As we thought and planned our move to Italy, I included cars in my many searches. Cars in the USA, cars in Italy. Shipping … taxes … importing … taxes … exporting … taxes … buying new … taxes … buying used … taxes. After all the research, we decided to buy a car in California and ship it to Italy. There seemed to be too many variables about the purchase there … and we could import one car, owned for at least a year, tax-free and duty-free within six months of our arrival. I wasn’t sure how much duty would be, but IVA (what others call VAT) is 22%. Shipping our car would eliminate a problem … or two, if we wanted to finance the car … that we’d have to resolve soon after we landed.

We bought a VW Jetta diesel sportwagen. It was in hot demand at the time, but we got it through Costco … much to the dismay of the dealer who was selling us a very popular car at a better price than he could get from a non-Costco customer.

I printed out the specs for our American Jetta and the Italian specs for the same model … called a Golf … in Italy.

The months turned to weeks before our move … and I reviewed our registration and pink slip. We had taken out a loan to purchase the Jetta, and though it had been paid off for over a year, the credit union still appeared on the paperwork. We headed to the credit union, and they immediately prepared the release. Then it was off to the nearest Auto Club so the documents could be corrected at the DMV. We expedited the request. All good.

On our way home, we stopped at our VW dealer in Van Nuys. We told our tech that the car was coming with us to Italy, and asked if he would sign the printed pages with the specs of our car and the Italian specs. He did. No one said we needed this, but in an abundance of legal secretary-ness, I wanted it ready.

Once we had these papers, it was back the Italian Consulate. Not to see my nemesis-turned-BFF Sandra, but a man named Stefano. The same man who, years before, had done the Italian notary when we purchased our house. He said that the documents needed to be translated into Italian. And then he said that I could do the translation, and he would certify it. Me! Moi … I mean, io! That was an exciting moment.

I spent the rest of the day translating … trying to keep a somewhat similar format … and writing the papers out by hand, on lined paper. We didn’t have a printer to attach to our laptop.

The next morning, we went to see Stefano. The other side of the office seems to have a more casual walk-in to get help policy. He approved all of the documents … Certificate of Ownership … Registration … Specs. For each document, he carefully folded down the upper left corner into a triangle, then stapled it and stamped it with a round purple ink official seal of approval.

We were as ready as we could be. The papers went into the manila folder labeled “VW.”

Our container arrived two months after we did, and our port rep was Giusy. That was the first time I had heard the name, and I still think of her when I hear the name. Giusy called me a couple of times … confirming that we had owned the car for more than a year, asking how long we had been in Italy. The car was approved within the week … no hidden fees to pay, no additional documents to sign. The contents of our container … clothes and cookware and the trunk with which my dad had moved to the United States … were loaded into a truck and would arrive in two days. I emailed Giusy photos of the road signs leading from the main road to our little street, the exact distances — in kilometers —along the route so the truck driver would know where to turn, what our home looked like.

Except for the fact that the truck wasn’t permitted to drive on a gravel road and that our car was way too wobbly backing down the two wooden planks from the floor to the asphalt, everything arrived intact.

We parked our car … there it had to stay until it was street legal.

Now we had to register our little Jetta in Tuscany. Friends said that the “Auto Club” office in town always had lots of people waiting lots of time to be helped, and suggested we drive to the next town where they had a similar agency. The man there, Salvatore, was very nice … he said that the provincia of Florence is very slow in handling paperwork, but if we drove to the next provincia, the next county, Pistoia, they could get everything done more quickly. Time is money, since we were still in our rental car … so saving two weeks (meaning three weeks, Italian-style) meant saving a few hundred euros. He gave us the name and address of the agency. Something & Rose … Rose & Something.

The next day, we headed to Pistoia. And without too many wrong turns, we found the agency. Which happened, coincidentally, to be across the street from a VW dealer. We went upstairs, and were ushered into an office. The man’s name has been lost in the fog of worry (the mind forgets pain) … let’s call him Manny. Anyway, Manny looked at our paperwork and shook his head. I can’t register this car here. This car isn’t legal … it can’t be driven in Italy and certainly not in any city … it will get the lowest energy rating of 0 … you won’t be able to get it serviced, no parts will be available … it will have current value, no resale value. We sat dumbfounded. But, Manny said, let’s go across the street to talk with the VW dealer.

Across the street we went. We stood dumbfounded. And panicky. There we met a salesman and a mechanic; again, names forgotten … let’s call them Moe and Jack, respectively. Moe was very nice, trying to calm us … or revive us … saying that there would be a solution to this unexpected problem. Jack thought that a car from California would be a great car, but it seemed his opinion didn’t matter as Manny and Jack discussed our Jetta.

As they talked amongst themselves, David and I were trying frantically to figure out what to do. We can ship the car back to Florida … a closer (and cheaper) destination than California. Maybe cousin Marla would want to buy it. How much would that cost? Should I call our shipper? Should we call Marla? And how expensive is a new car? Which new car? As we listened to parts of their conversation, foreheads furrowed, Manny was Mr. Doom-and-Gloom while Moe was Mr. Optimism. All our planning … pfft … the Jetta was approved by the Country of Italy and the Customs officials, but the County rejects it.

Finally, Manny and Moe told us to go home. There was nothing we could do today. One or both of them would have to look into our situation, and figure out if and how the Jetta could stay in Italy. In any event, the taillights and brake lights would need to be replaced, among other unspecified modifications.

Back at home, I collapsed … that was my low. I stood in the guest bedroom and sobbed. And sobbed. “I’ll call Mark and get my job back. I loved my job, and I know Mark would be very happy to have me there. We made a horrible mistake to move here. What were we thinking? We were so stupid, so naive, too foolish, too idealistic,” was my inner monologue.

The next day, Manny called. Good news, he began, I have a solution … I found a loophole. I exhaled. The loophole is for Italians who are returning to Italy. When they move back, they are permitted to bring their car with them, whatever car that is. You have an Italian surname … so I will say, rather YOU will say, that you are Italians returning home after living in the USA. Come in tomorrow and we can do the paperwork.

And bring a 1,000 euros.

Also … your car will have to be inspected. I talked with Moe, and he can do it for 400 euros. Do we have to have the inspection there?, I asked. No … but you’ll have to start at square 1 with another dealership. Ok, I sighed. Good, Manny said, the flatbed truck will come to pick up your car.

The next day, we drove with our friends, Dario and Cristina, to Pistoia. They were nice enough to come with us to make sure that Manny wasn’t taking us for a ride (so to speak), and that all the registration costs were per lege … according to the law.

What a difference a day makes. What a difference 1,000 euros makes. Manny was as nice as could be … and Moe, now realizing that he lost the sale of a new car, took the role of obnoxious jerk.

Our car arrived at the dealership shortly after we did. It was rolled off the truck and into the mechanic bay. And there it sat. No one looked under the hood, nobody kicked the tires, neither a light changed nor a bulb replaced. A Griswold inspection … look, nod twice, leave. But Jack stood and admired it, probably imagining himself driving up PCH, big nasty redhead at his side. When all was said and done, our Jetta got the highest rating of 5. Wish they all could be California cars.

Back in Manny’s office, we reviewed the paperwork. Dario and Cristina convinced Manny to waive the notary fee and got him to reduce another cost … so we saved about 200 euros. I’m not sure what portion was real registration fees and how much was Manny’s [wink wink] loophole. Manny handed us our new license plates, and we went happily, screwdriver in hand, went downstairs to put them on. But we still had to pay close 1,500 euros to thread that needle.

The California plates are proudly on the wall of the shed … and it’s still the local VW dealership photograph on my smartphone. You can take the girl out of California …


These are also very good if you add 1 cup of shredded coconut … then you can call them Cocoa-Coconut Cookies.

4 oz. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbl. cocoa
1-¼ cup ricotta
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
Nuts … for top
5 oz. (approximately) dark chocolate … for glaze

- Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Line 2 baking sheets with silpats.
- In large bowl, cream butter and sugar, then add eggs, cocoa, ricotta and vanilla … blend well.
- Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
- Using 2 spoons, scoop/drop cookies onto sheets.
- Press a nut into the top of half of the cookies.
- Bake for 18–20 minutes, until the cookies slightly firm and still a bit soft.
- Let cool.
- Melt chocolate … then drizzle onto each cookie. While the chocolate is warm, press a nut into the cookies without nuts. Let the chocolate set, putting the cookies in the refrigerator, if necessary.
- Makes approximately 50 cookies.


These were a delicious mistake. I misread the recipe, and doubled the butter. I realized right away that they were no longer cantucci … so they became drop cookies.

6 oz. butter, melted and cooled
6 oz. dark chocolate melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 oz. (2 Tbl.) coffee grounds [optional]
2–½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips or chunks

- Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Line 2 baking sheets with silpats.
- In large bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla (and coffee grounds, if using) … then mix in melted chocolate and butter.
- Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
- Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips
- Using 2 spoons, scoop/drop cookies onto sheets.
- Bake for 8–10 minutes … they should remain soft.
- Let cool … or not [wink].
- Makes approximately 50 cookies.



Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store