SILVER LININGS

Writing these stories has been good on so many levels.

Now when someone says they cannot help me, instead of getting frustrated or annoyed, I think … NEW STORY. And what a nice change in attitude that is [wink]. Take as long as you want, make it complicated, have me go to another office, fill out a form, talk to another employee … goes my inner monologue. It didn’t take long for my new silver linings attitude to be put to the test.

It was time for us to renew the permesso di soggiorno … our permit to stay in Italy legally. Even with a visa, one has to apply for a permesso within eight days of arriving. The exciting news for us is that we now qualify for a carta di soggiorno … the residency card that apparently has a new name, but which everyone calls the permit formerly known as carta. With the carta, there is no need to renew one’s permesso bi-annually.

My conundrum was …. Can we apply for the carta in lieu of the permesso or do we have to renew our permesso, and then submit our carta application? There was an overlap of days, and I was thinking efficiently and efficiency (and economically … saving several hundred euros in fees). The Prefettura, the folks that administer immigration, purports to answer all questions. Not so much. The Ministero dell’ Interno, the agency that oversees immigration, makes the same offer. Not so much. The Questura, the office that issues immigration documents, had phone numbers on its website … but none remotely related to immigration. The Post Office, where one picks up and then delivers the immigration kit (their word), has a website … with pull down menus to fill in your provincia and comune, and the claim that various regional offices help foreigners. Not so much. I then remembered that I had the direct phone number for a very helpful person (meeting her is another story!) at the Prefettura … so I called her. She didn’t have the answer, but suggested I call the Comune di Firenze, and gave me the phone number. But no one picked up. I called back, and when someone finally answered, they transferred me to another department. The phone rang and rang and rang … I took that as a sign, because we neither live in that comune nor is that the office to issue permessi.

A room without a roof …

Conundrum-wise, each application involves slightly different documents. The renewal was straightforward … but the carta requires a court statement indicating there are no pending lawsuits or charges against us … and we didn’t want to drive to Florence and stand in line and pay the fee and wait for the statements. Only to have them expire before we submit them.

The hills above Salsomaggiore (Provincia di Parma)

I looked again at the various websites, hoping I missed a link or clue. As I perused the Post Office site, I noticed the little lime green logo that appears over Window 1 at our local post office … and thought to myself, “Self, let’s go to the post office and ask the person at Window 1.” They deal with the kits all the time.

No, he said. I don’t know anything about this. Silver.

But … you can go to the union office. I had been to the union office … it’s a wicked office, and unless you have a very specific thing to do there, anything else is a bother. And that’s after waiting half an hour to get to the window. Then he pointed … the office across the bridge. Oh, THAT office. It’s a good office. I thanked him, and headed in that direction.

I knew someone at that office (that’s a another story … a story and a half!) … he only worked on Wednesday afternoons. It was Wednesday afternoon.

I walked straight into his room. Mr. P. How are you, some cheery chit chat. He was glad that I had come to say hello, rather than with another problem. Then I segued … by the way, the man at the post office said a person here could answer a question about my permesso. Oh yes. He got up and headed toward the next room. The other man was not the person to help me … but the woman in the front room was. As soon as she is done with the person she is currently helping, you can make an appointment. No, I just have a question. She’ll be able to help.

And to all a good night …

I peeked through a little clear square in the frosted glass window … their body language was mid-discussion. I was hoping for something closer to thank you/arrivederci

I kept peeking.

I can be super patient when it’s warranted. If you are in the hospital, I will wait all day (with plenty of reminding the nurses that you need special attention). Picking you up at the airport even if the flight is delayed, no worries. But needless waiting … not my strong suit. I’ve been known to leave the exam room in the cute little gown and ask when the doctor will see me because he’s already XX minutes late to my appointment. I started to pace. I just have a question, I don’t need an appointment. No silver.

I kept peeking.

The man who said to wait came out of his room, and I reiterated that I simply had a question. He opened the door, and then turned back to me. There’s another woman here !!! who can help you, come in. And the guy being helped was now arrivederci-ing, so the woman in the corner and the original woman were ready to listen.

I had my paperwork … my props. I asked. Ilaria said that before getting the residency carta, one has to pass the Level A-2 Italian test. I did that, I reply … while thinking gosh, I’m sitting here, explaining all of this to you in Italian. Oh, ok … and then she looked at my documents. She understood my question, but turned to her colleague, Francesca, for her opinion. I like to ask everyone’s name.

You need to pass the Level A-2 Italian test, was the first thing Francesca said. I passed a few months after we arrived, while thinking to myself in Italian oioi (pronounced oy oy). Oh, ok. They discussed it amongst themselves … and concurred that it was better to renew the permesso, and afterwards apply for the carta. So there was my answer.

Ilaria then said it only costs 30.46 euros to renew the permesso. That was a nice surprise … in the past it was about 150 euros. I couldn’t believe a fee was reduced … a country famous for canceling a tax, then bringing it back with a new name and higher rate. So we won’t be surprised if we have to pay more when we pick up the new permessi.

Our paperwork has been submitted. Now we wait until the designated date. We were so excited that first time … only to arrive and be given a slip of paper with a number and told to wait. There is a digital sign that announces the next alphanumeric consultation, different letter categories for different situations go to different windows. I intermittently shout “Bingo” just to break the monotony.

We will bring in our photos and our thumbs … the permessi then can be finalized for pick up at yet another appointment. Two years ago, there was a new fingerprint requirement … in addition to the regular one, like a finger scanner at the entry pod to the bank, they take a digital image of your entire hand. But the machine was broken, and we had to go back a month later.

We’re wondering what changes … and silver … are waiting for us this time. I’ll let you know.

FAVA BEANS WITH LEEKS

Calitalian … fusion between California and Italy … because no Tuscan would ever think of sauteeing fava beans. We love the olive oil from Sportoletti, in Umbria … use your favorite for this dish. Fava season just ended here, but this dish will work well with lima or other similar beans.

6 oz. fava beans
1 large or two small leeks, sliced/chopped
1 oz. (2 Tbl.) pine nuts
6 thick slices of rustic bread, grilled (or toasted)
Olive oil … for drizzling
Coarse salt … for sprinkling

- In a medium frying pan, saute the leeks in olive oil until they start to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the fava beans, salt and pepper (to taste), and continue to cook until the leeks are tender.
- Stir in the pine nuts. Cook another minute or two.
- Arrange bread onto a plate or plates … spoon vegetable mixture onto slices, letting some remain on the serving plate(s).
- Drizzle with olive oil, and grind a bit of coarse salt on top.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

CREAM CHEESE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I like to make these with milk chocolate and hazelnuts … a pair of flavors that is very Italian. And since most Italian cookies are crispy, rather than meltingly soft, these flavors make another Calitalian fusion treat. Thank you, Susie, for this recipe!

4 oz. butter, softened
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-¼ cup flour
2 tsp. cornstarch (or potato flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch salt
2 cups chocolate chips or chunks

- Preheat oven to 350°F (170° C). Line two baking sheets with silpats
- Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugars until well blended. Mix in egg and vanilla.
- Stir in the flour, cornstarch, soda and salt. Add the chocolate last.
- Drop by spoonfuls (or a mini ice cream scoop) onto the prepared sheets.
- Bake for 6–8 minutes until just firm and lightly colored. Do NOT overbake.
- Serve at any temperature.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.