I have refrained from writing about this until I had my very own. And what could the mystery item be? A car? A motorcycle? A new phone? No, nothing like that. It is in fact the title of this essay, a “Soggiorno.” And what on earth is that? I can explain.
The Italian word “soggiorno” means a “stay” or a “journey.” Anyone who does not hold a European Union passport and who wants to stay (or has been asked to stay!) in Italy longer than three months (or a year in the case of those who obtain an Italian visa before arriving here, usually good for one year), must ultimately acquire an Italian government-issued document, the size and look of a credit card, called a “Soggiorno.” This allows one to stay in Italy for an extended period of time, usually for two years at a stretch.
As of July 20th, 2017, I have my official “Soggiorno” document, good for the next two years. Toward the end of the two years I must apply for an additional two year extension.
It has taken just over six months to obtain the Soggiorno, a long and drawn out process, but still less complicated for something similar in the USA for those coming from other countries for extended stays there.
While obtaining the Soggiorno has been an effort and at times a comedy of errors, reminiscent of a Federico Fellini film, I have tried to remain calm, buoyant and unattached during the process.
To Italy’s credit, the application for a Soggiorno has been streamlined over the past thirty-two years. At that time I also had to obtain the document, valid for the entire three years I was a student here. The work involved then was a bigger headache than this time around.
At that time the Soggiorno document was an oversize sheet of paper with all the pertinent information printed on it. I recall one monk, now an abbot, having his Soggiorno framed and prominently displayed on a wall in his room at Sant’Anselmo where we lived. “This was much harder to obtain than my doctorate degree,” he would explain when asked why he had bothered to have the document framed.
Helpful for religious and clergy today is the possibility of doing the bulk of the Soggiorno process at a modest-sized and fairly tranquil “Questura” (police station), right outside of the Vatican City. Thirty years ago the work had to be done at a huge station, with a lot of noise and confusion prevailing.
The acquisition of the Soggiorno has multiple facets, which include: obtaining a letter from one’s superior and having it verified at the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious; filling out forms and paying fees at an Italian Post Office. Included too, at the Questura station, in addition to presenting the required documents, is an interview and finally fingerprinting.
Also not to be neglected is obligatory attendance at a several-hour long course on “Italian culture,” which I had to do at a school an hour by train outside of Rome! Finally, there was the waiting more than two months for the processing and production of the document before it was actually handed to me. At the momentous occasion, though, one must be fingerprinted again, but this time, just the index fingers. Did I mention the process is a bit time consuming?
With all of the bureaucracy successfully completed, I now am in possession of my very own (I suppose it is technically the Italian government’s) Soggiorno. Pray I don’t lose it!
I am in no way knocking the process, but some of the “you didn’t quite do this application part correctly,” or “you neglected to make this payment,” were comical when they included being told, “please return to our offices another day and hour,” or, “go sit down until instructed to do otherwise.”
The final visit in July to the Questura station near the Vatican took the cake for comedy of errors. This time it involved two religious (I won’t say male or female), who unintentionally provided the entertainment.
The Questura office outside the Vatican is always filled with men and women religious in various and sundry habits as well as seminarians and priests, presumably doing studies or working in Rome as I am, and hence pursuing an extended-stay permit, the famous Soggiorno.
On the occasion of my final visit to the Questura to obtain the “card,” two religious of different Orders (I could see from the habits they wore), who apparently had just met at the Questura, and with a language in common that wasn’t Italian, were having a whale of a conversation, mostly shouting across the length of the waiting room at the Questura. I wondered why they didn’t just move closer to each other if they wished to talk, and then in a subdued voice. But they didn’t do either.
Theoretically there is no problem with such conversations in the Questura, but the officials working in the adjacent room, calling out the numbers of those waiting to be seen, were being drowned out by the lively but basically irritating conversation of the two insensitive religious.
Thankfully someone finally shushed them, to their embarrassment, but at least the numbers being called out by the officials could be heard once again.
I confess to uncharitable thoughts, such as, “these two, (who appeared to be novices in their Order), need a conference on the virtue of silence.” Both seemed to be accompanied by an elder member of their respective communities, who were also visibly embarrassed when the shushing began, and likely gave their juniors a correction sometime after leaving the Questura.
Fortunately the waiting room of the Questura was only occupied by other Catholic, religious and clergy, so no danger of, “I sure am embarrassed to be a Catholic at this time and place.” Actually most people in the room simply laughed once the two religious gave their jaws a rest and sort of apologized to all for their misdemeanor.
Just after that, my number was called. I was asked to make sure the information about me on the Soggiorno card was correct, then my index fingers were scanned and I was handed the card. I was and still am grateful and relieved that this portion of my Italian adventure is completed, at least for two years, having already consumed many hours of my time and energy, as well as money, more than a new phone would cost but less than a motorbike would.
It would have been fun to have had Fellini over the past six months filming the comings and goings to the post office, police office, Vatican offices, a school on the outskirts of Rome, and elsewhere, in order to obtain my Soggiorno.
Now I must obtain a medical card, a sort of insurance policy. I am told it is simpler and more straightforward than the Soggiorno. Let us hope and see.