So, last week I received a text message (two, actually because it was really long) requesting my presence at the Office of Immigration on the 21st of April.
Ya know when you are on the highway, cruising along, some good music playing, the window rolled down a bit to let in a nice highway breeze, you might even have some beef jerky open sitting on the seat next to you and a 20 oz coke in the holder? Ya, you know the feeling? And then suddenly you see those folk who are Serving and Protecting with their blue and red lights in your rear view mirror? Ya know that feeling?
Yeah, that's what it's like to get a text message from the Office of Immigration if you don't live in the country in which you were born.
Well, there's a slight difference in my analogy here given the specifics of this situation...those being that I actually filled out about 20 pages of information telling the authorities where I am, what I'm doing...and asked them to contact me.
Getting a text from the immigration office, when you've ASKED for one gives you the pit in your stomach that you feel when you are driving the speed limit and pass a cop. Even though you are doing nothing wrong, you still feel the pangs of guilt and the adrenaline flood of impending doom.
I think our friend Pavlov should have done his research on drivers and aliens (that would be "immigrants" for you non-Americans...yeah, I know it's funny that we Americans call people from other countries "aliens" as well as beings from other planets). I think Pavlov could have done more with rapid heart beat than drooling.
So, back to the story...I'm invited to join the mass of humanity at the Office of Immigration. I accept.
But, given that I've been to this party before, I know that an "appointment" for 9am means that you stand in line with all the others who are there, by invitation or just because they need some help -- your appointment time means nothing.
So I show up at 9.10, park illegally at the train station across the street from the government complex that houses immigration. I debate whether to put my flashers on. This of course being the way to tell people (cops) that you KNOW you are illegally parked and "it'll just be a minute!". Remembering that I'm going to the sea of humanity at the immigration office, I decide against the flashers - I was worried that I'd be there so long that I'd kill my battery. Can you kill your car battery by leaving the flashers on too long? I've always wondered that...more so, I must admit, since I've moved to Italy and learned the art of creative parking.
Anyway, I enter the waiting room and take notice of everyone in the room to find my place in the "line"..... which doesn't exist. You have to imagine who is in front of you. Of course I eliminate all the people I see in the waiting room who look italian. The waiting room is shared with those who are waiting for new passports (meaning Italian Passports) as well as people who want to file a "denuncia" against someone. (I can't really explain a "denuncia" because it doesn't exist in the States...I don't think. It's like when someone has done you wrong and it's pissed you off enough that you want to tell the police about it).
While I'm waiting I read the posters on the walls (I know I know. I should have brought some knitting). On one wall, "don't be a victim any more. Report spousal abuse" and "with 1 euro a day, you can save the life of a child". On the other wall, right next to the list that contains names of the people whose permits of stay are ready, is this one -- "Return and Start Again - do you want to go back home? We can organize your documents, pay for your passage and financially help you begin your life again in your own country." Hmm, that's good to know.
So I wait about 45 minutes until I catch the eye of "my friend" behind the counter. Ok, really, she's not my friend but we've made a connection. We have a lot in common, actually...she works in the immigration office and I need a permit of stay, she has a nephew living in New Jersey and I'm from Wisconsin, she lives in Taggia and I live in a random wild spot on the top of a mountain that has been, for bureaucratic purposes, attached to the town of Taggia. We're practically twins. She saw me in the waiting room and mouthed to me, "what do you need?" I said, "RITIRARLO!!!!" That mean "I'm here to PICK IT UP!!!!"
She mouthed, "come in!" with a big smile and did that Italian hand motion that mean come here (it's like the whole hand version English speakers use for "come here", except it's upside down, with the palm toward the ground - until I figured out what this was, I waved good bye to a lot of people who were telling me to "come here").
So, I went in, trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the waiting room because I was so clearly budging in front of everyone in the non-existent line. And I GOT IT! Just like that. Honestly, it was slightly anti-climactic since I'd been waiting for that moment for over a year. I think my friend behind the counter was possibly more excited than I was. She had been following my progress toward this day, feeling my frustration with me. She'd even made a couple calls on my behalf. This was a victory for her as much as it was for me.
I put my index finger in her machine for a scan. Then she handed me my card. We shared a smile and a bit of a laugh...ok, I danced, she didn't but I know she wanted to. And then she said, "It's for 5 years! I'll see you again then. Of course it will only be 4 years from now because it took 1 year from the time of you request...but...you know...."
To celebrate I went to a cafe' for breakfast like the real local I am, "prendo un latte machiato (a latte) e un brioch con crema (a cream filled croissant)". As I went to pay, the waiter let me budge in front of another customer, "tourists first" he explained to the man. Oh well.