No matter how good the food, how lovely the people, how breathtaking the scenery……..every country has it’s bad side. For Italy, it’s the bureaucracy: ridiculous, disorganized and inefficient to the extreme.
(Before I get into this long account of bureaucracy gone mad, here’s a pic of our valley as it looks just about every morning with the clouds hanging in it. After, there’s a pic of what it looks like when you come down the hill and you’re IN that cloud)
On Friday morning we had arranged to meet a local teacher who moonlights as an interpreter and an “organiser” for foreigners moving to the area. Her name is Andreina and she is fluent in both Italian and English, having been raised in England and living all of her adult life in Italy. Not only does she offer the luxury of interpreting, but her inside local knowledge will put you ahead of the game in all things “official” that foreigners need to do. In our case, we had organised to meet her in Villafranca and take her with us to the School to enrol the kids and also to the Bank to open an account. Our first stop was the school in Villafranca which is the head office for the schools in this region including, of course, the school in Bagnone. The Headmistress, a rather tall woman, did speak some English but seemed to prefer communication with Andreina in Italian as a more efficient means to conduct our business. We introduced the boys and we discussed which year level would be best for them and what sorts of activities they should be given at the school in order to expediate their Italian language skills. It was decided that Denver would go into the equivalent of Year 1 and Balin into Year 3. Now the boys have almost completed years 1 and 3 back in Australia, but due to the language barrier and also the more advanced nature of Italian schooling (ie greater quantities of work with increased difficulty over Australia) we thought it best to go with their recommendation. The boys are happy with it anyway. It was at this point that a certain substance hit the proverbial fan when the Headmistress asked us about our Permesso di Soggiorno.
The Permesso di Soggiorno is basically a permit to stay in Italy when you are a resident (ie staying for longer than 3 months). What you need to do is go to a Questura (like a police station head office) within 8 days of arriving in the country and fill out forms and pay them some money and you’re good to go (or stay!). Problem is, the lady at the Italian consulate, although very helpful in organising our Visas, had neglected to inform us of this little chestnut and so our “papers were not in order”. All of a sudden there were office ladies rushing to and fro with papers and making photocopies, the Headmistress barking instructions in rapid Italian and making phone calls, and Andreina explaining to us in brief spurts what was going on. After speaking to the Italian police and the Australian Embassy on the phone, we were told we’d need to drive to the city of Massa (about 100kms away!) and see the Questura there. We’d need to go urgently too as this was the last day to do this (before, presumably, they would come and arrest us as terrorists) and given the Italian custom for short and unpredictable business hours we’d probably arrive right on closing anyway. Fortunately, another couple of phone calls later and we were merely sent down to the local post office for some forms. So, following Andreina, we proceeded on foot to the Ufficio Postale. The workers there were surly and unhelpful and refused to assist us to fill in the forms (despite the fact it’s their job and Andreina’s sharp Italian words would not change their minds). We were instead sent to the Patrinato (Trade Union office) but by the time we arrived there, they were of course closed. It was 11:10am after all. So back to the school we went and the towering but extremely kind Headmistress began to fill in all our forms with Andreina and Chris’s help while I took the kids down the road to the Pasticceria.
(Quick side note: had a FANTASTIC cappuccino, 3 drool-worthy pastries and a bottle of water for just 4 euros! I think it’s the start of a weighty love affair with the Italian Pasticceria.)
Meanwhile back at the school, the paperwork and photocopying continued. After the school had done all they could for us, including actually enrolling the boys anyway and starting them next Monday, we were sent off to another post office to try and lodge the forms. Once again we were in a rush, trying to beat the unpredictable closing times. The first post office we came to in Pontremoli could or would not lodge the forms. On we drove to Filatteria where they required more photocopies (EVERY page of each of our passports!). We then drove with Andreina to her house where she had a photocopying machine and did the necessary copies. Back to the post office, where we were then sent to the Tobacconist for a “marca da bollo” which is an official Italian revenue stamp in use since 1863 (yes, you’d think they’d have changed it by now!). Back to the post office again where we were told we needed more passport photos of us, which of course we didn’t have. After quickly speaking with an Italian police officer who happened to be at the post office too, we were assured we wouldn’t be arrested and decided to come back on Tuesday morning with Andreina again and finish the procedure.
All of this took just under 5 hours and we never made it to the bank.
Despite the headf*#k, it was actually a very useful day. Andreina is an absolute wealth of information and filled us in on the regions of Tuscany, the history, the attitudes, the customs….all VERY useful for newbies like us! She also knows the best places to photograph, places that tourists don’t know about. We’re looking forward to utilizing her knowledge and I’m sure you’ll be seeing many more mentions of Andreina in future blog posts (I’ll try to get a pic).
In contrast to yesterday, today was quite relaxing. Early this morning, we had our first visit from the Pane truck. We had been over Franco and Maria’s house yesterday evening and I had asked them what day the bread truck and the vegetable truck came. I understood the answer, but obviously missed a crucial couple of words where Franco was offering to get the bread/pane guy to drive up our long driveway instead of me coming down to wait there for him. When Franco and the Pane guy appeared outside our front door this morning, I recalled the conversation in a different light. This happens to me quite often actually….all someone has to do is use a verb I don’t know or use it in a past or future tense that I haven’t heard before and the whole conversation can take on quite a different meaning. Anyway, it was all OK in the end and we organised for him to come every Monday.
(Incidentally, Chris likes to use the word “amore” to express his “love” for inanimate objects, for example “I love the bread!”. However, in Italian that word is only used for romantic love and is incorrect in the other context. It was hilarious to see the alarmed look on the Pane guy’s face after Chris exclaimed his “amore” for the foccacia. He mumbled something about what is “only between a husband and a wife” and I quickly explained that Chris “piace” the foccacia. )
We went to Aulla again today to get a SIM card for my phone. We knew there was a “TIM” shop there, but were not exactly sure of the directions. We found our way towards the centre of Aulla and I asked at a book shop (in Italian) where we might find it. It so happened that there was a young lady who spoke English in the shop and she very kindly offered to accompany us (with her non-english speaking mother) to the TIM shop on foot. It turned out to be a bit of a walk actually, and we saw the Saturday morning street markets on the way as well as the “old centre” of Aulla. The girl and her mother were really lovely and just so unselfishly helpful to complete strangers like us. Chris gave them his card and I hope she finds us on Facebook so we can thank them once again. Perhaps we should give out cards with this blog address so kind strangers can read about how much we appreciate them?
I’ll leave you with some pictures of Chris and Balin’s afternoon walk where they met a nice lady named Bruna who gave them a bag of Mele (apples) and Caca fruit. I don’t know what the equivalent would be in Australia for this fruit, but it tastes like a cross between mango and pumpkin.