Weeks 79 through 83

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Apart from the terrifying accident that happened last week, we did manage a bit of a vacation. This weekend was Easter weekend, which is a huge holiday in much of Europe, Italy included. Because of the accident, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it to Trieste, as we had planned. Fortunately, the whiplash wasn’t so bad and I have few other injuries so we managed to go after all. We wandered around the center of Trieste itself on Saturday evening, enjoying the churches, Grand Canal, and pier. On Sunday, we took bus line 6 to Miramare, a lovely castle on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic sea (where I fell in love with a lizard, and stood taking pictures of him for like forever). Finally on Sunday, we took bus line 42 to Grotta gigante, a huge cave full of stalagmites, with a massive cavern over 100m high. In total we had one full day and two half days in Trieste, and I feel like this is enough to see the main sights, though in our case we missed a couple things due to my recovery.

Costs:
  • €235 – rent
  • €55 – internet
  • €30 – phone
  • €30 – garbage
  • €163 – groceries
  • €172 – trip to Trieste
  • €130 – aerial silks
  • Total: €825
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The Accident

I vaguely remember going down the sidewalk on the street to aerial. I guess I was trying to catch up to my friend ahead, and didn’t see the car as I went through an intersection. Thankfully, I always wear a helmet (Europeans don’t always do this and I think it’s insane), and thankfully, my friend heard the accident. She called the ambulance. They put my neck in a brace and I have a funny picture of that, but I don’t remember any of it. From my perspective, I woke up around 1am with my husband next to me and my friend at the foot of the bed. They told me I had been in an accident. It turns out, I had been awake the whole time asking the same questions over and over, unable to keep the answers in my head. Some pieces of memories have returned, but in the end, I still  remember very little. My head and neck hurt (my husband said I had whiplash) and I had some bad bruises where I must have fallen.

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Hospital lunch.

I slept badly– they kept waking me up to do various tests throughout the night and morning: blood pressure, cardiogram, and maybe more. The paperwork says they did a CAT scan when I came in, which showed negative for brain injuries. In the morning, they offered me a tiny breakfast of biscuits with jam and tea, and at lunch I got a small helping of plain oriechietti pasta with olive oil and parmesan, and a baked apple (safe foods I suppose). My husband kept me company the whole time, only leaving to get a few supplies, and my Italian friends came while he was out, so I never had to be alone. It was really nice knowing that there were people looking out for me.

I was afraid of the cost of all of this, but at the start of the year, I paid around 300 euro for a bunch of bureaucracy, including health insurance. Since I now have the usual national Italian health insurance, the healthcare was entirely free.

On the other hand, car repairs aren’t free. I met with the woman from the accident yesterday evening, and had a rather long conversation in mostly Italian with her and her husband. They didn’t quite believe that I didn’t remember what happened. I understand why that might sound fishy, but it’s true in this case.

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The dent my head made in the car.

Anyways, the lady seemed mostly like a reasonable person trying to get paid for car fixes. Her husband, on the other hand, was kind of a dick. He wasn’t there during the accident, and he spoke very poor English compared to the lady, and yet he felt the need control the conversation from the outset and to ‘splain to me everything that happened there, in particular underscoring the importance of the giant dent my head made in the car (nevermind about my head, by the way). He further proceeded to ‘splain to me how American insurance works and that it would pay for the accident– even after I said multiple times that I do not have American insurance, and that even if I did, it wouldn’t work the way he thought. Perhaps he was under the mistaken impression that I was a frightened American college student willing to write a blank check to make the situation go away? That is not the case. He obviously thought he deserved to be in control of this situation, which he had literally nothing to do with. It took me some 10 repetitions of “I need documentation of the incident before I can do anything,” to shut him down. I was only polite, but I was willing to repeat the same thing a million times if that’s what it took. He eventually gave up and started smoking like a chimney instead.

After that, I was finally able to talk to the actual adult in the room (the lady from the accident), and we figured out what we have to do next, starting with her calling the police to get information about the documents I need. It also helped that one of my friends who was at the accident showed up at just the end of the conversation by complete luck (it’s a small town). My friend and the lady talked in Italian and came to much the same conclusions that had already been decided upon. Although no new information had been exchanged, the lady and her condescending husband seemed to finally accept that they were probably going to get what they wanted and we parted ways.

It’s possible I was in the wrong (though once again, I don’t actually remember anything at all), in which case, I might have to pay, but I’m waiting for all the police statements now. Hopefully some impartial passersby saw what actually happened. I do have some personal liability insurance through LCT (Dr. Walter travel insurance), and my hope is that this gets reimbursed, if I do have to pay. The dent my head made in the car was huge, and the repairs will likely be expensive.

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The memory of the beautiful visage of the lizard from Trieste keeps me going.

Update (12.04.2018):

Today was stressful in many ways. I want to describe my day just a little, so as to set the scene for what is to come. Firstly, I realized yesterday that my bike wheel had been bent in the accident, and I had to pick it up from repairs today (annoying errand number one). Also, I got the most terrible rope burn on the back of my knee from learning a new aerial drop, and didn’t get much sleep last night from the pain, which also makes walking difficult. I did have some American disinfectant cream (Neosporin) lying around, but this morning I had to go to a pharmacy to pick up other wound dressings (annoying, and painful, errand number two). Finally, my glasses also broke the day before yesterday, and my backup pair actually give me some headaches, as do contacts when working in front of the computer. So I’m struggling against that, while also trying to find time to go to an optometrist (another thing I have to learn to do in Italian now). So with all of these small annoyances going on in my life, I needed to brace myself to face the Italian bureaucratic system, yet again. Today, I would be dealing with the carabinieri (military trained police, as opposed to polizia di stato, who are the civilian state police– I’m not entirely sure where their duties overlap or diverge).

Friday of last week, I went to the carabinieri to try to get a statement of what happened during the accident. I had to wait an hour (which made me miss the last train before the 2hr morning break in trains) to receive a piece of paper stating that there was an accident and who was involved. This was not a statement of what actually happened though. I was told to return today at 18:00 for that.

So today I went to pick up the statement of what happened. I arrived at 18:00, as I was told, but of course, I expected things to not be ready. Indeed, I ended up waiting around an hour in the office of who I assume might be an important head guy, because he had the nicer jacket with the most number of stripes. There were 3 people dealing with me. This head guy, another lower ranking guy, and an English-speaking one. That was nice of them to provide the English speaking one, because he was able to more quickly make me understand what they wanted from me, namely, a copy of my insurance.

The head guy was pretty outgoing, and talked to me at length about his home, Licata, Sicilia– the warm weather, the lovely beaches, the food. He asked me a bit about myself, and talked a bit about his take on Italian culture vs. German culture (since the North used to be a primarily Germanic region, people tend to have strong opinions about this). However, his home seemed to be the only thing he was really interested in talking about. With nothing much else to do while waiting, I did my best to engage him in my mediocre Italian; I guess it made a good practice session. In the end I ventured to ask “Lei piace vivere qui? (Do you like living here?)” He considered this question for a moment and answered with some lamentation “Ti abitui (You get used to it).” Clearly, he had not really gotten used to it.

Finally, almost an hour later, the other guys came back with the statement I had been waiting for. They told me that in order to receive it, I needed to go to the tabacchi to buy five marche da bollo for 0.26 euro each. By the way, these are some sort of revenue stamp that makes documents official, though I have no idea what the cost and amount you need are based off of, and I also couldn’t tell you why the tabacchi are the ones to sell them (just as the tabacchi are the ones to sell bus passes). I went to the tabacchi, but the guy there told me that their Internet was down, meaning they couldn’t create the stamps for me. He told me I would have to go to another tabacchi about 5 minutes away to do it. I walked there slowly, dealing with the stinging pain from the abrasion on my leg, but they told me they can’t give me marche da bollo for a lesser value than 1 euro. They realized, before I mentioned it, that it was the carabinieri who sent me on this mission, and expressed their frustration that the carabinieri don’t know by now that no one sells marche da bollo for less than 1 euro. I really didn’t want to argue over a few bucks at this point (and my Italian isn’t good enough to do so anyway), so I just asked them to give me five 1 euro ones.

I returned to the carabinieri, with hope in my heart that this horrible process would soon come to an end, only to find that everyone who had helped me earlier seemed to have vanished. The head person who was on duty now didn’t know anything about me, and was much less friendly than the Sicilian. He told me the office was closed. Apparently, the office closes at 19:00 and no one who had been working with me before had thought to mention this neither to me, nor to the people who would relieve them at their posts. I tried explaining the situation, but I speak Italian slowly, and I kept getting interrupted (frustratingly, this happens a lot to me in general, since Italians tend to have a short pause indicating turn-taking in conversations). I must have seemed really desperate, because finally, he told me to wait while he yelled to the back office. Luckily, one of the guys who had helped me earlier was still there after all, and he was able to finally get me sorted out, though not before I requested he correct my residency information on the paperwork, for which he needed to contact Anagrafe (the municipal bureaucratic office).

One and a half hours later, I could finally go home. I had missed stopping by the optometrist’s office since they were closed by now, and I couldn’t bear to walk anymore, so I failed to complete some other smaller errands I wanted to do today.

Weeks 73 through 78

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The view outside my window at work (in Povo) last week.

The last couple of months have gone by really fast. It’s been cold and snowing, which has been quite lovely, but I am certainly looking forward to spring. This month, I started my new internship at FBK, I took an intensive Italian language course, and I’ve been training my aerial silks skills as well.

At work, my main project deals with understanding the speech of second language learners. In the Trentino area, there is an examination company which administers English proficiency exams to Italian high school students. The goal of the project is to write a program which recognizes the spontaneous speech of the students, and to give their answers a grade similar to the way a teacher would grade them. The difficulty of the project as a whole comes from the fact that we have relatively little data of the students, they are speaking with an Italian accent, and the teachers’ grades may not always be consistent.

There are further difficulties that I’ve encountered in my own work. Firstly, I’m constantly fighting with Kaldi (an open source speech recognition toolkit). It’s basically written in C++ and shell script. I have to admit to you now, that I haven’t worked much with compiled languages in general, and certainly not C++. Fortunately, I haven’t had to dig too deeply in that part of the code yet. In terms of the shell scripting, well, it gets rather messy in Kaldi. I’m certainly getting a lot more comfortable with the linux command line now, although I feel that might be a never ending process.

A few weeks ago, I started attending an intensive Italian language course. The language courses here are organized by the CEFR levels, but they further split each section into two parts. When I first came to Italy, I took a placement test, and skipped straight into level A2a. It was a little bit higher than I was necessarily comfortable at, but I find that that’s a good way to learn quickly. During the next round of intensive courses, there was no A2b (the next level) available, so the teachers let me skip straight into B1a. This was again a fair bit harder than I was entirely comfortable at, but the course was actually really good. We got a lot of practice speaking, so I began to feel like I could start making proper sentences. I still feel pretty far behind in terms of grammar, but I am at least able to reason about it, if not speak it properly in the heat of the moment. The main difficulty I had with the course was that I had to wake up super early to get to work early so that I could leave early for the course. I didn’t have much time to eat after lunch, and sometimes I went straight to aerial silks even after Italian!

Speaking of aerial, I’ve been practicing 2-3 times a week (trying to get closer to a consistent 3 times now), and I have really begun to see improvement. The week before last, I couldn’t hardly do an inversion, except from the ground with a bit of a jump. Now I’m able to get into them in the air, if I give it a bit of a swing. It still looks all wonky, since I really can’t keep my legs straight while doing it, and I still struggle to throw my legs back at the very end so I end up sort of awkwardly catching the silks with my feet and bent legs, but I am seeing progress. Now I need to work on flexibility and lifting the weight of my straight legs (rather than bent legs) during inversions. This last Sunday, I learned my first drops– three different ones!

I really like the feeling of achieving new things in aerial. It’s nice to know that something that I couldn’t do yesterday, has become routine today. It’s really cool to feel like I can hold myself up in the air long enough to start playing around and experimenting with the silks. It’s also nice to work with people who are better than you in the class, because you can see what you’re working towards. All in all, this is one of the most fun things going on right now.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €31 – trash fee
  • €50 – utilities/internet
  • €21 – phone
  • €167 – groceries
  • €6 – dining
  • €30 – education (text book)
  • €21 – gym
  • €5 – video games
  • €180 – train tickets, souvenirs, etc. in Venice
  • Total: €736

Carnevale

Last weekend, we visited Carnevale in Venice. I have to say, there was remarkably less public drunkenness than last time, in Cologne, but there were a lot more people. It was like a giant Renaissance Faire style costume party. The costumes ranged from a cheap 5 euro mask, to elaborate home made cosplay level get ups. I couldn’t help but buy a hand painted paper maché mask for myself, while my husband stuck with a cheaper plastic one with the giant plague-doctor style nose.

Venice is such an amazing city– it’s just like in the stories! Tiny streets spider out from the center, alongside narrow canals filled with gondolas and motorboats. Little arched bridges make a criss-crossing latticework over the canals, while constricting alleyways cut between the tall buildings, sometimes passing through low tunnels or under arched building supports. It’s claustrophobic right up until you reach Piazza San Marco, a wide plaza marked by a huge tower, an intricate basilica and a 24-hour Roman numeral clock, and which opens up to the Piazzetta di San Marco, which holds the palace. The Piazzetta in turn opens up to the main thoroughfare of Venice, the Grand Canal, where ferry boats snake their way around the entire city center, bussing people to the main hubs like the Piazza and the train station. There are no automobile roads.

If you had told me all of this, even if you had shown me pictures, I still don’t think I could have properly imagined this intricate city. Visiting during Carnevale was an amazing experience, in particular, as the whole city turns into one joyful party, but I look forward to returning during a calmer time as well, when there’s more time to see the sights.

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Officialization 10: Health Insurance

Antifa street art in Bologna.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance <– You are here

Health Insurance

I paid for the Italian national health insurance for 2018 when I was first applying for my stay permit. Now that I received my stay permit, it was time to actually sign up for the insurance.

This is done at yet another government office, separate from the others, called the Agenzia Sanitaria. I received a copy of the form called Azendia Provinciale per i Servizi Sanitari, which I had to fill out from the Welcome Office at school, but they neglected to tell me the Italian name or full address of the office. Without the Italian name, I had some trouble googling the location, but I finally found it at Via S. Giovanni Bosco 6 in Rovereto.

Upon arrival, I found the Anagrafe Sanitaria in the Segreteria’s office on the left hand side. It’s good that I came right as they opened because the line grew very quickly behind me. Once I got to the window, the lady asked me for my documents:

  • passport
  • permesso di soggiorno (stay permit)
  • proof of payment of health insurance (long top of a paper from the post office)
  • codice fiscale
  • iscrizione (proof of university enrollment)
  • the name of a local general practitioner doctor that will become your main doctor (if you don’t know one, I think they provide you with some options, but it’s better to find someone who speaks English ahead of time)

I had to scramble for some of the items, but since I have taken to carrying all of my documents to every government office every time, I ended up having everything with me. As for the name of the doctor, I got that from a friend who had been to one that apparently speaks English. I have never been there before, so I hope that when I have to go for my thyroxine medication, it all goes smoothly.

However, as the lady started to look up my information from the codice fiscale, something went wrong with her system. She started talking to her colleague, who pulled in another colleague, and another, and soon, everyone was all in a flurry, trying to help this lady figure out her system. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but apparently the problem had to do with the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union (before its collapse), but my passport and documents all say I was born in Russia. Somehow, this impeded the creation of some sort of internal code or something like that. A frustrating 15 minutes later, they had finally figured out how to reconcile the difference. They gave me a certificate confirming my enrollment and a paper with the doctor’s hours, and I was done. However, because of this slowdown, I missed my last train to work before the 2 hour break in trains.

I would like to point out that it has been 5 months out of the 12 that I intend to stay here, and I am only now finishing some of this process for myself, and I still have follow ups to do with my husband. By the way, my permesso di soggiorno was actually expedited so 5 months should actually be considered faster than normal.

Polizia dei trasporti

I was on the train home today, and I sat somewhere in the center of the semi-empty car. As I was getting comfortable, four African guys came and sat in the seats a little ahead of me, and started talking boisterously in their native language(s) as the train got moving.

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In a couple of minutes, a couple of burly looking police officers started approaching from the far end of the car with a conductor in tow, and the African guys quieted down. One of them started looking particularly worried. The police officers passed the Africans and came into my section of the car. They stopped there, and waited. The conductor asked for the tickets of everyone in turn on the far side of the car. I pulled mine out in preparation, but as the conductor approached the African guys, the police officers jumped up to lean on the seats just behind them.

The conductor asked for their tickets, and someone of them pulled some out for the conductor to examine, saying they were going to Verona; however, something was wrong. The conductor glanced at the police officers every now and then as he patiently explained that the tickets weren’t valid. I couldn’t tell if he was emboldened by their presence, or if he was made uneasy by it. The guys started protesting, asking why the tickets weren’t valid, and the conductor explained it once again, slowly. He asked them if they could produce valid tickets. When it was clear that they couldn’t, he asked them to pay.

They protested again at being asked to pay, insisting that their tickets should be valid. “It’s always like this,” replied the conductor, explaining the normal procedure for buying tickets. “Now you don’t have tickets, so you need to pay for the ride to Rovereto. Then you can get off and buy your tickets to Verona.”

Again the protests: “But we will be late if we get off at Rovereto to change trains!”

“You being late is not our problem. That’s your problem, because you don’t even have the tickets to Rovereto. Now you need to buy them. You’ll have to get off at Rovereto. You need to pay for the tickets. It’s 7 euro.”

“7 euro! Why 7 euro? It’s 4.50 at the train station!”

“It’s more when you pay on the train. So you need to pay 7 euro.”

Now the protests began in full. Some of the guys raised their voice to each other, either asking each other for money, or formulating some sort of other plan to get around the fee. Others continued arguing with the conductor about the cost. Five minutes or so passed, and the police officers were getting visibly annoyed.

“Alright, if you pay 4.50, I will sell you the tickets,” said the conductor, finally, seeing that there was no way he was going to get the 7 euro out of them.

“What about 2 euro,” asked one of the guys.

“The cost is 4.50 per person,” insisted the conductor.

“Hurry up!” yelled one of the police officers. “Are you going to pay?”

One of the guys started rifling for some change, but it was clear he didn’t have enough, or wasn’t going to offer enough. So the conductor asked for the guys’ identification.

Once again protests, once again asking for the price, haggling on the price, pretending not to understand. The one guy who had looked particularly worried before supplied his I.D. card. The others continued talking loudly.

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“Enough!” yelled the police officer, “I need to see your I.D. now.”

The guy he had addressed pulled out his card. The police office came to the seats right in front of me, and took a phone picture of it before handing it back, and asking the second guy.

“Alright, wait, wait,” said the second guy.

“Don’t you tell me to wait! I wait for nothing. Let’s go. Your I.D., right now!”

The guy handed him a card. The police officer took a picture of it, and then came right back over to the guy, and yelled, “I said give me your I.D! Are you trying to make a fool out of me? You know I will take you to the station.”

The guy seemed scared enough now, and pulled out a paper document with his information. The police officer took a picture of that one too.

The other guys seemed to realize that this was serious now. One of them started asking the conductor again about the validity of the ticket he had, either feigning or actually showing his misunderstanding. Another said he was getting the money; he would pay.

At this point, the train started approaching Rovereto, and I had to get to the doors to get off. As I exited the train, I heard some commotion behind me. The guy who had paid was running towards his friend, who had exited the train from a different car, explaining what had happened. Two of the other guys seemed to be leaving without more incident. The last guy– the one who had tried to “make a fool” of the police officer– was being flanked by the two officers, perhaps being lead away to the station.

In the end, I was never asked for any tickets.


It’s rather blatant racial profiling. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. Last time it also happened to an African guy and a Middle Eastern guy. The police officers come in, and trap the guys between them and the conductor. The rest of the people on the train never get asked for tickets, as long as they look white enough.

On the other hand, it is true that a lot of the Africans are the ones without the tickets. They are also the ones that are boisterous on the trains and in the streets. They are the ones that try to force cheap bracelets and selfie-sticks on unsuspecting tourists, and who follow you around until you walk far enough away, or yell at them, or give in. Possibly, the Africans try to weasel out of buying tickets so hard, because they don’t have the money to afford them. I think the whole train tickets thing might be a ruse to try to rustle out the illegal immigrants– those who came here through some sort of pyramid scheme created by the distributors of the cheap trinkets.

But the police mainly only target the Africans.

Officialization 9: Residenzia

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Neptune in Bologna.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia <— You are here
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance

Residenzia

I finally picked up my permesso di soggiorno (stay permit) in the middle of December, and this time it was correct. My husband also received his paper that says his permit is on the way. Along with my permit, I was given a paper that said that I had to go to anagrafe (municipal office) to register as a resident within 60 days. For this, I needed my:

  • passport
  • permesso di soggiorno (stay permit)
  • lease with official contract registration
  • marriage license

Since I am married, I was supposed to show them my official marriage certificate. Unfortunately, when we got married, the courthouse in Portland gave us only an official stamped copy of our marriage certificate. We have an official translation of this document but it’s not good enough. Apparently, the certificate has to have an apostille stamp on it, certifying its officialness. We never had one of these. Without this, once it’s my husband’s turn to register, he will only be considered as a cohabitator of some sort. In the meantime, the lady put my marriage status as unknown, so that once we get ahold of this apostille stamped document, we can make the change. Now we are waiting for that to come in the mail from the US.

In any case, after going to the office and doing all of this, I got a postcard in the mail from the polizia locale (local police office). They requested that I contact them in regards to the resident registration– they send a police office to make sure you actually live there. It took me 3 tries to talk to someone who I could more or less understand. In the end, an appointment was made at my apartment at 8:30am. They showed up at 8:00am, took a look at our passports and stay permits, wrote down some information from my lease, and left. They were both actually really nice, though we didn’t talk much, since we had trouble understanding each other.

So yea, apparently when you register, a police officer has to come to make sure you aren’t taking advantage of the system.