I have often observed that accomplishing any task of note here in Rome takes half a day. Note the ‘of note.’ I do not mean to insinuate that everything takes half a day. I am quite sure, for example, that you can buy a stick of gum or a slice of pizza in less time than that. But the moment you have to go anywhere or get involved in any kind of process, you might as well pack a good book and cancel your appointments for the rest of the day. Doctor’s visit? Half a day. Need a new checkbook? Half a day. Have to pay some bills? That’ll take half a day. The crazy thing is that such services are about a million times more efficient than they were when I arrived here back in the days of mimeograph machines and no cell phones. Took a half a day then. Takes a half a day now.
Friday was a Very Roman Day — a VRD if you will. I was supposed to meet my lawyer at the big post office near Piazza Mazzini to turn over the documentation for renewing my permesso di soggiorno or residency permit. I’ve done this a couple of time before and here is what’s supposed to happen. 1) I give the permit forms plus backup documentation (every contract I’ve signed over the past year; all of my bank information; a photocopy of my complete passport, empty pages and all) to the grumpy postal worker (GPW for short. They are always grumpy — going postal appears to also be a thing in Italy). 2) The GPW checks that all the necessary papers are present and accounted for and puts stamps all over everything. 3) I give everyone a whole load of money and go home to wait and see whether I get to stay on for another two years. Pretty straightforward, no?
Here’s what actually happened. The first challenge was getting there. Piazza Mazzini is about 15 minutes away by car, 20 bus stops or a €20 taxi ride. I don’t really drive in Rome anymore — long story — and normally I am all about public transportation but — of course — there was a transport strike on Friday. That was annoying, but strikes aren’t exactly rare or surprising in this part of the world and one adapts. The transport strikes usually run from 8:30 am to 5 pm so they only really inconvenience people who oversleep or leave work at a reasonable hour. When I used to commute to work (before my commute was a gentle amble across the hallway from the bedroom to my study) I used to be inconvenienced all the time because I usually did both. My appointment with the lawyer was at 10 so I took a cab.
We met up and idly chit chatted in the queue until the GPW called us forward. He flipped through my information with a telling lack of interest before looking me up and down and asking for my passport. Ulp. I didn’t bring my stinking passport.
The lawyer and I started protesting at the same time. Nothing in the application materials said anything about needing to bring my official passport (as I said, a photocopy of my full passport was one of the papers required). I had done this twice before and no one had ever asked for my passport. My lawyer had done it dozens of times for other clients and nobody had asked them either. Was this a new rule? Not a new rule, sniffed the GPW. Those other clerks had obviously not been doing their job correctly: seeing the ‘true’ passport was THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS.
No amount of cajoling, gnashing of teeth or rending of garments could convince him to let it pass (sometimes that works, but rarely in the post office). So I had to take a taxi home. €20. Grab the passport and come back. €20. When I got to the head of the queue again, the first GPW fobbed me off on another GPW, whom he had clearly warned about me because the first thing she said was, “Do you have your passport? SEEING THE TRUE PASSPORT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS!” The rest of the interaction, i.e. the money-paying part (money for the lawyer; money for the various bits of paper that needed stamping) went off without a hitch (that part generally does). Next, I will have to go to police headquarters with photos (and passport presumably) and confirm that I’m me but that’s not for another couple of months, fortunately.
Before embarking on my fourth and final €20 cab ride of the day, I decided to treat my frazzled nerves to a nice lunch. It was about 1:30 at this point. I stumbled onto La Nuova Fiorentina, an old-fashioned Tuscan trattoria with a local clientele. I had a very nice veal cutlet with tomatoes and arugula and spicy greens with garlic. I could have done without the many African gentlemen lining up to sell me kleenex but after all that queueing I was just happy to sit down.
When I got home it was, you guessed it, half a day after I’d first left the apartment. In fairness, part of the half a day was taken up by lunch. I do, however, consider lunch to be a necessary reward for successfully dealing with Roman errands and thus a legitimate part of the errand-doing on a VRD.
La Nuova Fiorentina. Via Angelo Brofferio 51. Tel: 06 37516181