Thursday, March 23, 2017

Permesso di soggiorno in hand, but we take little time to celebrate

One month and two days ago, Lucy underwent her finger- and hand-printing at the Polizia Scientifica and Questura di Lucca. We paid with our marca da bollo and left with an officially stamped receipt. And we were told that in a month, we’d get a phone call telling us to come in and get her permesso di soggiorno.

Lucia in Lucca
We watched the calendar carefully. Saturday marked four weeks. Monday was 30 days, Tuesday 31. Surely one of those dates should have been the benchmark signifying one month, but we’d received no phone call. And so, tired of waiting, we drove to the Questura this morning to ask in person.

Sportello 1, the window for permesso documents, had no line at all. But it also had no one at the desk. The other three windows, used by refugees, all had long lines, and we didn’t want to wait in one of them because after a long wait, we’d only have been told we were in the wrong line. But where was the nice lady from Sportello 1?

‟There’s her glasses on her desk,” Lucy pointed out. ‟She’s probably taking her morning break at the local coffee bar.” And indeed, after standing alone in the line for 10 minutes, we were rewarded by her appearance. And further, when she want to check in the back of the office, she quickly found Lucy’s permesso di soggiorno. There was no pounding of drums or singing by angels, just ‟Here you go; that’s all.” Lucy signed, and we were done in one minute.

And so concludes satisfactorily a saga that had begun 15 years earlier, when we unsuccessfully tried to get permessi for all four of us in Padova. But we took no time to celebrate, because this is only step one. We drove straight back to Montecarlo to present Lucy’s documents to the municipio. Now we wanted Lucy’s residency documents.

Once again we had to wait, this time about 15 minutes for an absent clerk. But when she came, we had everything in hand: permesso, passaporti, codice fiscale, estratto di matrimonio. The signora took nearly a half hour to enter everything in her computer, make photocopies and carefully stamp every form and photocopy. Then we were sent upstairs to the office of protocollo for more document checks, computer entries and stamping of documents.

Now the police will come to make il controllo anagrafico, the official check to make sure Lucy lives at via Roma, 49. Knowing that this can take a month or so, we stopped by the police office on the way out of the municipio to let them know we will soon be having a lot of guests and want the check to take place as soon as possible. We settled on either Tuesday or Wednesday morning. When this takes place, Lucy can go back to the municipio and get her carta d'identità, and we’ll be done with step two. We’ll waste no time starting step three, which will mean another trip (most likely many trips) to Lucca for her citizenship. Can we squeeze this in before we leave in barely more than a month? As Lucy likes to say, the chances are 50/50; either we will or we wont. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We have stumbled across our church home in nearby Altopascio

I deeply appreciate my upbringing and roots in the Catholic Church—but I am more comfortable with the music, informality and overall approach of certain Protestant churches. Lucy and I are long-time members of an independent church in Gig Harbor, but finding a similar church in Italy has not been easy.

From 2011 to 2015, we took the train to Lucca and attended the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese. The train ran on a limited schedule on Sunday, and we would have to stay in Lucca until mid-afternoon before we could return to San Salvatore. We often had to ride our bikes to and from the train station in the chill and rain in the winter.

However, we were welcomed by like-minded and friendly people, many of them our age and older. The structure of the Sunday services reminded us of denominational American churches of the 1960s and earlier. Songs were from an old hymnal, accompanied by a pianist. A few individuals would read Bible passages. Pastor Domenico Masselli would make some announcements and then preach a sermon. He spoke clearly and supported his lessons with numerous Bible passages, which we could read in our English versions to aid us in understanding the messages. Then we’d all go up front to celebrate communion. We’d recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison, and everyone would disperse.

We were happy to encounter kind people who shared our beliefs, but we still found the experience lacking. The songs were taken from old English hymns that had been translated into Italian. Forcing verses from English to Italian and attempting to maintain the rhythm and rhyme made for some odd and hard to understand wording—definitely not conducive to meaningful worship. We would hang around after church to greet people, but our lack of skills in Italian meant that conversations were short. The only invitation we ever received to share lunch came from an English-speaking German couple.

We had done web searches for Protestant churches that might be closer to Montecarlo but came up empty. And then one day in April of 2015, we were walking in a residential area in Altopascio and passed a house that had a sign outside: Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica di Altopascio. It listed 10:30 a.m. at the time for the Sunday meeting. Could this be real, or was this an old sign of a church that once had existed but was no longer active?

A Google search for the church revealed almost nothing. The church had no web site. An old newspaper article mentioned a concert that had been held there in March of 2009. We had our doubts, but we would have to go on Sunday to find out. And so, during our last week in Italy in 2015, we drove our borrowed car 10 minutes to Altopascio and parked a few blocks from the house. Almost immediately, we heard it—loud singing accompanied by various musical instruments. This church was—is—alive and active, and we have been attending it ever since whenever we come to Toscana.
Some members of the music team at the Chiesa Evangelica di Altopascio.

We found about 50 or 60 people gathered in the home of the pastor. A large room had been custom-made for the meetings. Sunday school for children is held in a side room. It’s an independent church, founded and led by Italians, though certain characteristics remind us of the the Italian version of the Assemblies of God church we attended a few times in Padova.

The music is our favorite part of the gathering; we actually prefer it to that of our church in Gig Harbor. The songs are relatively new. The lyrics, written in modern Italian and taken from Scripture verses, are projected on the wall behind the music team. The leader plays a guitar and is usually accompanied by a keyboardist and sometimes a drummer. Three or four vocalists with microphones assist. But it’s not so much the melodies, words and instruments that appeal to us as it is the sincere and worshipful way in which the music is presented. Fervent prayers are offered between songs. Eyes are closed. Some people raise their hands. There is a strong shared feeling that God is present.

Pastor Giuseppe
We also like the fact that the culto—Italian name for a Sunday service—relies heavily on sharing from the congregation. Some 20 minutes can be taken for members to share verses and lessons they have learned. On one Sunday, the sharing went on so long that the pastor didn’t even give his message. We only regret that we still can’t understand all that is said during the sharing and sermon. For some reason, we were able to understand more of the sermon at the church in Lucca.

Breaking bread for the Lord's Supper.
We are gradually learning peoples’ names, and this winter for the first time, we were invited to dine at the house of two of the church members. Getting to know Silvio and Anna has been one of the highlights of our first month here in 2017, and we look forward to further developing this friendship. Silvio is one of the elders in the church, and I have approached him with an offer to create a free web site. Hopefully, this will help us become more involved with the community. And, more importantly, maybe it will also help a few more stranieri can find the way there.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Lost in hills of Tuscany not the worst thing that could happen—far from it!

Sometimes the best memories come from the things you find while being lost. Lucy and I were discussing this with our friends Kjetil and Laila while we drove in the Pescia Swizzera hills north of Montecatini. What brought up this subject? We were lost, naturally.

Red persiani (shutters) in stone building at Vellano.
We had taken a hike around the scenic town of Vellano, admiring the typical haphazard arrangement of the stone houses and alleys that we love so much. The plan was to continue north in the car to a restaurant near Castelvecchio for a lunch, but no one had brought their GPS devices or even a good map. I had a general map of the area, but it didn’t contain enough detail to show that one couldn’t drive north of Vellano and still reach Castelvecchio—even though that’s the way any crow with good sense would go. Because of the mountainous terrain, however, the roads didn’t connect, and then we gradually drifted to the west without realizing it until we saw a sign for Avaglio and I located that little town on the map. We were way off course, and starting to get seriously hungry as well.

Vellano before we got lost.
To go back the way we came and then go south and after that north to Castelvecchio would take a long time,” I said. ‟Let’s go south from here towards Marliana. I know of at least one restaurant there.” Except that one restaurant turned out to be only for members of the Circolo della Misericordia di Marliana. Lucy and I had been there during a festa, and it had been open to the public that day, but normally it was not. And Marliana had no other restaurants.

So farther south we went, and that’s when we started talking about other memorable occasions when we had gotten lost and had serendipitously wonderful experiences. Except by now it was nearing 2 p.m., seriously hungry had turned to ravenously hungry, and we all knew that nearly every restaurant in Italy closes around 3 p.m. I have to admit that not every time we’ve gotten lost turned out to be special, and that thought entered my mind as we drove though more small cities that had no restaurants. Ah, ye of little faith.

By the time we turned into the parking lot of the Antica Trattoria Da Marino in Ponte di Serravalle, we didn’t care that it looked less than promising from the outside, nor that the city had little to offer in scenic appeal. It was about 2:15 p.m., and the place was empty. That didn’t look promising, either, but we had no time to be picky. We chose a corner table with a view of a side alley and got down to the serious business of perusing the menu.

When we left at 3:30 p.m., our faith in the wonders of being lost had been fully restored. The meal and service had been incredibly delicious and memorable. I ordered the pici stirato a mano al ragout di chianina and Lucy, Kjetil and Laila each had the gran fritto mare con verdure. No question in my mind it was the best ragout I have ever tasted. The thick pici noodles were homemade, al dente and perfectly suited for the sauce. The superior quality of the meat and the fact that the beef chunks were a little larger than normal but then melted in my mouth made for a delightful sensation. My dining partners, all seafood gourmets, unanimously agreed that the sampling of fried seafood and vegetables was superb, fresh, tender, among the best seafood plates they had sampled.

Our waiter, Edoardo Innocenti, informed us that the establishment has been in his family since 1920, making it the oldest trattoria in the Pistoia area. All of the food is artigianale, hand made, including the wine. The delicious and unique fragolina white wine served with dessert is produced by the Innocenti family from a variety of small wild grapes that grow in the hillsides of this region. We bought an extra bottle to take home. And speaking of dessert—wow! We had a sampler of the homemade delicacies that we learned have made this restaurant famous in Northern Tuscany. To die for!

Later I learned that this is the number 1 restaurant on Tripadvisor for Serravalle Pistoiese. It’s a good thing we got lost and hungry and ended up here. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but sometimes the best memories come from the things you find while being lost. Yeah!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The "can't stand in the attic" solution looks inevitable in roof repair plans.

Sometimes on sunny days, we pull down the retractable stairs, climb into the attic, stand on an old wooden trunk and tip up the tiny skylight. Then, taking turns, we thrust shoulders and head through the small opening and gaze at the magnificent view to the northeast. We already have a great western view from our terrazza, but our eastern view is blocked by buildings that are almost as tall as our own. From the attic, we can see over the top of these buildings.

We drool over this northeastern vista. We can take in the rugged snow-capped Alpi Apuane mountains and also see hill villages such as Collodi, Monte a Pescia, Uzzano Castello, Buggiano Castello and Montecatini Alto. We can see Pescia and some of the Valdinievole, the Valley of the Nievole River. We want to experience this view more easily and be able to share it with visitors. And that’s another complication with the repair of our leaky roof.

The roof leaks because some of the terracotta tiles are moss-covered and broken, and the mortar is cracked. Also, it was installed many years ago, when guaina a caldo or carta catramata (insulating paper or tarpaper) was not routinely installed between the layers of brick and roofing tile. Once resigned to the reality that minor roof repairs would be inadequate to stop the leaks, we looked at the condition of the beams that support the roof and hatched an idea. Maybe we could subtlety add a few inches to the height of our roof.

As it is now, a head poked out of the skylight is almost the only way an average sized person can stand in our attic, since the highest standing spot is just under 6 feet, but that’s just in the center; then it quickly slopes down. Our thought was that if we replace the roof, we should also replace all the beams and joists, which are ancient and suspect. They look like they could last another 20 years, give or take 10 years. But then, they look ancient now, and maybe they could survive another 50 years. Who knows how long these things last? But if they do need to be replaced, wouldn’t now be a good time? And couldn’t they be just a bit bigger without even asking for special permission (with such permission being almost impossible to obtain inside a walled, historic city)? And could we put in some large skylights that open up, so we can stand under them and enjoy the northeastern view? Should we not also put in insulation while we were at it?

We told Juri to ask for these extra options when inquiring about re-roofing proposals. We would pay the extra for skylights and insulation. We were hoping that the contractors would say that all the beams needed to be replaced so that Juri would also share in the cost of that.

My beautiful computer art drawing made for the builder, which turned out to
pretty much a total waste of my time. 
And it was because of all these extra options that we had difficulty understanding Juri when he tried to explain what the three contractors had told him when he asked for the preventivi (bids). So Monday of this week, we arranged to have a friend we had met at church come over to give us advice and help us talk to Juri. Silvio speaks some English, and he is familiar with construction projects because he designed and supervised the construction of his own house. He also brought his nephew Giuseppe, who is an architect. If nothing else, we wanted to have some knowledgeable and impartial people giving us advice.

Silvio, Giuseppe and I crawled into the attic and held a high level council. The beams could be replaced, but they are not the cause of the leaking and it’s not absolutely necessary to replace them now, Giuseppe said.

If I were your neighbor,” he explained, ‟I’d tell you, ‘Paul, I’ll pay my share of replacing the roof tiles and putting on a layer of guiana, but if you want to replace the beams, that’s your expense.’ ”

Then we went down and talked to Juri, and that’s exactly what he said. And that would be the 10,000 euro he had quoted me a couple of weeks ago. His family and our family would share this cost. To replace all the beams and add insulation and skylights would be in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000 euro, and Juri would not share in the extra costs.

We were happy that we finally understood the options and that we had received advice from our own independent personal experts. They left us to mull it over, but it didn’t take long for us to realize what to do. We’ll go with the existing beams, but we’ll also pay the extra cost of installing two large skylights on the west side. It’s not worth 30,000 euro or more to be able to stand up straight in a few more places. On warm days, we’ll open the skylights, stand tall and savor the bella vista. In that way, we’ll still have money left over to pop open a bottle of wine and toast our good fortune while dunking our cantuccini in a glass of vinsanto.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

‟Into each life some rain must fall”

Saturday, March 4
Thanks for the warning, Henry Longfellow. We usually only come to Montecarlo from February through April, but last fall, we also came for a month—which turned out to be very, very fortunate, because during that time, our slightly leaky roof turned sieve-like. I don’t mean we were fortunate that the roof leaked but that we had been there to catch the water in our soffita
(attic) before it severely damaged the ceiling.

When we made an offer on the house in the spring of 2015, we had noticed some stains on the ceiling of the west bedroom. The real estate agent told us that the roof had leaked after the downstairs neighbor installed an antenna, but the damage had been fixed. Our geometra examined the roof and pronounced it structurally acceptable, although he said we would have to come during a rainstorm to know for sure if all the leaks had been fixed. In retrospect, we should have made our offer conditional on the roof being watertight, but the geometra didn’t seem concerned, so we didn’t make a fuss.

When we closed the sale in the fall of 2015, we spent a couple of weeks in the house. During a hard rainfall with some wind, the roof did have a couple of small leaks, but nothing a couple of buckets in the soffita couldn’t take care of. In the spring of 2016, the leaks grew worse, and we needed about 10 buckets during a windy rainstorm

We talked to Juri, our downstairs neighbor with whom we share the costs for our mutually used areas, like the portone (big front door), corridoio (hallway) and tetto (roof). I wanted to hire someone to repair or replace the roof, but he thought we could buy some more time. He had a friend who could make some repairs for little or no cost, and they would work on it during the summer.
OUR SOFFITA: I was going to cook some gnocchi yesterday and asked Lucy, "Where are all the pans? Oh, yeah, I remember."

And then came last fall, when we came back in November and saw some new stains on the bedroom ceiling. We looked in the attic during a normal rainstorm—with little wind—and it leaked in about a dozen areas. A week later, we had a major tempesta—heavy rains and howling winds—and suddenly we had to furnish our soffita with no fewer than 30 buckets, pans, bowls, glasses, trash bins, casserole dishes and whatever else we could find for the newest leaks.

Time for another conversation with Juri. We had agreed last spring that we would wait until the fall to see how the roof performed with the minor repairs, but now we could see that the roof needed to be replaced. It was too late in the year to do anything but make plans. Juri said he would get proposals from some roofers and we could do the work in the spring or summer of 2017. Meanwhile, he would check the soffita occasionally and empty the buckets as needed. I wanted to put a plastic tarp up, but Juri nixed that idea, saying it would be too risky. If the tarp and whatever we used to hold it down blew off, they would probably land in the street below, damaging cars, disrupting traffic and possible injuring people.

Back in America in December, we received bad news from our friend Elena, who wrote, ‟I spoke to Juri a few minutes ago and he reported that you had been effected badly by the heavy rain of last week. The rain came through your apartment and into his, and urgent repairs are needed for your roof.”

Argggh, but what does that mean? Why did I let Juri talk me out of hiring someone to put up a tarp? How can we do repairs in the middle of the winter? And most of all, how badly had our apartment been damaged?

For the next two months, we wondered how bad the damage had been. Juri wrote and said he had mopped up the water and not to worry. But did the water drip on the bed, and was it getting moldy? We also had a spare mattress under the bed that we pulled out to accommodate guests. Had the water run under the bed and soaked this? Would our whole house smell like a swamp when we came back?

Thankfully, when we arrived last month, the slightly off-level bedroom floor had saved the day. The water had all pooled by the exterior wall; the bed and the mattress were fine. The ceiling had some new stains and mold, but nothing that can’t be washed off, repaired with stucco and repainted once the water problem is solved.

Juri told us he had obtained three preventivi—proposals—for the repairs, and he summarized them for us, but for some reason, he forgot that we don’t understand rapidly spoken Italian well. Maybe he was in a hurry to get somewhere, but he summarized everything so quickly that we really didn’t understand exactly what our options were—only that the repairs could cost anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 euro, depending on how they were done and what extra features we wanted to add. I asked him to write down, in Italian, what the options were, because I understand written Italian much better than spoken.

That was two weeks ago, and still nothing has been put in writing, so we’re thinking of meeting with Juri again with the help of an interpreter. We want to get this settled during the quiet phase of our stay here, before guests start arriving and our lives get hectic.

To be continued . . .

Friday, March 3, 2017

An Italian Home is one of the better memoirs about life in Italy

We live in Italy for three or four months a year, the perfect amount of time for us to balance our love of Italian culture with our lives in Gig Harbor. Our family friends and work are too important to us to spend more time abroad. But what would it be like to live in Italy year around? That’s a question that for now I will have to answer by reading entertaining books like Paul Wright’s An Italian Home: Settling by Lake Como.

It’s an honest, entertaining and sometimes humorous account of a couple who moved from England to Italy. Wright makes no secret that learning Italian was not easy for him, something we borderline senior citizens can appreciate. We are taken through the various seasons and learn about the activities that both hold together and divide the little community of Moltrasio. I also enjoyed his inside story about the local football club and its enigmatic and inspirational leader.

I’ve probably read 20 or more memoirs about living in Italy, and this was well worth adding to my collection. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

We're thankful for quiet, uneventful, always enjoyable days in Montecarlo

Playing tombola with a cup of beans
Sometimes it seems a little strange that we come all the way to Italy just to sit in our house and read, write, sew and study Italian. It’s been a pretty uneventful three weeks here, and all of our actual cultural experiences probably could have been accomplished in a couple of days.

Tombola players (Lucy's back, far left)
The Misericordia of Montecarlo—a group of volunteers that help with medical emergencies and provide a broad range of other social services—held a tombola night at the old church. Tombola is a lot like bingo, but the rules are slightly different. Lucy and I each paid 10 euro for six tombola cards and played for about an hour. That’s about all our heads could take of trying to distinguish between numbers like quarantacinque, cinquantaquattro, cinquantacinque and quarantaquattro—or sessantasette, sessantasei, settantasei and settantasette. While our ancient
Our neighbors win a prize.
brains were converting the words into numerals and trying to scan all six of our game cards, the tomboliere (or whatever one calls the volunteer who pulls the numbers from the bin and reads them out) just kept on going.

After a few games and with the kindness of some players close by, we got the hang of the rules and were able to keep up. But just barely, and only with maximum mental focus. Shortly after we started the game, our neighbors Juri and Silvia, along with two of their daughters, joined in. They won a prize basket in a short time. When we left, we donated our cards to them, and I think they won another prize, but we had already walked the two blocks home and gone to bed.

Probably the most enjoyable encounter in our three weeks here was with friends from church, Silvio and Anna. Silvio speaks about as much English as we do Italian, so we mixed our languages together and had a long lunchtime conversation in their home. Anna grew up mostly in America but moved to Italy years ago after she married Silvio—thus anything that we weren’t able to easily communicate, we could say with Anna’s help.

I’ve also been going to the parish archives a few hours each week. Just when I think I’m fed up with this genealogy hobby, some new challenge will present itself, and I get obsessed with solving it. I’ve discovered many more relatives through my DNA test, and once I know someone is related and that their ancestors came from the Valdinievole region, I want to hunt down the paper connection.

In the past few months, I’ve connected online with Judi, a fifth cousin who lives in California (common ancestor Petrocchi); Eileen, Robert and Alfred, third cousins from Illinois (Spadoni); Gregg, a 15th cousin from Oregon (Spadoni); Karen, a 5th cousin from Puyallup (Montanelli); and John Steven, a third cousin from Illinois (Capocchi/Montanelli). I also met in person a couple of weeks ago Sauro Spadoni, a third cousin who is a hair stylist in Chiesina Uzzanese.

It may be strange, but somehow making connections with people from both past and present lives who share a bit of history and DNA is moving. When I gave Gregg information about his ancestors, he wrote back: "I just cannot express enough my gratitude for this. How incredible! My mother was in tears when I shared this information. Thank you so very much, truly."

We know the pace of our lives will pick up drastically when we start receiving visits from friends and relatives in a few weeks, so right now we feel quite comfortable just living our lives as normal Italians. A few days ago, a funeral procession, complete with a band playing a lugubrious melody, walked down the main street and passed below our windows. Lucy and I walk to the library regularly to use their free wifi to do our online Italian lessons. We watched Hacksaw Ridge at the cinema in Pescia.
One big difference between our two homes is the view out of my office windows, this being the one in Italy. Lucy has a view on the opposite side, which looks out over the city wall toward Lucca. Her view is the one we usually show, with the trees and sunsets, but this side has its appeal as well.

So for now, life in Italy is not much different from life in America—until we look out the windows, walk down the street or drive to the market. We’ve grown comfortable, but I don’t think we’ll ever grow so accustomed to this place that we’ll forget what a blessing it is. It’s a great feeling to be so at home in both Montecarlo and Gig Harbor.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Time to name the walk. Please vote

If you read my blog from a month ago, you'll know what I mean when I ask you to vote on a name for what I formerly called "the old man walk." Click on the survey to the right and make your preference known. If you missed the background on the need for a name, read this first: Creative title needed for previously unnamed "Old man walk." And for those of you who submitted titles, thanks!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Permesso nearly in the bag! Now an enforced time out before round 2

Okay, I admit I was drunk! I can’t believe I suggested that Lucy might get her Italian citizenship quickly. I was intoxicated not with Montecarlo’s fine red wine but with hope, because the lines in the Questura had been relatively short, I could understand the clerk, and we had all the documents we needed for her permesso di soggiorno in my hands.

This morning we went to the Questura, and after a 50-minute wait in line and then a half hour for the clerk to process the paperwork, she gave us a stamped ‟receipt” marked permesso di soggiorno. Then she told us sit in the waiting room and someone would call us for Lucy’s fotosegnalamento. That was a word I didn’t know. She also said something about waiting one month. What? Now I was confused. But she clearly told us to sit and wait, and so we did.

Within 15 minutes, a side door opened and we were escorted into an office for Polizia Scientifica. A friendly middle-aged police woman asked Lucy for her height and the color of her eyes, and then she took digital photos of Lucy’s palms and fingers, the fotosegnalamento. That’s it, she said. Lucy’s permesso di soggiorno card would be ready in about a month. They had my cell phone number and will call when it’s ready.

Still, we were optimistic that we could start round 2, because we had the receipt, which clearly stated permesso di soggiorno. It had a photo of Lucy attached and official stamps from the Questura. We drove straight to the city hall of Montecarlo to start Lucy’s residence permit.

Ah, not so fast, the clerks there told us. This document is not the actual permesso di soggiorno. It is just a receipt, and we have to wait for the real card to be issued. Presumably this has something to do with Lucy’s fingerprints being checked through the system first to make sure she is not a criminal or terrorist.

Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?” I asked. ‟Perhaps,” one clerk said, ‟you could go to the Prefettura in Lucca and get a declaration of Nulla Osta.” This is a clearance form stating there is no legal obstacle from Lucy’s past. However, a Nulla Osta would probably take a month to get, she added.

It’s better just to wait,” she said. ‟There is no hurry, is there?”

Since there actually is no listed record in Guinness for fastest foreign citizenship obtained in Italy, I had to admit that we really had no good reason to ask anyone to bend the rules. ‟No, we can wait,” I said. ‟Of course. No problem.”

We have passed step 1 with flying colors. It’s just that now I have a hope hangover, a small deflation of excitement. The chase has been put on hold, but it’s not in any way off track. It’s on to other challenges, like our leaky roof, meeting new people, finding the best scenic hikes. For Lucy, making some quilts. For me, editing my book manuscript. Basically, living la dolce vita, and I guess that’s not too bad!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Great progress on Permesso di Soggiorno, step 1 to Lucy's citizenship

As much as I love coming to Italy for the beauty, food, people and tranquility, I also like the challenge of learning a new language and discovering how to get by on our own in a different land. Lucky thing, because now I have to figure out how to get Lucy’s citizenship here in Italy instead of at the Italian consulate in California. This new challenge is not entirely unwelcome, and we’re making progress every day.

On Tuesday, I went to the comune in Pescia, where my citizenship is registered. After leaving his window to consult with a colleague for a few minutes, the clerk came back and told me I’d have to go to the Prefettura in Lucca.

Wednesday, off to Lucca, where I found many offices for the Prefettura. On the fourth try, I found the right one and explained what we were seeking. The helpful clerk asked me a few questions and then spoke with a colleague on the phone. He explained that it would be a three-step process. First, get a permesso di soggiorno at the Questura. Second, apply for residency in the comune at Montecarlo. Third, come back to the Prefettura and apply for citizenship.

What a difference a few years and a little language learning makes! The clerk understood everything I said, and I understood everything he said—so different from our misadventures in Padova in 2001. So off to the Questura, and on the third try, I found the right office. I realized on approach that it had to be the right door, because dozens of multi-national immigrants and refugees were milling around or waiting in one of the four lines. Sportello 1 said it was for informazione and permesso, and it only had one person in line ahead of me.

I had read online a few years ago that one must first go a post office to get the needed forms and an appointment time, but I figured I’d try my luck directly at the Questura first. And it almost worked, but not quite, because I was missing the first item on the list: the applicant. The lady at the window looked at our passports and said all we needed to obtain the forms and an appointment was Lucy to appear in person.

So, Thursday, off we went together, arriving 10 minutes before opening hours so we’d be near the head of the line. After a 20-minute wait, we received our forms and an appointment for March 2, not too long to wait. And it appeared that the requirements weren’t too difficult: four photos (easily obtained at a photo booth), a marca da bollo tax sticker for 16 euro to be purchased at the nearest tabaccaio, copies of Lucy’s passport (including every stamped page), a copy of our registered marriage certificate from Pescia (which I already had), and a declaration from me that I was hosting the foreign visitor at my house, along with a copy of the main page of my passport. The application form consisted of only a half page of very basic information.

We went home to fill out the forms, buy the tax sticker and make the photocopies. I had a few questions about how to fill in several lines on the form, and then I came to one requirement that struck a note of fear in my heart, a line that said ‟Certificazione medica.” The lady at the desk had not mentioned or explained that, and it had a pen mark under it—or maybe through it—I couldn’t tell for sure.
Is that last line underlined or crossed out?

The reason I hadn’t been able to obtain a permesso di soggiorno during our year in Padova so long ago is that the clerk at the Questura there said we must have a medical insurance policy, translated into Italian. We had traveler’s insurance, and I had translated it with some help, but it didn’t cover preexisting conditions. The clerk had denied my application.

Not wanting to wait until March 2, Lucy and I went back today for clarification. ‟Questa linea, e' sottolineata o cancellata?” I asked. ‟Cancellata,” she answered. There would be no need for a medical certificate or insurance. I showed her my other questions, all easily answered, and then asked a final question: ‟Since I have all the documents filled out, the tax stamp and the photos, is there any way we can have an earlier appointment?”

She walked into a back office, then came out and looked at her calendar. How about February 18? Domani? Si, si! So we are close to completing step 1. I feel 99 percent certain I have everything we need and that we’ll be successful tomorrow. I’m not sure if we will receive the permesso the same day or if we’ll have to come back, but soon we’ll move on to step 2, the residency permit. I just went through that process myself last April, so I know it’s not complicated.

I don’t want to jinx this, but I may look up in Guinness what’s the world record for the fastest foreigner to obtain Italian citizenship, because Lucy just could be in the running!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Further frustrations in Lucy’s quest for citizenship—but a ray of new hope

Loyal readers of our blog may remember our fiasco of August 2, 2016, when we went to the Italian Consulate in an attempt to obtain Lucy’s Italian citizenship. We arrived one year and one hour too early, and they told us to come back on the same date in 2017. We have already booked transportation and a room for next August, and we have all the documents ready, so we figure it should be a slam-dunk next time, right?
Consolato Generale di San Francisco

Wrong, wrong, wrong! In re-reading the requirements, I noted that all the police statements of good conduct—which must be both notarized and accompanied by an apostille verifying their authenticity by the issuing state—must be no more than six months old. So we need to go back to Pierce County, the Washington State Patrol and the FBI to get new notarized statements and new apostilles. Okay, we can live with that. It will cost some money and take some time, but at least now we know how to do it.

But in looking even more closely at the requirements, I came across this statement: ‟The Italian spouse must be registered at the Consulate as an Italian Citizen Residing Abroad (A.I.R.E.).” When I had read this earlier, I thought: No problem, I became an Italian Residente All’Estero in 2011 at the very same consulate. I know I’m on the list, because I receive ballots to vote in the Italian elections at my address in Gig Harbor, as do my children and my sister.

However, I noticed last November that everyone in the family received a ballot to vote on the December constitutional amendment referendum except me. Why was that? Because in April of 2016, I became a resident of Montecarlo. And in an uncharacteristic and inexplicable example of Italian bureaucratic efficiency (yes, I really used those two words together), the comune in Montecarlo must have communicated with the consulate in San Francisco, and I was removed from the list of citizens residing abroad.

Does that mean that Lucy can’t get her citizenship by marriage at the consulate any more? I sent the consulate an e-mail, and in another example of efficiency, they answered right away: ‟Your wife cannot apply here if you are not a resident here. The first requirement for the application is the sharing of the residency; therefore your wife can apply in Italy after moving her residence there.”

So, cancel the appointment, transportation and hotel in San Francisco. Start the maze over again in Italy. Luckily, we have just arrived back in Montecarlo, so this is the ideal time to start. The ray of hope I mentioned is that maybe we can somehow complete this process in the next two months. One of the reasons we want Lucy’s citizenship is that it will lower the twice yearly property taxes we must pay. It will also mean that she won’t need to obtain a permesso di soggiorno if she stays in the country for more than three months at a time. Stay tuned for updates in this continuing saga . . .

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Creative title needed for previously unnamed "old-man walk"

Look at these photos and tell me what it should be called
Randall, me and Micah on Steele Street in Tacoma. I have since discovered that I am holding my hands incorrectly. 
What do you call it when people walk with their hands clasped behind their backs? Although everyone has seen someone do it—maybe you’ve even done it yourself—this form of perambulation apparently has no name. And now, it is up to you to help me name it.

Proper hand position demonstrated
by an unknown Italian in Padova.
I called it the old-man walk in my book manuscript, and my editor suggested that name is too vanilla and lacks punch. I gave it that plain title after noting that men of a certain age in Italy often walked with hands joined behind their backs. I’ve since had other people point out that old people in other European countries as well as China, India and Japan also walk this way, so it is probably pretty universal.

My editor gave a few examples, but none of them fit: old man waddle, duck stroll, old dude swagger. I admit that walk is boring and non-specific, but the fact is, the essence of the old-man walk is in the position of the arms and not the gait, so most synonyms for walk just aren’t accurate. It’s not a waddle, swagger, shuffle, march, hike, amble, saunter, tramp or stride. It’s just a normal walk, with hands clasped behind—and there is no one-word term for hands behind the back.

But, wait, doesn’t Google have the answer? After nearly an hour of reading about walking, hand positions, body language and racism (hard to read any online forums without this topic coming up), I learned that there is no name for this type of walking, and that people everywhere are curious about why some people—mostly older people—do it.

Reasons given by those who like to walk this way include: It helps me balance. It’s easier on my back. It helps me think. Other people suggested it signifies dignity, control, power and quiet confidence. An article in said, ‟The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body. Only supremely confident people will place their hands behind their backs in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of students’ desks during tests.”

Prince Charles at a London train station.
The British news magazine Daily Mail wrote: ‟To beat back pain, walk like a royal. For perfect posture, interlink your fingers from each hand behind your back, just like Prince Charles does. This will open up your chest and get your shoulders back and down, reversing the slumping posture many people have while sitting.”

The website Lonerwolf first explains that hands-behind-back is the total opposite of crossing one’s arms over the chest because it ‟exposes the vulnerable chest with its vital organs, stomach, crotch and neck in an attempt to demonstrate fearlessness, superiority and self confidence.” Be careful, the site goes on to add, because there is also a wrong way: ‟If, however, the person doesn’t have their palms over their hand, but instead grips their wrist with the other hand behind their back, it says something completely different. Instead, it displays frustration and self control, as if refraining themselves from using that gripped hand to punch or slap someone.”

An example of proper form.
Okay, getting back to my original problem, what name should I use in my manuscript? I need help. I should digress briefly to mention that a primary school in Great Britain made a rule last year that students must walk in straight lines in hallways with hands clasped behind their backs. The head teacher called it ‟the university walk,” in an attempt to give it an important-sounding name. Parents revolted, pointing out that it made the school seem more like a prison than a school, and many questioned the name because they didn’t see university students walking that way. The head teacher has since resigned and the new school boss dropped the rule. So please, that name has been rejected and is off limits.

I will take nominations for a few weeks, and then I’ll put a survey up. You can nominate terms by making a comment on the blog, my Facebook page or messaging me at Here are a few nominations to get the ball rolling:
Pensioners perambulation
Geezers gait
Old dude swagger (one of my editor’s ideas)
Cock stroll (found this on a forum)

I’m waiting to hear from you.

Monday, December 19, 2016

DNA results show different ethnicity and cousins for brothers and sisters

My DNA results are in, and so are my sister Linda’s. The results are unsurprising in some ways and baffling in others. Overall, one can make a good case that it’s wise to test multiple members of the same family, because the results can be quite different. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given how different children in the same family can be in apearance and personality—but we also show up different cousins, ones that wouldn’t have been detected if only Roger had been tested.

Roger received more Italian genes, and specifically more Spadoni genes. His results show 37% Italy/Greece, 34% Great Britain and 14% Western Europe. Linda is 31% Italy/Greece, 35% Great Britain and 6% Western Europe, while I am 27% Italy/Greece, 11% Great Britain and a whopping 47% Western Europe. I suppose one could make a case that Northern Italy and Western Europe overlap, so in a sense I could have more Italian genes than Roger and Linda.

We have to keep in mind that these results are based on broad statistics of the predominant genetic makeup of people living in these European areas, and much more testing must be done to refine the results. Ten years from now, the database could be much different.

In any event, the most unusual finding, in my opinion, is that some people show up as only sharing DNA with Roger, some only with Linda and others only with me. Roger seems to have more connections on the Spadoni side. Only he shows up as related to 12th cousin Archbishop Anthony Burns and Gregg Matteucci, who has a Palmira Spadoni in his ancestral line. Roger and I both match with 5th cousin Donald Spadoni (the one who was a fire department chief in Chicago), but Linda does not.

I am tied to some people on the Seghieri side (our grandmother) that don’t show up in Roger and Linda’s test results. The most curious match/non-match is third cousin Cindy Krebsbach, the daughter of Joan Seghieri, from the family of Dante Seghieri, who immigrated to Minnesota in 1913. Cindy is also not flagged as a possible cousin for my first cousins Annette and Gary, and second cousins Lita Dawn, Maria and Lennie (granddaughters of Seghiero ‟Jim” Seghieri). I can easily imagine that a 12th cousin would not show up as a match, but why would a 3rd cousin go undetected in the results of so many other obvious cousins? The fact that I do show up discounts the possibility of a non-paternity event.

So far, I’ve created a list of about 20 people who match some of us but not all. For example:
Roger, Linda, I match with C.T., but Annette and Gary (first cousins) do not.
Linda and Gary match with KECISLAND, but Roger, Paul, Annette do not.
Roger is the only match with MRSB1129 (who has a private tree that includes the name Seghieri)
Only Roger and Gary match with L.M., but L.M. matches to E.L., a person we all match with.
AMR matches with Roger, Linda, Paul, Annette, but not Gary
AMR also matches to S.P., a person that Linda and Paul match with.
. . . and so the list goes on, growing each time I sit down for a research session.

Most of the people in our DNA lists are entirely unknown to us. First, because most people list only their initials, so we can’t find out the names unless we contact them through Ancestry’s messaging system—hoping also that they respond. Second, many people don’t have family trees attached to their DNA results, and third, most of those who do go back only two or three generations. So I know we are related to someone with the username malikoparadise, because she shares DNA with Roger, Linda, me and all of my Italian-American first and second cousins, I don’t know how because she has no family tree and has not responded yet to my message, and even if she does, there’s no guarantee we can match family trees. Other people have responded, such as Katie Decker. She’s a DNA match with Roger and Linda, and her family tree goes back to about 1860 in the Lucca area, but it’s not far enough for us to find the documented connection. She and I will work on that in the coming years.

All in all, if one’s been bitten by the genealogy bug, DNA testing is a great way to develop new leads, and the more people in one’s family tested, the more leads there will be. However, if one has a poorly developed family tree, it can prove frustrating. My results show 6,000 people who share enough DNA to be listed as likely cousins. One is a grand niece. Two are known first cousins. Four are known second cousins. Eight are suggested to be fourth through sixth cousins, and I’ve been able to determine the exact genealogical relationship with two of these. Most of the other 5,980+ are just names and initials on a list until we make contact and share information. But that’s certainly enough to feed one’s hobbying for another lifetime.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DNA testing can show distant connections—it’s true

I sent off my Ancestry DNA kit today, and the paperwork included says it will take six to eight weeks to get the results. But meanwhile, I’m entertaining myself by comparing people of Italian ancestry who match my brother’s DNA test. A few days ago, I found another Chicago Spadoni family that we’re related to and have established contact with Donald Spadoni, my fifth cousin once-removed (and he is the third person I know named Donald Spadoni). I hope to find out more about him and his family through continuing correspondence.

Archbishop Anthony Burns
But today I found another Italian connection, and the distance of the relationship really surprised me. The database showed we were related to Anthony JM Burns, archbishop of an offshoot of the Catholic Church. His Ancestry account showed a family tree that went back to Pietro Dini (1844-1918) and Gioconda Spadoni (1848-1925). My prior research in the archives in Pescia, Italy, shows the genealogy of Gioconda. I was surprised to click back into her ancestors and find that our common ancestor was Francesco Spadoni, born in Stignano around 1455, a time-span of more than 500 years.

I’ve read some forums complaining about the supposed false claims that the DNA testing companies make about finding one’s relatives. In actuality, the tests find many relatives—but the real problem is that most of them don’t have well-developed family trees connected to their online profiles, so it’s not possible to find out how they are related. However, some of them do include family trees, like Archbishop Burns, my 12th cousin twice removed. His went back to the mid-1800s, and that was enough for me to make the connection.

I had read that autosomal DNA testing could reveal relationships beyond 500 years, but I don’t know if I really believed it. Well, now I do. The lucky thing is that I’ve done so much research in Italy and built a broad Spadoni family tree. Without that, I never could have made the actual connection to Archbishop Burns.

I was able to look him up on Google and Facebook and was about to write him a note when I discovered, sadly, that he had passed away in June of this year at age 49. One of his brothers posted a note on Anthony’s Facebook page explaining that this would be the last entry because of Anthony’s death. Perhaps I can make contact in the future with this brother or someone else in the family. It’s amazing to me that through genealogy websites and DNA testing, we can find cousins with common ancestors dating back to the Middle Ages.