July 31, 2015 by JL Walker
The Divina Commedia was a bit revolutionary in its time. And not only because it harshly criticized some important people of the church. Instead of writing his epic poem Latin, the lingua franca at the time and the acceptable language for published writing, Dante Alighieri expressed himself in his native Florentine, which was mostly only a spoken dialect at the time. This simple choice – combined with all the superlative qualities of his work – is why Dante’s considered the founding father of the Italian language.
The long and complex poem is the perfect adventure story, taking Dante to Inferno, then Purgatorio and Paradiso. On his trip, he meets his contemporaries and his influences in their afterlives, placing them exactly where he believes they should end up as punishment or praise of their vices or virtues.
The story is also a great allegory of the adventure of life in general: to get to heaven, you must first pass through hell (and in this case, purgatory too). In real life, Dante faced many obstacles, being exiled from his home city of Florence for political reasons. He wrote the Divina Commedia after his exile, so it’s possible that his difficulties living as a refugee sparked his creative genius when he produced his masterpiece.
Really, in order to accomplish anything important – whether it’s learning something like a craft or an art, or making any kind of life change – there are going to be a lot of seemingly hopeless moments before achieving success. The Commedia‘s basic metaphor works very well when describing life’s adventures involving bureaucracy and paperwork: the process feels a lot like hell, even though the outcome isn’t necessarily as great as heaven.
And since Dante is the father of the Italian language, why not use his story’s basic structure to talk about the worst kind of Italian bureaucracy: the permesso di soggiorno? To renew your carta di soggiorno after marriage, there are five circles of hell you may need to go through before achieving success.
First circle: Disrespect
In the first depth of hell, you observe the sin of being rude to your fellow man.
You go to Sportello Amico at an Italian post office to pick up your permesso application kit. Remember, however, that the Amico part of this name is just that, a name. The woman behind the counter is not your amica in any sense of the word. She will neither smile nor be friendly in any way to you, but rather treat you like you are ruining her day by your mere presence in her post office. Take your packet and resist the urge to be rude in return.
Second circle: Neo-luddism
Here you experience the sin of being technologically behind the times in a completely irrational manner.
You fill out the application kit with all your information. Then go back to the post office (if you live in a big city like Milano, choose a different branch, in the hopes that you will find another friendlier civil servant). Take a number. Watch the numbers screen hopefully. Wait for your number to pop up. Hand in your completed application and show the postal worker the originals of the documents required. Pay the administration fees related to your permesso di soggiorno. You pay a portion of the fees with your debit card but are informed that another portion must be paid in cash. You realize you don’t have enough cash in your wallet to cover it. The friendly worker waits as you exit the post office, use the cash machine for post office bank accounts that’s literally right outside, make a withdrawal and return to the counter. You are given a receipt of your transaction and an appointment at the police station on a specific date a few weeks later at exactly 9:34am. (This is not a joke.)
Third circle: Waste
In the third circle, you see the sin of wasting time.
You arrive at your local questura on the allocated date, a few minutes before your 9:34am appointment. The police station is generally filthy, but you are treated with respect. Your wait time is brief and when you talk to a police officer you learn that because you are renewing your carta di soggiorno you need to make an appointment with the immigration office because the officers at the local station can’t process your renewal. You write down the website where you will need to make the appointment.
Fourth circle: Misnomer
Here you notice the sin of important information being hidden online with a name that in no way communicates its function or purpose.
You turn on your computer, open your browser and type in website for cupa-Project. The URL and title of the site have absolutely nothing to do with the Italian government or its offices. There is no way you would have found this website without going to the questura. Register with the website and make your appointment with the immigration office according to the police officer’s instructions. Cross your fingers that this procedure is correct.
Fifth circle: Hearsay
In this final circle of hell, you witness the sin of providing false information to innocent bystanders.
You go to the Ufficio Immigrazione with your husband on the day of your appointment. You wait in line outside for about 30 minutes, even though you have a specific time of 10:30am for your appointment. You’re given a number and told to wait in the large hall on the ground floor. Your number is not even close to the numbers that are currently being served. You sit patiently with your spouse. You chat with friends on your phone and look at various social networks as you wait. Your battery is running dangerously low.
After several hours, your number flashes and you go to the correct counter. You show all your documentation (including your husband’s latest tax return for some reason!) and you’re given another number for your umpteenth fingerprinting. The man behind the counter tells you that you will probably have to wait until 4pm or 4:30pm before you receive your carta di soggiorno.
You wait another 45 minutes before your number appears for your digital fingerprinting. You ask the man in this office how long he thinks you’ll wait until your carta di soggiorno is ready. His estimate is 2pm, two full hours before the information you received from the other guy. You don’t know who to believe, but you leave the immigration office to have lunch with your husband in the meantime.
After lunch, at about 2pm, you ask the people behind the counter if your carta di soggiorno is ready. They say yes and hand it over. In the expiration date section is says illimitata, unlimited.
The absolute worst part if this journey through hell is finally over, but it was the last step before achieving your goal.
Congratulations! You have successfully completed this badge of inferno and can continue to the next step!
Date completed: May 19, 2015
If, like me, you’ve been married to an Italian citizen for five years and are renewing your carta da soggiorno, go directly to the fourth circle.