Were you waiting for the conclusion to this one? Remember that we had applied for our permessi di soggiorno–essentially our permits to stay for more than 90 days in Italy–in February, when we arrived, and then kept an appointment in mid-April to get finger-printed, where we were told that the actual document–a plastic credit card thing–would be sent to our local police station in 40 days. But when we went to the police some 40 days later, no cards. The woman there told us, ever so nicely and apologetically, that it usually takes 60 days.
Today is our last day in Rome. At 6:30 tomorrow morning, Bob’s Limo driver will pick us up, with our four large suitcases, and deliver us to Fiumicino, where we will fly to Copenhagen, spend a day and a half, and then head home. (The Copenhagen stay is the remnant of our initial plan to spend our last two weeks in Scandinavia. This was discarded when we decided some weeks ago that we couldn’t bear to leave Rome any earlier than necessary. But since our return flight was long since booked from Copenhagen, we figured we might as well at least spend a day there. I’m sure we will love it dearly.) Anyway, here we were, on our last day in Rome. Why not, we asked ourselves, give the permesso one more shot? The police station was not that far away, and it had now been over 60 days, and…
We boarded the bus on via Nomentana at 10:30. Now in Rome you must, by law, buy a bus ticket and validate it in a little machine on board the bus the first time you use it. If an inspector finds you without a validated ticket, you will be fined €50 on the spot, or €100 if you don’t have that amount with you and have to pay later at a post office. (Why a post office? Because all official government business in Italy is conducted at the post office. They have some trouble delivering mail efficiently, but they collect taxes, allow you to pay bills, and do a mass of other things quite well.) Since our arrival in February, we have faithfully bought monthly bus passes, validated them on first use, and carried them ever at the ready. We ride the buses virtually every day. Not once, not once, had anyone ever asked us to show out tickets. Our visitors from America were bowled over by what they saw as the inefficiency of the system. Why on earth, they asked, would anyone ever buy a ticket, if no one ever checked them?
Today as we got on our double bus at the back, we noticed a tall young man get on through the middle doors. He began slowly making his way toward the back; we thought nothing of it, since many people move from back to front or vice versa. But as he neared us–the bus was crowded–we noticed his ATAC vest. ATAC is the public transportation administration. And we noticed that he was stopping at every person. Here he was, at last–the bus ticket inspector! We proudly pulled out our June passes (validated properly) and showed them. He nodded and moved on.
When we alighted at the next stop (we weren’t going far), he did, too, along with two colleagues who had been working the front of the bus. It was irresistible: We walked over to where they stood on the sidewalk. We have been here for four months, we explained, and we have never before been asked to show our tickets. They were delighted to chat. Until recently, they told us, there were 120 inspectors; now there are only 40. For all of Rome. The system does not work, they said. But, we asked, do people buy tickets? When you check, do you find many people without tickets? They shrugged. This morning, they said, five. Out of hundreds. So, it turns out, most Romans really do buy tickets. And validate them. Whether from good citizenship or fear of a fine, well, does it really matter?
Anyway, being confronted by a ticket inspector for the very first time on our very last day seemed like a good omen. I was jubilant. I bet, I told John, that our permessi will be there.
At the police station, our nice and apologetic woman was on the phone. We waited. Eventually she beckoned us in. We handed her our passports, and she opened her notebook, with a handwritten list of the permessi that had arrived over the last few months. She didn’t see our names. She opened her computer and typed in John’s name and passport number. She scrolled through some pages. Then she smiled. Yours, she said to John, is here. He had to provide an electronic fingerprint on her little fingerprint-reader, then all was well. He signed three forms, and she handed over the card.
We grinned. We high-fived. The Italian bureaucracy had, if not vindicated itself, at least come through in the end.
Then she looked for mine. We had done everything at exactly the same time. But my card had not yet arrived.