(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: July, 2015

Finale Ligure

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(Above: A beach club in Finale Ligure. I’m drinking a rare Italian iced coffee. The waiter asked if I wanted it shakerizzato. That means what it sounds like, shaken with ice, but I was amused that the concept was so foreign they had to appropriate an American word to describe it.)

Since I mentioned going to the sea with my friend Stella in my last post, I thought I would do a short post on the town we visited, Finale Ligure, as well.

Finale Ligure is near Savona, which is to say it’s roughly halfway between Genova and Nice. It’s one of the shore cities closest to Torino. This area of the coast is called the Italian Riviera, and it’s easy to see why: The water is blue, the towns are elegant, the the beach is lined with palms and beautiful rock outcroppings edged by narrow sand beaches.

The beaches are almost entirely taken up by permanent beach chairs with umbrellas, which you rent by the month. There are clubs all along the shore that rent them out. And the clubs have restaurants and bars open to the beach where people spend the afternoon in various states of dress ranging from elegant shifts with jewelry to not much at all. Life is more casual than in the interior cities, but it’s still a far cry from the Jimmy Buffet culture of northern Florida.

Stella and I went down just for the day, but many people rent a place for a week, own a place, or even go to Sardegna for a month.

One day at the shore by no means makes me an expert on Italian beach culture, but I know the sea is a big deal here. Italy is a peninsula, after all, and has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

But I still prefer the mountains. And Italy has a lot of those too.

(Below: the façade of one church and the ceiling of another, plus the main shoreline piazza in Finale Ligure)

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It’s air! It’s moving! (I wish.)

Last winter I wrote about Italians’ attitude towards cold weather. (Short version: They don’t like it.) Given the unusually hot temperatures this summer, I figured this might be a good time to write about Italians’ attitude towards hot weather. (Short version: They don’t like it.)

To be fair, this July has been unusually hot in Europe. That is to say, it’s sort of like the weather in New York City, where we used to live, and cooler than in Georgia, where I grew up. The temperatures range from about 75-93F (24-33C). But the difference is that Italians don’t believe in air conditioning. Air conditioning falls under the same category as many of the Italian fears about winter: It’s air! It’s moving!

I’m sure there are other reasons that Italians don’t have air conditioning. It’s expensive. And in our home, it would trip the switch. Turning on the oven and the hot water at the same time trips our switch.

So instead we have two large fans. And shutters. And a routine with the sun.

It goes something like this: Wake up as early as possible and open all the shutters to let in the not-quite-so-hot air. Get something done. Anything at all. Run to close the shutters on the east-facing side as soon as the sun starts hitting the kitchen (8:30am). Close up everything after lunch and then sit immobile by the fan like a Victorian lady receiving visitors in the parlor, while drinking lots of water and looking for the least energy-consuming means possible to accomplish something. (Though being shut up in a hot room in dim light is a great temptation to grumpiness.) Around 4 p.m. start cautiously opening things up and trying to resume movement without becoming dehydrated. Move the fans back into the bedrooms before sleeping and close the shutters once again, but leave the windows open.

Does it work? Not really. I confess we’re not getting much done at all. I think this is why Italians go to the sea. If you aren’t going to get anything done anyway, you might as well be in some scenic location, so one day I went to Finale Ligure on the train with my friend Stella. But I prefer the mountains. And my car has air conditioning. So whenever I can find willing accomplices and a free day, I try to go.

And even here in Torino, some offices and stores have air-conditioning. It’s not turned up very high, but it’s still a great incentive to leave home.

Unfortunately, in the process of battling the heat, I’ve also discovered that I have raging summer dust allergies. Every morning after sleeping by the fan (positioned carefully to avoid my face) I wake up with red eyes and a stopped up nose. So I spend a lot of that precious daily movement washing everything (and using antihistamine eye drops). I think this new dust aversion is probably part of the Italian justification for their air-current phobia, but I do prefer having allergies to not sleeping at all, so I will continue to use the fans.

There is one great blessing in all this: Since Italians don’t have screens, either, many people get attacked by mosquitos at night. We have been incredibly lucky that the mosquitos have been few. I have no idea why.

And finally, during the last two days, the temperatures have improved, the skies have cleared a bit from their Po Valley haze, and I feel like the end to the heat wave may be in sight. I’m getting some stuff done again. And besides, I’m going to Georgia, where the air conditioning will be on full blast. I’ll be packing a sweater.

The attack of the furbi

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(No, not this kind of furby.)

This has been a summer chock full of bureaucratic mishaps, which, as you know by now if you are a regular reader, are one of my favorite themes. That’s because, once having wasted so much time doing things no one should logically have to do, I figure should at least get some redeeming value out of it by making it into a story. So let’s begin…

It all started when my purse got stolen. I was arranging grocery bags in my car, very proud of having planned out and bought a week’s worth of meals. The problem was that one of the bags, the one all the cans were in, was my huge purse. It was too heavy to keep on my shoulder, so I put it in the front seat and opened the back door. I was right next to the cart rack (no one hidden inside) and there was no one around. I never saw anyone. Nor was I ever more than a couple of feet from the car. And yet it happened.

I realized what had happened right away and ran into the shopping center, to the Apple Store, to try to trace my iPhone. Too late, it was already turned off. Then I went to security to block the credit cards. I was able to block the Italian ones (a good thing, because there’s no theft protection on cards in Italy), but I couldn’t make an overseas call from the security office to block the American ones. So I drove home, without a driver’s license. Everything was in my purse. It was, naturally, a Friday evening. That’s when things you need to remedy right away usually happen, right?

As soon as I had blocked the American cards using Skype from home (we don’t have a land line), I went and took care of the first and most essential part of Italian theft bureaucracy, the police report or denuncia. The police told me that the anagrafe was open on Saturday morning, so I could take a of my denuncia and a copy of my old identity card and go get a new one, then come back and get a provisional driver’s license. By the time I got home, it was 10:00 pm. At least we had groceries, though some of them had to be pitched after spending an extra hour in a hot car. And of course, all of the canned goods were in my stolen purse.

For the next few days, there was also the problem of the keys. Since the thieves had the keys and also my address (everyone’s address is on their identity card), someone had to be in the apartment at all times to keep it bolted from the inside. And Sarie had to go to Milan the next day for work. I called my neighbors and thankfully one of them volunteered to sit in my apartment the next morning while I tried to get the document replacement process under way.

On Saturday morning when the phone store opened, I was there with my ancient cell phone and some cash I had borrowed from Sarie, ready to transfer my old number to a new SIM card. Outside I met the first of many people who responded to my story with their own stories of having purses and billfolds stolen. It seems to have happened to about 80% of the people I’ve talked to. This man said it had happened to him three times. There’s a word that everyone uses to describe thieves in Italy: They’re furbi. The literal translation is something like clever or sneaky, but in Italy it’s taken to a whole new level. To start a conversation on thievery in Italy is to enter a complicated discourse on the downfall of a country. Obviously not everyone in Italy is a furbo, but those who are, are furbissimi.

Once I had an operational phone in hand, I was off to the anagrafe. We don’t have anagrafi in the US, but it’s a sort of civil registry. It’s where the identity cards come from, which you need to do just about everything in Italy. And on Saturday morning, the anagrafe is apparently open literally only for life and death. That is, they only do paperwork for births and deaths.

I was, however, able to get a prepaid credit card from the bank before it closed at noon. Now there was nothing I could do but stay home in my barricaded apartment and wait until Monday.

On Monday morning, the locksmith showed up and gave the dreaded diagnosis: Our entire Ft. Knox-like system of locks (necessitated by the furbi) would have to be replaced. They’d be back on Tuesday, because they aren’t open on Wednesday.

I went back to the anagrafe during lunch, because the woman at the bank told me that was a good time to go, since everyone would be eating. It was not. Of course, once there, the people at the anagrafe told me that no, I couldn’t just get a new identity card with a police report, a passport, and a copy of the old card. As an immigrant, I’d have to bring a receipt proving that I had a valid permesso di soggiorno (like a green card). Not knowing what was required to get a stolen permesso replaced when all my other documents were stolen as well, I went directly to the patronato, a charity agency that helps people with bureaucracy. (These don’t exist in the US either, so far as I know.) There I waited for two hours, but at least they were able to put my package together the same day and send me off to the post office to wait for another hour and pay a hefty sum for my replacement permesso. (Post offices in Italy are where you pay all bureaucratic fees. You didn’t think they’d actually take the fees at the bureaucratic office itself, did you?). But by the end of the day, I finally walked away with the all-important red bolletino receipt from the post office.

On Tuesday, I went back to the anagrafe first thing, got the identity card, went to the police station, got a provisional driver’s license, and then went to the public transportation office to get my permanent bus card replaced. Meanwhile, the locksmith sawed and drilled right through dinner, but at least at the end of it we could leave the apartment unoccupied.

On Wednesday, I waited in line for an hour just to get to the information desk to ask which line to get in for my tessera sanitaria, or national health service card. You get the picture.

And so it went, in addition to some other stuff, like waiting for hours to replace a car part and my computer. My patience was wearing a bit thin by the end of the week. But I was making progress. Most of all, I was happy that I could drive again.

Meanwhile, I was also planning our summer trip to the US. When I went for my slated permesso di soggiorno appointment at the unairconditioned, cement-with-a-glass-roof immigration center (an ingenious form of punishment—the place literally used to be a prison), the woman had a look at my requisite red bolletino receipt and other documents and fingerprinted me. Then she said, “You should be able to pick up your permesso card in a month.”

“And in the meanwhile, I can travel to the US with this receipt?”

“No. You have to have the original.”

Knowing that no one ever asked for the thing unless I traveled through Germany and that the card would be waiting for me upon my return, I gave her an imploring look. She backtracked. She asked the woman at the next desk. Finally, she came back with, “You can enter Italy as a tourist.” Just to make sure, I called the patronato to clarify matters. And then I bought a return flight with a plane change in the US instead of in Europe. I’m not taking any chances with the Germans.

Once I bought the tickets, I called the Georgia DMV to find out whether I could drive with my provisional Italian license. They too said I’d have to have the original. (My New York State license was, naturally, stolen.) I called Rome, where the police had sent my paperwork, and they told me, in the typical Italian way, just to show up at the local DMV and ask for a rush. You don’t call ahead in Italy. It’s useless. You won’t get the same information twice anyway.

So yesterday morning I got up early, packed my police report, provisional license, and a few extra pieces of paper for good measure, and went downstairs to drive to the DMV. When I got to my car, there was a huge dent in it, but that’s another story which will have to be continued later.

When I finally got to the motorizzazione (Italian for DMV), I sat patiently with my high-numbered ticket until I could talk to the lady behind the window. She told me everything I had to do, which, of course, involved going to a post office to get another red bolletino receipt, and also making some extra photocopies. (This is another rule of bureaucratic offices. They never make photocopies.) She didn’t know the address, though, and since I was in the suburbs, snarled in a labyrinth of access roads 25 minutes away from the center  of Torino where I live, I didn’t know how to find the nearest post office or copy center. I played around with the (replacement) GPS, set off towards the nearest town, and I found the post office anyway. But the copy shop was harder, and before long the DMV was closed. So it was all the way back home to make the copies and wait until 2:30.

When I arrived back at the DMV after lunch break, there was, of course, a long line outside, with the people at the back pretending not to be cutting in line, while, of course, cutting. I stood in the sun, sweat rolling down my back, watching the furbi like a hawk. Once inside, they all swarmed the same counter I needed. I took my number, 14, and sat down with a book, because the number displayed was 4. But I did ask the man next to me what the swarm was about. “Oh, they’re picking up their licenses,” he said. “It’s a typical Italian mess.” The word he used to indicate a mess, casino, literally means brothel. It’s not an obscenity, but it’s not quite polite, either.

The swarm died down a bit as people started leaving with their shiny new licenses, but an unruly blob remained at the counter. Then the number suddenly shot up to 15. I got up and made my way to the yellow “proceed no further” line. “What’s your number?” I asked the man standing there. “Oh, this line is a bit of a mess,” he responded evasively. Meanwhile, my neighbor had stood up as well. I started looking around, and all at the people standing in a blob near the line, about to advance to the window once the current occupants left, were holding numbers in the 20s. “Wait,” I said to Mr. Evasive Furbo. “You have 28. This man has 12 and I have 14. He’s going next, and then me.” And we brushed past the whole casino. For possibly the first time since I moved to this furbissimo country, I didn’t let someone didn’t take advantage of me just because I am a foreigner who actually expects for things to work.

I presented my copies and my red post office bolletino receipt to the man behind the window, explained the whole situation for the thousandth time, and he told me to come back to pick up my license in ten working days. And he never even looked at any of the missing copies that had caused me have to go back home during lunch. I think I’ll show up in eleven days just to make sure.

UPDATE (July 27): I went back this morning (after ten days, because I realized I was cutting it close) and there is was!! Now if only I can get the permesso before I leave…