Finally 30 days have passed; the magic number I was given, albeit verbally, to return to get my Permesso. I waited an extra couple of days, just in case. Also because I wanted Leif to come with me. My Italian is improving, but in times of stress I lose both my Italian and English, leaving me pretty much speechless. I needed him there to intuit my very important questions and ask them for me if I suddenly went silent and looked upset. And I wanted the company.
So Tuesday morning we headed off on our bikes across town (have I already mentioned that everything seems to be across town from where we live?) to check on my Permesso. We walked in and Leif decided to skip talking to the mean men in uniforms at the door and just stepped into line behind about a hundred other people waiting to get a number. One of the uniforms noticed us and called us over. Yikes....we hadn't done anything wrong that I could remember in the 10 seconds we had been in the building. He asked why we were there and then handed us a number and told us to just go in and wait.
Naturally I was a little suspicious of this. The last time one of those guys handed me a number it was only to wait several hours to get another number. How does that go? Fool me once, shame on you...(fool me twice we must be speaking Italian!) I mentioned to Leif that I thought it might be a bait and switch; that they were having a little fun with us and we were going to repeat my first visit to the Questura. He just looked at me and raised one eyebrow.
We had a low number and I took him around the corner to where few people go to sit. We found a quiet corner (not an easy thing to do there) and waited for D423 to come up on the monitor. Luckily, because of my last visit I knew that the D's started with 400 so we weren't in for a long wait. We sat on a concrete ledge, watched the other people and I talked. A lot.
I talked about having the right papers, or only having the wrong papers, of misunderstanding the date, of having to come back because it wasn't ready yet, really the list goes on forever. He listened patiently for quite some time and then did that eyebrow thing again and told me that maybe I was obsessing too much about things. Yes, he used that word. Yes, he's new to the married kind of conversation where neither partner accuses the other one of obsessing about anything. We may worry, possibly fret, but obsessing implies something beyond normal emotions. But he was right. I was obsessing. So I tried to stop, at least outwardly. Really, he just wanted me to stop talking because when I get nervous I talk way too much. He tells me this is very Italian, this talking through a problem to find a solution. But still, he would prefer it if I would just stop for awhile. He asked so nicely that I did stop.
Suddenly we were only a couple of numbers away from 423, so we walked around the corner to the one window that took the D numbers to wait our turn. When my number flashed on the screen we walked quickly up to the window and I handed him my receipt.
He looked at my name and got one of those "oh yeah" looks on his face and walked directly to my file. I was not comforted by this at all. People whose files have no issues aren't remembered by complete strangers. Right? He handed me back my receipt and told us that it would be ready the end of the week. So apparently I misread his recognition of my name. He was probably thinking of another Michele Marie Hauck Karlsson. It's a common name. He said arrivederci and smiled.
We turned away from the window and took a few step toward the exit. But wait! From behind the glass he was telling us to stop and come back...well I assume that's what he was saying, he was behind thick glass with a tiny hole cut into it that you need to put your ear on to hear and your mouth against to be heard. His mouth was moving and he was waving his arms at us so we walked back. When we got close enough to hear we thought he asked if Leif was written in Florence (in other words, was he written as a resident here) and we said yes because he is. He said that we needed another piece of paper from a different government office and waved us off.
My obsessing was justified right there. Neither of us knew what the paper was that he was asking for and we didn't think to ask if they had to have it before the Permesso was granted. I'd like to think we can show up on Friday and do a fair exchange of paper for Permesso. Sort of like a ransom. I'm such an optimist. On the other hand, he had already told us that the Permesso would be ready on Friday, so apparently the paper wasn't holding up the process. I think. We went outside where it was cooler to get the bikes and strategize a bit.
Neither of us had any appointments or work so it made sense to visit this other office and see if we could get everything taken care of today. So we headed off to Palazzo Vecchio (town hall) to see about this mystery paper.
This is how things work here. Never never never is the whole process revealed. Each visit only gets you the information you need for the next visit. Each person only knows their own job, they seem content to be ignorant of what another office might want or need. I said it up front; I knew that the one page form and a couple of supporting documents couldn't possibly be all they would want. Each visit brings another request for paper.
A lateral ride across town brought us to the city hall. The office we were looking for had moved but the woman at one desk was able to tell us that the paper was a "state of the family" paper. Whatever that means. Also that the office we needed was back across town and slightly north. So back on the bikes for another tooth-jarring ride across quaint cobblestone roads to the right office.
We hardly had to wait at all for our number to come up and when we got to the desk and Leif finished explaining that we need this paper but we don't understand what it is and can we get one she typed his name into the computer and frowned. Oh no.
The paper, she told us, is to show that we are both residents of Florence and live at the same address. Leif told her that he's a resident but that I'm not. She said she knew that because she's looking at her computer and my name is there as his wife but not as a resident. So....drum roll.....she can't give us the paper we need. A lengthy discussion in complex Italian ensued. She called over the person at the next desk for moral support.
First they told us all the reasons they couldn't give us this paper. All the problems. Fifteen minutes later they agreed, in lowered voices, that they might be able to find a way around the problem...to give us the paper, but never claim I was a resident and with an addendum that says Leif says I am living with him. She said that the Questura asked for it because he must have asked if we were both written here (not just Leif) and we should find out first if we really, truly needed the paper. And if we do need it it will cost 15 euros.
We left, a little dizzy from the amount of information we had been given in the last couple of hours. We also left with phone numbers for the Questura so we could call and find out if we really, truly need this piece of paper. When someone finally answered that phone she said that she wasn't the right person to answer our question. The best way to get an answer would be to fax it in. Yes....fax it in. She gave him the e-mail address as well but told him that e-mail wasn't answered as quickly as faxes were. Wow. The mind boggles.
We are now one day away from the end of the week, when my Permesso is supposed to be ready for me to pick up. Needless to say, we haven't gotten an answer to our e-mailed question. He's such an optimist. Even he is getting impatient enough that he is faxing the question even as I write. Leave no stone unturned and all that.
So this is a story without an ending yet. It's a story filled with intrigue, bureaucracy, and because it isn't over till it's over, hope. This whole residency issue could turn into a huge obstacle, or it could be just a tiny bump in the road. Only time will tell.