Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting Permission

When we last left our heroine at the local Questura (police station, specifically the immigration office) she was staring dumbfounded at the piece of paper she had just spent 6 hours waiting for. It wasn’t the actual permission to stay, but another appointment to visit the same office in a month to pick up her Permesso di Soggiorno, or permission to stay longer than three months in Florence. This appointment was for 25 May at 15.04 (or 3:04pm for those not using the 24 hour clock). Yes, 3:04. Don’t question the government, people. Our heroine spent the month thinking positive thoughts and trying to stay out of trouble. Not very successfully, but trying, and that’s what counts.

She dutifully showed up at the day and time indicated on her paper, only to be told that the office was woefully behind in it’s paperwork and to go home and check the website for the progress on her Permesso. The officer actually did look grieved that he had to send her away empty-handed. Her steadfast companion and interpreter, Leif, discussed the finer points of how, exactly, they should check the website. A lightening fast exchange in Italian yielded less information than one might think. She asked Leif for a summary of the conversation. He looked deeply into her eyes, sighed and said, “I’m not exactly sure how we check this. He said you could use your case number written on the paper here. Or I think we need the Post Office receipt and use one of the numbers from that. He used the word “password” a lot. We’ll try that.”

Not much comfort to our heroine, who has an insane fear of uniforms and was convinced that any day the police would show up at her door and demand her paperwork. When she would be unable to produce it they would escort her, luggage-less, to the airport. There they would ceremoniously cut her Codice Fiscale ( Italian Social Security card) into confetti (NOT sugar covered almonds, but tiny pieces of paper), rip the visa page out of her passport, and be banished from Italy forever. Our heroine can sometimes be a drama queen.

Once home again they started up the computer and tried to figure out exactly what numbers were needed to unlock the mysteries of her case. The website claimed that they could enter her case number (12 characters) or her Post Office receipt number (10 characters). Careful examination of her appointment paper showed that the handwritten case number held only 11 characters. This was not a great way to start. They tried the receipt number but the computer gave them the message that the number they had entered was not in the system. Now, they knew that somewhere inside the Italian government computer system her files existed. She has an (albeit incomplete) case number and an appointment (sort of). They tried the only number left on the receipt, the password. Now I know you are probably thinking, duh! But this password has a hyphen, making it 11 characters. So…do they leave the zero off the front? Leave the last number off ? Use only the numbers and ignore the hyphen? They tried them all, and nothing worked. They gave up in frustration, and decided to try again the next day.

A good night’s sleep always helps, and our heroine cheerfully suggested starting the computer right away to check the website again. Her trusty companion got those lines between his eyebrows that mean either the light is too bright for his eyes, or he disagrees with the idea. This day it meant he disagreed. More to the point, he was fine with her checking the numbers again, but he wasn’t ready for the disappointment and frustration quite yet. She suggested he “go ride a bike” (it may have been said a little sarcastically) while she tried to get some answers from the website. It took a few tries, but finally she found the magic combination of numbers that gave her the message “this case is currently in progress” (the English translation directly from the Italian website). At last, a concrete answer. Not the one she wanted, which was that it was complete, but still, an answer. FYI-she used the password without the hyphen.

Our heroine checked the website religiously, sometimes twice a day, and once on holidays just to be sure that the moment her status came up as “complete” she could make the trip back to the Questura and return home with proof that she is allowed to stay. Fourteen of the longest days on record followed. Fourteen days of getting the same message, “this case is currently in progress.” On the fourteenth day, when the message changed to “this case is complete” she nearly closed the window, not realizing that the message had changed. Yes, a tiny dance of joy ensued. It was a solo dance, but a dance all the same. When her faithful companion returned home that afternoon she gave him the news. He smiled, hugged and kissed her. He looked disappointed that she would go to the Questura the next day without him, but she was so very anxious to have that last piece of Italian paperwork that she insisted on going without him.

The day was dark and rain threatened as she walked across town to the Questura. The closer she got the more her hands started to shake and she was sweating more from nerves than from the heat and humidity of the day. She walked up to a man in uniform, showed him her piece of paper and asked where she should go. He said……..(in Italian) ”you are too late, come back tomorrow between noon and 2,” as he pointed to a piece of paper taped to the wall. She pointed to the time of 15.04 on her paper and he pointed to the paper on the wall yet again. Apparently his piece of paper trumped hers, and the government can change their hours at will. She really wanted to stamp her feet and throw a tiny hissy fit, but she has been told that unless you are really, really important all that kind of behavior gets you is being pushed to the back of the line. So she smiled, swallowed the tears that threatened to spill out in front of him, and left the building.

Once outside she called her faithful companion, who met her there and bought her gelato and generally made her feel better. He asked if she could wait two more days, then he would come with her and make sure she got her paperwork. Of course, she wanted it finished NOW, but the thought of having someone along made her feel better so she agreed. He rode his bike home, while she walked. She got soaked to the skin walking home through 1 liter raindrops with very little airspace between them. It fit her mood, sloshing through calf deep water as the rain pounded down on her umbrella.

The final day for the Questura beamed brightly. OK, not really, but it wasn’t raining and that was a good thing. Our heroine and her trusty companion, Leif, arrived at the Questura and got in line with the rest of the people gathered there to get their Permesso. They waited, and waited and waited till finally the line began to move. One Uniform collected the papers as another Uniform directed them to stand behind a rope. People with strollers were loudly told to move them out of the waiting area and against a wall. No, not that wall, and not in front of the door. They stood like cattle in a pen for awhile. Suddenly the door opened and the head Uniform walked out with a handful of papers. Everyone perked up a bit. Finally, something was happening. He began to call out names. Some got numbers and got to move into the next room, while others were given their paper back and told to return in twenty days. She looked nervously at Leif and asked “They just didn’t check the website, right?” He agreed and said that if they gave her any trouble he would step in and give them “what for” in Italian. (paraphrasing, he probably said he would tell them she checked the website and they had no right to withhold her papers)

They watched anxiously as he called a group of names, disappeared back into the door and reappeared again several minutes later with another handful of papers. He called one name and no one stepped forward. This confused the Uniform. Who would do such a thing? It was an Asian name, and his Italian accent probably made it difficult to recognize. He set the paper on the table and moved to the next name. One man slipped under the rope and reached for the paper on the table. The Uniform slammed his hand down on the paper and shouted (really, he did shout) “Ultimo!!!” The sound of his hand and voice echoed off the high ceilings and stone walls. The whole group took one step back as he glared at them all. It only takes one person to change the balance of power, you know, and he was asserting his absolute power over their futures here in Italy. The poor soul who didn’t recognize their name was now destined to be the very last person to receive a number that day.

He finally called out the name “Roulet, MicheleMarie” and looked suspiciously at her as he handed over her number. The number that leads to the end of this difficult part of the adventure in Italy. She took it before he could change his mind, grabbed her companion’s hand and slid through the doorway into the now familiar waiting room to watch for her number to come up on the monitor. “What is your number? What number are they on?” Leif asked anxiously as she looked for a place to sit. “Mine is F067,” she said, showing it to him “and it looks like there is only one window for those numbers.” He looks at the monitor and his shoulders kind of droop a bit. “They are only on F010,” he said quietly.

She wants to give him words of encouragement like, “they move through these numbers very quickly,” or “it’s fun here, really,” but she can’t. The best she can do is “at least I have a number to wait for, and oh, there’s a place to sit down.” The truth is, when you are there with another person the time goes quicker. There is someone to talk to, to commiserate with, to get angry with. And they did all that and more, as they watched the numbers slowly move toward the magical F067. They shared a sandwich out of a machine, and agreed it was surprisingly good. Surprisingly different for our heroine, who has never had a prosciutto and artichoke sandwich out of a machine before.

Leif claims that our heroine began to tense up about F050, and to visibly vibrate in her chair when people who had already been helped kept going back to the window to ask yet another (probably silly) question. He is exaggerating. At F052 the numbers stopped moving for almost 20 minutes. For no apparent reason. Finally the numbers began to move again. Leif claims, and this may be true, that by now our dainty heroine looked ready to slug anyone daring to try and re-enter the que once they had walked away. Thankfully she reached the window without incident. The woman behind the window took her number and paperwork, found the Permesso, held up a thumb to indicate that as an official of the Italian government she had to verify our heroine’s identity with her thumbprinnt and handed back her passport and Permesso. She didn’t utter a single word, not hello, good afternoon, or goodbye. They hurried from the building, our heroine hugging the precious card to her chest until she could get it safely tucked into her wallet.

So for now our heroine is safe. She has permissions from several different branches of government to remain in Italy until the middle of December. If you heard a tiny rush of wind yesterday afternoon (morning for you Minnesotans) that was Michele, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

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