Yesterday was one of those adventures.
Back in August, when I finally concluded my application for the permesso di soggiorno, or residency permit, at the beloved Via del Mascherino 12, I signed some paper, promising to show up for a 'session of civic formation.' I didn't think much about it at the time; it was so far in the future in terms of my life here in Italy. That day there was an Irish Missionary of Charity there helping some of her sisters make the application. I asked her what this 'session' was all about. She said that it was a class to teach foreigners how to eat spaghetti without cutting it. I was disappointed to find out that this wasn't part of the lessons, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.
I decided that it wasn't a habit day. So off I went in my post-punk shoes and my faded Yankee cap. I took the roundabout bus to the Cornelia subway stop. There I had my first Franciscan encounter of the day. A sister in a beige habit with a Franciscan cord asked me, "is this the side that goes to Termini?"
"Sì," I said, "e pace e bene!"
"Uh...pace e bene, grazie," she managed in an awkward reply, clearly thrown off. More on this issue later.
So I rode the train from Cornelia to Termini, changed trains, and rode Metro B down to St. Paul's Basilica. I figured that Via Ostiense 131/L, where this 'session' was supposed to be, couldn't be too far up from there, and I really wanted to visit the Basilica, which became a sort of spiritual home for me during the three months I lived in Garbatella. There was a big Mass going on, in red. A bishop was presiding. I didn't get close enough to see who it was. The only confessor on duty had a sign outside his confessional: "Italiano." That's short for 'I hear confessions in Italian and only in Italian.' So I did my best to get out an integral confession in Italian. I hadn't been since moving here to the Curia; despite living in a place lousy with priests, the Holy Spirit has not yet revealed to me whom I ought to approach as a confessor. Or maybe I'm resisting. But in any case it had been a while.
I said my penance in front of the altar of the Assumption and took off. I walked through that park that's there and joined the Via Ostiense. Soon I came to the dreaded 131/L. It looked like a bleak place from that start. But I was still early. Who knows how long this will take, I thought to myself; maybe I should eat something. So I kept on going for a bit and ate a terrible kebab. I mean, really disappointing.
After that I walked back to Via Ostiense 131/L and found the line where I would join my fellow foreigners. We showed the forms that we had signed and our passports, and were ushered into a windowless room with chairs, a movie screen, a laptop, and a projector. The guy came in and said, "The presentation is two hours, then a break, then an hour and a half or so. Maybe then you have questions. We should be finished at five and something. I'm sorry if it's a little boring, but this is what the Ministry demands." I was in shock. I had been thinking an hour, maybe two. But four hours, no, this can't be. The place was bleak, indeed. It reminded me of the bunker of an edifice, now demolished, where I spent fifth through eighth grade, the former East Rock Community School. Except dingier.
The video, I have to say, wasn't badly conceived. The presenters were two Italianized foreigners, Constantine (sp?) of I forget where (Greece perhaps, or Croatia?) and the beautiful Alison of Eritrea. I was particularly struck by her recounting that she had come to Italy as an undocumented person, and speaking at times from this perspective, she assured the viewer of those services available in Italy even to undocumented immigrants. I'm not sure, however, how any undocumented person would end up in that room watching the video. Unfortunately the production values weren't very high. Both the presenters were somewhat in need of makeup, a few retakes would have served them well, and not a few of the cuts were oddly placed.
Despite all of the good intentions, it was deadly boring. The first hour was on the Constitution and demographics of Italy. During the part on the presence of various religious attributions, I noted the claim that there were 13,000 pagans in Italy. Insert your own snarky comment. The second hour was on the various documents that matter to foreigners, where to get them, how to apply for them, etc.
After two hours the guy came back, turned on the lights and said, "Brec?," which is Italian for "break?" So fifteen minutes to stretch, run out for coffee, etc. A few didn't come back.
The third hour of the video began with health cards and how to use the national health services. Following that was other services of social assistance. A list was presented, detailing those things for which one could seek social assistance. One of them, I'm not making this up, and I checked my translation with someone, was,
"To feel more involved and not so alone."
I'll keep the number close by.
I have rarely felt so bored and held captive, though one of late sections, on traffic violations and how to retrieve impounded vehicles and appeal traffic tickets to Caesar, was marginally entertaining. During the fourth hour, while the presenters were speaking in great detail on how to register one's children in elementary school, the guy came in and turned the thing off. Nobody complained. Maybe he had pity on us. Maybe he saw the large proportion of priests and religious in the group and guessed that such issues didn't matter so much for us. Maybe he wanted to go home. He called our names, we signed next to them, and were free to go.
I left the sadness of Via Ostiense 131/L at the very end of daylight. I took the 23 bus down to the neighborhood of St. Peter's so I could pick up a couple of little booklets for Mass and prayers for one of the new friars here who is just starting with the Italian. Walking through St. Peter's Square, I saw coming towards me a classic Franciscan sight: a gang of OFMs, complete with satchels and guitars, no doubt on their way to praise the Most High and Glorious God with Franciscan joy.
"Frati Minori! Pace e bene!" I exclaimed, arms outstretched.
One managed a pace e bene in return, though mostly they had that look of, 'oh no, weirdo alert.'
Is it perverse that without my habit on I enjoy making such grand Franciscan greetings, whereas, had I been in my habit I probably would have settled for a sober wave or nod of the head? Is it a sign of some passive aggressive rage I have against this movement with which I have identified myself? It's a curious thing in any case.
From there it was two more buses--the second of which was an hour wait, I know not why--to get home, quite worn out. But I have to say, to pray Vespers all alone and by just the light of a Roman bus stop is a peculiarly wonderful solitude.