In boca al lupo

Rivaling Rocky Balboa, is this next installment of “An Innocent Abroad.” Now, I know some of you have been rather smug, thinking the ordeal of being assaulted by my miscellaneous musings had died a deserving, if not peaceful death. But, proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I am back….

Chapter One: It’s not called that for nothing

For those of you who never opened your history book in school, Rome has been called the “Eternal City,” among other things. I can attest to the veracity of that moniker: new residents (the legal kind) are supposed to register with the local police (“questura”) within eight days of setting foot on this peninsula. We have been here four months, and I am the only one who has had the dubious privilege of having had my fingerprints taken twice (once digitally – so to speak, and once the old-fashioned, ink-on-everything way). Lest you think that four months is just special treatment, I would point out to you, Gentle Reader, that it took nearly a year for us to get the visas to come here in the first place. Rome is called the Eternal City because it takes forever to get anything done.

But, I am getting ahead of myself….

Chapter Two: All Roads Lead to Rome, even the very long ones

When I was told that my services were no longer required in Budapest, I was not also given any idea of what the day after looked like. What was after Budapest? Well, it seemed that it was time to brush off the resume and start knocking on doors; which was part of the rationale behind the visit to Seattle over The Holidays in 2006. However, the phone rang on December 13, telling me that my application to the rep’s position in the Rome Field Service office had been accepted, and that I should start the process of applying for visas and plan on arriving June 1, 2007.

Talk about a Merry Christmas! After having read Latin in high school and learning more than Russell Crowe about Roman generals, I have dreamed of Italy. The Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom saw to it that I spent a considerable time on terra firma during my Med Cruise of 1981. Yeah, it was all true; especially the food. Then, years of famine. Years of dreams and no action, despite being in Norway for three years, then Hungary….

Hungary? Yep, I spent forty-four months in Budapest after Beijing, Shenyang, and Ulaanbaatar – which was after Bucharest, and “Drum Bum” which started this travelogue. Some of you will recall my missives from Mongolia. Nope, no correspondence from China, so you didn’t miss anything. I finally landed in Budapest in January 2004; and, when I left, I shook the dust off my feet.

Where was I?

Oh yeah: So, Nara and I spent Christmas 2006 in Seattle (didn’t need to look for a job, after all), and then two weeks in January in Miami (777 school) – damn the bad luck, and then two weeks in Tulsa (MD-80 school) – talk about payback! Back in Budapest, we started the visa application process.

Could there be anything more painful? Maybe passing a kidney stone the size of a basketball. The visa service hired by my employer never did figure out that Nara and Anuka were Mongolians, not Chinese. Of course, their confusion was understandable since we had to go to Beijing to get the Italian visas. Uh huh, right. But, that was after they insisted that the three of us stay in Budapest until the visas were issued; somehow conveniently forgetting that the Hungarians never did grant Anuka a visa, and so she wasn’t with Nara and me. Did I mention that our Hungarian residence permits expired the end of September? Oh, sorry, minor detail.

There we are: we can’t stay in Hungary, we can’t go to Italy. We could have gone to the States (Nara got a ten-year visa about four years ago), but Anuka didn’t have a visa. For those of you that can read faster than I can type, you’ve already guessed we went to Ulaanbaatar – which actually makes perfect sense (well, in this saga, “anything goes” pretty well became the theme).

Chapter Three: Back in the USSR

No, not really; but, the official language of Mongolia is written with a version of the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet. Although the city of Ulaanbaatar has really grown over the years since I lived there, it is still a hard place to live, and there we sat until the Italians issued the summons to apply for Nara’s and Anuka’s visa. I kept busy rewiring Nara’s mother’s clinic, building shelves, and generally trying to keep away from the table. Nara was enjoying her family (of course). And Anuka was trying to figure out who I am (still is, but at thirteen years old, she’s only just embarked on that journey – UPDATE: she’s 18 now, has graduated from high school, and has absolutely no use for me; i.e., a typical teenager). And sat. And sat. Longer than the rains fell on Noah’s pate we sat. No, not until the cows came home; just until the snow began to fall.

Met a wonderful Roman Catholic priest there, so the time wasn’t a total loss.

Chapter Four: The Road to Rome goes through Beijing

The Italians don’t have a diplomatic mission in Mongolia, so their embassy/consulate in Beijing handles visa applications for Mongolians. But, while staying in Mongolia was free (with Nara’s family), staying in Beijing in a hotel was not (can we say, “ka-ching”?). Eventually, we got the magic piece of paper, and booked a flight to Peking (or, Beijing – just wondering if you were still paying attention). Of course, we couldn’t have a flight just into the PRC; they (and everybody else) frowns on people with one-way tickets, so I had to guess how long the actual processing in Beijing would take, and decide on when the flight from Beijing to Rome should be. In the year this whole thing took, that was the one choice that was pretty well spot on: nine days. Great, tickets in hand (ULN-PEK-FCO), we embarked.

My long time (long-suffering?) readers will be scratching their heads thinking this all sounds so deja-vu-all-over-again. While I was scratching another part of my corpus, this did seem like a replay of the first time I left UB, back in 2003 – on my way to Europe that time, too. Even to staying in the Holiday Inn Lido Hotel (I never have figured out where in Beijing the hotel is located). Unfortunately, the Holiday Inn got rid of the cute little “Italian” restaurant in the interim; but, we had more than one meal at “Texan” – you can guess the cuisine.

I was afraid we’d have to settle for Peking Duck for Thanksgiving (seems so un-American, doesn’t it?), but the hotel came through with…well, not honestly sure; but, there was lots of it (no, I did not notice a sudden absence of cats and dogs on the city streets). Remember that we were supposed to have been in Rome by June 1? At this point, “Christmas in China” was looking like a distinct possibility.

Chapter Five: Your Papers are not in Order

Sorry, I skipped a little something. Documentation. Well, not a “little” thing. Not really.

You see, in order to apply for the Italian family visa, we needed a few pieces of paper. We needed all documents notarized and translated into Italian. Or, was that “translated into Italian, and then notarized”? That depends on whether you’re standing on your left leg or your right. And, of course, not just anybody would do either. No, that would have been far too simple.

The Italian consulate was resolute: not just anybody could translate the marriage and birth and adoption certificates. Oh no. Only one company in UB could do that. UB? You mean the company in Budapest – the one and only company in all of Hungary that was permitted to do this sort of thing – couldn’t manage that? Nope. No sirree. Keeping in character, the visa service that was “in charge” (it pains me to put “visa service” and “in charge” in the same sentence – it implies competence), somehow neglected to get the name of the one – the one and only – company in all of UB that the Italians in Beijing would accept a translation from.

Yes Virginia, finding out that the translations had to be done in UB came after we had already had the translations and the notarizations done in Budapest. The Hungarians do a really fine job of making pretty documents, though; thinking of framing them and hanging them on the living room wall. Worthless, but pretty.

So, in May, Nara flew back to UB, had the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs notarize the three documents, then had them translated into Italian, then flew to Beijing and had the Mongolian Consulate notarize them, then had the Italian consulate take a look. Then, she flew back to Budapest – after a month in Seattle for my annual Home Leave. Did I forget Anuka? Nope: I had to fly to UB to apply for a US visa for her (yes, I had to be physically present at the US Consulate in UB to apply for her visa; what a crock) – for her first ever trip out of Mongolia; but, that’s a different story.

Chapter Six: “I’m confused: your wife and daughter don’t have US passports.”

You know I’m not making this up: I’m an engineer with a severe case of The Knack. We finally get to the Italian consulate in Beijing (after going to the wrong building to apply for the family visa – courtesy of the visa service which ‘was in charge’) where the consular officer (clerk?) didn’t understand why Nara and Anuka didn’t have US passports, since the computer showed them to be US citizens. Huh? Would we be in Beijing if they were? No, we’d already be in Italy.

Way back, months ago, like, I don’t know, April, May, something, some clerk in Italy gave Nara and Anuka US citizenship. How the clerk did that, looking at copies of Mongolian passports, I really don’t want to try to guess. Nara’s name was spelled correctly, but not her nationality (and nobody is going to believe there is a statistical possibility of spelling “Narangerel” correctly). But, The Computer in Beijing said they were US citizens, and all the paperwork in our possession to the contrary couldn’t persuade the clerk otherwise (including the actual Mongolian passports).

The consular officer, however, did believe us – maybe it was the deer-in-the-headlights look of utter disbelief – apparently believed Nara and Anuka really were Mongolian citizens; but, you know, The Computer said…. What to do? Contact Alitalia and have them contact the Italian police and have them make the correction. Contact Alitalia? That’s like grabbing on to the anchor of a sinking ship (at that time Italy’s flag carrier had about three weeks of cash left). How long will it take? Days, weeks, months. What should we do? Go back to Mongolia and wait.

“Our” plane to Rome left two days later. Yes, we were on it.

By the way, “In boca al lupo” is the Italian version of “good luck.”

(The above was originally written in April, 2008 – before I had even heard about “blogs”.)

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