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It’s not “if”, it’s “when,” all our friends have told us. You will be robbed. The ladri (thieves) will visit you and will take whatever gold and money they can find.

“No, no!” we cry, “we do not want to be robbed.” Well, obviously. Who does? But the fact remains that here in Italy breaking and entering is standard operating procedure, and for a number of rather complicated reasons it appears to be officially condoned (it is not).

Our friends the B’s, who live across town and up another hill from us, have been broken into three times, the first 20 years ago, then 9 years ago, then two weeks ago. They practically shrugged off the last outrage – there was nothing left in the house to steal.

Our friends J and M live in a beautiful, large villa in Santa. In spite of having lights and custodians on the premises, they have been broken into twice. The first time M’s jewelry was not stolen because she had cleverly hidden it in the cavity of a frozen chicken. All the other meat from the freezer was taken, but not the lowly chicken. Ha. In the later robbery their special paintings were not taken because they had hidden them in a very clever place which I’m not allowed to mention. Suffice it to say they were in such an obvious place they were not seen (no, not on the walls, not that obvious) (no, not under the beds either. Stop guessing; I promised not to tell.)

Our friend S was smart. He had a heavy steel safe installed in a wall behind a painting. About 2 months ago while S was out for the evening thieves came through his garden, picking up S’s iron pry bar on the way, and forced open the metal gate guarding the glass kitchen door, which they then broke. Insult to injury: at least they could have the courtesy to bring their own tools. Somehow they knew right where to find the safe. I can see visions of “Oceans 11” dancing in your head, the intelligent, handsome and clever robber placing his ear next to the door of the safe as he delicately spins the knob, listening for the click as the tumblers fall into place. No, not these guys. They just used the pry bar to smash up the wall and remove the whole safe, which they carried away with them.

And lest you think the wealthy are the only victims – two years ago our cleaning angel L and her husband D were victimized. They lived at the time on the fifth floor of an apartment building in a modest residential section of Rapallo. The back of their building was bare except for a small gas pipe that was fastened directly to the wall and which passed near their kitchen window. It gets hot in Rapallo in the summer, and they left their kitchen window open for a little ventilation. Someone, somehow, shinnied up that half-inch pipe and sashayed into their small apartment. The thief was bold enough to creep into the bedroom where L and D were asleep and relieve L of her purse and cell phone. (D’s was too beat up; they left it behind.)

If one is lucky, as the B’s were this last time, the thieves are courteous; they come when you’re out and though they look everywhere, they don’t leave a huge mess behind and they do not engage in gratuitous destruction. If you’re less lucky you will have a big mess, as S did, and if the thieves are frustrated by lack of goodies they may start breaking things. One can only hope for Gentlemen thieves (Roger Moore, anyone?).

Everyone protects their windows with shutters and/or grills. Doors are always locked. It doesn’t seem to matter. Even having a fierce dog doesn’t help. Our friends J and G thought their large dog would be a deterrent (oh all right, poodles aren’t terribly fierce, but this one at least was large and had a good bark). Someone took the trouble to get to know the dog, bringing food as a treat ahead of time. J and G know this because the dog had a delicate tum and the strange food made her ill; they wondered at the time what she had eaten. A week later it became clear when thief was able to gain entrance to the house without setting off the doggy alarm.

This last was a very troubling event because it happened at about 6 p.m. and J and G’s teen-aged daughter came home alone shortly after the thief gained entrance to the house. Evidently she scared him off and he left by a back window, but what if he hadn’t? Breaking, entering and stealing here are not usually accompanied by any kind of physical threat, nor are people on the streets often mugged. The pick-pockets will cheerfully lift your wallet from your back pocket and the thieves happily take all your jewelry, but they don’t often seem to want to stick a knife into you or shoot you or even find you at home. So far.

The police come, but it seems not much happens. Thieves are rarely caught, and if they are they may not go to prison. In Elaborations over on the right, there is an entry called a Policeman’s view, which explains in a little more detail why this is so…

Last week as I was typing away at about 11 p.m. I heard an odd rustling at the nearby door, a sort of scratch, scratch, scratch – pause – scratch, scratch, scratch. Animal? I wondered. But no, it was too regular. After about the 6th series of scratches I tiptoed over to the door and turned on the overhead light outside (we have no peep hole in the door, alas). Immediately the sounds stopped. I didn’t hear any other noise, and when I was bold enough to open the door a minute or two later there was nothing to be seen. Nothing, that is, but a new small hole on the inside edge of the door, as if made by a punch. Probably, our friend the policeman told us, someone just testing to see if the door is wood or steel. It’s steel. Double steel with treble bolts. But we’re resigned. Although we’ve taken all the precautions we can, we believe our friends: the ladri are coming.