46-year old Milanese tax attorney Salvatore Rossi, his wife Giulia, and their three-year old daughter Alessandra are travelling up the A9 on the Italian Autostrada from Milan to Switzerland at 110km. The speed excites little Alessandra who whoops with glee. But it makes Giulia nervous and she tells Salvatore to slow down.
Salvatore is nervous too, but not about the little blue four door Fiat Panda chugging its way north along the banks of Lake Como. He doesn’t slow down. There’s no time to waste. He’s thinking about crossing the border. And not just one border. But two, first the Swiss border and then the German.
Most of all, he’s worried about what’s in the boot of the car. In one old shoe box is all his wife’s jewellery and the gold wedding rings of both his deceased parents. The jewellery is mixed in with nails, screws, and some old plumbing fixtures so that any inquisitive border guards might miss it, should the family be stopped and the car searched.
In another shoe box is €182,463 in cash.
This cash represents all of Salvatore’s life savings, his wife’s savings (including the money she made selling trinkets on e-Bay), and about €23,000 Salvatore managed to raise by selling the Rolex his father gave him when he graduated from university, his grandmother’s china set, and all of the stocks in his increasingly worthless share portfolio.
Other than each other and a handful of possessions back in their tiny flat in Milan, the entire wealth of the tiny Rossi threesome is in the boot of the car. The first border crossing is just ahead. And it’s closed.
Salvatore Rossi began to get nervous twenty kilometres outside the Swiss city of Chiasso. He began to get nervous because traffic was unusually high. Lots of cars were crossing the border today, or trying to. And the little four door Panda was tired.
In the back seat, three-year old Alessandra was sound asleep. The novelty of the long car ride had long since worn off. With the traffic stopped momentarily, Salvatore reached down and brushed biscuit crumbs off his daughter’s pink jumper. He smiled and thought about what it would be like to have no worries in the world again.
But he did have worries. He met the glance of his wife Giulia and reached over to squeeze her hand. In the boot of their blue car was their entire life savings. The next half hour would determine whether they’d be able to keep that money or not.
Salvatore’s plan had been rushed and vague. On Friday at work, he’d heard colleagues discussing rumours of a currency confiscation. The Italians were following the lead of the Greeks and leaving the euro. The notes in circulation wouldn’t actually be destroyed though. Instead, they’d be stamped.
This is how the authorities had handled the breakup of the Austro- Hungarian monetary union in 1919, and several times since. It prevented a sense of dislocation in the population. The money was dramatically devalued. But people basically used the same money. It just wasn’t worth as much.
Salvatore had decided to try and get his notes out of the bank and out of the country.
If he could get them to the core of the euro currency zone—somewhere in Germany or France—the money would still be worth something. But he had to first get the money out of the bank and out of Italy. And now he was close. If he could cross the Italian border with his cash it would be a short trip to either Germany or France. The Germans and the French were already concerned about a huge influx of notes from southern Europe. But for now, they were allowing it.
The trouble was, Salvatore knew the Italian government would most definitely not allow ordinary Italians like himself and his family to take their wealth out of the country. And as he tapped his fingers impatiently on the windowsill, he looked ahead to the border crossing at Chiasso and his heart fell. There were Italian customs officials on his side of the border. And they were inspecting each of the cars attempting to pass through.
for The Daily Reckoning Australia
Ed Note: This is an extract from a recent edition of Australian Wealth Gameplan.
What happens to the Rossis? Find out in the next issue of AWG!
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