Be­ware the Ar­mani drive-by scam in Rome

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - MIKE SAFE

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.

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