Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 September 2009

Barga: The Money Changer

We go into Barga to change some travellers cheques. Just off the square, the Banca Toscana is near the Tamol petrol station. (Angela the vivacious pump operator, small, dark eyed, her face deeply tanned by the Tuscan sun, always gives me a big smile even when I’m not buying petrol. Benzina in Italy is expensive but I find it easier to pay for when purchased from Angela.) 

But to the Banca Toscana… to gain access one presses a button outside a narrow, curved glass kiosk the outer door of which slides open to admit one only, then shuts. Once inside this vertical coffin one presses another button to open a similar internal door. The operation takes about a minute. In other words if there are five customers waiting it’ll take the last one at least five minutes to get in. Inside there are queues of people who stand in silence or talk in low whispers and wait, with infinite patience, for the mills of the banca to grind; exceedingly slowly.

I am ushered to one of the queues where I wait and wait until I am confronted by a female automaton who checks my passport while I sign enough TCs to get me 500 000 lire - about $NZ500.00 - of ready cash to see us through the last few days in Italy. La bella signorina sends me to the back of another queue where, at length, I come face to face with a spotty youth with a fag in his mouth. He grunts smoke at me past half-closed eyes, checks my passport again, takes my TCs, counts them then enters something into a calculator which spews a faint print-out which he gives me with a flourish. I scrutinize it and discover that I’m about to receive 950 000 lire!

Hitherto our language has been Italian; well, mine was Italian, his could have been anything. But when I look at the print-out and say aloud to myself, ‘That looks like a jolly good rate of exchange’ he stands, leans forward and snatches it from my hand.

‘Umf umf wumf umf’ he says, his cigarette flapping up and down in his lips.

Mi scusi?’ I ask.

He takes the cigarette out of his mouth and admits, reluctantly while reddening, ‘I made a mistake.’

‘Indeed? You surprise me.’ But I think my sarcasm was lost on him.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’


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By Don Donovan