I arose from my sick bed again this morning to take an early bus to the Questura. It didn’t end up being so very early after all, and I arrived around 8:45. The whole world, of course, was there before me. It was like a mini-United Nations. After gazing around at the milling crowd for a moment, I snagged someone who looked nice and asked him what I needed to do to get my carta di soggiorno. He led me over to a policeman, who was handing out numbers. I gave the policeman my carefully prepared speech: “I am from the United States, but my husband is Italian. What do I need to do to get permission to stay in Italy?” He looked bored, and handed me a number.
I looked at my number dubiously. 227. Then I looked up at the number they were serving at the moment. 55. I settled in for a long wait. If I had been in the United States, I would have simply gone on the government website to find requirements for Permission to Stay. But here in Italy, each Questura has a different interpretation, a different set of documents, and even sometimes a different document that they issue. Information can even vary by which Questura employee one talks to. So I was here on a fact-finding mission, and in Italy, you need to wait in a hundred-person-line to ask a question.
The numbers moved pretty fast, though. In a half-hour or so, it was up to a hundred. At this rate, I would actually make it to the window before they closed down for lunch. In the meantime I chatted with the man who’d helped me get a number. He was from Morocco. I told him I’d been to Morocco, and we discovered that we both spoke Spanish. At least he said he did. I didn’t understand him at all, and he kept mixing in Italian words. He said he was married to an Italian, but had spent many days here, and they were always asking for more documents. He produced a friend, whom he said had been at the Questura for twenty days. Finally, they both left. “Goodbye,” he said, over his shoulder. “And good luck.” With this encouraging message, I was left to myself again.
The window nearest me was marked “asylum.” I thought about the difficult road many of these people must have traveled to arrive at that immigration desk. I felt again that peculiar sense of embarrassed entitlement. I hoped I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. As far as I could see, I was the only American there at the Questura, although the city of Florence is full of them. And I wasn’t there because I couldn’t find work to feed my family in my home country, or because it was torn apart by war. I’d just decided to leave the most affluent country on earth for a daydream. It reminded me uncomfortably of the book I’d just finished. (I’d allowed myself only one paperback book, Sense and Sensibility, and now I’d gone and gotten sick and read it all in a rush, and what am I going to read now? Macchiavelli? I’ve been drooling at the doors of several fascinating-looking bookshops here in Florence. Used book shops. My favorite. I guess this will be a good excuse to go into one. It doesn’t hurt to just look, right?) In any case, this whole search for a dream to call home can be a little difficult to explain to people who are just searching for a decent living. But we all need to search for something. Sometimes Tony and I can’t manage the decent living part too well either. But I’m afraid I never can quite identify with Elinor as much as Jane Austen would like me to. Not really at all, in fact.
My musings were interrupted by the call for number 227. I repeated my rehearsed phrases to the nice lady at the window, who gave me an application form and wrote neatly on it the documents I would need. Once I got to the window, it took only thirty seconds, and I was on my way!