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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 10:02 GMT
Sicily's cash machines sputter into life
Victory: Paola gets her first fistful of euros
UK-based Italian journalist Paola Buonadonna returns to her home country to witness the birth of the euro.

Day 3, Palermo: 1 January

I have it! It's here in my hands, a few pale banknotes just spouted out from the cash machine, so crisp and shiny it's hard to believe it's real money.

Defeat: Marta, empty handed
But as thriller writers always say, let's take a step back...

My sister, my brother-in-law and I celebrated New Year's Eve at a family restaurant in the centre of Palermo.

At 1am this morning it wasn't so much a case of new money but of no money at all - our hosts refused our credit cards and took all our remaining liras instead.

History

It was more than mere curiosity therefore that prompted us to prowl the streets in search of a functioning cash mashine.

Sicilians capture the moment on video
It soon became obvious that half of the local population was doing the same and, showing remarkable sense of history, they were all armed with cameras and video recorder.

The first two holes in the walls refused Marta and Claudio flatly. All you saw on the screen was "Happy 2002" and "Goodbye!".

Then something remarkable happened.

I tried my Lloyds Bank Visa card at the third stop and the machine started engaging with me: how many euro did I require? Could it do anything else for me? Why wouldn't Britain stop all the fuss and enter the eurozone?...

OK, I made the last one up.

But it seemed extraordinary to me to be the first member of my family to get her hands on the new currency using a British bank card...

No hurry

So, there it was, this strange new bundle of shiny notes...


Tomorrow! What's the hurry anyway?

Waiter, declining payment in euros
We took pictures of each other, excited like deranged children for the next half hour, then decided to try and spend some.

The elegant Caffe dell'Opera, in one of Palermo's main squares, was doing brisk business at 2am.

The old waiter raised an eyebrow when we asked whether he would take our euro.

"Tomorrow!" he said. "What's the hurry anyway?"

I'll do my best to spend some today...

The streets were empty as daylight arrived, and all the shops shut, but the world has not ended.

At the end of the day, to paraphrase the American writer David Mamet, what people want is not this or that currency, what they all want is money. That's why it's called money!


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30 Dec 01 | Europe
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