MY ITALIAN PRINCE HAS BEEN won over! He has unexpectedly received the most unlikely news: the furniture-making shop that employs him is moving to a new location an hour and half away. Not having the inner demons of retirement charts to contend with, he agrees to take a year off and go to Italy. His parents will soon return to Canada, so their house in Italy will be empty. We embark on the colossal task of getting the necessary documents in order, so that this dream may come to fruition.
Italy is equally as famous for its labyrinthine bureaucracy as for its pizza, wine, and grandeur. Still, a North American mind can never really be prepared.David takes a day off work, and we spend an hour deciding what to wear to the Italian consulate. We arrive at what appears to be an opportune time: aside from workers, the place is empty.
A signora quickly stops us in our tracks.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asks.
“No, we called earlier and were not told that we require one.” We are trying to lay the blame on this anonymous third party and thus appeal for mercy.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “but you need an appointment to see me.”
I surreptitiously glance around to see whether hundreds of people have swarmed the consulate. The same silence echoes, and no matter of national security appears to be looming.
We try to appeal to her sense of nationalism. Surely, the signora wants to help two people who recognize that life in Bella Italia is far superior to that in other countries. Hasn’t she noticed what we’re wearing? My back is already aching from the height of my heels, and my toes are squished. David is barely coping in pants far too tight, and the pastel-colored wool sweater tied around his neck is getting itchier by the minute.
“Okay,” the signora begrudgingly concedes and lets out a loud sigh, as if signaling the nonexistent masses that they will simply have to wait.
Minutes later, she informs us with perverse joy that David is missing his long-form birth certificate, which shows his parents’ nationality at the time of his birth.
“You must go to the registry office and get it done as a rush.” She closes the file folder, content that we lack a vital document and no further effort will be required on her part.
“Grazie, signora. Arrivederci,” we say.
We’re already downtown, so we go over to the registry office and wait in the long line. Finally, it’s our turn.
“I need these as a rush, please.”
“No problem,” the clerk says. “Do you have airline tickets as proof that you need it as a rush?”
“No, we require it for the consulate for next week.”
“Then give me the letter you got from them, confirming it needs to be a rush.”
“They didn’t give us anything.” I beg and plead to get it done as a rush but in vain.
“It’s very routine,” he assures us. “I get these letters from consulates all the time—the Portuguese, and so on. Go to the Italian consulate tomorrow and get a letter, then come back.” He calls the number of the next person in line.
Dejected, we leave but not without hope. Tomorrow we will surely accomplish much and be one step closer to life in Italy.
I phone the consulate first, just in case an appointment is required. I explain this routine, run-of-the-mill, stamp-them-by-the-dozens type of letter we need for the registry office.
Fortunately, I’m sitting down when I receive the response.
“No, we will not be giving you any such letter,” the signora adamantly states.
“Pardon?” I ask but soon realize this was a mistake. My inquiry changes the signora’s mood, from being simply indignant to now plain furious.
“Madam, just because you are disorganized and leave things to the last minute, we will not be running around getting letters for you!” she yells.
Shocked, I foolishly say, “The man at the registry office said this was a routine letter and that he gets them all the time from the Portuguese consulate.”
Evidently insulted, she says, “We are not the Portuguese, and we have matters of urgency to deal with for our own Italian citizens.” She hangs up on me.
Tears stream down my face. After a good cry, I get a grip on myself and reserve a few tears for my next plan of action.
I drive furiously to the registry office. When my number is called, I march over, look at the government worker with tears in my eyes, and warn him, “I am about to cry.”
He sees that I’m not bluffing, and he panics.
My tears are now flowing nonstop, and, between sobs, I explain my situation. He is sympathetic and pulls out a form marked URGENT, scribbles in the “proof of urgency” section, and presses the official stamp onto it.
“Your documents will be delivered to your door within forty-eight hours.” He smiles and adds, “You just caught the Italians on a bad day; we get those letters from them all the time!”
“Thank you, thank you,” I say in between sniffs. Red-eyed, I exit with soggy Kleenex in hand, hoping to escape the stares of surprised onlookers.
After a few more visits to the consulate, with me keeping quiet lest my voice be recognized, David victoriously gets his passport.
Next, we go to the visa office to get a one-year tourist visa for me. We explain our situation to the little signora with the dyed jet-black hair and bouffant hairstyle behind the undoubtedly bullet-proof glass.
“IM-PO-SSI-BILE!” she loudly informs us in her thick Italian accent and puts a hand on her forehead, as if about to faint at the mere suggestion of it. Not only does she have to deal with the complexity of our situation, but, to add to her woes, she notices the time. It is 11:30, and the office closes at 12:00.
Like a bullet, she runs from behind the counter with an oversized key and locks the door. I feel a twinge of guilt, because, thanks to us, the next person, who has arrived in ample time, will find him- or herself locked out of the visa office, with no chance of being let in.
With visible discomfort, the signora pulls out a heavy, fear-inspiring manual. It’s about a thousand pages thick and covered in dust, which is not particularly comforting. With a disturbed look on her face, she mumbles in Italian, while flipping pages back and forth.
As more time passes, I start to feel faint. My claustrophobia wells up, as we wait, locked in this little chamber.
“Excuse me, I must sit down as I am not feeling well,” I tell the signora. I feel the color leave my face and sip on some water, hoping I don’t pass out. Her mood instantly changes. The woman with the Gestapo demeanor on the other side of the glass now becomes compassionate—motherly, in fact.
“Here is my number, call me in a few days. I will make sure something is worked out for you,” she says in a soothing tone.
I’m not sure whether this is a clever ruse to get rid of us before closing time or a truly empathetic gesture. Regardless, I hope the signora will work something out for us and that it will be legal.
Continuing to make headway toward living in paradise, I place a call to our friendly Italian airline.
“Do you fly to Pescara?” I ask.
The customer service person says, “We fly to Milan.”
“Could we then get a connecting flight to Pescara?”
She seems outraged that I have not heard her the first time and repeats, “We fly to Milan. How you get from Milan to Pescara is not our problem.”
I suspect that her ex-husband must have been from Pescara.
Convinced I must not be hearing her correctly, I say, “Pardon?”
Now, with full recognition that she is dealing with a difficult customer, she calls for back up.
Another “‘customer service”’ agent asks me, “Did you not hear what my colleague said?” To add insult to injury, she repeats what I clearly heard the first two times.
Just how many bad days can these Italians be having?
Days pass, and I check on the mood of those in the visa office. The signora who had promised to help us is not in. In her place is a man who, fortuitously, is leaving Canada and returning to live in his motherland.
“A vastly superior place to live,” he declares.
We may have an ally. “We cannot agree more. That is why I am so desperate to have a one-year visa, because a few months in Italy is not nearly enough time.”
We chat and find out we will be living just twenty minutes from this man’s hometown.
“I can’t believe that’s where you’re going. We’ll be paesani!”
He cannot let down a future paesan, so not only will he give me my visa on the spot, but it shall be free of charge!
Triumphantly, we leave the Italian visa office. When we’re certain that we’re out of sight, we head straight into a Chinese restaurant for lunch.
Life in Italy, amongst her husband's family, inspired Ivanka to write A Zany Slice of Italy which became an Amazon bestseller. Available at Amazon.com
Ivanka and David continue to make Tuscany their home. Family, along with quirky situations in everyday life, continue to provide ample inspiration to write.