How could I not fall in love with Italy? Almost from the start, she seduced me as no other country has done before. In the spirit of love.
We had left early morning from home in south Germany, wanting to make the most of a beautiful day, and to arrive in Italy with still some hours of sunshine to enjoy before nightfall. There were four of us in the car; three German women including my girlfriend, and myself, Australian wanderer.
In spite of so many years on the road, I still managed to stumble over a lack of attention to details from time to time. This particular morning was one of those times. About to arrive at the German-Swiss border, I realized that somehow I had left home without my passport. It was only fifty kilometres to backtrack, but of course that meant fully a hundred kilometres round trip. What the heck, in all our previous trips around the continent, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been asked for my passport. Europe, after all, was united, virtually as one country. Border formalities had all but been dropped in favour of reciprocal waivering of identification checks. I decided to trust my luck that the laxness would continue, and not bother to return.
We sailed through the German border, waved through with scarcely a glance. Ditto for the Swiss border. My decision to travel onwards without my passport seemed justified. Four hours or so later, arriving at the southern Swiss border in the beautiful Centovalli – Valley with a hundred valleys – again there was no interest in our identities. We drove on over the bridge to the Italian passport booth.
“Passaporti, per favore.” Shit, my confidence had come unstuck, even if the request was made with charm and a pleasant smile.
The three women handed over their identity cards. My goose was cooked, but I pretended naivity and offered my international drivers licence. The non-plussed border policeman screwed up his nose in bemusement. His expression declared “Uh?”
I didn’t even try to explain my gesture, but my girlfriend immediately came up with a response.
“Oh but Europe is moreorless one country now”, referring to the European Community, which has virtually removed border formalities for Europeans.
“I didn’t know that Australia was part of Europe though,” was the officer’s cold response.
My girlfriend was not put off by his reaction; she had lived in Italy for years as a student, after all.
“But sir,” she pleaded appealing to the Italian weakness for romance, “But we are in love, and will soon marry”.
His face screwed up in confusion. For just one moment, before it melted into helpless resignation.
“Ah, I see.” He hesitated for a moment, searching for an appropriate reply. His face brightened, “And you won’t be staying long, will you?”
“Oh no, not at all. Just for a few days.” Resolved.
With effusive gratitude from us, he waved us on, clearly delighted to have served his Cupids role.
I knew from that moment that my love for Italy was sealed forever.