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August 2014

I’ve known my friend Irv since the 1960s when we both worked in a beleaguered and much maligned investment company that was murdered in the early 1970s.
We have maintained contact and see each irregularly, breaking bread together when he visits Europe or I traverse the pond to New York, so I wasn’t surprised to receive an e-mail from him the other day.
He informed that his much-loved Movado Museum watch had been stolen and he asked me if I would send him a letter for his insurance company confirming that he was in fact the owner of the said timepiece.
His reason for asking me in particular was because I was with him in Geneva when he purchased the watch in the late 1960s and the insurance company were doing their damnedest to avoid paying him since he no longer had the receipt. Having gone through exactly the same problem with my insurance company when they refused categorically to reimburse me for the Rolex GMT that was stolen from me three years ago, I was all too happy to oblige.

I can understand a certain caution by insurers, but who keeps receipts for forty-five years? In my case I provided a photo of me wearing it, but to no avail. Not a pfennig without the receipt.
I immediately sent Irv a ‘To whom it may concern’ letter by e-mail describing the watch in detail– white gold men’s Movado Museum watch with an 18 carat Milanese bracelet etc. – adding that he had also purchased the ladies’ model for his wife at the same time.

A few days later, back came the request that I send it again after it had been notarized.
So I telephoned a couple of local notaires publiques in Menton that I have had occasion to use, explained the situation and asked if they would do the necessary. After a few moments of silence, the receptionist, sounding somewhat horrified, stuttered there was no way they could notarize such a letter, but quickly recovered her aplomb to add that if I wanted to change my last will and testament, or acknowledge the existence of a bastard son, they would be more than happy to comply and charge me a small fortune for the service.
I mentioned this to the neighbours who suggested that I go to the local mairie – the town hall – since they are authorized to notarize certain documents. So off I went with the letter, my passport and a pocketful of euros.
I was greeted warmly by a comely receptionist and, in my best French, explained the situation.
“Pas de problème monsieur,” she said as she ushered me into another office where I explained to another buxom lady my quest. She took my ‘To whom it may concern’ letter and my passport, glanced at the text and pointed out that there was a small problem – it was in English. I explained that it was for an American insurance company and that, although they haven’t spoken English there for years, they were even less likely to understand if it was written in French.


As quick as a flash, the explanation came back that they could only notarize the original if it was accompanied by a French translation – which they suggested I write by hand there and then. Needless to say I complied and apologized in advance for any grammatical errors.
Again, “Pas de problème, monsieur.”
I completed the translation and handed it and the original back to the lady, who smiled with a “Merci,” and without further ado, brought down an official blue stamp on both letters with such force that she wouldn’t have been out of place in the finale of the 1812 Overture.
They didn’t keep a copy of the letter or my passport and, as far as I could ascertain, didn’t even read the French version. I asked how much I had to pay and with a charming smile the lady informed me, “C’est gratuit monsieur”.
A freebie, don’t you just love ‘em?

I haven’t heard the outcome from across the water, but I assume that the Americans accepted my input, although I have my doubts Irv will be compensated. Needless to say, this reminded me of the story of a lady who telephoned her insurance company asking why she had not received payment of her claim for the theft of her Rolex wristwatch from her locker at the local tennis club.
“Ah, it’s not that simple,” the insurance agent explained. “We have to assess the value of the watch based on its age and the condition it was in when it was stolen. We then try and find a similar model or reimburse you our estimate of its value.” There was a long pause before the lady said, “In that case, cancel the insurance on my husband.”
Well, you’ve got to laugh haven’t you?

Source: Europa Star August - September 2014 Magazine Issue