There were more facets to our actual move to Italy than there are on Jessica’s engagement ring. (It was a cheap one.) In no particular order, there were the matters of getting our stuff, the cat and ourselves into the country. It sounds simple enough, but we and our frugality, not to mention the infamous Italian bureaucracy, made what should have been a walk in the park reminiscent of bringing the Apollo 13 crew home.
The move actually started even before the first phase of the renovation of Villa Tutto was complete. On our visit to inspect the progress of the work, Jessica and I each took two large suitcases weighing 50 pounds each (the maximum the airline would accept without extra charges) plus a large backpack each and a carryon. The baggage was filled with the basics for living in our new home: sheets and towels, dishes and silverware, pots and pans, and a large assortment of corkscrews. If there was any allowance remaining, we put clothing, pillows and anything else in until we reached the weight capacity. Between that first trip and our final move, we made another four trips over so, I figure that we carried over a half-ton of our household goods to our new home at no additional cost.
Once we sold our home in Pittsburgh, it was time to arrange for the rest of our worldly goods to depart for Puglia. The process was made a bit easier by the fact that the buyers of our house bought most of the furniture with it. That left us with only having to pack up what was left of our clothing, our kitchen supplies, Jessica’s home gym equipment, some outdoor furniture and, most critically, our art collection. Step 1: Find an intercontinental mover.
The horror stories of people having their possessions delayed, lost, destroyed and/or held hostage abound and I vowed that we would not be characters in one of those stories. I did the required due diligence, looking at third-party websites, reviews of overseas movers, testimonials and, most importantly, the massive quantity of negative information on transporters. I asked for and received bids from those firms that seemed to have generated the fewest bad experiences and ended up selecting a Seattle-based company. Check Box #1.
The next step and, for us the most daunting one, was to ensure that we could get our worldly goods into Italy without paying duty on their value. In order to do this, we had to be able to show the customs authorities at the port in Italy our residency papers. Of course, this meant going back to Philadelphia, to the Italian Consulate, and getting the residency visa. It had been nearly a year since we originally applied for the visa, but now we were armed with letters from our employers accepting our resignations. I emailed copies to our “friend” at the Consulate who had previously so perfunctorily denied us legal residency status and, not surprisingly, received no response. Meanwhile, my employer requested that I stay on the job for a few extra months to ensure a smooth transfer of my duties to others so we decided that Jessica would leave for Italy ahead of me and get her paperwork done. After a few more email attempts at getting Spawn of Satan in Philadelphia to tell us that everything was in order, Jessica took matters into her own hands and made an appointment to meet him at the Consulate. She left the appointment with the promise from the Italian bureaucrat that she would soon have her passport back complete with the residency visa and, a few days later, it arrived. Box #2: Checked.
The packing came next and I was not at all disappointed to learn that we were not permitted to pack our own goods. The moving company had to verify the contents of each carton and package to customs agents in Italy so the packing and inventorying of everything was done by the movers. They showed up promptly on the first day and went at the task of packaging every item so as to give it its best shot at surviving the journey. It was very impressive to see how methodically and efficiently they went about the job of preparing bicycles, paintings, a workout bench and wine decanters. By the end of the first day, everything we still owned except for a few clothing items, was wrapped up and ready to go. That was the last day we slept in the penthouse that had been our home for the last six years. The next day, the movers came back and loaded everything into the container that would house it until it was unpacked at Villa Tutto. Box #3 was now checked.
A few weeks later, Jessica left for Puglia on an airline ticket that had no return. Our friends, Colleen and Francesco, on whom we had so relied through everything to do with our move to Cisternino, had arranged for the purchase of a car for us. This was made a bit complicated by the fact that Jessica had never learned to drive a car with a manual transmission and, with all of the other issues she would be dealing with as she moved to a foreign country by herself, learning to drive a stick was not going to make the list. It is difficult to find a car with an automatic transmission in Italy, I think because Italians would not consider driving without shifting constantly while smoking, talking on their cell phones and gesturing dramatically truly “driving.” Francesco sent his car dealer friend on a search for an automatic while Colleen made sure that the result was a “proper car” for Jessica. They came up with a Lancia Delta which was in our price range, solid and safe. Check Box #4.
In order to get her residency permit which was the document issued by our town (in our case, Locorotondo), Jessica had to produce a permesso di soggiorno or permission to stay. The permesso process started with a trip to the post office to get the application form. With a great deal of help from Francesco, the form was filled out and it was off to the tabacchi to buy a stamp to prove that we paid the fee for submission of the application. She and Francesco then went back to the post office where an official would review the application for completeness and, if acceptable, would send it to Bari, our provincial capital, for review. The application was deemed acceptable and Jessica now waited to hear from the office in Bari as to when she was summoned to appear and make her case as to why she should be granted permission to remain in the province. Another box (#5) checked.
A few weeks later, at the appointed time, Jessica, Colleen and Francesco appeared at the provincial offices in Bari. Jessica submitted her credentials to the official and the package was sent to Rome for verification. Francesco received a text message two weeks later from the office in Bari saying that Jessica’s permesso was ready to be collected.
The line at the office responsible for distributing permessi di soggiorno was long when Jessica and Francesco arrived there, populated by Albanians, North Africans and other Eastern Europeans looking for greener pastures. Despite the economic challenges being faced by Italy, there were always places even worse off. Well-practiced at such things, and following the lead of an elderly nun, Francesco pushed his way to the front of the line, got the official’s attention and, explaining that he brought an American to pick up her documents, was told to bring her in immediately. I feel bad when we do those kinds of things here but, not too bad.
Jessica was now a card-carrying resident of Italy. Check another box.
The process in Locorotondo was even less formal. Francesco accompanied her to the council where she presented her permesso. She was told that, within the next week, sometime in the afternoon, the police would visit Villa Tutto to confirm that she was actually in residence. To do that, she was told, they would look in closets, dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets and refrigerators although, in the end, they never even entered the house. They just showed up and, when Jessica answered the door, they had satisfied themselves that she indeed lived there. She was told that she could go back to Locorotondo and pick up her residency permit. This was the document the moving company needed in order to bring our stuff into Italy. A big box checked.
As soon as she had the permit in her hot little hands, Jessica sent it to the moving company representative in Naples, the port where our property would enter Italy, and we released the container to begin the trip. From that point, the process went extraordinarily problem-free. I was alerted by email when the boat docked in Naples and again when the container had cleared Italian customs a day later. Three days after that, a truck carrying the container showed up at Villa Tutto and was unloaded according to Jessica’s instructions.
Oh, there were a few bits of damage here and there, but nothing major and not enough to dampen our high spirits for having our own stuff and our new home united. That left us with only two things of any importance to get to Puglia: our cat, Shakespeare, and, of course, me. Even though this whole “let’s move to Italy” thing was my idea, though, it would turn out that the last one to get there was–you guessed it–yours truly.
Next: The Move – Part 3: A Shakespearean Comedy in 3 Acts