After 40+ uneventful years and fairly casual security on my part, my two passports were stolen in Italy. A friend of mine rented out a villa in Umbria for a week. A few days there blew out my history of never having lost a single thing on my travels.
It was a simple break-in; the crowbar type. We were out for the day thinking how peaceful the country side looked, how charming Lake Trasimeno had seemed, and how wonderful the people were. In the meantime, someone had figured out that there was nobody in the villa. They broke through the wooden door, ransacked the place, stole some cash, a wallet, my USA and British passports, and also…a block of parmesan cheese! To tell you the truth, that was the thing that really hurt. But at least they had good taste.
All of those years of telling people how to get a new passport, how to report it as lost or stolen, but never having to really do it, came to roost. The carabiniericame over after a frantic phone call in between an Italian World Cup game. They itemized the stolen goods and told me that there was absolutely nothing to be done!
The next day I had to go down to get my police report from the carabinieri station in Castiglione del Lago, and lo and behold they had no knowledge about the police report that had been filed the day before. Not only that but when I first arrived at the station it was closed. On the door hung an ominous sign that said “Orario per Publico” (Hours for Public) with a very limited time slot of public hours. I thought to myself, “Who else do they serve except the public?” Oh well.
On the shelves inside were files dating back to 1960. A photocopier machine that was so slow it reminded me of my days working as a clerical assistant in London in 1970. However, the police report was sorted, three copies were filed away, and now I had to get my passport.
I called the British Embassy and they informed me that they could issue me a travel document specifically for my travel itinerary but that I would have to reapply for a proper passport which could take up to 12 weeks.
The USA Embassy routine was a lot smoother. With the police report in hand, I simply arrived at the embassy in Rome at 8:15 AM without any formal appointment. I grabbed a number, took two photos at the photo machine located inside, and I had a new passport within 45 minutes. The passport is even valid for one year. By the time I had exited the embassy, the queue had already become quite substantial. The deal with an emergency passport is that you cannot make an appointment so you have to show up early and you must pay with a credit card.
This summer we have dealt with a few lost or stolen passports. Therefore, I am grateful to have had a shared experience with many other travelers. After all of these years, it was worth the wait!
What You Didn’t Know About Italy’s Two Police Forces
Besides the little incident with my passports being stolen, I confess to not having much to do with the carabinieri but I have always been slightly curious what role they play versus the polizia in Italy.
Recently, I read an article that helped explain it.
As it turns out, the carabinieri are celebrating their 200th birthday this year. In other words, they are older than the Republic of Italy itself which was unified in 1861.
They were founded by Victor Emmanuel I who was the Duke of Savoy and the King of Sardinia. In those days, Italy was a series of regional dynasties each with its own language/dialect and unique police force. The name carabinieri actually comes from the rifles they carried — the carabina. When Italy was unified, the royal court became the nationwide military presence and functioned as a duplicate police force in part because of the need to have some unified police presence in a country that was still much divided with towns and regions that saw themselves as more powerful than this entity called Italia.
Not much has changed today. If you are desperate for help, it is not always clear who will show up at your door. In Italy you dial either 112 or 113 whereas in the USA we dial 911. One thing for sure is that two men or women will show up. In Italy, the cops always ride in pairs. This is a change from several years ago when the cops rode in threes and that was in a two-door car!
What is fascinating about the carabinieri is that they are set up a little bit like a military operation. To apply to be a carabinieri, you have to commit to eight years working outside of the province that you live in. Hence the number of southerners that end up working in the north in those carabinieri staziones and vice-versa. Seventy-percent of the entire force comes from four regions in particular – Sicily, Campania, Calabria, and Puglia.
The carabinieri are everywhere. I remember bumping into two of them on a recent ski trip at the top of a station in Cervinia. They were all decked out looking like a couple of Armani models in state-of-the-art ski gear with the words “Carabinieri” plastered all over them. They were keeping an eye on the vigilantes in the mountains no doubt!
They are the butt of many jokes in Italy but the fact is that they represent more than anything the difficulties of integrating all of these diverse regions with different accents, different languages, and different codes of honor under one umbrella. They are not frightening at all. If you ask me who I would rather bump into on the highway, a state cop or a carabinieri, I think that I would choose thecarabinieri. Let’s face it – I am less likely to get a speeding ticket that way. It is Italy after all!