“So long as there is a single unemployed relative of an Italian government official, there will be a need for another bureaucrat.” – Scott Bergstein
Having obeyed the dicta of the officials in Cisternino and abided the rules as set forth by the bureaucrats of Locorotondo, it was now time to face the real pros in the provincial capital of Bari. These people perform the extraordinarily difficult task of transforming what should be so simple into something as complex as a NASA mission without even breaking a sweat. The first of our trips to Bari to renew my permesso di soggiorno provided ample evidence of their astounding talent.
Francesco, Jessica and I arrived at the questura, the provincial police headquarters, at the appointed time on the appointed day. Jessica went off to the centro storico of Bari to take some photos while Francesco and I took up our positions in the mob of fellow petitioners for the right to remain in Italy. It became clear that, just because we had an “appointment” with the immigration office at 10:10 am and a piece of paper from the Locorotondo post office to prove it, that only gave us the standing to line up with all of the other people and await the opening of the large metal doors into the questura and the invitation to enter and to get into another line. Even Francesco’s magic that can make lines disappear and waits vanish was not working on these officials of Bari who must have found ways to counter such spells. As we stood at the doors, I observed men, women and children of all colors, stripes and languages. Many were from Africa, seeking a better life than the one they left behind and happy to wait as long as it took to get there. A large number came from the former communist areas that included Albania and the former Yugoslavia republics of Montenegro, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Except for a group of Pakistanis who were arguing with a couple of carabinieri about their need for political asylum and trying to explain their lack of passports, all of the people, even the children, waited calmly and quietly, almost to the point of passivity.
Finally, the big metal doors opened. Francesco was the first through the opening and, when he showed the guard our appointment confirmation, we were immediately directed to–you guessed it–the waiting room.
It was just past 12:30 when Francesco was finally able to talk his way past the officer in control of seeing to it that the schedule was maintained, a job for which he was obviously unqualified, and get us in front of an immigration official. His job was to make us stand there while he reviewed the package that had previously been reviewed by “she of the fiery hair” at the post office in Locorotondo. He did so, slowly and deliberately, looking at each piece of paper in the file as though he were reading a will in which he was sure he had been left something, anything. He turned to Francesco (He knew full well that turning to me was a useless endeavor.) and asked him a question. Francesco responded and asked me, “Do you have your carta d’identita’?” The identity card is a photo ID issued by one’s comune or town council that verifies that one is, indeed, a resident of that town. I handed mine over to Francesco and he, in turn, gave it to the official. Without giving the document even the slightest glance, he gave it back to Francesco in an obvious gesture of rejection. He spoke again to Francesco who, again turned to me. “Do you have the residency permit from Locorotondo?” he asked.
“I never got a permit,” I responded. “They only gave me a form and the carta d’identita’. But Jessica renewed her permesso without a residency permit,” I objected, “and they accepted her carta d’identita’.”
“Yes,” said Francesco, “but this is a different guy. He only takes the residency permit.”
Francesco pleaded with the official, basing his case on both the fact that Jessica had used her identity card and that nowhere in any of the renewal application documents had there been any mention of the permit, all to no avail.
Francesco tracked down a more senior immigration official who conceded that we could fax the requested document to them rather than make another personal appearance. He had similarly negotiated a relaxation of another rule when Jessica went to Bari to collect her little plastic card. She was asked to produce the original receipt from the post office in Locorotondo that began the entire renewal process. When Jessica said that she did not have it, Francesco convinced the officials to sit her down in an office while they produced a paper for her to attest to having irretrievably lost the aforementioned receipt and swearing to its non-existence. She signed accordingly and immediately tore the receipt into small pieces when we got home.
More conversation during which Francesco asked the senior immigration official if she would personally see to it that, once she received the fax of the document that said the same thing as the other document we had already provided her, the residency permit got into the renewal application file. Once the application was complete, in the capricious eyes of whichever official in Bari happened to have picked it up, it would be sent to Rome so that some other government official could form his/her own opinion as to its acceptability. At that point, some other bureaucratic deity in Rome would hand down the tablet that is the little plastic card to the Bari underlings. Those folks would deign to send me a text message summoning me yet again to Bari so that I might, yet again, queue up with the unwashed and, when my turn came, to collect the holy grail, my permesso di soggiorno.
The good news: in 12 short months, I get to do it all over again.