When Enrico and I left the US, we had been living a grad student life (he was the grad student, I was just poor), and didn’t have all that much to move. Lots of books, my memorabilia, clothing, that was about it. It worked out to 30 boxes and a couple of trunks, which we shipped sea freight to Milan, where we would be living. It took six months or so to arrive, but that was fine as it took us almost that long to find a home and get settled in Milan.
One day we finally heard from the shipping company that our freight had arrived, and we had to go to the customs depot in Milan to get it. We arrived fully armed with inventories of every item that had been packed. It turned out I had been a little too punctilious in compiling the lists. The mention of “folk paintings from Africa” caused one stickler for protocol to threaten us that an art expert would have to be summoned from the local academy to assess the value of these paintings. All in vain my pleading that they were tourist items for which I had paid about $5. But he sent us off to another office for a second opinion.
The second man, fortunately, was on our side.
“Let’s get this stamped and get you out of here,” he said, “because in a couple of hours we’re going to have a sciopero bianco.”
“A white strike? What’s that?”
“That’s where we actually apply every single rule in the book, and nothing moves for days.”
We had planned to get the paperwork done and come back the next day with a truck to actually take our stuff away, but this bit of news galvanized us into action. I believe we finished the paperwork, went for the truck, loaded up (by ourselves), and got out again within two hours.