My excitement for the day of San Valentino was somewhat overshadowed earlier in the week by my anxiousness about my first appointment at the Ufficio della Questura (Police Station - in my case, the Immigration dept) regarding my permesso di soggiorno (Permit to Stay). Yes, over 5 months after arriving in Italy with our visas and turning in our required application within 10 days of arriving, I finally had my appointment. One thing even more unbelievable is that even though Chris and I turned in our apps together, (and as bad as it is that my app was 5 months later), is that his appointment isn't scheduled until July! Yep. Ten months after arrival, 3 months after our visas officially expire, and 1 month after we had originally talked about returning to the US. Of course, our plans are still up int he air, but still - it's quite ridiculous. We're definitely getting a taste of the train-wreck that is the Italian bureaucracy system.
After hearing and reading so many horror stories about dealing with the Questura, (not just about the hassle, but about the rude employees), I have to admit that I was quite nervous about my appointment. Yesterday I re-checked my list of things to bring several times, went over it with the school administration, made copies, and checked my meeting time again: 10:06. What a random time, right?
I left the house on my bici (bike) about 9:15 and rode to where I knew there was a Questura office, about 5 minutes away. I walked in and everything seemed calm enough. When I approached the window and told the officer that I was there for my permesso, he shook his head and said that I was at the wrong office. "Oh great," I thought - the day was already starting on the wrong foot. But surprisingly, he smiled, came out from the desk, walked me outside, pointed out the way to go, and wished me luck. Everyone I'd told throughout the week that I was going to the Questura would always give a sarcastic smile and say "buona fortuna" (good luck) or "in bocca al lupo!" (an expression like "break a leg"). Wonderful.
I arrived around the area where the officer explained, and saw a group of stranieri (foreigners) lingering at the door of a large, drab, brick building - so I figured that I was at the right place. I walked inside and was greeted by an officer who checked that my appointment was indeed today and gave me a number. (This is when I figured out that the appointment time (10:06) meant nothing. It's just the day that counts and the times just help the people filter in more evenly). It was about 9:30 and I was #B-220. Line B was currently at #119.
By 11:30 it was only at #149.
I asked an officer if there was a bar close-by. He told me several options, then I asked what would happen if they closed before my number was called today. He asked what number I had, then smiled and said that when I go to the bar, in addition to my caffe', I might as well order spaghetti, a second course, salad, and maybe a dessert...because I had plenty of time. He also added that they won't close until all the numbers are served.
I took a long walk, stopped for a marocchino at a cafe', went home to change into something warmer (because the waiting room is not heated and is made of stone), and checked my email. One hour later I returned to find Line B at #159.
...In the meantime I got a call which informed me that a refund came in which we'd been waiting for for over 5 months, from when we first arrived here and had to change apartments because the first one "wasn't as described". So finally after months of phone calls, broken promises, demanding emails, legal advice, prayers, and help from friends, we finally have the cash in our hands. This is a huge load off!...
By 1:00, the numbers were at 200 and Chris met me a couple of blocks away in a park for a quick picnic lunch and a box of Vestri chocolates (my favorite chocolatier in town) for Valentine's Day! By 2:00 it was only at #206 and the workers seemed to have gone for lunch. By 3:00 it was still at a halt and I made small-talk with a guy beside me who said on his first appointment for his permesso he got his # at 8:30am and arrived at the sportello (window) not until 4:30pm. Very encouraging.
At about 4:15 my number was called, and after about 15 minutes, 2 separate windows, 10 fingerprints, and 1 signature later - I was on my way home...with a letter that stated my SECOND appointment date in April! Oh the joys :)
The evening ended with another dinner at Il Vegetariano, probably our most favorite restaurant in town! Because I was somewhat prepared for the crazy Italian system, and feel privileged to even have the opportunity to sit in that office and request a permit since I'm living in Italy :), (plus I have lots of love from and for people in my life) it was a good, productive, and eventful Valentine's Day!