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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Life of a Travel Writer: Italy and the angels who make life easier than it's meant to be

Our guidebook work in Italy has been continually frustrated by archaic bureau- cracy, old fashioned formality and an insistence on following protocols. Much more so than any other country we've worked in. Sure, we could visit attractions as travellers might and buy a full-price ticket, but we'd need to be discreet about taking notes and would have to sneak photos. But journalists are entitled to discounts and to take photos to be published we need permission. Once we announce ourselves, however, we inevitably waste time in an office describing the books, explaining our intentions, showing business cards, collecting passes, etc. Having said that, it's rare to get permission on the spot. Here, things have to be organized in advance - well in advance - and it's a nightmare. Phone somewhere and you'll be connected to an extension that never gets answered. Call the switchboard and ask for the direct name and number and you'll be told Italian privacy law prevents them from giving it out. Once you reach the right person you'll be told to put the request in writing and fax (rather than email) it. Once faxed, you'll be told it will take two weeks to process. It doesn't matter that it's already taken days if not weeks to get this far and your research is almost over. At a museum in a regional capital recently it took a day to cut through the red tape (with the help of influential locals), including hours waiting to see the museum director. Then, we were informed we could shoot just three photos (at €50 each upon publication) and we had to identify the subjects to be photographed and make a formal request in a letter. As we hadn't visited the museum yet, we chose the most famous sculptures. Once inside the museum, several hours later, Terry became friendly with the guard allocated to watch over us. Discovering we were Australian, he told us he had a relative in Melbourne and loved the place. After ten minutes of small talk and friendly banter Terry was shooting as many photos as he wanted. Half an hour later and he could have walked out of the museum with the sculptures. One hour later and the guy would have carried them out to the car for us! And waved us goodbye. With a message for his family. Which we would have happily taken back for him!


Nomadic Matt said...

"frustrated by archaic bureau- cracy, old fashioned formality and an insistence on following protocols."

so you're working for lonely planet lol

Jen Laceda | Milk Guides said...

I guess, red tape can exist almost anywhere in the world...We are in the process of renovating a house, but granted, it's a different process, but same frustrating circumstances. It took us 3 tries within 6 months to get our building permit from the City of Toronto. We tried every tactic in the world to speed things up. Finally, I just broke down and cried in front of the Building Examiner. A week later, we got a phone call that our permits were ready!

Anonymous said...

I'm planning a wedding in southern Italy (from the US) and I know exactly what you mean! While I can get email addresses for some people, they never respond (though they do read) and any official request or question must be faxed.