May 13, 2012

The Suicide by Edouard Manet

The Suicide by Edouard Manet

I had agreed, but only if paid the paltry sum of 300 euro puliti (clean), i.e., after tax, which had involved numerous irritating phone conversations with a succession of RAI bureaucrats.

Come the big day, I spent a couple of hours being interviewed by the RAI people at my local bar.

I had assumed that they would just hand me the cash and a receipt maybe. You must be joking. The check would be in the post, they said, and off they went. A few weeks later, a great fat envelope arrived by post at my home. Inside were three copies of a nine-page contract, two copies of which I had to initial on each page, sign, and return to RAI care of Doctor Adamo Italo, whose tiresome address ran to six lines. From the contract which took me ages to read I learned among other things that the 300 euro were no longer pulito and would, as is the Italian way, be taxed.

But that was not all. The envelope contained a whole wad of other documents. I took a quick look at these and saw that they concerned pensions. I try not to think about pensions, especially my own, so I threw them in the bin.

Some weeks later, I managed to summon up the necessary energy to sign and initial the contract twice, create a cover letter with my bank details and email address just in case, buy a big envelope in a shop, go to queue at the post office which closes at lunchtime for the day, and send the stuff off by registered mail plus proof of receipt by return of post.

Last week, an email arrived from Doctor Italo informing me that he could not pay me the 300 euros, not even reduced by all his taxes, because I had failed to send him back all the documents. He very kindly emailed me the ones I had binned. I am trying to look at them now. The last page of one of them is taken up entirely by explanatory notes for the tortuous jargon preceding it. Page one of the first one asks me to “€œDECLARE”€ something about what I earn. What’s it to them?

I throw the document down in despair and force myself to look at the second, which seems to be asking me if I am working freelance or employed full time. Simple, no? No, no, no, not here, not in Italy. Here, the word “€œfreelance”€ has many meanings, as do “€œemployed”€ and “€œfull time.”€

I wade into the gathering nightmare and another page which changes the subject. It asks me first whether I”€™m tied in any sort of “€œrelationship”€ with the government. And then the final page asks me to declare how many of my relatives work for RAI, and if so in what capacity, or any company anywhere in the world that has or has ever had a “€œrelationship”€ with RAI…or something.

I just can”€™t, I”€™m sorry, I just can”€™t get my head around all this stuff. Not for 300 euros gross before tax. Why can”€™t RAI mind its own business and let me sort out the tax? How many hundreds of pages does a contract run, and how many dozens of other documents must be completed to get paid for an entire day’s work with RAI?

When I was 21 and a student at Cambridge I spent one summer in the Greek islands. Looking one day at an impossibly beautiful sunset on the island of Paros in the Cyclades, I was struck low as if a shadow had passed across my soul by a dreadful existential depression which lasted several years. Life was so short and this was so beautiful. Thankfully, I managed somehow to avoid going to the health-profession psycho pill pushers for treatment.

Strangely, I never felt suicidal. I do in Italy every now and again.



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