also learned how to taste olive oil to distinguish and appreciate the various levels of quality.
|Elena and Luigi explain the names of various shapes that the
pasta can be formed into.
|With a little instruction and practice, one can learn to distinguish between cheap olive oil and that of high quality.
Time passed swiftly as we learned techniques to quickly and safely cut, blend and fry the ingredients. I won’t go into greater detail, because this is the second time I’ve taken the class, and I described it thoroughly in an earlier entry: Cooking class and Italian pranzo both enjoyable and special experiences.
|Good ingredients and proper techniques result in bruschetta
with a flavor that delights the taste buds.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Although invented less than 100 years ago, tiramisù is now indisputably the most famous Italian dessert in the world. In fact, a study conducted by the Società La Dante in 2008-09 concluded that tiramisù is the fourth most important Italian term from “a historical and cultural” point of view (the top three were pizza, spaghetti and espresso). It now has its own day in food culture: March 21 has been designated “Tiramisù Day” by an Italian food organization.
|Tiramisù from the local EsseLunga, which actually rivals
the restaurant variety and includes six servings.
A study carried out by the Associazione Italiana Lattiero-Casearia (Italian Dairy Association) in 2012 found more than 14 million occurrences of the word “tiramisù” in the search engine on the Chinese web, and the name of the dessert appeared 7.8 million times on Japanese language websites, 3.4 million on German, 3.1 million on French and 2.2 on Spanish websites. In addition, English language websites told the story of and how to prepare “the original Tiramisù” 18.6 million times. Culinary authors Fernando and Tina Raris also point out that in Japan Tiramisù has become a “status symbol” among young and adult people, and customers rush shops and pubs that display the Italian flag and “Tiramisù for sale” signs in their show windows.
|Friends, Tiramisù and a good game of Scrabble--la dolce vita!
Though there are many recipes, tiramisù is generally a mixture of espresso, creamy mascarpone, marsala (and sometimes rum as well) and usually a type of ladyfingers called savoiardi. It is all topped with cocoa powder and chilled, then served semi-freddo. The Italian name tirmisù translates literally to “pull me up,” although “pick me up” may better correspond to English usage. While food aficionados worldwide agree on its merits, tiramisù does generate plenty of controversy regarding its birth.
An entire book on the popular dessert was published in 2017, titled Tiramisu: Storia, curiosità, interpretazioni del dolce italiano più amato. Authors Clara and Gigi Padovani researched its much disputed origins and are convinced they discovered the truth. They maintain the recipe was originally created between 1940 and 1950 in Italy’s region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Chef Mario Cosolo invented the recipe at his restaurant Al Vetturino di Pieris and originally named it tirimesù, with is a dialectical variation on the mainstream Italian spelling.
However, the region of Veneto is largely responsible for popularizing the dessert across the world. Chef Paolo “Loli” Linguanotto of Alle Beccherie restaurant in the historical center of Treviso, who also claims to have invented tiramisu, has done much to popularize the treat. Another Treviso restaurant, Al Fogher, makes something called coppa imperiale, which it claims predates tiramisù but contains the same basic items.
|Gigi and Clara Padovani
It was the Padovanis who proposed Tiramisù Day, collaborating with the Italian food chain Eataly and choosing March 21st because, as they put it, “There’s nothing better than tiramisù to celebrate the arrival of spring and to leave the grayness of winter behind.” On the initial Tiramisù Day in 2017, the Padovanis were joined by Flavia Cosolo, daughter of Mario Cosolo, as she prepared the original tiramisù recipe that her father created.
It’s perhaps fitting that the Veneto should receive much of the credit, since coffee was first introduced to Europe from Egypt through Venice, where a flourishing trade between the local businessmen and Arabs enabled a brisk trade of commodities. Because of its eastern roots, coffee was at first considered sinful and regarded as an Islamic threat to Christianity. However, its popularity grew, and Pope Clement VIII, upon sampling the heathen drink was instantly enamored by the unique taste and aroma. Apparently, he decided it would be a greater sin to deny people such a delightful beverage, and thus it was deemed acceptable and spread rapidly through Italy.
As for recipes, they vary widely, and I’ve not tested any of them. I am more of a gourmand* than a chef, happy to try out the creations of others who have more experience in the kitchen than I. Mascarpone and the savoiardi that many people use in their recipes can be hard to find, unless one lives in Italy or near a store that stocks authentic Italian food. The authentic recipe used by the Cosolo family can be found online (though the directions are only written in Italian, I believe), as can English versions of Loli Linguanotte’s recipe. My advice, which I follow religiously, is to celebrate Tiramisù Day at least once a month at the most convenient restaurant or bakery. Amen.
“The gourmand is no fussbudget, because he spends his day not in finding ways to say no but in finding ways to say yes.”
(Robert Appelbaum, Dishing It Out. Reaktion Books, 2011)
(Robert Appelbaum, Dishing It Out. Reaktion Books, 2011)
Sunday, March 18, 2018
God blessed me with another little miracle, in the same remote city where He had done His handiwork seven years ago. At that time, through a series of remarkable coincidences, I met Rosa Spadoni, a 99-year-old fourth cousin in an encounter that blessed both of us (read Little gift from God).
That incident left me wondering why God would go so out of His way to help me discover my Italian roots. I still don’t know why, but if I had any doubts about His intentions to bless me, they were erased today, when I stumbled into another sequence of fortuitous events.
|Erin and Yan on a wet day in San Quirico di Valleriana.
We have three friends visiting us, and I saw a sign advertising a sagra from 2 p.m. to sunset in San Quirico, a little hill town in the valley above Pescia. Because it had rained hard all morning, we figured the sagra was probably postponed, but by around 3 p.m., the rain had decreased, so Erin, Yan, Susy and I decided to give it a try while Lucy stayed home to rest.
The rain had returned by the time we arrived, and the parking lot was nearly empty, so our chances of participating in a festa were slim. Still, San Quirico is a beautiful ancient village, so we pulled out our umbrellas and took a stroll. When we reached the central piazza, it was quiet and empty, and by then we were positive there would be no Sagra of the Necci (a chestnut flour crepe) this day.
However, Erin needed to use a bathroom, and the only way to do that in an Italian town is to find a bar—which may not exist in San Quirico. However, we did hear some laughter coming from a nearby building, so we ventured closer and found that it was not a public bar but rather a circolo—a social club for the locals. I went inside and found a group of about 20 people gathered around a couple of tables, talking, laughing and playing the card games scopa and briscola.
|The San Quirico social circle (Circolo ARCI).
I asked about the sagra—postponed until April 8—and if my friend could use the bathroom. Of course, they said, and one of them showed us the way. Just as we were about to leave, it occurred to me that since we were in the city where I had met Rosa seven years before, some of the people in this club must have known her (I doubted that she was still alive, since she would have been 106 by now).
By chance, the second man I spoke to not only knew her, he was one of her sons, Giorgio Dinelli (we had met his brother Avio in 2011). I explained to him that by pure chance, I had met his mom some years before, and I had since discovered how we were related. Giorgio and I are fifth cousins. I also met Giorgio’s wife, Erminda. They informed me that Rosa had passed away at the age of 102.
|Giorgio Dinelli and Paul Spadoni, 5th cousins.
We exchanged some information about our families, and before we left, they invited me to drop by their house in the future. It turns out they live in Marginone, just down the hill from us in Montecarlo. In future days, I’ll draw up a chart showing Giorgio how we are related and provide him some Spadoni family history dating back to the arrival of the first Spadonis in this region in the 1400s.
This meeting would not have occurred had the sagra not been rained out, nor if Erin had not needed to use the bathroom. In fact, I wouldn’t have gone on such a rainy day if weren’t for our guests. I came on the right day, at the right time.
Our main goals in coming to Italy are to learn the language, learn to live like Italians, research my family history, meet cousins and make friends. I’m grateful for the happy confluence of events that God orchestrated to bring me in contact with this pleasant branch of the family a second time.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
I recently found at least two Italian-American cousins while researching in Italy, although we’ve only met online. And until now, we weren’t 100% sure we were cousins. Now I’ve confirmed we are all descendants of Giovanni Lorenzo Di Vita, born in 1680, who is the great grandfather of my great grandmother Maria Marchi.
Why does this matter and why do I
spend so much time researching my ancestry? Great questions, and I periodically
ask them of myself. But then, why does anybody have any hobby? It’s just fun to
piece together puzzle parts and make connections. It also helps to make history
more interesting. When I read about the decline and inglorious end of the
Medici dynasty in Tuscany during the early 1700s, I wonder how this affected
Okay, I know that sound
complicated and the details may be boring, but when it’s your own family you’re
finding, somehow it’s fascinating, even addictive. I may never meet Nick
or Suzanne, but knowing that we share a respect and passion for our Italian
heritage, along with a few inherited genes, I can’t help but feel the camaraderie.
Alla fine, siamo cugini.
|Agostino Di Vita, right, with his
daughter Anna Di Vita.
Cousins Nick Binotti and Suzanne (Di Vita) Louis found me online through this blog and Ancestry.com. We each had a Di Vita in our ancestral line, and they all came from Pescia, so it was quite likely we had a shared ancestor. Last spring, I tried to find the connection myself. I made some progress, but in the end, I lost the trail.
Most cities only started recording birth certificates when Italy became a country in the 1860s, so I had to rely on church documents—baptismal and wedding records—to find the connection. But there are many different churches in Pescia and the surrounding areas, and I had been looking in the wrong ones.
A further complication is the fact that the family could have been listed under three different surnames: Di Vita, Vita or Viti. I don’t know why, but it could have something to do with the fact that our early ancestors were all farmers, quite likely illiterate, and they lacked written documentation of the origin of their surname. I had been searching only for Di Vita, but then I found that a father’s birth name may have been recorded as Viti, while his son was recorded at Di Vita or Vita—or vice versa.
After my fruitless search, I moved on to plan B. Would Nick and Suzanne be interested in paying someone to trace their Di Vita ascendancy? If so, I knew the man for the job, the premier researcher in the Valdinievole. I sent what info I had to Andrea Mandroni and asked how much it would cost to search back far enough to connect Suzanne’s ancestor Ferruccio Di Vita, born in 1892, to Nick’s ancestor Agostino Di Vita, born in 1901. I sent Andrea’s price quotation to Suzanne and Nick, and they agreed to share the cost. We waited a few months, and Andrea succeeded where I had not, sending us his research in February.
His chart shows how Suzanne and Nick are related. I had held a secret hope that his research would somehow also shed light on my own ancestor, Maria Luisa Di Vita. I knew from her marriage record (which Andrea had found for me a few years ago) she had been born in 1799 and her mother’s surname was Cinelli.
I had unsuccessfully searched for her baptismal record last year, but I hadn’t realized two things: She was baptized as Maria Luisa Viti, not Di Vita, and it was at Chiesina Uzzanese, a church about five miles distant from Pescia (thanks to Andrea for that tip as well). The church record shows that her father was Francesco and her grandfather Michel Arcangelo (sometimes spelled Michel’Angiolo, Michel’Angelo), who was of the Pescia parish of Castellare. With a little more research, I was able to confirm that this Michelangelo is the same as the one on the chart Andrea made for Nick and Suzanne.
This makes Nick’s father my fifth cousin (with Nick being my fifth cousin one generation removed). Suzanne’s grandfather Ferruccio is also my fifth cousin, and she is also two generations removed. However, Suzanne’s grandmother was Quinta Seghieri, who was first cousin of my grandmother Anita Seghieri, so from that line, she and I are third cousins and in the same generation. Not only that, Suzanne also has a Marchi and a Cinelli in her line of descent, as does my family, so we are probably related at least four ways!
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
We prepared ourselves for the worst. Last winter, we authorized Juri to hire contractors and supervise the installation of a stairway to our attic. I had left him a drawing of where we wanted it and some photos of stairways we had viewed at a store in Lucca.
The previous year, I had left him drawings of the size and placement of the skylights for our roof reconstruction, but the drawings were seemingly taken only as suggestions. Now we wondered if the stairs would be vastly different than what we expected. And whatever else could go wrong, we imagined it.
Juri had mentioned that we might need a door at the top of the stairs to keep out rats, which are able to travel from attic to attic, since all the houses on our street are attached. He also warned that making a hole in the attic floor would create dust that would settle throughout the house, even if the contractors did their best to set up dust shields.
And so, Lucy and I did our best to paint a dismal picture of misplaced stairs made of rough-cut lumber, along with rubble and dust in every inch of the house, not to mention rats crawling over us at night and leaving other evidence of their invasions. Just in case some of this came to pass, we’d be prepared for the disappointment, though we did it all in good humor.
And it was all for nothing, because the stairway is gorgeous and perfectly placed in our entry hallway. It doesn’t interfere with our passage in the hallway, which it would have done if we had put it in one of the bedrooms as we had planned earlier.
The skylights now illuminate the hallway during daylight hours through the new opening. We also paid extra to have Juri install lights and electrical outlets in attic, which are also just as we wished.
In addition, he added a cement floor to the previously unsupported area below the lower skylight so we can open the window and sit and enjoy the view while reading. Lucy wasted little time in moving an area rug, armchair, table and lamp up there, and I awoke from a short nap today to find her settled comfortably below the skylight doing her Bible study.
As for the rats, we’ve seen no evidence of them yet. But just in case, I brought spray foam insulation to seal off any gaps I find between our attic and our neighbors’ walls. As a backup, I’ve also packed some “Just One Bite” rat poison.
We still have cement dust in nearly every room to clean up, but it’s a small price to pay for the enjoyment that’s to come. In the future, we’d like to cover the cement floor with something softer and more attractive, add some cabinets and close off the open areas under the eaves, but for now we are more than happy.
“The opening lights up the hallway that before had no natural light,” Lucy said. “I love sitting in the chair and enjoying the sky and the view in two directions. And from our living room, we can now hear the rain when it beats on the roof and skylights.”