Today I had to go to the Questura here in Florence, which is their Immigration Office. If I am at a loss about what to write it’s not for a lack of words. Just the opposite, in fact. I have too many words for this day, and many of them aren’t rated PG.
Anyone who comes into Italy with a visa also has to apply for their Permesso di Soggiorno or permission to stay for a length of time. Italy grants you a visa to enter the country, Florence (or whatever city you reside in) gives you permission to stay in their city for that period. Both processes are lengthy, filled with unnecessary paperwork and a boatload of fees.
The visa application is where your fate is really decided. Most of you know my story there. They take great care to inform you that you are not to assume that because you apply that you will be approved. Kind of like a home mortgage. But, no bank would tell you to change your address and have all the utilities changed into your name before they approve your application. A visa is different. Before you even know if you will be allowed to go, you have to buy health insurance for Italy, have paid your rent and tuition, and bought your ticket. And send those receipts in with the application. You won’t even be considered without them. Once you reach a “certain age” they also want to know your motivation. I had to produce papers showing my major in college to be art, which the consul felt was an acceptable reason and eased her mind about approving my application.
When you get your passport back with the visa page in it there are also instructions to go to the post office within eight days of arriving in Italy to fill out the appropriate paperwork for the permesso. It is a booklet, really, that you have to fill out and include copies of all the paperwork you have already sent into the consulate for the visa. You must affix to this booklet a special stamp that you don’t buy at the post office (which would make sense) but at a tobacco shop (which makes no sense). All of this goes into an envelope that you again take to the post office, where they charge you 30 euros in postage to send it across town. I would have walked it over for free, but rules are rules. They gave me a piece of paper with instructions to be at the Questura today at 10:23am with yet more copies of papers in my hand. Just a formality, Leif tells me.
Being the good Minnesotan that I am I showed up for my “appointment” at 10am, asked the nice men in uniforms at the door where to go and showed them my paper. They gave me a number and told me to wait for it to come up on the screen. When I got inside I saw that I would only have to wait through 120 (that’s right, one hundred and twenty) numbers till mine would come up. Of course I had no idea how long this might take, but I figured even a couple of hours wouldn’t kill me. I did wish I had brought a book or something to do, but when I left my stomach was in knots and I didn’t think I would be able to concentrate on anything but worrying so I contented myself with watching people and eavesdropping as much as I could on other conversations. I don’t know why they put a time on my paper. There is no such thing as an appointment at this office, but I didn’t realize that till about halfway through the day.
It only took a little over an hour for my number to come up, partly because some people just never showed up when their number was flashed on the screen. I was nervous, but pretty excited to finally get to finish this part of the process up and not have to worry about applications and such for awhile. I walked up to the window, handed him my number and letter. He typed something into his computer, picked up something off the machine behind him and handed me…another number.
What?!? I just spent the last hour sitting on a plastic airport bench with some Chinese woman’s bare feet almost in my lap for this? But I was brought up to follow the rules so I just smiled (he might of thought I was growling, hard to say) and went to find a different place to sit. I couldn’t take anymore of her feet if I was going to get through this. When I had calmed down a little I looked at my number H850. What the hell number were they on now? A quick look at the board made me want to cry, or punch someone. They were only on number H720. My first number had started with a C and those moved along at a fairly quick pace. Which, in retrospect, makes sense if all they were doing was handing out another damn number. Anyway, the H numbers had several more windows, but still advanced to the next number about every 15 minutes. If everything went well.
I did some deep breathing and sat back to watch people. The Chinese woman (now with shoes) ran by on her way to a window. I considered tripping her and taking her number but I really do want to start off on the right foot here. (Ha, foot) I sat and I worried. Did I have all the right paperwork? Did I remember the pictures? (You need four, on a white background) Passport? I tried to guess why some people seemed to move quickly through their time at the window, while others lingered forever. No one got mad or frustrated that I could see. Children ran around or played quietly. There was little crying and no tantrums. If I had to point to one good thing about today, it would be that whatever Italian parents do with their children certainly works. They accept that this sort of thing happens and they make the best of it without much complaint. Awesome, really, when there is a crowd in an airless room waiting for government employees to get around to them.
Several hours went by. I continued to watch people. A slight diversion was created when a bird flew in one of the big doors and couldn’t figure out how to get back out. It just flew around the ceiling unworried. It was still there sitting on a cubicle wall when I left. That really was the excitement for the day there. It didn't do tricks or burst into flames. I don't even think it poohed on anyone. I turned from watching my fellow prisoners, I mean citizens, to watching the work at the windows. I started to get a feel for the rhythm of how this thing worked. I watched the guy at the window in front of me for hours.
A number flashes on the screen as a beeper sounds. Someone jumps up waving their number in the air and runs to the window before they move on to the next number. (They don’t wait very long.) Breathlessly hands guy their number and various sheets of paper carelessly stuffed into their passport.. Guy’s lips move as he hands back extraneous papers. Client laughs nervously. Fingerprinting exercise begins with right hand thumb, followed by the fingers of the right hand. Extend left hand and repeat. Additional print of both thumbs. Everyone smiles. Guy disappears briefly. Reappears, hands paper through little hole at bottom of window. Client looks confused, takes paper and leaves, being careful to avoid getting run over by the next person running up with their number in their hand.
When it became lunch time and they closed all the windows except one I started to get a little nervous. I was trying to think of which of my friends I could call tonight to ask what happens when you get a number but they don’t reach that number during the current work day. I worried on that little problem for awhile while I watched the guy at the remaining window continue to work. I was really starting to hope I got this guy. He seemed to be such a helpful person. I named him Brian, don’t know why. I was really disappointed when the rest of the office came back and it appeared that Brian was leaving. I knew that he understood English and I had hoped that would make it a little easier for me. But he left, and when he did the whole bank of windows on this side of the building changed from H’s to F’s. Oh my god, what now?
I had to go around the corner to find the windows that were now serving the H numbers. I was starting to feel anxious. After five hours of watching the time and the numbers roll by it was unsettling to have to move to unfamiliar territory. I had only 20 more numbers to wait through. And who was there behind one of the windows? Yup, Brian. He must have sensed my need and stuck around to help out. They were on number H848 and Brian was busy flirting with some woman at the counter. If he would just hurry up a little bit. H849. Aaaaaaaand, H850, two windows down from Brian. Men are so fickle…I ended up with a very nice man and we managed to get the papers back and forth, and the fingerprints done, and the mysterious piece of paper handed through the window at the end. (side note: they tell you to bring 4 passport size photos. They carefully choose and cut one out of the four identical prints for the card. Are they nuts?)
So I finally had the permesso. No food, water or bathroom for six hours, nothing to read and no music to listen to, but finally the prize. I staggered out to my bike, breathing fresh air and feeling a little less like punching someone in the face. Honestly, I thought, this dirty looking piece of paper is that important? I took a stab at reading it (it’s in Italian, you know) and you’ll never guess what it says…I have an “appointment” on 25 May at 15.04 (3:04pm) to pick up my permesso card. Hahahahahahahahaaaaaaaa…………..ha.
I’m showing up at 8.15 with food, water, a book, and someone to talk to.