Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being towed in Alessandria

Alessandria is a lovely city, with a very long history (founded on a "pre-existing urban nucleus" in 1168 according to Wikipedia). I have found it to be friendly and low-key, a quiet place without many tourists. The photo was taken from my sister-in-law's balcony, and it shows a bit of the natural beauty to be found there as well.
In 2003 I was visiting Alessandria (and Italy) for the very first time. We parked in the piazza across from my mother-in-law's apartment, just as we had done a few times before that week. But little did we know, it was Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning was Market Day. Of course we parked about 3 spaces inside the forbidden zone but we weren't paying attention. In the morning, there is NO CAR. NO CAR at all. Just masses of people and trailers and booths. My husband was speechless. We trundled off to where the police station USED to be when he was a child - then were directed back across town to the other police station. Since I was the official renter and driver, I had to be the one to deal with the car. And he said I had a better chance with them as an American tourist than he did as a pissed off former citizen. As we walked he tried to teach me some of what I needed to say, but it was useless. My traumatized brain remembered niente.

I walked into the police station alone (he said he would be arrested if he tried, he was so angry) and found the right place to ask. All I could do was hold up my rental car keys and say "machina, GONE!" with mournful emphasis. The guy behind the desk realized he needed help. Two women from somewhere else in the station began to try and explain things. Then another customer came and helped. Finally, an off-duty policeman who spoke some limited English chimed in. We managed between us to establish that the car was indeed towed. Also that there was a fine - 100 euros I think. After some discussion among my team of helpers, they apparently agreed to waive the fine. They called and asked the towing place to waive the fee but that could not be arranged. I think it was 65 euros. To me this was totally fair and I agreed and thanked them.

Now of course I have the problem that I need to get to the car, and have NO IDEA how to follow directions. My husband is still wisely staying out of sight and I get the feeling that I'm better off without him at this point. The off-duty policeman volunteers to take me to the towing place and unbelievable as it sounds, I hopped right in the car with him. Something I probably wouldn't do in the US! I asked him if there was an ATM since I didn't have the cash, and of course the first ATM we stopped at wasn't working. So in his police car we drive the wrong way up a one-way street, blocking the doorway to the bank - and he waits for me while I go in and get incredibly hosed on the exchange rate but come out with enough cash. Then we are off to the towing yard where there is much smiling and cheerful buongiorno-ing as I pay my towing fee (reduced to 50 euros!). And we have to have a few espressos together with the staff while the lowest guy on the totem pole goes to extract the car. Then my policeman kindly leads me out of the mess, offers to buy me lunch (which I politely decline) and in only three hours that adventure is complete. My poor husband is very happy to see me when I pull up in the piazza.

Ever since, we have been very careful about parking in an open space, and we always read the signs!

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