05/09/2012, Marina di Ragusa
Sicily is wonderful! Bon and I are running every second day and as you know that gets the juices flowing. I get so much more done on run days. Yesterday while running down the shore road we came upon an old man with only one leg sitting in a wheelchair on the side of the road watching the sea. I said Buongiorno and he launched right into, what we took to mean, its a beautiful day as he spread his arms at the view. Then he pointed to his missing leg and seemed to be saying we were lucky to be able to get out and about. Bon said "we only speak a little Italian", and he smiled and said "but you understand it really well!". All of this in Italian of course and with a smile on his grizzled old face. We both said arrivederci ran on.
It's spring, temps are in the 70's in the day and down to 60 at night, no rain, only sun, the flowers are out in droves, farmers are cutting the first hay and wheat, the hillsides are green instead of brown and the tourists are not here yet, except us and a few others. The locals flock here from Ragusa on the weekends and fill the villas. It's their beach. The food is outstanding and cheap, the cold beer is delish, decent wine can be had for 1.50 to 3 euros per bottle, the coffee, oh the coffee......., groceries are cheap, the women are beautiful, the men are cool, the passagiata is a joy to take part in and watch, the Italians have a great sense of style in so many things from architecture to housewares, to clothing. It's a wonderful experience to just walk around with your eyes soaking up all this style...... as you can tell there is lots to like.
The marina is emptying out; many left at the end of April, as their contracts expired. We booked an extra month and were unsure if it was wise or not. I now think this may have been one of the best ideas I have had. We have another 3 weeks to go. Katherine arrives next week.
We are working away on maintenance of the boat and have lots yet to do but its fun messing about on Aisling. The social life here is busy. We are meeting some interesting people and having some great Sicilian experiences.
At the moment, life is good!
May 7th...fingerprint day! We were particularly impressed with the preciseness of our appointments- 0925 for Rick, 0931 for me. So the whole process should take no more than six minutes each, right?
Tim from "M" pontoon, an American who has already successfully navigated the Permesso di Soggiorno process, had scoffed at the idea that we actually had an appointment for a specific date and time. "Trust me, it's not a real appointment" he said. "I went to the Questura three times before they finally took my fingerprints." We sincerely hoped that he was wrong. In any case, the wisest course of action seemed to be to show up at the appointed time.
When we arrive at the Questura shortly before nine, a long line of would-be immigrants is already waiting outside the blue gate. Maybe they didn't have appointments? But the officer on the desk is unimpressed when we show him our notices. He shakes his head and (I think) says that we are too late, and that we will have to come back at 7 a.m. on Friday and sign up for a time. Oh oh. But since by now we know that things aren't always as they seem, we ask to speak to Doctor- Professor Carbone.
Dr. Carbone is as gracious as he was during our previous visit. He takes us to the forensics department, where we are told that we must first speak with the immigration department. Alas, back at the immigration department, it becomes clear that we will not be fingerprinted today. Dr. Carbone speaks with the Director and then gives us the bad news. "Your paperwork has probably arrived from Rome" he said "but it is in a very large pile that hasn't been sorted yet. Perhaps in a fortnight...." then reconsiders "....or at the end of the month, to be safe. Be sure to have four passport photos with you when you come back." We exchange worried looks and explain that our contract with the marina will end at the end of the month, but Dr. Carbone reassures us that everything will surely be sorted out by then. And even if it isn't, we shouldn't worry, because it isn't our fault. He is very apologetic about the sad state of the Italian bureaucracy and actually looks relieved when we explain that the immigration system in Canada is probably not much better than the Italian system and in fact may be worse.
Now we are off in pursuit of passport photos. We are told to go to an optical shop near the roundabout, then we are told that the shop will probably be closed, because it is Monday morning, but finally we find the shop and it is open after all. Rick's approach to communicating in Italian achieves even better results than usual. "Per favore, passport photos?" he asks, and the man behind the counter says "We speak English here, sir!" In fact, both the optician Giovanni and his father Pietro (also an optician) speak perfect English. My photos are ready in less than a minute, and when I comment that they are far more flattering than the one in my Canadian passport (which admittedly isn't saying much) Giovanni tells us that he and Pietro are also Canadians.
As Giovanni takes Rick's photos, Pietro tells me his story. He explains that he emigrated to Montreal with his parents as a young boy, but decided to return to Italy in 1980. "I had three optical shops in Montreal and I was making lots of money." he says. "And my parents were not happy with me when I left. But what good is money without the time to enjoy life? You don't get a second chance at living your life!" He explains that when he decided to move to Sicily, he had been advised to set up his business in either Ragusa or Syracusa province. Why? Because in these provinces, there was no Mafia. "It is very safe here" he said. "Twice I have forgotten to lock the shop when I left at night, and both times no one took a thing."
Meanwhile, Giovanni asks Rick how we came to be in Sicily and they discover that they share a mutual passion for the sea. In Giovanni's case, this revolves around fishing. He takes Rick to his computer to show him photos of the many large fish (mahi mahi, tuna and others ) he has caught in the waters off Marina di Ragusa, where his family owns one of the large waterfront villas. But he also tells Rick that the Italian economy is in big trouble, business is slow and he is thinking of moving back to Canada. I doubt his father will approve. "Buon vento!", he calls as we leave, and Rick replies "Fair winds!".
Before going back to the bus station, we drop in at the Hertz office to confirm our reservation for the day before Katherine's arrival in Catania. Then, with a little time to kill, we decide to have coffee in a small bar across the street. All the patrons seem to be men over the age of 70, drinking espresso or buying lottery tickets. Rick asks for "Due cappuccino" and an elderly gentleman corrects him "Cappuccini" he says. "Plurale". When Rick digs in his pocket to pay for the coffee, the elderly man smiles and shakes his head. "Drink your coffee before you pay", he says. "And if you don't like your coffee, don't pay". "Buon consiglio" he adds (good advice). The barista scowls, and points out that I have already proclaimed the coffee to be "molto buono". Not just buono, but molto buono. So of course we pay.
It has turned out to be a good morning after all. Suddenly, all worries about fingerprints have evaporated. As we walk to the bus station in the warm sunshine, I think how lovely it would be to spend a few months here every year. Even if the entire Permesso di Soggiorno scheme turns out to be a bust, we're allowed to stay in Italy for 90 days every six months. And maybe, just maybe, someone at the Questura will eventually find our paperwork!
Be forewarned, this is a long story. Fortunately, when it's a blog that's telling you a long story, you get to decide whether to continue reading to the end or not.
This is the story of our quest for a "Permesso di Soggiorno" (literally, "permission to stay") a magic little card that would allow us to come in and out of Italy as many times as we wish for a full year. This is also a story of the bewildering Italian bureaucracy, which makes our Canadian bureaucracy seem like a well-oiled machine in comparison. (Actually, that last sentence is just a joke. I'm pretty sure the Canada immigration process is much worse. )
Why did we apply for the Permesso? Canadians are only permitted to remain within the territory governed by the Schengen agreement (in other words, most of the European Union) for 90 days in each 180 day period. This year, we need a lot more than 90 days in order to get the boat ready for sailing, explore the Adriatic and return to Marina di Ragusa in the fall. Any time we spend in Croatia, Montenegro or other non-EU locations will stop the clock, but Italy is really where we want to be for most of the time. Although many of our cruising friends cheerfully over-stay their visas without fearing the consequences, we've never been ones to enjoy "sailing close to the wind", literally or figuratively. So, back in Halifax, we optimistically accumulated a lot of paperwork to prove that we would not be a burden to the Italian government and called on Mr. Rodolfo Malone, the Italian consul in Halifax. After a pleasant 30-minute visit, much of which was spent discussing the activities of the local Italian wine society, our papers were stamped and cleared to be sent with our passports to the consulate in Montreal. Less than a week later, our passports were returned with a coveted one-year, multi-entry visa inside. We could hardly believe our good fortune and thought, OK, that wasn't so bad!
But there is still one hurdle to be cleared. Mr. Malone had mentioned that we had to check in with the Italian police within eight days of our arrival in Italy, bringing copies of all the paperwork we'd submitted with the initial application. So the day after our arrival in Marina di Ragusa, we gather our papers and head up the hill to the local police station, where not a soul is in sight. Fortunately, the local tourist office is in the same building, and a helpful senora advises us that we should to go to the Questura in Ragusa. The Questura? As an avid reader of Donna Leon's novels, I realize immediately that we are headed for police headquarters. Maybe this process will be a bit more complicated than we'd expected.
Thirty minutes later, we join a small group of migrant North African workers who are waiting outside a large blue gate under a sign that says "Questura" . After a few awkward moments where we stand there trying to act nonchalant and they look at us in puzzlement, one of them takes mercy on us and leads us down the street to the main entrance of the Questura. Unfortunately, it seems there is no one available who can check us in, or perhaps no one who speaks English. We are told to come back "domani matina" (tomorrow morning). At the front door, the policeman guarding the entrance smiles at us and salutes. Rick salutes back and marches out of the police station.
We arrive at the Questura bright and early the next morning, and are taken to the office of a scholarly-looking gentleman whose business card identifies him as "Dr. Prof. Ignazio Carbone, Funzionario Linguistico". Dr. Prof. Carbone briefly consults with another bureaucrat, and then proceeds to explain the process. "There is a lot of red tape, but it's really all about the money", he said. "You will need to submit papers that prove you have enough money to look after yourselves. For you, I don't think this will be a problem." (Well, hopefully not.) "But" he continued, "the Questura no longer processes these requests. You need to go to the post office on Via Risorgimento. They are authorized to process your application. Don't hesitate to call me if you have any difficulties."
Dr. Carbone's English is so perfect that I can't resist asking him where he'd learned it. He smiles modestly. "I was an English teacher for many years" he says "and I like to think that my students were well-served. And if I may say it, your own English accents are also very good... almost British!" It is strangely flattering to be complemented on our ability to speak the English language. I decide it is best not to try out my Italian on him.
The reference to our "application" has made us a bit uneasy. Back in the car, we realize we have brought only one copy of our information. Thinking that it might be wise to have a second copy, we make a quick stop at a photocopy shop, then fire up our TomTom GPS to navigate to the Risorgimento post office. Leaving Rick waiting in the car in a no-parking zone, I enter the post office through an automated security booth of the type no one wants to use in airports. Once inside, I have to select a category of service in order to get a number from the ticket machine. With no hope of deciphering the list, I take one ticket of every type. But after waiting for about ten minutes, it dawns on me that Rick probably needs to be there in person to have his application processed. I dash out the nearest door to look for him, and alarm bells sound. I have gone out the emergency exit. Apparently, one is supposed to use the security booth on the way in AND on the way out. I beckon to Rick, then go back through the security booth, muttering "mi dispiace" (I'm sorry) to the staff. When one of my numbers finally flashes up on a screen, I approach the booth and show my paperwork, but the attendant frowns and shakes her head. "Non qui" she says (not here). "Posta Centrale". She writes the address of the central post office on a piece of paper and summons the next client.
Here we go again. Now our Tom-Tomis leading us deep into the streets of Ragusa Ibla, the baroque centre of old Ragusa. We are driving through an amazing World Heritage site but are too distracted to appreciate it. Miraculously, we find a parking spot right around the corner from the post office. Even better, the "take a number" machine actually has "permesso di sogiorrno" listed as a selection. We are closing in on our goal. Or so we think. The attendant looks at our paperwork, takes out two thick envelopes filled with applications, passes them to us and says something about going to a consulate. We are sure there must be some mistake. I try to explain that we have already been to a consulate and show her the Visas in our passports, but she doesn't seem at all impressed. Finally, I show her Dr. Carbone's card and ask her to call him. She gets him on the line and passes me the phone, looking exasperated. "You will need help filling out these forms" says Dr. Carbone. "Come back here and I will show you what to do".
Back at the Questura, Dr. Carbone is apologetic. "We can't help you with the forms here at the Questura" he says. "But an agent can handle it all for you. " He points out his window. "There is one just up the street." As we leave the office, one of the North Africans is sobbing openly. After a few more hours of this, we may be doing the same, but I suspect he has a lot more at stake than we do.
Fortunately, we manage to find the agents' office before it closes for lunch. (Have I mentioned that they take very long lunch breaks here?) The only English-speaking agent is busy with a client, so we take a seat and wait. I amuse myself by surreptitiously watching the woman beside me. She is dressed to the nines...taupe suede jacket, elegant taupe boots, purple pants, a fuchsia belt and a large expensive looking handbag. The overall effect is dynamite. I wonder if I should shop for a pair of purple pants and a fuchsia belt, but decide that I would succeed only in looking like a member of the Red Hat Society (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
The agent finally takes our forms, fills them out, photocopies all our paperwork and hands everything back to us. When we ask what we owe, she motions us away with a smile. "You owe me nothing!" she says "But I'm sorry to tell you, you will be paying a lot of money at the post office". We try not to gulp as she points out the additional fees due. "And don't forget to buy your stamp!" she calls after us as we leave. Which seems like a strange thing to say, considering that she knows very well that we are on our way to the post office.
Back in the car, we add up the additional fees and wonder if we should forget the whole thing. But we've already got a lot invested in this, so we head back to the post office, take another number and speak with another agent. We hand her our forms and she hands them back. "You need a marca da bolla", she said. "A stamp". She continues in rapid-fire Italian and I catch the words "tabacci" "chiuso" and "stasera". I think she has just told us that we need to buy the stamp at a tobacco store, but that they are all closed for lunch and we will need to come back this evening. I think I must have misheard, but then I remember reading something about the bollos on an ex-pat website. The tabaccis are all-powerful here. At least now we understand why the agent had reminded us to get the stamp.
We have lunch in a small café, where the excellent cappuccino cheers us up immensely and convinces us that we really do want this permesso. Rather than hang around in Ragusa until the tabaccis re-open at 5 p.m., we decide to go back to the boat and regroup. But on the way out of town, I spot a bar with an open tabacci inside. "Pull over!" I tell Rick, and ten minutes later we are back at the post office with two impressive-looking bollos in hand. The senora accepts our applications, stamps everything with a satisfying flourish, and hands us each a piece of paper.
What's this? An appointment to be fingerprinted in the Ragusa Questura, on May 7th. Yikes! We are told that, after the fingerprints are taken, it may take months for the actual permesso card to arrive. Since it will be delivered to the Questura in Ragusa, we are unlikely to receive it until we bring the boat back to Marina di Ragusa in the fall. But we've also been told that with the Visa in our passports and the receipt from the post office, we won't be arrested as illegal immigrants. Hopefully that's true. We'll keep you posted.