The Missing Purse


Manarola

La Cinque Terre

If you had a chance to read “Nonni On a Train,” you’ll know that I found myself in the beautiful town of Riomaggiore without my purse, license, credit or debit cards and minus about 150 Euro.

If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know without my even saying it that I had a full on panic attack standing in the train station.

Many swears were spoken in more than on language on that platform. I think I even made a few of them up.

But while I was having my heart attack, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by calmer heads. My husband the saint never once asked how I could have been stupid enough to forget my purse. My sons assured me that everything could be replaced and that money is only money. My future daughters-in-law came up with several good ideas of how to proceed. All would be well, they all assured me.

My first thought was to find a police officer. So I ran into a little restaurant and asked in my broken Italian, “Where can I find the police?”

The two women who worked there looked at me with pure horror. “Polizie?” one asked. The other put her hand to her mouth. I realized that they were both thinking, “Holy shit, someone got stabbed/raped/beaten and it was right outside our door!”

As quickly as I could, I reassured them. With a mixture of hand gestures (pays to be Italian by birth), broken Italian and simplified English, I explain that I had left my purse “con documenti i carti” on the train. I was a wreck, shaking, sweating in the 90 degree humid air, my heart pounding. The older woman said, “Ah, capito! I help.” and grabbed the phone. She motioned to her friend, a younger waitress and told her to get me some water. They sat me down, poured me a cold glass of water (the best water I have EVER tasted) and got in touch with the police in the town of La Spezia, where the train was headed and where my family and I were staying.

I don’t speak much Italian, especially when I am in the middle of a complete emotional breakdown, but I understood that the local cops told my rescuer to call the train security people. She did just that, talking to them for more than 20 minutes. The younger woman kept an eye on me, saying, “Oh, my God” and “What a mess” or something like that. Every now and then she’d pat my shoulder, squeeze my hand, or pour me more cold water.

Meanwhile, my husband was trying to check on which documents he was carrying and which were with me. My sons had gotten the number on the front of the train and were thinking of ways to quickly get back to La Spezia. The girls were talking to locals and asking for advice while all of them waited for me to reappear.

Finally the woman in the restaurant asked me for my phone number and name, which she passed on the person in train security. She told me “Tomorrow….morning….go to…(pointed to a word on a paper)….” In Italian she said, “Maybe they will have your things.”

I was so overwhelmed! In one of the busiest tourist towns in Italy, right at the dinner hour, she had stopped everything to help a complete stranger who she’d never see again. I was teary eyed as I hugged her and her compassionate friend. “Grazie, grazie mille, grazie!” I made my way out the door to find my family, wiping tears away.

We took the train back to La Spezia, with the kids joyful energy keeping my spirits up. When we got there, we found two train security people. One was a tall (handsome) guy and the other his short, pretty female partner. We told them our story, and they said that they had already heard about it (yay for my heroic woman friend!) They asked if I wanted to “make a report.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked if they’d do it in my situation.

In true Italian fashion, they shrugged. I got the impression that they figured it was a lost cause. So did I.

When we were about to leave, I pulled out the last of my remaining humor and asked, “Per favore, dovi il vino?” (“Please, where is the wine?”) They laughed, and we said goodnight.

So.

For an hour, Paul was on the phone trying to cancel my credit cards. He managed to do that, but he also inadvertently cancelled his. That meant that we were down to half of our cash and one debit card.

Merda, as we say in Italy. Merda, merda, merda.

The next morning we planned to take a ferry to the “Gulf of Poets” to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and swim in the Mediterranean. We decided that it was pointless to go the to train security to look for my purse. Who would find a purse full of cash and cards and bother to return it? Even it had been returned, wouldn’t the local police take the cash? I mean, come on, we’ve all heard about the corrupt Italian police. And the cards were no good anymore anyway.

We did our day trip. We came back to La Spezia and had dinner. We went to bed.

The next morning we were heading to Rome. We all decided that we had just enough time to hop back on the train for one last visit to the Cinque Terre.

We boarded the train, and just before it left, the doors opened. In walked two police officers. I saw them come in, and saw the taller one glance at my kids and then lock his eyes on me. He pointed. He strode toward me.

My heartbeat went to about 524. I think I squeaked.

I was sure I was headed for Italian jail.

“Tu! Tu sei la signora!” (You! You are the woman!)

I squeaked again, then my girl Jessica said, “It’s about your purse!”

“Si!” the tall cop said, and I suddenly recognized him from the other night. The good looking one (Jeez. I am getting old). “You come with me! Now! We have your things!” He grabbed my hand and Paul and I ran off the train with him and his partner.

It turns out that he was watching the security cameras, and he recognized me! Holy amazing.

He took us to the office of the train security officer, a big, jovial guy named Luca who even had the kindness to flirt with me as we were introduced.

I was truly dumbfounded by the whole thing. I hugged the two officers who had taken me off the train with about 50 heartfelt grazies. As I turned to follow Luca, the man asked, “Signora, il vino era buono?” (Was the wine good?)

So.

It turns out that in this scary, supposedly corrupt country, a woman can drop her purse in a tiny train bathroom, have it ignored by countless other riders, and then it can be picked up the train security. Those security people can ignore the 150 Euros in it and bring it to the head guy, who will not only leave every cent inside of it, but spend hours trying to find its owner on the internet and by phone (mine had died when he’d called.) A guy just doing his regular job can see a familiar face on his camera, rush onto the train, and save the whole situation.

I started the day calling myself “La Signora stupida,” but ended it by calling myself “La Signora fortunata.”

 

Nonni On a Train


FlowersWhile I have lots of moving and touching stories to share with you, I feel most compelled this morning to share my misadventure on a train the other day.

Why?

Because in retrospect, it’s freakin’ hilarious.

On July 4th we woke up in our beautiful, comfortable guesthouse in the little city of LaSpezia, just outside of Italy’s famous Cinque Terre. Side note; if you ever come to the Cinque Terre part of Italy and want to save a bundle on a room, book yourself into La Branda. The kindest hosts on earth and very comfortable, pretty rooms. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Anyway, our two sons and their girlfriends were with us, and we all headed into the  Cinque Terre. It was as magical as everyone says! While we were riding the train, we were going through gritty little towns, then a tunnel, then a town. Suddenly, we came out of a tunnel and onto a wide open view of the Mediterranean. The whole train burst into applause and cheers and all the locals smiled. Magic.

We started our day at the farthest village, called Monterosso al Mare. We had read that it was the best place to swim, and we were more than ready to do that.

At first we just took in the sights. We strolled, we people watched, we went into shops, we took pictures. It was hard to decide where to look next! In the early afternoon we found the local beach, and threw ourselves into the clear blue waters of the sea.

Beach

It was Heaven, I tell ya, pure Heaven! We floated for so long our fingers turned into prunes. We found beautifully colored stones and sea glass, as smooth as polished marble. We had ice cold beers on the shore, then went in to swim some more.

When it was finally time to head out of the water and back into town, I wasn’t sure of where to change. My bathing suit was soaked, and I didn’t want to put my clothes on over it. But this chubby middle aged American was not about to follow local custom and change on the beach.

Bathrooms in the Cinque Terre, it turns out, are as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

So I put on a gauzy, flowy shirt that covered me to about mid-thigh. I was a little bit faked out to be walking through town with so much of me on show, although the ladies all around me were unfazed to be eating dinner in bikinis. Even the chubby, gray haired ones who it seemed should know better.

I tried to just go with the flow, pulling on the hem of my colorful shirt every third step. I could just picture my flabby old thighs, complete with various scratches and bruises. I wanted to apologize to everyone walking uphill behind me.

After a while, we took the train down to the village of Manarola and walked all through the streets.(Yep. I was still in my bathing suit and flowy thing.)

It was really beautiful! We ate dinner and drank Prosecco.  I had the most delicious octopus and fresh lemon cured anchovies.

Also approximately 14 pounds of fresh Italian bread.

anchovy

 

At this point in our adventure, Nonni here had consumed several gallons of liquid, including beer and wine. It was time for some relief. But remember the part about the rare bathrooms? No matter how I searched, I wasn’t able to find a place were I could a) put on some decent clothing and b) prevent the embarrassment of peeing myself in public.

So I clenched my….teeth….and kept walking.

At last, we decided to get back on the train and head down to the last town, Riomaggiore.

“Aha!” I thought to myself, “The train has a bathroom!”

As soon as we got on, I ran to the bathroom. OK, I probably didn’t actually “run”, since my knees were locked together. But I sure as hell scuttled as fast as I could go. I had a bag with my clothes in my hand, planning to pee fast and get changed at the same time.

All would probably have been well, except for two small problems. We were only going one stop on this very fast train, and it was going to take a while to let go of all that liquid buildup. Nevertheless, off came the suit, I wrangled me into my bra and took care of business. Sighing with painful relief, I got into my undies and had one foot in my shorts when the train very suddenly lurched to a halt.

“Bam!”

Back went Nonni, crashing into the toilet. Luckily, the bathroom was only about the size of a shoebox, so there wasn’t far to fall. I ignored my injured backside and yanked on my shorts, grabbing my sandals in one hand and the bag with my bathing suit in the other. As I opened the door, I saw my family getting off the train so I rushed to the door.

For some reason that is probably known only to the Italians, the train stopped partway down the tunnel. We had to walk in the semi-dark between the train and the brick wall. I was still barefoot, and pictured myself stepping on a rat or something. So as I made my way down the narrow tunnel, I was hopping on one foot and pulling a sandal on the other.

I was laughing though, in spite of my aching cheek. We were all laughing and talking about our fabulous day.

Right up until I suddenly realized that I had left my purse on the now departing train.

Holy panic attack.

I’ll tell you what happened in my next post.