italy; you driva mi crazi

Well here it is, the arrival hall at Ancona airport, the most local to our place in Italy. And behind the gentleman with the bags you’ll notice the car rental offices. We almost always have a saga hiring a car when we arrive in Italy. Probably the  most memorable moment was arriving at the Avis desk in Rimini to find  they had simply run out of cars. Forget that we’d pre-ordered a car, they had none; nor were they particularly keen to refund the deposit. Very Italian.

Anyway we’d pre-booked a car for our recent trip with a small supplier because they offered such a good hire rate. That’s always a signal that there’s a probable catch of course. And the company had the word Sicily in the title, so I was anticipating a conversation with some guy who could have featured in Mickey Blue Eyes. And there was a problem. They wanted to charge a massive 1000€ deposit for hiring the car. I don’t know about you but we don’t always have that amount of cash in our account and we only use debit cards these days. Big drama at the desk – they could accommodate us on a different deal but the insurance costs pushed the overall charges to more than double the original quote. With my best Mickey Blue Eyes accent I told him to ‘forged abard id’.

We tried the Avis desk but they had no cars available (I think they should change their strapline from ‘we try harder’ to ‘we don’t even try any more’), the Hertz office had a sign up saying they didn’t even accept debit cards and so with a feeing of creeping unease I walked up to Europcar. You can see their desk in the background of the image above. They found me a Cinquecento at almost the same rate as the original deal and only charged a reasonable deposit. I signed up eagerly and when I asked about whether to fill up with unleaded or diesel he simply said ‘Signore, it’s an Abarth’. Ahhh I purred as if I knew what he was talking about. I felt like saying ‘Ok forged Abarth it then’ but resisted (the Italians like their humour slapstick rather than of the post-ironic variety ). The car turned out to be a sporty version – which took unleaded fuel and none of that diesel tractor shit; again very Italian – and it was tremendous fun. A bloody result snatched from the jaws of near despair. Mickey Blue Eyes would have been very proud of me.

Next stop the supermarket at Civvitanova. C did the shopping whilst I popped upstairs to the TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) shop to get our Italian mobile SIM card for the iPad recharged. We’d taken this rather than the laptop because it’s so light (we were flying with Ryanair whose generous baggage allowance allows you to take on board a pair of socks, a toothbrush and not a lot else ). Now I like the guys in this TIM shop because they are all young, attractive and particularly helpful, usually. Young ‘Sandro took me through the options and suggested that their special promozione would suit my needs – 100 hours of broadband access for 19€ (or rather 25€ by the time I’d paid for all the admin stuff). Perfect; how could I possibly use more than 100 hours of online access inside 10 days simply by accessing hotmail?

That was Thursday afternoon and the activation wouldn’t begin before Friday morning. And it did just that. During Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday the service worked well. We were simply going in and out two or three times a day to check messages etc. I wasn’t even blogging. But Tuesday morning dawned and the online access was totally denied. Aw for frig’s sake.

Now the town of Civvitanova is around 30kms from where we live. It happens to be a great stopping/shopping point on the way down from Ancona airport but it’s not exactly local. So I decided to pop down to our nearest  TIM shop in Servigliano which is just the 7 kms away (and back). The shop was open and in my best Italglish I explained the situation and the fact that I couldn’t conceive how we’d used 100 hours of broadband access in just over 4 days; 10 hours tops would be closer.  Jeez we’d been spending 8 hours per day cleaning, repairing and decorating; 2-3 hours watching dvds; several hours in the evening socialising with our friends; 7 hours sleeping and a bit of time relaxing and having some fun. It simply wasn’t possible to have chewed through 100 hours of online accces already I explained in my most exasperated charades-cum-fractured Italian style to the young chap behind the counter wearing big white clown glasses. He empathised, I think, as he accessed TIM’s bloody computer and told me that the mobile BB limit had either been exceeded or that the simpletons in the Civvitanova shop hadn’t actually activated the 100 hours facility. On the basis that that the former wasn’t actually possible I asked him if he could tell the computer to activate the account. No! he replied, I could only do that from the original shop but he’d be happy to install a new 100 hours account for another  25€. But here was the thing, I explained to Franco, as I hadn’t received anything like my full entitlement, why on earth would I pay for the service again? It wasn’t the most eloquent Italian but I think the occasional injection of Anglo Saxon adjectives added a bit of much-needed emphasis. He shrugged and made clear that  that was it. Finito.

Well, I considered my position and informed him with as much disdain as I could muster on my face (I adopted an early Cliff Richard lip sneer) that in ‘Italia niente lavoro’ and flicked my fingers under my chin as if I was Sonny Corleone. It was almost certainly grammatically incorrect but in my pissed-off and  finger-expressive  way it was meant to convey that  ‘absolutely nothing in fuc*ing Italy fuc*ing works!’ I think I may have offended him because he responded pretty snappily that ‘No! Italia works well!’ I could easily have challenged him with a ‘well what about Berlusconi and the Euro’ counter but I realised he only had to mention Nick Clegg to trump me, so I stayed silent. However he did surprise by adding that ‘the problem for you signore is that we employ some poor people in TIM’s shops’. Well I might have been hacked off with his inability to help but I couldn’t fault his patriotism or his honesty.

Feeling slightly less antagonistic towards him I asked if he’d call his crap colleagues in the Civva shop for me to sort the problem out and he simply replied ‘No, they will not answer’. “But could you try ?’ I pleaded . ‘No (this was getting a bit boring now), he didn’t talk with idiots’. ‘I see’  I said, aware that this Dorothy Parker pistol wit was probably including me in this grouping. Muttering darkly I snatched up my receipts and  bits of technology and repeated that ‘niente lavoro’ with an f  expression inserted for effect and stormed out.

So we had no broadband access and I’d burned our bridges with the local TIM shop. Aw ffs.The reality was I’d popped down to our local town to get some some provisions and to sort out this little problem whilst C was still getting up and ready. My reputation as an unlikely hero at sorting out problems in Italy was under threat and anyway we needed online access. So, I took the decision to head off to Civvitanova again to sort this out.

I arrived at the shop 40 mins or so later. Sandro wasn’t there but in his place was Cinzia a very nice assistant who listened to my woes with great patience and not a little incomprehension I suspect. She checked into the TIM system and told me that the credit limit had been exceeded. She explained that TIM charged for access in 15 minute increments even if we’d been online for only a few seconds and she suggested that this was the reason why we’d probably churned through our entitlement so quickly. I still couldn’t see this. We would have had to have accessed the system hundreds of times to make this the reason for the expiration which was patently ridiculous.  It was just too difficult to explain and argue so I took a deep sigh and decided to purchase  a completely new package. Cinzia convinced me, with a delightful smile and without too much effort, that the 100 hours promotional offer wasn’t the best solution for our needs. You don’t say. She recommended the ‘Senza Limiti’ package  giving unlimited usage for the next 30 days for 24€. Or 30€ after admin charges. Although we weren’t going to be around for anything like a month I figured I should take it knowing it was without limits this time.  So I paid up and toddled off back to our home in the certain knowledge that now all would be fine once the activation had kicked in the next day. My reputation would be restored.

And so it came to pass that on the 5th day God created a TIM SIM that actually worked. Hurrah, we had BB access. For two days. Then it stopped working again. Sigh.

I headed off back to TIM’s shop at Civvitanova for a 3rd time. You could say I was in a pretty dark mood and of course Cinzia wasn’t there but Sandro was again. I tried to explain the circumstances but  it was very hard without knowing some decent Italian to explain the saga. Look how many words I’ve used up in this posting already. Sandro put me on to his telephone contact at TIM who spoke some English. I asked her how I could possibly have used up a month’s unlimited access inside 2 days. I was told I must have exceeded the bandwidth limit of 10 GB (what happened to unlimited access?). The most I’d downloaded was one radio podcast off iTunes because I couldn’t receive direct radio transmissions from the UK online (Apple don’t permit Flash on iPad, sigh). I couldn’t believe that this had exceeded 10GB of usage. Blimey that’s a pretty standard level of BT Broadband service in the UK.

Anyway to compound the difficulty, Sandro explained that I had had the temerity to exceed my paid-for BB limit and was actually in debit to TIM to the tune of 3.5 €. I owed them! By all accounts I could only resurrect the ‘without limits ‘ offer (or more accurately without limits provided you don’t exceed the in-built limits) by paying a further 5 € ‘unlocking’ charge. Sigh. What do you do? I paid it and was told that all would now be OK  although the access wouldn’t re-activate until the next day. We only had two days of our holiday left but our business is buoyant at the moment and I needed to have service to access my messages etc. So in the end I had paid 60€ for it (and almost as much in petrol costs) and had, I guess, at max 30 hours usage in 10 days. Welcome to Italy and its bloody soul-destroying approach to utility services.

And it’s not just me, you know. I’d been telling my good friend John who has a place just down the road from us about the benefits of the mobile BB dongle for months. His house sits about 50 metres lower down than ours but it’s just enough to put it in a coverage shadow on TIM. So John had gone to a telcomms shop over in Sarnano about 30kms away in the opposite direction to get a Vodafone mobile BB dongle and SIM.  He’d returned excitedly looking forward to having online access at last. But it simply wasn’t possible to activate the service, even after 24 hours. We even tried it at our place in case the shadow effect also impacted on Vodafone’s coverage. But signal strength was good at both our homes. John had no option but to return to the shop again. They’d only gone and failed to activate the SIM initially. It was easily rectified but John was without service for 3 days and had effectively lost a day of his holiday and third of  a tank of petrol traipsing back and forth to the shop. Italy’s a truly lovely country but this sort of stuff drives you crazy.

If that wasn’t enough we uncovered quite a degree of low-level damage  to our home from our guests this summer. A cracked double-glazed window, a patio table broken as if someone had stood on it, a bench seat broken and tied up with rope from our hammock, a double-sinked vanity unit in our bathroom just split in half etc. We’d spent our first morning cleaning and doing basic repairs etc when I heard C laughing in the kitchen. It had been a challenging morning doing damage assessment so what could possibly have been so amusing?  I’m not telling a word of a lie here but C showed me her discovery which she’d found whilst cleaning all the crockery. We were used to finding cups with broken handles placed at the back of cupboards but this took the biscuit. It was only an egg-cup, clearly broken but with the pieces re-assembled and held together crudely with cellotape. Not even glue! Did they presumably think that we wouldn’t notice? How much would it have cost our guests to replace it? Couldn’t they call or leave a message to say they’d accidentally broken an egg-cup? What’s the worst that we would have said?

Probably ‘Foregg abard id’.