Dreaming In Italian

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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One thing just leads to another.

Monday, August 6th, 2018

So I have the visa, I have the apartment, so what else is there to do. I will say that the hurdles that I have overcome seemed daunting and I’m glad that’s behind me. Now the next series. As in the track and field there’s never a single hurdle. My original plan was to minimize risk by renting my house furnished for a year with an option on a second year. That way I could gracefully retreat to the homeland after a year. I didn’t think that I’d want to do that but it seems almost always useful to hedge one’s bets. I’ve successfully rented my house multiple times from 2 to 4 months so it seemed like a reasonable proposition. Well, I engaged my great realtor to help me with the rental and there were a lot of interested parties but nobody wanted to rent it furnished. In addition people wanted at least a two year lease. That makes sense in retrospect but I just hadn’t thought it through. I mean who wants to rent a furnished house for a considerable period of time? Almost everyone that fits into the category of a trustworthy renter is not a student and usually has their own furniture.

My first thought was that I would just put everything in the garage but gradually my thinking evolved. First of all because some prospective renters wanted to use the garage. Then as I continued to ponder the possibilities I finally came to the realization that even if I did come back after a couple of years I don’t think that I’d want to live in the same house. I mean it’s a nice house and I’ve made it quite comfortable for myself and I like the San Francisco Bay are but… There are several “but”s. I’ll at that point be used to having access to good public transportation, much less automobile traffic, much lower costs of housing, and god knows what else. So at some point in the future I’ll probably sell the house and profit significantly from the insane real estate prices around here. And then what will I do? If I’m still living in Italy which is definitely in my mind a better than even bet then what would I do with that furniture – put it in storage at a cost of probably hundreds of dollars a month?

As my mind continued along that path I realized that I’m not really as attached to my furnishing as I had thought. The things that I’m attached to are art works or little items that I’ve picked up in my travels so I’m finding it liberating to free myself from most of my belongings. In fact I found that there are a hell of lot of things that I have that I haven’t used or even touched for years. This happens each time I move ; I shed such things but this time is different. I’m shedding almost everything. I fortunately have a little shed (well, not that little) shed behind the house that’s lockable and contains a sauna. I’ve never used the sauna but the advantage of it as a storage space is that it’s basically vermin proof. Things that I store there will not deteriorate any time soon. So that’s the plan. I will go with two big suitcases and return in a year with a nearly empty big suitcase as well as an large old one that I have around for the rest of the meaningful personal items.

So I have rented the house on a two year lease to a very responsible couple with a young child. So now I’m busy burning some bridges although it really doesn’t seem that way to me.

So as I write this I’m 5 days away from a moving sale. A woman helping me is going to advertise it as an estate sale which indicates it’s not just the dregs but a lot of good stuff. So below are some photos of things that I hope sell.  I’ll let you know how it works out in the next installment.

Living room – if you can see it is for sale.

Kitchen stuff – partial assortment (there’s a lot more)

More kitchen stuff in the pantry area.

Even the bookcase that I made (the Italy map will move to Italy at some point)

Everything in the guest bedroom and almost everything in my bedroom too.

Navaho stuff goes hopefully

My god I have a lot of these glass containers

My antique table plus all of the stuff on it as well as the cabinet on the wall. Not much space for dinner just now.

And of course my wonderful little car has to sell also.

Wish me luck and and stay tuned. There’s yet more to the story. Subscribe if you like what you see.

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So you want to live in Italy?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

I’ve been this route before and have learned from the experience. Almost any country is pretty selective about who they will let come in to their country to live. Italy is no exception. There are a number of possibilities for receiving a visa; work, school, family, religious reasons, etc but if you just want to live there because you like the beauty of the cities, the excellence of the food and the style of life there is only one option – Elective Residency.  On the consulate website they warn you that this is the most difficult visa to obtain. The two key hurdles are a place to live and income that you have without having to work for it. The latter because you are prohibited from working in Italy in any way.

So first of all you need a place to live. You have two options, buy a house or apartment or rent. For me, since I don’t want to buy that leaves a rental. But of course you need to have a rental contract, i.e. lease BEFORE you can apply for the visa. They also warn you that it can be up to 60 days (!!!) before you get a visa and of course there is no guaranty that you will get it at all. So in my case, and I’m sure in anyone’s case that means that you need to lease an apartment in Italy, return to the U.S. make the application and the earliest that you can reasonably plan to return to Italy is 3 months. So that means that you either have to be extremely lucky to find a place that is being advertised as being available 3 months from when you’re looking (and that you like) or you wind up paying rent for a couple of months when you are not there. That is what I am doing. So there is a significant financial risk that you need to take to attempt to get a visa.

The second hurdle is the financial one – income that you receive without working for it, pension, investments rents from properties, etc. The consulate says that it must be “substantial” income. So what does that mean? They won’t tell you. So there’s another risk factor added in. I found through talking to people and probing the nooks and crannies of the web that perhaps $35k- 40k dollars a year is probably OK. Fortunately I qualify on that front.

Most of the other stuff is not particularly onerous but they do advise you not to book your ticket until you receive the visa. Now think about that for a minute. Say that soon after returning to the U.S. you go for an appointment to apply for a visa and it is approved in even 30 days. So after perhaps 2 weeks you make the application and after another 6 week you receive the visa, now you are just 30 days from your desired departure date. Now you will probably be purchasing a one-way ticket which is, by the way, more expensive than a round trip. And now you are doing it with only 30 days before the flight. Can you say extraordinarily high ticket price? That seems the norm for flights near departure date. So in early June I found a reasonably priced one way ticket to Italy and bought it. It was with Iberia, the Spanish airline, at a little over $1000 which is not bad for a one way. The cheapest competitor at the time was Lufthansa at $1700.

Add to this the difficulty of getting an appointment at the consulate. In April when I was still in Bologna and had decided to take a shot at making the move I found that the first appointment at the consulate was in August! Fortunately there are so called, honorary consuls in each state. In California there is one near me in San Jose, another in Sacramento and a third in Fresno. The guy in San Jose refused to even make an appointment. I guess he doesn’t really understand the nature of his job. The person in Sacramento was going to be out of the country during the entire month of June so that left Fresno. The guy there was very accommodating and I made an appointment for mid June.

I did find an apartment reasonably near the very center of Bologna. It’s a nice place, on the 2nd floor (here it would be the 3rd) but with an elevator (yippee!), reasonably energy efficient (energy prices are much higher in Italy) with air conditioning to deal with those hot muggy summer days and pretty close to a bus stop and good food shopping opportunities. It’s also nicely furnished complete with kitchen stuff and  about everything else I would need. Just about perfect. So I have a lease, registered with the city and that hurdle is overcome.

So I did get the visa and in just about 30 days.  I was so happy to see that visa in my passport when it was returned from the consulate that I danced around the kitchen with tears in my eyes. A break in the anxiety of so much at risk can be very emotional.

The visa

But the story doesn’t end there. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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