Next morning we awoke at 6:00 in the middle of a thunderstorm. Nevertheless, we quickly dressed and packed our sleeping children into the car (thank goodness we have a car now) along with breakfast, clothes for them, and our passports and documents. Amusingly enough, nobody showed up at the Questura until after 8:00. But it still wasn’t open yet. Considering the fact that we had been there since before 7:00, the four of us stood right in the doorway, which was probably the reason that my smiles and greetings were moodily received by everyone else arriving to try their luck. This time, I triumphantly received the very first number. The non-uniformed Questura employee looked surprised and a little amused. I guess my fervent attempts to catch his eye the day before at least resulted in my being recognized.
When my number was called, I sailed in confidently with my three identical forms filled out perfectly. Even though the eight days in which I was supposed to do my Declaration had expired, and the evidence of my coming into Italy is nowhere in my passport (which is the reason I have to do the silly Declaration in the first place. All my passport says is that I entered Schengen territory at the Nice airport. If I’d arrived directly in Italy rather than through France, the stamp in my passport would count as a Declaration. I wonder if Italy is breaking some EU law by requiring a Declaration of Presence on top of the regular Schengen visa? I wouldn’t be surprised. I also wonder if it wouldn’t perhaps have been actually worth it to pay hundreds of euros more and take a train ride twice as long to arrive in Milan rather than Nice and avoid this whole drama), I just can’t bring myself to lie about it. So I truthfully told the man behind the window what day I had arrived in Italy, two weeks before. He said there was no way he could possibly process my Declaration, since I hadn’t done it within eight days. I explained that I had come in within the eight days, but they had sent me away to do that form. He looked at the form and shook his head, remarking that it was supposed to have been completed within 48 hours. I rolled my eyes only mentally. He also seemed perplexed that I had carefully filled out the same form three times, even though it says right on the form that it must be filled out and presented in triplicate. Why he read the part about the 48 hours (which I hadn’t done) and not the part about it being filled out in triplicate (which I had) I don’t know. Life just isn’t fair. But I didn’t press that point. We repeated this conversation two or three times, since neither of us was satisfied with what the other was saying.
Finally, he took my passport away to consult with somebody else. When he returned, he handed me a blank sheet of paper, and told me I needed to write on it that I had entered Nice, France on the 25th of August, stayed there for a few days, and then entered Italy on the 31st. I looked incredulous, I’m sure, and he repeated himself, and then got a colleague to come over and say it to me in English. Whatever. I wrote it down, signed it, and he was satisfied. I hope I will be forgiven, because it felt a lot like lying under oath at the insistence of an officer of the law. Then he said I needed to go get two photos, and he could finish the Declaration. We popped into a photo shop down the street, and when we returned, he let us come to the front of the line to finish.
Giving me an official-looking page with three stamps and his signature on it, he proclaimed that I now had three months permission to remain as a tourist in Italy. I needed to change that into indefinite permission to remain in Italy as the spouse of an Italian, but all in good time. In a month or so I could return to ask if his office was still processing Permesso di Soggiorno, because they were going to stop soon, and then it would only be available through the (expensive and slow) post office. I asked if he could give me a list of the documents I would need, and he said no, in a month when I come back he would tell me if he could still process a Permesso di Soggiorno, and he would write me a list then. It was obvious that he was not budging, so I told him thank you for helping me, and that he was very kind, and we parted on the best of terms. I had just learned an important lesson. It is an incontrovertible rule at the Questura that one is allowed to accomplish only one thing at each visit. Asking for information counts as one thing. If you try to do more, even if it would be easy for them to do, you are politely and kindly refused.
Why I need to wait a month before going back to ask if they will be able to do my Permesso when they could to it right now, I don’t know. I’d like to go back tomorrow, when I know they can still process it. But I don’t dare do that. I’ll probably wait a couple of weeks. That’s basically a month. At times like this, I just have to remind myself that immigration to the United States is more difficult, more time-consuming, and more expensive than Italy, even if it is less capricious. So I’m actually lucky.
The funny thing is, even though I only got done half of what I wanted to do, and it took me three grueling days to do it, after it was done I felt positively euphoric, and almost tearfully grateful to the man behind the counter. The Italian government is like a gigantic version of good cop, bad cop. Il Stato (the State) is the bad cop, throwing millions of rules at you that are mostly contradictory and in other ways impossible to comply with (Napoleon’s rule of terror endures, at least in Italy). But the person behind the counter is actually just as oppressed by all the rules as you are, and is secretly your ally. He wants to help you, and he can lead you through the tortuous tangle. Just trust him, and learn to wink when he winks.