ROME, ITALY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2003 -- I was thinking, "This is exactly the sort of thing that sparked the American Revolution," as I crossed Rome's busy Viale Ostiense to buy revenue stamps at the local Tabacchi or state-licensed tobacco shop. The British Stamp Act of 1765 raised revenue for Great Britain by requiring that all legal papers bear the stamps, which had to be purchased. The American colonists went to war against Mother England rather than buy the stamps.

But this is Italy, not the U.S.A., and our paperwork for the wedding, which had been notarized, certified, and exemplified by various officers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Michigan, the Italian Consulate in Boston, and the American Embassy in Rome --with fees paid at each step in the process--, would not be legal in Italy until the revenue stamps were attached.

Oh well, Mary and I knew, in deciding to marry in Rome, Italy, that we would become intimately enmeshed in an Italian bureaucracy that would put to shame our Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and surpase any matrimonial maneuvers we'd ever undertake at home in the U.S.A.

PUMPHT, PUMPHT, PUMPHT go the rubber stamps. Each stamp on each paper two or three times before the paper is passed to the next official for the next round of stamping. PUMPHT PUMPHT, PUMPHT. Our Italian friend Corrado calls it the "Italian music."

With five days yet to go before our small civil ceremony in the Italian capitol city --and with at least two more appointments to finalize papers and pay more fees to the Italian wedding bureaucracy-- our identity papers have been examined and rubber-stamped, on both sides of the Atlantic, more in the past few weeks than in four decades of living in the U.S.A. But at least we now have a (still somewhat tentative) date of 11:30 on Monday September 29, to marry in the Complesso di Vignola Mattei near the baths of Caracalla, the place where all civil wedding ceremonies in Rome take place now that the City Hall in Piazza del Campidoglio is closed for renovations.

More to come in PART 2. Ciao! --David