Last night, I dreamed that I saved Vittorio Emmanuele from assassination. That’s right, the first King of Italy. And then I was so happy that he was safe, I kissed his hand. I realized when I woke up that in my dream I’d had that feeling. The feeling Tolstoy gave Andre when he was sent as a messenger to the Tsar. The feeling Ann had in Hardy’s The Trumpet-Major when she met King George in the street by happenstance. It’s a sort of intense overall sensation of patriotism wrapped up into the adoration of a certain royal person. It resembles a combination of religious fervor, filial piety, and romantic ardor, all rolled into one.
Once again, with moving and other things, my grand ideas for homeschooling have fallen a little by the wayside. Luckily, Axa spends lots of time every day practicing writing, and they both roam the yard studying the plants and animals in it with as much detail as little scientists. Charlotte would be happy that I’m not put together enough to do all the academics I would like to do with my two little under-sixes.
They’re also beginning to use quite a few Italian words. I don’t even know where they’ve heard some of these words. One of their favorite activities in the car is to quiz each other about Italian vocabulary. Between the two of them, they can go on for quite a while. And they hardly ever get a word wrong. “Orkin” these days contains quite a bit more Italian than it used to. And I hear them repeating little Italian conversations to themselves when they’re alone. Not always the most useful words, but I guess it’s what they find useful. The other day Axa was in the bathroom repeating the Italian pronunciation of “O.K.” to herself over and over.
Well, one can’t expect to have a good experience at the Questura more often than once in a lifetime. Things were bad again yesterday. I arrived at 8:00 as usual, but it didn’t open until nearly 9:00. There seemed to be more people than usual. I had an appointment, but there was only a date, not an hour. They only had two windows open, and things went very slowly. The man who calls numbers seemed to be in a particularly bad mood. He kept opening the door a crack and telling everyone to stand back from the door. Unfortunately, he was always ignored, because nobody believed him that he was going to call them in. People were constantly elbowing up to the front to ask him questions and receive vague, noncommittal responses. The best moment was when a nice young woman from Moldavia finally asked in exasperation, “But could you please just at least explain to us how the system works?” The door closed as she finished her question, and a grizzled old Albanian replied, “I’ll tell you in two words how it works: ‘very badly’.” By eleven-thirty so few people had entered that all of us waiting outside were convinced that none of us were ever going to get in the door.
I think we broke some kind of record today. We went to three different Italian government offices and actually accomplished our purpose at each one! Stop number one was the Questura. You’ll recall that last time I went I was afraid of violence, so I did have a few feelings about going (for the fourth time). We had everything all planned out, as usual. We had a slight hiccup when Tony’s alarm went off at 1:40 in the morning. Why, you may ask, would someone set his cell phone alarm to go off at such a time? (Believe me, I asked too). It turns out he had set his alarm because he needs to start thinking about going back to work after lunch at 1:40 in the afternoon. Well, 1:40 in the afternoon does not exist in Italy. It’s called 13:40. The only 1:40 is the one in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, he turned off the alarm and rolled back over to sleep without telling me. I spent the next half hour in a dazed stupor, assuming that Tony had decided to just sleep through our Questura visit after all.
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.
This time moving to Italy seems different from last time. Last time it was one huge adventure, moving here not speaking a word of Italian, with no reason but that we felt like it. Now Tony has a job with an Italian company, and that makes everything different. We have a reason to be here, and even more, a reason to not just move off somewhere else when the idea pops into our heads.
Of course, I’ve always been very serious about keeping our status legal, even in the face of bizarre odds. So of course I’ve already spent a fair number of hours in Italian government offices. Especially the Questura. I’ve already recounted my first visit there, in which I was told that I must bring them Tony’s Declaration of Hospitality. After he’d been inscribed at the Comune (which takes a few days) and we had obtained the form (which I duly filled out in triplicate, being warned by Carla that just filling it in once and photocopying it twice wouldn’t work, even if I had Tony sign each copy), we went into the Questura on Tuesday morning. It was about 9:45, but I thought it would be fine, since I hadn’t had to wait long at all the first day. Wrong. The first rule of dealing with Italian bureaucracy is to always arrive early. There are several reasons for this. First, you may find a large queue of people waiting outside before it even opens. Second, you don’t want to end up being left until lunch-time, because lunch-time will not wait for you. Third, the earlier in the day it is, the better of a mood everyone is in (including people on both sides of the counter). In Italy, this can determine whether the people on the other side of the counter are willing to help you or not. The closer it is to lunch-time, the more situations they’ve had to deal with, and the less patience they have for any variation from the norm (including broken Italian).
Sure enough, it’s Thursday, and I have been unable to obtain Medusa’s head. So sometime within the next few weeks, after the Vigili come by to verify that we really live here, I shall be able to return to the Questura and hopefully get my paperwork started, even though it’s not within the eight-day window. And I just have to be O.K. with that. After all, I believe I was really supposed to get a visa before we came, although they’re not too strict about these things in Italy. (In Florence, weirdly enough, Tony didn’t even have residence, and they were going to give me a residency permit. In fact, it’s still waiting for me down there, although it’s linked to my old passport, so I think that makes it technically invalid.) In the meantime, though, we did have a happy day yesterday. Tony drove home from work in our car! It’s a Skoda station wagon, so there’s plenty of room for the car-seats (I even fit between them, although it’s like a mummy case, and anyone larger than I or even a slightly different shape wouldn’t fit), and a gigantic hatchback trunk. We can actually go places now! Without running for busses or trains!
We’ve made it home to Italy. That’s really how it feels. I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was as we saw familiar landscapes unfolding themselves outside. The journey, unfortunately, was fairly miserable, although we only had one actual meltdown, in the train station at Nice. Axa and Raj had a large meltdown, and Tony and I had a smaller, more socially acceptable one. And then we all had some fabulous French pastries and felt better.
The reason the trip was so bad (at least from my point of view) was that I’d been sick in bed for a week previous to it. In fact, Tony pushed me in the stroller to close our Irish bank account. It was the last ride for the trusty stroller that has been our main vehicle on and off for the past two years. We left it in Ireland, the land of Irish twins and double strollers. Due to being sick, I also had a chance to check out the Irish medical system, and I must say I was very impressed. A ward member recommended a doctor. We called him up at 3:00 p.m. the afternoon before we departed, and he gave us a 3:30 appointment. He was very nice, and spent quite a long time with me, drew my blood himself, and generally put me at ease. At the end, he had us drive my bodily fluids down the street to the lab ourselves. Total bill (lab work included): 50 euros. We spent another seven euros on two prescriptions, and were done with everything in an hour. I’ll just say I have never had a better medical experience.
Today I arrived at 7:30. They were already giving out numbers, and my promptness was rewarded with the number 172. This time I brought a book. But I slipped out for a quick breakfast, and only ended up waiting till a little after 9:00. At the information desk this time they gave me another number, and I waited another half hour or so. When I got up to the window, I presented my documents. I was prepared for some discussion, since I’d heard so much about problems with documents (and I’ve experienced so many problems with documents), but the man there just took them, sat down, and began scribbling, stapling, and stamping. I presumed it was a good sign.
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.