Beware the Armani drive-by scam in Rome
SO there we were, walking along the bank high above the algae-green waters of the Tiber, as you do in Rome, when a small blue sedan jagged across three lanes of traffic and screeched to a halt.
The driver, who looked like a downon-his-luck Danny DeVito, lowered the window of the Fiat, or it might have been a Nissan — it’s impossible to remember as everything was about to turn weird. My wife, Jennifer, more of a Good Samaritan than me, walked over to the guy, who appeared overly anxious about something.
I joined her and in fractured English, which was much better than our all but nonexistent Italian, he explained he was from Milan and was trying to find his way to the Vatican, just across the river as it happened.
Keen to exhibit our tourist smarts, I produced a map and pointed out that all he needed to do was take a left over the first traffic bridge, go on a bit, and St Peter’s Basilica would appear.
He was thankful and asked where we were from. The answer: Sydney, Australia. Oh, Sydney! He’d just been there to attend a fashion seminar that had something to do with everyone’s favourite Italian couturier, Giorgio Armani. Immediately, he produced a binder of catwalk cuttings from glossy magazines, leafing briefly through it while telling us that his wife had been born in Melbourne.
Everything was going swimmingly, especially when he produced a carry bag and passed it out to us.
Because we’d been so helpful, he wanted to give us gifts. They turned out to be a handbag, genuine Italian leather, he said, and some sort of rain jacket.
He then asked for our clothing sizes, saying he would have Armani’s Australian manager, who was his good friend, look after us when we arrived home.
Somewhat overwhelmed by all this good cheer, we were starting to wonder what was going on — and then it got really strange. Unfortunately, he said, there was a problem. He had to drive back to Milan that night, but there was a glitch with his credit card. It wasn’t working or had expired — he never quite explained and flashed a piece of red plastic, presumably the bung card, only for a split second.
So, being the nice Aussies we were, could we lend him some cash for petrol to get home? Jennifer, somewhat reluctantly, offered him a note, which he snatched. Stupidly, I added but he had spied a small wad of notes in my wallet. ‘‘Please, sir, I will need more than this — it’s a long way back to Milano,’’ or something similar. I looked at Jennifer, she looked at me . . . he put his foot down and accelerated into the traffic in a blue blur.
Even though this was our fourth trip to Rome, a place we love, we had been done over like innocents abroad. ‘‘He had really bad teeth — I should have known Armani would have nothing to do with him,’’ Jennifer deadpanned.
It turned out the handbag was made of vinyl-like stuff and the toggle on its zipper came off the moment it was pulled. The dodgy rain jacket? Well, it lost itself somewhere between Rome and our return to Sydney.
Two days later, we were again down by the Tiber when we saw a couple peering disconcertedly into a carry bag that looked vaguely familiar. From it, they pulled a handbag that looked even more familiar, only a crappier grey colour than ours. They were Californians and it turned out that our Danny DeVito look-alike with the bad teeth was still collecting for his drive home. He’d stung them for even more — And they didn’t even get a rain jacket.