Monday, May 26, 2008

Life: Shutdown

Tomorrow morning afternoon Erin and I leave for Milan, where we will couch surf until Thursday when we fly back to the US. This will be my last post from Italy, short and sweet.

A Week of Lasts
The past few weeks have been filled with lasts. From practical things like the last tube of toothpaste, last bar of soap, and the last bottle of olive oil, to the more personal things like our last trip outside of the city and our last dinner with some Italian friends. Now it's come down to the more sentimental things, like our last walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo (5:20am this morning), last passeggiata (stroll) along the Arrno River, and finally ending with our last caffè in the city on our last walk to the Santa Maria Novella train station tomorrow morning. It's a sad thought accentuated by the cool breeze coming through my window, which is carrying both the sound of the bells from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the refreshing smell of jasmine.

Subtle Inspiration
I've looked out my window at this same sky for almost a year and not once have I felt the slightest bit bored of seeing it. Over the time it really hasn't changed all that much. The sun is out much longer, sure, but the sunsets are no more or less brilliant now than they were two, three, or seven months ago. Apart from the hours of light perhaps the only difference is that now the sky is full of swifts in the mornings and evenings. These birds seem so happy and energetic all the time, it's invigorating to just see them. Hearing them is funny as well, and I've been waking up to the sounds of their making laps as they pass by our bedroom window. I've never been to a nascar race, but the image I have of them reminds me of the swifts. They fly so fast in these random elliptical patterns, squealing almost the entire time. As they pass within about 3 yards of the window their happy noises rapidly go from kind of quiet, to really loud, to kind of quiet again. From my perspective it seems like the natural thing to do, if you're a bird. I mean why not pass your days zipping in and out of the marvelous splendors that make up Florence?

The Question to Persist
The journey home to St. Augustine will be a long one, much longer than usual. It's not the trains, planes, or the interstate that will be so rigorous, but rather the spiritual and emotional journey. Usually the idea of home is an emotionally well-defined idiom, but these days it's not so defined for me. Florence has become another home and leaving will cut just as leaving St. Augustine did. I know that we will return at some point, I'm just not sure of how, when, or where. Fortunately those questions are more details than they are questions, which is relieving because I (as usual) have so many in my head at the moment. There is one left to answer that I believe to be the most pivotal, and is certainly the most clearly defined.

The question is this: In the context of entire my life, what does this experience mean? What role does it play? Of course I don't have an answer, and it's not one I believe should have an empirical one. Over the course of my life I suspect that I will answer this question many times, each time with a bit more perspective than the last.

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 3

6. May 9th: I Went to the DPL
Having been given the advice by the Prefettura to go to the Direzione Provinciale del Lavoro di Firenze (the Labor department of the province of Florence), or DPL as I've been referring to it, I decided to go there after sharing what I had learned with the company trying to hire me. Like me, they were surprised and frustrated to hear the explanation given for the rejection of my request. At this point I had pretty much abandoned all hope of obtaining a work permit, but I figured that there was no harm in making a final attempt. And so on Friday, May 9th, the exact day on which my student visa expired, I rode down to the DPL.

The inside of the DPL felt much like any state-run office I've ever been in, anywhere. It's bland, dingy with a borderline dirty feel, and has the atmosphere of being entirely functional (a particularly un-Italian trait). I didn't know who exactly I needed to see and there was no front desk at which I could ask, so I wandered the halls for a bit. After about 10 minutes I stopped a lady in the hall and asked if she could help me. I told her what I had come to do and she kindly led me to where I needed to go. I stood in line for 10-15 minutes with a group of about 13 other people - some Italian, some not. When my turn finally came around I went in the office and was greeted by a woman that couldn't have been more than 2 years older than me. She asked me how she could help, and I explained my situation. She reluctantly concurred with the explanation as it was written on my rejection noticed, to which I nodded and then contested, explaining why the whole situation didn't make sense. She was very kind and empathetic, even if not at all helpful. In the end she asked me if I was able to write in Italian, and then had me write a letter to the head of the department, explaining in detail my situation and asking if there was anything that could be done to aid the situation.

It felt much like an exam, and for anyone who's studied Italian, think back to when you had to write papers or do written exercises. It's considerably more difficult to write than it is to speak or read. Add on the the pressure of doing this in a public office, where the recipient is a state official from whom you need assistance to remain in the country. Anyway, I got it done and handed it over. She told me that it would be processed by post (of course), and I would receive a response by the same. Obviously, I don't count on a response before I'm already back in the US. Anyway, that was that and I don't think I could have done anything better than I did it. I didn't come here with the intention of remaining and working, and so I had to learn in a trial-by-fire method. Things still would have taken a long time, but the processes would have been started earlier.

I'm probably not the first person to do this, but I'd wager that I'm one of very few people that have been to the Bargello and the DPL in the same day, and believe me when I say the experiences polar opposites. It would be nice to stay here, but I don't regret the way things have concluded. I find this odd sense of peace strange because normally regret is one of my more potent feelings, and especially because I really like the idea of staying. For some reason though, things just seem in place, and for that I am thankful. I know that some day, in some capacity, I will be here again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 2

3. December 21st: The company requested a nullaosta to hire me.
A week or so before Christmas, the company started the paperwork that would hopefully result in permission being granted to hire me. This kind of request is called a nullaosta and by itself is a complicated process, so adding my unique situation laid the foundation for a bureaucratic casino (a mess). My situation was this: I'm here under a student visa which would allow me to receive a permesso di soggiorno da studio (permit to study), which in turn would allow me to work a maximum of 20 hours per week throughout its validity. I need that converted from a permesso da studio (permit to study) to a permesso da lavoro (permit to work) in order to take the full time position. Oh yeah, and I need that conversion done based on a permit that will never be realized because its issuance won't even be considered until 3 months after I will have had to leave Italy.

4. I waited.
After some research by the administrative worker at the company, he was led to believe by the labor department that this could be done. He was encouraged and thus so was I. We submitted the paperwork and waited. And waited. After the occasional email correspondence with the company and no news from the police, I resolved to suck it up and go to the Questura (police station). If you are unaware of what a trip to the Questura is like, read Erin's post about hers or thumb through Melinda Gallo's many. It was March by now, so I had waited a little over 2 months before running out of patience. After about 4 hours in line (a relatively short time for the Questura), I learned that I would have to go to the Prefettura (prefect's office) to get news about the processing of my nullaosta. Two days later I went to the Prefettura, which directed me to a different office. I went to that office where I was told that I couldn't be there unless I had been summoned, and if I wanted information I had to request it by phone. The offices to which the number rang were open Monday-Thursday from 10am to 2pm (this is a classic example of Italian bureaucracy and reminds me of this video). After calling for two days with no answer, I retired to checking the notices on the website which never seemed to change.

5. May 7th: I received an official denial.
On May 7th I received my official rejection letter from the Sportello Unico per l'Immigrazione (main immigration office). They provided a reason for the rejection which shouldn't have surprised me. It read that according to the labor department:

"Il richiedente, da quanto dichiarato in domanda, non risulta in possesso del permesso di soggiorno per studio."

As all things bureaucratic, the language is quite removed and archaic. Basically it says that the person asking cannot be granted the conversion because he does not actually have the permit to be converted. Sounds logical enough right? I'd say so. Perfectly reasonable, except for the part where the same department said that one didn't have to have the permit in order to convert it! Probably about an hour after I read the notice I received a phone call from the Prefettura, saying that they had a document for me regarding my request and I needed to come and pick it up. I told him that I had just received a document from the post office and that it sounded like the same one. He said that wasn't possible, so I hopped on my bike with a vain hope giving my legs an uncommon strength. I arrived only to receive the same document, to which the man sincerely apologized. He said that I could go to the labor department and ask about the rejection, and it was possible that they could help me.

I thanked him and left his office, and on my way out I had a nice chat with a couple of the workers about my situation. It's fairly common in my experience for an Italian to be interested in an American, especially one that can speak Italian. They weren't sure that I was American until they point blank asked, to which they responded:

Un Americano!? Che vuole lavorare in Italia!? Come mai!?
An American!? That wants to work in Italy!? Why in the world!? (literally "How ever")

This is a normal reaction I get, usually when I say I came to study Italian but it ups it a notch when I say I'm trying to get a job here. Talking to them was a nice break from the processes, and a nicer break from English.

That's enough for this post. One more coming and that should be enough on this topic.

Il Soggiorno, Il Lavoro, e Il Nullaosta, part 1

As the days of our departure from Italy approach at an ever-increasing speed, I wake up each morning unsure of what to expect. For the last few days I've been anxious, and if you were to ask me what I am anxious about you might be given a long, overly thought out and highly theoretical explanation that is resulting from continuous self (re)revaluation. It really is annoying at times and I imagine that it has a good bit to do with why I haven't posted in a while. Much has happened since my last actual post, and as always you can find scintillating retellings of those events on the blog of my saner, prettier, and all around better half: the olive notes.

Some of you know that I was offered a job in smaller city just outside of Florence, in December of last year. If you knew that then you probably have some idea of the ordeal it has been working through the bureaucracy of obtaining a work permit. If not, suffice it to say it's been stereotypically ridiculous, and at this point the legal possibility of me being able to work in Italy within the next year or two is all but gone. Here's a quick summary of how the events have played out.

1. September Something 2007: I was given an impossible date to receive my permesso di soggiorno.
The permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) gives legal permission to the holder from the Italian government to remain in Italy for a determined amount of time. They aren't so easy to come by if you don't have a reason to be in the country, such as an existing work offer or you are a student at an Italian university. We came here as students so it wasn't/wouldn't have been so difficult. The time we were/would have been granted was pinned exactly to the visa we received, which in turn was pinned to how long we would be in school. In order to receive the soggiorno you must fill out a kit of forms, pay for their processing, wait to be contacted with a date for an interview at the Questura (police station), attend the interview, and finally pick up the soggiorno from the Questura if all went well.

Unfortunately things didn't really fall into place like that, primarily due to a restructuring of the process for submitting, processing, and receiving the soggiorno. I forget the exact date on which we turned in our kits to the post office, but it was in early September, 2007. A week or so later we each recieved SMS messages (which were later followed by lettere raccomandate (certified letters)), from the Ministero dell'Interno (Internal Ministry). Erin's interview was set for February 14th, and mine for some date in July. Yes, July, 2008. Not only is that a ridiculously long wait, but our school ended in April, which means they scheduled my interview to see if I was legally eligible to receive a permesso for a date 3 months after that permesso would have expired. So, legally speaking, I will have spent 9 months in Italy during which the government was thinking about whether or not I was allowed to be there, with a final decision to be made 3 months after I will have already left. Hmm.

2. December 19th 2007: I was offered a job.
I was surprised, elated, and honored to have been offered a job by an Italian company at the end of last year. Software development is not something Italy is known for, but this group is an exceptional one and they do not normally hire foreigners. They offered me a year-long contratto determinato (temporary contract) which would likely be renewed as a contratto indeterminato (permanent contract) after it ended. I would have been working with other talented software developers (something I value highly) in an Italian office - another thing that excited me as it would force my Italian to a higher level of competence.

I'll continue the rest in a new post. Stick around as there's some actual news, and if you're looking to do something like I was you may find it useful.

A presto!

Friday, May 9, 2008