The waiting room at the Italian Consulate's office is briefly mentioned in Dante's Inferno as the first circle of hell (limbo). There may or may not be some irony as to its location in the Tourists' Section of the city. If you should ever need to enter that room, a room that exists only in bad film noirs, you must bring every possible item you can think of above and beyond what the consulate has asked in exchanged for your visa. People sit nervously in hard plastic chairs, surrounded by boxes and boxes of their belongings in hopes of having the correct ones. Bring the deed to your house, your report card from fourth grade, a year's list of grocery receipts and seven pieces of junk mail. No matter what you bring, it will not be enough; it will not be correct; you will be dismissed. This is our second trip to this room.We are loaded down with our son's baby shoes and our dog's favorite chew toy. I have some old textbooks, a box of greeting cards, and coupons to Target. We will not be turned away. We have had a star named after the overweight Italian woman behind the counter.
There will be an Indian family whose polite patriarch will try again and again to give the woman behind the bullet proof glass his itinerary. One of his sons sits slumped in an ill-fitting suit, speaking disrespectful teenage-ease to his mother, and the other son slurps down Activia yogurts. With no spoon. It sprays across the back of his hand like a snot-filled sneeze. Although he will lick it off, some will cling to the four hairs he is growing from his chinney chin chin.
They will be sent away. No soup for them.
There will be an African man trying to enter Italy for his daughter's wedding. He does not have the correct change necessary for a visa and the CONSULATE DOES NOT PROVIDE CHANGE. Despite all of the waiting room juggling through purses and wallets, we cannot come up with the exact change he needs. He is banished.
There will be an excited American couple who have rented their home in Virginia, rented a home in Italy, and enrolled their three children in an Italian school. They will begin their Italian life in August. The woman behind the glass is suspicious. How can they do this? How will they support themselves? They trip over each other in their delight to explain they are taking a year off to travel the Italian country. They have the requisite $100,000 to pay for their visas. The Guard of Visas is not happy. Faced with her silence, the husband opens his mouth to convince her of their plan. He explains that he owns his own business. If need be, he can work for his American clients over the Internet. Checkmate. He has now threatened to take away a job from an Italian. How do they know he will not enter Italy and try to work? He must apply for a new visa, a working visa. This will take 4 months to process. Their plane tickets and house rentals begin in a month and a half. No amount of arguing on their behalf saves them. The man tries speaking Italian. They are dismissed, the wife in tears of frustration. We wish we could help them. We all know it's the husband's fault.
A beautiful girl, dressed in the type of matching velour sweatsuit worn by JLO when she dated Puff Daddy before he became PDiddy, is there to pick-up her passport. Nothing has gone wrong. Her passport is there. "Muchos grazie," she says to the Italian woman. It is very lucky that the girl is already clutching her passport. The Italian Consulate Woman does not like the mixing of Spanish and Italian. Her nostrils flare and the magenta stripes in her hair quiver with indignation.
And then there is just us.
We have now been there for over two hours. The office closed at 12:00. It is 12:45. At any minute a steel gate will close and we will be sent away. Our son will be getting home from school, getting off the bus in 3 hours. We still have a 2 1/2 hour drive.
Mike approaches the glass. I stand to his right and slightly behind. It seems safer. "I promise we'll be fast," Mike says to her, The Woman Behind the Glass. And the Guard, the Gargoyle of the Church of Italy, preventing all evil foreigners from entering the country looks up. She has several rings on every finger and enough necklaces to earn the respect of Mr. T. She has a nose ring the size of a grandmother's clip-on earring. She is anywhere between 75 years of age and dead. And she laughs, displaying a mouth filled with gold teeth. She laughs. Hints of magic fairy dust glimmer in the air as Mike waves his hands. It appears there may be a rainbow in a halo around his head. She is smiling, and it is not in anticipation of denying our entry into Italy.
She looks at our passports and senior portraits and last year's Christmas card. She taps the picture of our son with one very long nail. "He is cute," she says. "He looks like you,"she says to Mike. She smiles at me as well, perhaps because I was the vessel for the child who looks like Mike.
"You have been to Roma?" she asks. We don't know the right answer. Our passports say yes, but should we say no?
"Are you from Rome?" Prince Charming Charming-est asks, wisely choosing to answer a question with a question.
"No, I am from Milan,"she replies. "But you will like Roma. All of Italy...it is the best. You will love. So much culture; so much to do. So beautiful and the food.You will enjoy your life."
Mike speaks to her in Italian. She laughs. The cleaners are vacuuming the floor around us, waiting for us to be dismissed. We have made it to the final round. She adds up our visa fees. We have three money orders for the same amount as instructed by the Italian Consulate Office.
There is a problem. Our son is half price. Our money order is for too much money. They do not provide change. We must give her cash in the exact amount. Mike has one $20 bill and a fistful of ones. I have ones as well. We count it three times. We have the exact dollar amount and not one single dollar more to our names. The necessary change is .30. I have only one quarter and one dime. This may be the deal breaker where all the jenga sticks come tumbling down. Mike hands her the money. All of the ones make her laugh(!!) yet again. We cannot breathe as she looks at the change, over by a nickel. She tosses it into a metal box filled with cash and doesn't count it.
She seems surprised that we are still standing there, frozen like rabbits praying they aren't spotted and devoured. "You are done, " she says, waving her heavily jeweled hands at us. We back away, bowing and scraping, being careful to never turn our backs to her. We close the door to the office of the Italian Consulate. We are one step closer to our move.