Really, I wanted to put off writing about this until tomorrow but I knew that some of you are waiting to know what happened. Possibly more anxious than I was. So even though I have a cut on my index finger and the band-aid makes typing really hard and it hurts like hell, even though I'm kind of an emotional wreck...I'll tell you about my day.
Friday the thirteenth here in Florence began normally. The sun rose at the right time, the birds were singing appropriately perky morning songs and all appeared right with the world. Breakfast was consumed without mishaps. There was a little confusion about our departure time. I was awake and ready to go around 5:30, which Leif correctly noted was pointless as the offices don't even open till 8am. He suggested leaving at 9 in an attempt to repeat Wednesday's easy-in-easy-out performance.
I spent the time before we left mentally conjuring up worst case scenarios and then solving the problems (again mentally) with ninja-like stealth and cunning. I wish I was that brilliant in real life. I stopped this when we rode to the Questura. Rush hour traffic is a bear and I wouldn't suggest practicing anything during the ride. Just keep your eyes and mind on the cars and other bikes. Except for a few minor skirmishes with other bikers the ride went well and we arrived at the Questura safely.
Now, even if it weren't Friday the thirteenth it would still be a Friday. Regardless of the date I am guessing that Friday is the day when everyone's nerves are a little tense, when tempers flair and misunderstandings abound. The goal is to survive the day. Any attempts to maintain grace and dignity are forgotten in the need to survive. All I could think was "What the hell are all these people doing here? I want to get my Permesso and leave, then you all can get back into line." My attitude was getting very close to sucking.
Also, I was working very hard on keeping quiet. The last time we were at the Questura Leif mentioned that I tended to talk a lot there and it was distracting for him. As if that mattered to me right now. I'm the one trying to get some kind of official permission to stay here. He's already here and no one will ask him to leave.
See how quickly things can get emotional? It's all done for me and still I feel a little put out about this. Talking is how I get rid of stress. Some people pace, others drink, I talk. But I wanted to be nice, so I kept all that chatter inside. It didn't stop, it just didn't happen out loud. I sat there quietly while I mentally deflected nasty remarks and answering questions in fluent Italian. I was practically hyper-ventilating I was thinking so hard. I tried meditating but all I could hear was my own breathing and it sounded like I was running a marathon. Not relaxing at all. But I was quiet. I get points for that.
Sadly we weren't able to repeat the quick trip from earlier this week. We sat there, and sat there and then he said he didn't think we would be spending hours there. I didn't remind him that I had in fact told him just the night before that it would be lovely if we would be able to get out of there quickly, but that it might be too much to hope for. So don't.
I started to worry that I would have to jump through even more hoops before getting my Permesso. Like having to do whatever happens behind that door that's guarded by the man in the white coat and latex gloves. Or something equally horrible that I haven't even seen there because it's too awful to let the general public witness it. No, I don't know exactly what that might be, but I bet it's pretty terrible. Or, the worst possible option, coming back another day. Too horrible to even imagine.
Finally our number came up (D431 for those keeping score) and we rushed the window, anxious to be as helpful as possible so we could leave. The man behind the bullet-proof glass didn't smile. Even after my smiling and poorly accented boungiorno! He took my receipt and found my file. He wordlessly took out a stack of papers, stapled them together and slid them together with a pen through the slot at the counter. He pointed (again wordlessly, not even any Italian) to the place for me to sign. I signed. He ripped his copies off the back and handed me my single sheet of paper and pointed to the doors. Leif started to ask a question but the look on that man's face stopped him from asking it. This was a man one single manilla envelope away from going postal. We left.
I was of course brimming with observations and after hours of limiting my conversation to a few words a minute I couldn't stop once we hit the sidewalk. First things first, I had to actually look at the paper. My Permesso when I was here as a student was an electronic card (not unlike a credit card) that had all my info on it as well as my fingerprints. It had nifty holograms on it and had an air of permanence about it. It was thick and waterproof and wouldn't bend or fold. I assumed my new one would look like this. You have to imagine this and much, much more pouring out of my mouth so fast there was almost a sonic boom.
I went on to voice my surprise that my Permesso (good for five years people!) was printed on impermanent and highly delicate paper. Paper that had my picture stapled to it with a single staple, then covered with mailing tape. Paper that can rip, tear, fold, holy cow it could even burn! Just one spill could render it unreadable and therefore null and void. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the completely Italian idea that temporary visitors are issued cards that could probably survive a nuclear attack while people intending to live here for a long time are given permission to stay on something as temporary and fragile as paper.
Obviously I haven't completed my assimilation to the Italian culture yet. Or I would have simply shrugged and said "OK." When I finally ran myself down a bit and started sounding less like a chipmunk Leif suggested we get going, he had things to do today. Oooooookay. No parade, that's for sure. Not even a tiny happy dance. A few quick kisses to acknowledge the end of what for me has been a journey with no certain outcome. Now that I'm several hours away from it all, I have to say that he does have a lot on his mind right now with his exams coming up.
But I still have this really weird, where'd all the excitement go and why don't I feel more accomplished about this project feeling. Because I've been working on this since before I got here. I have documents translated into Italian that no one has even looked at. I've spent hours, maybe days in a building that depresses me. I've done everything they've asked and maybe I'm just pissy because after all the hoops I've jumped through no one even said "Welcome to Italy!" Well, actually they'd say "Benvenuti in Italia!" but you know what I mean. I don't feel accomplished, I only feel a great sense of relief that despite the obstacles they put in my way I survived. I guess I'm maybe looking for that five minute victory party where we both go a little wild because we won, dammit, and in my mind it was never a given and having the paper in my hand seems like a miracle.
And he has just agreed to drink something bubbly and celebratory with me out of pretty glasses as soon as I finish this, so I'm going to stop writing and end my day on a high note of happiness. Because unless I break the law I can stay here for five years before entering the Questura again. Maybe it'll burn down in the meantime. And if it does.....I had nothing to do with it.