I Moduli IV

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.

Handing over the card.

Handing 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.



I Moduli III

You will remember, faithful readers, the saga of the permesso di soggiorno. You will remember that John and I applied for these documents the week after we arrived in Rome on February 14. We followed an application process involving multiple stops at multiple post offices, a tabacchi shop, and the Fulbright Commission offices to get help completing the 25-page (in Italian) form. You will remember that we sent off our applications by registered mail (after paying approximately $250 apiece for the privilege) and were rewarded with an appointment for April 16th at noon at the Questura d’Immigrazione.

You will remember that we kept our appointment, traveling by Metro and bus and on foot to a dusty, desolate area on the far northeastern outskirts of Rome, where we waited, were fingerprinted not once but twice (in two different rooms)–and then were told that the actual permesso di soggiorno (a piece of plastic resembling a credit card) would arrive at our local questura, or police station, in 30 to 40 days. You may remember that when we told all this to our neighbor, he laughed heartilyand said we would never get the cards before we left Italy, which we will now do in ten days.

Somewhat more than forty days later, on June 5–giving the Italian bureaucracy the benefit of the doubt–we headed out to our local questura. This time the trip was brief, just a six-block walk and then a tram ride, 4 or 5 stops down the line. In a pleasant, leafy neighborhood, we found the police station, and we followed signs leading us to a pleasant office on the second floor, where we sat before a pleasant lady. We provided our passports. She was very nice. She typed our names into her computer.

Yes, she said with a nod, here you are. But, she said with a pleasant shake of her head, your cards are still being processed. Generally, she said, it takes 60 days from the time of the fingerprinting. That would be June 16th.

She wasn’t sure why they would have told us 30 to 40 days, when the process almost always takes 60 days.

But, we said, we are leaving Italy on June 24th. And we really, really want our permesso di soggiorno. She smiled. She really was very nice. And she was very sympathetic. But there was nothing she could do. Sixty days, she said.

Sixty days is the day after tomorrow. We will be in Pisa. We will be back in Rome on June 19th. We need to pack. We need to clean our apartment. We need to see the two or three things that are on our must-see list before we leave. But somehow in those five days remaining, we will make our way back to the questura, hoping against hope that our little pieces of plastic have arrived.

If not, John threatens to fly back to Rome at the end of July to fetch his.

In the meantime, we will cling to the little pieces of plastic that are our codice fiscale–the cards that let us earn money in Italy while we are here. Not that we are earning any money. Getting the codice took only a day, and the office was in Trastevere, where we had an excellent lunch.

It’s all good.

I Moduli II

Think back, friends, to February 20, shortly after we arrived in Italy. If you were reading this then, you will remember that we were required to apply for the permesso di soggiorno, or residence permit, because we were staying in the country longer than the minimum three months. You will remember that the application process was complicated and lengthy: we had to find a post office that had application kits; then fill out (with the help of the Fulbright staff) the 25-page application form, which was entirely in Italian and photocopy every page of our passports; then purchase a marca di bollo, or tax stamp, at a tobacco store to affix to the application; then find another post office, and stand in the correct line, in order to send our application off by registered mail. We spent the better part of two days on all this, and we each paid out a total of €153.50 (€16 for the marca di bollo, €30 for the registered mail, and a fee of €107.50 for the document itself),or about $212 per person. A lot of time and money.

But we weren’t finished. we had simply applied for the permesso di soggiorno, we had not yet received it. That would happen, we were told, when we kept our assigned appointment with the Questura d’ immigrazione, the immigration police, at noon on April 16th–about halfway through our stay in Rome.

So. We looked up the address for the questura and checked it out on Google maps. It was seriously far away–a walk (10 minutes) to the Metro station, a Metro (15 minutes) to the end of the line, and a bus (25 minutes) to a bleak-looking industrial area. We got off, hoping we had done the right thing, fearing that we might never be heard from again. To our left was a huge two-story structure that vaguely resembled an Interstate rest stop called, not reassuringly, New York Diner. To our right were two more huge structures, windowless, surrounded by high chain fences. Between them, a dusty road with no sidewalks, leading to god knows where, and pointing down it, a small sign with an arrow: questura d’immigrazione.  That would be us.

We exchanged glances and set off. At the end of the road–a quarter-mile or so–was more fencing and yet another huge structure, this one white, with crowds of people milling about and a large open tent in front. John took out his camera and was immediately accosted by a young guard in military attire. No pictures.

We looked for a sign, any sign, telling us where to go for the permesso di soggiorno appointment, but there was nothing. Inside an open door, we could see people waiting in snaking lines. Outside, under the tent, more people sat and waited. Most were people of color. Beside the tent was a path and another small line of people. Hesitantly, we took our appointment letters and showed them to the young woman in military gear tending the front of the line. She nodded, This was the place. It was 11:30. Our appointment was at noon. They would call us.

We took our seats under the sheltering tent, in front of a middle-aged Chinese man and his round baby daughter, behind a woman wrapped in a sari. The 11:30 group was called. The 11:45 group was called. The noon group was called, and John and I were waved beyond the barriers and into the building. Signs–some now in English–directed us up to the third floor, where we took our places at the end of yet another line of 20 or so people, waiting to be called to a window. It was hard to avoid noticing that we were the only white, American or European-looking people in the line.

After a moment or two, the handsome young soldier at the front of the line walked back to us, pointed to John, and beckoned him forward. I stepped out of the line with him, and we moved up to the front. Can you imagine the discomfort of being pulled out of a line and placed at its head? Surely this was racism at its most blatant, we thought. We stood, trying not to look at the others in the line, and John asked the guard: Why? Why did you pull us out of line? He looked a bit chagrined, smiled shyly, and pointed to John’s white hair. “Old,” he said in English. Then, blushing, he looked at me: “But not your wife!” he said quickly.

We thanked him. Sometimes it’s actually useful to be prematurely gray.

From there we took our papers to first one room and then another, answering questions and being electronically finger-printed, twice. Then it was over. We smiled. And now, we said to the pleasant young woman in a white lab coat who had taken the second set of fingerprints, may we have our permits? She cocked her head to the side. No, she said. Now we feed all this into our system and a plastic card, like a driver’s license, will be produced. That is the permesso. 

And that will be mailed to us? we asked. She shook her head. In about 30 or 40 days, she said, we should go to our local police station–she gave us the address; it’s only a few blocks from our apartment–to pick up our cards.

That will be about June 1. Two weeks before we are scheduled to leave Italy.

We made our way back down the dusty road to the bus stop and retraced our steps home. At home we met our friend Giuliano and told him the tale. He shook his head. There is no way, he said, that these cards will be ready in 30 or 40 days. You will not get them before you leave.

John rose up. If I do not get this card before I leave, he said, I will return for it.

Giuliano shook his head again. Ah, he said, but then you will need to start all over again.