CUSTOMS DECLARATION. I was relieved when the bill of lading came. The house I had found in the Alban Hills was no noble villa, but my family was small and it would do very well for a year. The lease had been signed; I had been initiated into the secrets of the carta bollata (the taxable paper on which Italian legal documents are drawn up); the notary had explained to me the contract’s more obscure clauses. Only one small detail was left: my baggage had to be brought through customs.

One morning I went to the appropriate government office, located in an old, seedy, barracks-like building on the outskirts of Rome. I let the taxi driver wait, because I thought it was all a mere formality – no merchandise, no valuables, just a few boxes with household goods, clothes, books. I spent three days of my life in this barracks – in a labyrinth of storerooms, offices, corridors, antechambers and counters – unbelieving at first, then outraged and finally embittered and demoralized. All around me everything was running like clockwork. Brisk, business-like but mysterious people with thick gold watches hurried past me, laughing and exchanging greetings and jokes with the officials. Countless cups of coffee were being drunk. I was the only person who had to wander from one counter to the next with my forms (five copies of each), with duty stamps, clearance vouchers, receipts and certificates. I pleaded my case a dozen times, was forced to wait, was put off with fine words, was sent from pillar to post and was ignored.

On the evening of the third day I received my possessions with a stony expression. There were no fewer than thirty-eight rubber stamps on my bill of lading and my customs declaration. I had fought doggedly and resentfully for each one. That was more than twenty years ago, but even today I’m gripped by an unreasoning repugnance when I catch sight of an Italian customs official.


Four Corners
Murderer in the Family (Part Two)