Dreaming In Italian

Third week and counting

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

As I wrote in the previous post I was considering joining the SSN (servizio sanitario nationale – Italian health service). Since I’m outside of the european community I have to pay based upon my income. The advantage of that is that it is only based on income and not age as most private insurance is and based upon my research is certainly less expensive. I was pursuing a possibility of a private policy with Marco’s brother but the brother turned out to be quite a flake and never gave me any details about this supposed policy. Time is running short so I went with SSN since I know that will fulfill the health insurance requirement for the permesso di soggiorno. The disadvantage of the SSN is that that one always pays for a “solar” year, i.e. from January 1 to December 31 and it is not prorated. So if I pay now, for instance I pay for a year although the insurance will only be valid for a little over 3 months and that it makes it quite expensive this year but it will cost basically the same next year and will be reasonable.

So I have a piece of paper that shows that I am enrolled in the system. I also have a page attached for my GP (medico di basa) which was selected for me and is quite close to where I live. I hope that he’s good. I asked friends for recommendations, as I would in the U.S., and they all said just get one close to you since they are all good. We’ll see. I plan to go for a visit next week.

The document showing enrollment in the SSN

I also have my new washing machine installed. It’s a nice one since the son of the owner (Lorenzo who lives just upstairs from me) is a sales representative for Whirlpool. The handyman came and installed it last Monday along with another thing that he helped with. Besides the washing machine I didn’t mentioned that the chairs that went with the dining room table were incredibly terrible. They are (well, were) quite uncomfortable and falling apart.

Would you want to sit in this chair? Very uncomfortable.

I knew of a store for used stuff so I went there and found a nice table and 4 chairs and the landlord agreed to pay for them (only 200 euros – cheaper than IKEA) so Monday morning Carlo (the tuttofare “handyman”) met me there with Lorenzo and his little van and moved the chair and table to my house and took the old stuff away.

The new chairs and table. AND the table has leaves, i.e. it’s extendable. One of the chairs is elsewhere.

Things are coming together. There was a microwave on the kitchen counter taking up space better used for food preparation so I found a little stand on Amazon at a reasonable price and bought it. That and a rug to go in the kitchen, a magnetic knife rack and a clock for the living room and I just about have everything organized the way I want it.

The little cart that holds the microwave and a few other items.

The knife rack where the microwave was. A much better arrangement for cooking.

Amazon deliveries are a little more interesting here that they were for me in California. What do you do if you live in an apartment building for an Amazon delivery. Leaving it just outside the door would be insanity because of the likelihood that it would disappear almost immediately. So there have arisen startups here to resolve the problem. There are bars (coffee shops) and tabaccherie (tobacconists) just about everywhere. So these are registered with a startup and for a relatively small fee (3 euros) you can just have a packaged delivered there and they call you to come pick it up. The service is imperfect but seems to work reasonably well and there’s a neighborhood bar very close to where I live.

So life is starting to be more normal. I’ve joined a gym with for an annual membership and started my usual volunteer work at the central library, Biblioteca Salaborsa. And I’ve seen several of my friends; Lia, Liu’, Monica, Marco, Gaudio and Renata, Cesarina and her husband Roberto. I expect to see Paolo, Vincenzo, and Antonella and family before long.

Today I went to a museum of textiles and that will be the subject of another post soon. Stay tuned.


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Oh those forms

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Now that I had submitted my application for the Permesso di Soggiorno I was told that the next step was to register with the city government for a residency document. Everyone who lives must register where they live and provide contact information and the city issues such a document. This is true also for Italians if they change houses or cities. Each neighborhood (which can be a pretty large geographical area) has a separate office where you go to apply for that document. So on the second try I found the place where I was supposed to go. Of course there were forms to fill out but the woman there was quite helpful. It seems that a visa for Elective Residency is quite rare and nobody was sure about what to do about it. But she had a positive attitude and helped with the forms. An interesting thing is that almost whatever you need to do that touches the government in any way requires forms, nothing strange about that, but what seems strange to meet that every form wants to know not only the date of your birth but where you were born. Of course they usually want your codice fiscale (the equivalent of your social security number) but why the heck do they care about your place of birth when you go to pay the fee for garbage collection? Anyway, so after filling out these forms I was now in possession of a copy of the forms declaring residency and the request for permesso di soggiorno and was now prepared to go to enroll my self in the national health service with the acronym of SSN (Sistema Sanitario Nationale). I decided to wait a day and ask friends for doctor recommendation before going to that office so the next morning I went to do my duty to pay the tax for garbage collection. On the way there I received a call from the woman who had helped me fill out the forms for the residency document who said that there was some urgency that I return to her office. But I was at a different government office preparing to do my duty in paying for the garbage. I had made an appointment and had to wait in a line and then was told that I selected the wrong choice when making the appointment and also that I needed to fill out a form. There was absolutely no mention of this on the site of this part of the government. So they gave me another appointment and the form. Then I went back to the office where I applied for the residency document and they said that they had to cancel the stuff that they had given me because with my type of visa I needed to have the permesso di soggiorno first. I did get the feeling that nobody really knew what to do with that kind of visa and rather than get a black mark for making an error it was much safer to just say no. So now, I returned again to the people that helped me in the first place (CGIL). They said not to worry and go ahead and go the office to apply for the health service and take along a copy of the lease for the apartment. If this all seems hard to follow imagine all of the running from place to place all over the city and interacting with bureaucratic officials for days. Some were very nice and helpful and others not so much.

So now it was off the the health service office where a very helpful volunteer looked over my documents and said not to worry then I took a number and waited for about an hour for my number to be called. And lo and behold the woman at CGIL was right. I can enroll in the SSN (remember – national health service). The only drawback is that the enrollment in the health service is always for exactly one year starting January 1st and ending December 31. The service is not free for someone that doesn’t work here and the fee is based upon your income for the prior year. I declared my social security income but it still comes to a tidy sum. It is still less than I paid for medicare and medicare advantage in the U.S. and unlike a private insurance policy there’s no age dependency which is good. Private insurance for an expat can be ridiculously expensive. The brother of a good friend is in the insurance industry here and may find a policy that is less expensive and that I could use to get the permisso and then cancel after the first of the year but the absolutely dead certain option is the SSN so I may just bite the bullet and go for that.

So I’m about done with the nuts and bolts of getting established here. I’ve just about gone through the most important bureaucratic hurdles and the utilities (gas, electricity, water and garbage) are taken care of. I still have the appointment at the questura (police department) for the permesso the first of  October but I think that should go well. We’ll see.

Now I’m spending more energy getting my apartment in order. Oh yes, the washing machine doesn’t work so that will be a starting point for apartment “adjustments” in the next chapter. I’ve also found that I can buy things from Amazon here – of course there are some Italian aspects to that.


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Maybe that light at the end of the tunnel was a train…

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Ah the first week in Bologna. I had a lot of things to do. First, I knew that there were no sheets for the bed in my apartment so I had arranged ahead of time to borrow a set from Cesarina. So for that reason and the fact that I had left a bunch of stuff in a carrello in the garage. For the last 4 or 5 years I’ve always left some stuff there but since I knew that I would be back for a LONG stay (years) then I left a lot more than usual.

My Ikea carrello

By the way my good friend Monica was nice enough to meet me at the airport and give me a ride to the house and then we had dinner together. It was really a joy to see a familiar face when I exited from the baggage area.

So the first night I stayed at that house and then took a taxi the next morning with the carrello, two big suitcases, a carry-on suitcase and a computer bag to my house, well, in italian there are no separate words for house and home and any place where you live is called a “casa” even if it is an apartment. So now the first order of business (after unpacking the suitcases) was to buy some sheets for my bed and some towels. In the spring Lia (another good friend) had introduced me to a bargain household linens store that thankfully is very close to where I live so I bought two sets of sheets, 3 bath towels (small, medium and large) and a bath mat. I will have to return to get some sheets for the guest beds (they are singles, mine is a double – maybe a queen).

Next I had to buy a clothes drying rack (called a “stendino”) because once I washed laundry I needed somewhere to dry it. So I went to hardware store and bought a decent one and an iron (all of my shirts were wrinkled). What fun getting this stuff home on the bus. So I ironed shirts and put them in the closet. Here they are amoires. American style closets are as rare as clothes dryer appliances. Then I decided I had better do some grocery shopping since other than cleaning products and toilet paper there was absolutely nothing in the house. Fortunately there is pretty large supermarket near me so I went there and filled up the carrello with a bunch of stuff to the tune of about 75 euros (I returned the next day for another full load about 50 euros. Now the basics are fully taken care of. Thank God for the carrello and the elevator! By the way a euro is currently worth about $1.15.

So Saturday (full day 2) I decided it’s time to wash the sheets and pillow cases so that I can return them to Cesarina. So I put them in the washer along with a towel and some of my clothes. I found the manual for the washing machine figured out the settings and turned it on and…. nothing happened. I checked the power switches on the wall in case one of them was for the washer (probable) and I also checked the circuit breakers – everything was in order. So I texted the owner’s son Leonardo who manages properties for her. He gave me the name and phone number of his trusted handyman (“tuttofare”, literally does everything) and made an appointment with Carlo for the following Tuesday. To make a long story short Carlo said that they had had trouble with this machine before and it really needed to be replaced so I hope that this happens soon.

In the meantime on Monday I went to a volunteer organization (CGIL) which helps workers in various ways, but especially foreigners dealing with the notorious Italian bureaucracy. So they helped me fill out the paperwork necessary for applying for a “permesso di soggiorno” a permit to stay which MUST be applied for within 8 days of arrival in Italy. Rather a short fuse. Especially since the rules as I understand them are that you must also have a health insurance policy along with the application. I had researched the availability of such insurance extensively. I found that health insurance that covers pretty much anything at my age costs an arm and a leg. However there was a particular type of insurance which covered little but was adequate for getting the “permesso”. I had emailed an immigration attorney here to ask if this would be valid for me and her reply was positive and…WRONG. First of all it was not valid for my type of visa and second it was only issued for those under 65 years of age. I strike out on both counts. So now I was starting to have a panic attack. I returned to CGIL and they said just go ahead and go to the post office (where you submit the documents and forms for the permesso) and start the process. They give you an appointment date for the office of immigration at the police station for finger printing and whatever else and I can submit the proof of insurance at that time. That went as described and now after about 140 euros in fees of one sort of another I had passed the first major bureaucratic hurdle and had breathing space since my appointment is the 1st of October, more then 3 weeks away.  Now with this receipt which serves as a “temporary” permesso I can thread my way through other bureaucratic challenges.

Permesso di Soggiorno Receipt

Stay tuned for the next episode of “Stuggles with the Bureaucracy”.

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The light at the end of the tunnel

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Interestingly enough the phrase above is exactly the same in Italian (la luce alle fine del tunnel) and that’s what I’m now seeing. I’m writing this on August 27 and I get on a plane with a one-way ticket two days from now. Originally I thought that the really hard part was getting the visa for “elective residency” – and it was not easy. The biggest obstacle was getting an apartment and I consider myself lucky in finding an apartment that I like, in a location that I like and getting the whole thing concluded, including two original copies of the lease just a few days before my flight returning to California.

Then came the waves of challenges. I rented my house in July for two years starting the first of September. Originally I had thought to rent it furnished for a year with an option for a second year. As many interested parties viewed the house my realtor told me that nobody wanted to rent a furnished house for a year or more. Major decision point. Perhaps I could put all of my belongings in the garage. No, people wanted use of the garage. Then it became clear that I needed to sell everything. Putting it in a storage space for two years would have cost thousands of dollars and what if it was more than two years or what if I wanted to live elsewhere if and when I returned to the U.S. Finally I found it easy to let go of all of those things. They are, after all, only things. There were no really strong emotional attachments. So I sold everything that I could (which was actually quite a lot), gave away whatever people would take and the rest, on the day of my departure, goes to the dump.

But not everything. This path opened my eyes to the things that I really cared about; art works (not all of them), small things that I have had for so long that I do have an attachment to them and small momentos from travels are waiting for me in a small storage space that I have behind the house. Most of those I can take back with me when I come back for a week or so next summer. Framed pictures that are too large for a suitcase I will take out of the frames, roll them up and put them in tubes that will fit in a suitcase and have them re-framed in Italy.

I still have some challenges ahead, principally getting the “permisso di soggiorno” (permit to stay) in Italy but I think that will not be too difficult. I will also be able to join the Italian national health system which I think will cost me less than medicare and medicare advantage here although perhaps a little more cumbersome.

As I reflect back on the last 3 months and all of the anxious moments I consider how much luck I really have had. Finding the Bologna apartment, getting the visa issued after less than a month, getting good renters, selling my Fiat 500 to a wonderful young woman who loves it, purely by chance having alternative housing for a week when my internet expired at the house, help from friends in Italy to have internet installed at the apartment very shortly after I arrive and the same friend will pick me up at the airport when I arrive. Sometimes things just go right and it’s wonderful when they do.

A friend asked me in an email if I was feeling really emotional or anxious as the final day of departure arrived. No, I’m not anxious now but the last 3 months has been exhilarating and stressful. I replied that I was having almost an out of body experience, like being an astronaut in space looking down at the earth in wonder.  And feeling that I can breath again. That will probably continue for awhile in Italy as I get all of the nuts and bolts of living there nailed down and slip into a normal but different life.

I was trying find a song that kind of fits the occasion. I thought of “Leaving on a jet plane” but I didn’t like the lyric. But the following one is a reasonably apt for the situation.

And tossing in a little bonus, a video of Lucio Dalla. Bolognese born and bred and well loved in Bologna. Maybe you’ll like him too. He was a talented guy who is well known throughout Italy and worked in lots of different genres.

Stay tuned for updates as I embed myself into Bologna.

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