December 3, 2009
For a year my showers were icy, my radiators cold. The new Renzo Piano stovetop just sat there, shiny and useless. I’d filed a dichiarazine and oodles of other papers, had a friend fake signatures and make phone calls when I wasn’t in town, shelled out €450 in utility fees at the post office, lost hours in grouchy mobs hoping for face time with a bureaucrat. I fawned, flirted, cajoled, and sobbed. After each trauma I self-medicated with chocolate.
Then one fine day in October, Enelgas—like God Almighty—said Let There Be Gas.
The experience soured me on bureaucrats, known here as fannuloni, slackers.
But I could no longer put off a visit to the dreaded water office, l’ufficio idrico. It was time to fess up that I hadn’t paid a centesimo for water since buying the house in 2007, nor even reported a change of ownership.
I take a number, A30, and wait. The slip of paper in my fist bears no relation to what’s flashing on the wall monitor, F6.
“Non funziona,” says a farmer in from the countryside. The crowd swells. We take matters into our own hands and politely number off.
Finally seated at the sportello, I’m shooed away. You must, says the woman, purchase a marca di bollo at the tabacchaio, then proceed to the post office to pay another fee. Which I do. Back at the water office, my bureaucrat pulls out a form from a cracked blue folder and writes the date. “Friday the 13th!” she says. “A lucky day!” (Just goes to show how topsy-turvy things are here.) The clock above her head is running ninety minutes fast.
I hand over my passport, my codice fiscale, and my water meter reading. Clickety-clack goes her keyboard.
“Our computer does not accept your name.”
“There is no key for J.” She fusses and gripes and stares at the screen. “And no key for H.”
She calls over the boss. After much ado, he locates the problematic letters. The printer whirrs, spitting papers onto the floor.
The name is spelled wrong; the date of birth incorrect. Corrections are made; the printer whirrs again. More signatures required.
“Are things the same in America as here?” my bureaucrat asks.
“Well, there’s less paperwork there.”
This produces a sudden outburst. “O, siamo maestri della bureaucrazia!” We are the maestros of bureaucracy.
An understatement, seems to me. I slink out of the office across Piazza San Giovanni to Caffè Italia, where I calm myself with a chocolate eclair and hot chocolate thick as pudding.