God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Consulate, The Visa...What To Do?

Gee--Looking Up Works! Posted by Hello
Ok--now I'm ready to pull my head out of the sand and begin the coping and "let's solve the problem" mentality that I used so well in pre-retirement days. It is impossible to be successful as a junior high school administrator without facing problems head-on and finding a way around, through, over or under them. Burying just doesn't work--sort of like New Orleans cemeteries--when the storms come, what's down there just sort of floats on up.

So--I decided yesterday to take the plunge and call the the Los Angeles Consulate office--you will remember that there are eleven consulates in the US and each one sort of, more or less, does its own thing--Italian bureacracy style. I would rather not have to use LA as, from what I understand from people on the Expats in Italy forum, it has been having difficulties--but, sometimes choices aren't available and we march as we must. Anyway, I guess they do OK if things are rather ordinary but--we have never been ordinary--haven't quite figured out that life would be quite less complicated if we were.

It has been two weeks since the woman, who so thoughtfully raised my awareness level by clarifying that moving to another country is not the same as deciding to change hair color, had me fax the legal paperwork about the guardianship issue. And surprise! I have heard nary a word in reply.

So, I decided to take the plunge into bureaucratic darkness and--remembering that the visa office does not take phone calls until 2 PM waited until 3 to call. I knew that this would not be an easy venture as my helpful lady had declined to give me her name. Thus, I had no person or reference to give and wondered if anyone would have a clue as to what I was talking about.

Next came the descent into 21st century telephone etiquette--the world of the disembodied voice giving instructions, warnings and options--which we are always told are in a state of change--heaven help the poor caller who misses the option and must start over. Never mind that it is missed because no relevant option has been offered--right? And the Italian consulate has perfected this well--the enumeration of categories and the corresponding number is interminable and comprehensive--including what to do if you are an Italian citizen who has died here and wants to go home. But--there is no mention--not one--of a visa department.

Digression: For those of you who manage to read this, I give a helpful clue: In almost all telephone jungles, if you just press "O" at anytime, you will get connected to a real, live person! It's as if someone is just there lurking in the background. This works particularly well when calling United Airlines--one of those awful interactive phone robots.

After listening to all of the options, knowing that if I didn't do it the right way--for instance push "O" when I hadn't been told to, someone would be sure to point out the necessity for following instructions--gee, am I becoming paranoid, or what?, I finally did what I should have done at first and with mighty force, hit the bit "O". Lo and behold, a nice, young, man answered.

No--he couldn't connect me to the visa department because they were too busy to take phone calls. Could he help me? I explained the situation. He said: "Just a minute." And then disconnected me. So---I called back and dared to push "O" right away--feeling very brave.

Now the man told me that they still wouldn't take calls but he would see what he could do. And then---a miracle occured. I was talking to Sandra--that same woman who wouldn't give me her name last time.

She actually knew what I was talking about but was far, far from encouraging.....

"This case is very difficult and unusual. We have to send it to Rome for their decision."
I asked if they would be sending all of the paperwork or did they need something more.
"No, no, no--we won't send it now. It will be sent when you apply for your visa. You can't do that until 90 days before you go."

Now we have a very large problem.

In order to apply for a visa, we need to have:
1. A rental contract--maybe we can get by with a letter of invitation but I'm afraid that would not fly even though I am told it would (by my lady friend.)

2. Maybe--can't get a straight answer on this--proof that Casey is enrolled in a school. Even if this is not necessary, we need to enroll him in early spring for the fall semester--assuming we opt for the international school. This requires a considerable upfront outlay.

3. Our plane itinerary.

All of these things add up to a lot of euro! But--we won't know until Rome sends its decision if we can even go. And this is unusual enough that it's hard to tell what the powers will decide.

This Sandra also told me that there is no guarantee that Rome will make a decision within the 90 days as "they are very busy." Optimistically she said she thinks we have a major problem because of the mother's visitation rights--as she read it. I explained and began reading to her the order stating that we control all visitation rights-if, when, where, how. At this point she admitted that she isn't "a legal person" and so really doesn't understand it at all. "That is exactly why it goes to Rome and because we are talking about a minor child it is an iffy situation."
So--we are in a quandry. Do we just continue with our plans, trusting that all will work out--that the people in Rome have enough experience in these things to know what they are reading? And--it just now occured to me--do we need to get all the papers translated? I bet we do.

Fortunately, the good folks on the Expats board have given me the name of an Italian attorney who has helped many of them with their problems. Hopefully, he will be able to give us advice that will get us through this. Wonder how much cost this will add to our dream fullfilment? But, then, what is money for if not to make dreams come true?

I keep pictures such as this in mind when seeds of discouragement seek to be planted. For, if they aren't planted, they can't grow!

This is Italy! Posted by Hello

I Am a Paradox--I Think--A Blog Digression

I really have a major entry to make--my latest experience with the Italian Consulate and the big-time headache it has gifted me. But---I will do that later as right now I really don't want to deal with it--you know, the old bury your head in the sand syndrome.

This isn't really all that effective! Posted by Hello

In the meantime, I share with my dear and faithful readers (and new ones) a little bit of me--because I want to prove that stereotypes born out of assumptions are dangerous and typically wrong. And because I get tired of the religious right thinking they speak for me or know who I am. And--on the flip side--I get tired of many of my fellow democrats making wrong assumptions about people who believe as I do. I do know and admit that, generally, it is those who erroneously believe they speak for "their people" that promote these perceptions--not the rank and file members of either group as, the truth is, there are many like me.

I wrote this for my profile this afternoon--which I thought people would only see if they clicked on the "view my complete profile" link--so I was surprised to find it at the top of the blog. I didn't like that. So, now I'll add it this way.....

I am a rare breed--or at least it seems that way. I am a born-again, evangelical Christian, believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that through his death on the cross, we can choose to be delivered from our inescapable, inherited sinful nature and spend eternity in a place called heaven. I believe that this is the single truth.

I am also an avid democrat, contrary to the common perception in today's political climate that all evangelicals are right-wingers who blindly support the current administration. I believe that the country is in deep trouble due to the current leadership. I believe that the lies and manipulated truths from the administration that took us into war-resulting in hundreds of our young people dying, the effort to destroy social security, the continuing dilution of our personal freedoms that have made our country unique in history, the attempt to destroy our constitution and the judicial system, the anti-environmental mentality and the spiritual posturing are far more immoral than the rather gross and pathetic sexual behaviors and lies of President Clinton.

I am afraid for this country and the place we will be at the end of the next 3 years. The lessons of history have been that when there is a single dominate power such power abuses just as unchecked individual power does. Mr. Bush signaled our entry into that philosophy when he challenged the world with "You're either with us or against us." This same hubris is now seen in the way he, the neo-cons, and the marching soldiers in congress are conducting national business. Anyone who does not agree with them is the enemy and fair game for destruction and political annihilation. Can you tell that I feel rather strongly about this? You're right! And--in the morning when I reread this, chances are I will delete the entire post.

But, my message is and what I would like people to understand is "be careful of stereotyping because it is often misleading! Not all things are what they appear to be." So, I close as I began--I am a born again believer of the redemptive power and gift of Jesus Christ and I am a card carrying democrat. The two are not incompatible.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

What Makes an Education?

Casey, the student Posted by Hello

What makes an education? This is a question we ponder these days as we struggle with Casey's needs in terms of 80+ years of life--what is best for him, what will have mattered the most in the third grade, trying to be honest and know when we are imposing our own desires and when we are seeking the best for him.

The question we are struggling with right now is what would be best-----a local Italian school or an International School? Clearly there are pros and cons on both sides. When we first started talking about doing this, we knew exactly what we wanted--Casey was going to an Italian public school so that he could live a different culture, learn the language, make friends, develop a view of the world that was not myopically patriotic to the exclusion of validating other nations and cultures.

We wanted to live in a village or town where he and we could make friends, develop a degree of comfortability, know and be known--and a place that was centrally enough located that we could have easy excursions into larger cities such as Siena, Florence, Rome. We wanted to find if the ambience that has permeated our trips there--some as long as seven weeks--continues when "living" there for an extended time--or is there a romance of short term visits that dissipates in the reality of day to day experience? Would we find that we are more inseparately attached to our life style in the states than we think? These things were our thoughts as, after a lot of talk over several years, we decided "to do it."

Casey enjoying the simplicity of the small town. Would this work? Posted by Hello

But then, as we explored our thoughts with other people--especially both Italians and expats in Italy--we were given a different perspective. If we are going for just one school term, the language situation might be too much--not time enough to learn or settle in so he would remain an outsider the entire time. This certainly is not what we want--an unpleasant, unhappy experience and memory. Then--the other concern we have is the quality of what he will learn.
If we put him in the International school of Florence, where he will be taught in English, he would continue his learning in the 3 r's and so would not fall behind his contemporaries here at home. Plus--he would be able to make and communicate with friends right off the bat. The other real plus is the experience of interacting with children from so many different cultures and countries--somewhere around 43 according to the school.
Some of the negatives are that, although English speaking kids are given Italian instruction, from what I have picked up from other expats with kids enrolled, it is not enough to become anywhere near fluent. And--most importantly, he would not have the advantage we seek for him of living and finding his way in a different culture and country.
So the dilemma continues for us. We become so limited in living location options with the International school. Rentals close enough to commute to and from school are much more expensive than other areas of Tuscany--and that is not the area we would freely choose to settle in given our druthers. Additionally, the school fees are not negligible--not at all. But---if that is best for Casey that is what we will do even though some of the other things we want are sacrificed.
So, for now we struggle with this decision. Our hearts want him in an Italian school but perhaps our heads should rule. What do you think?

Casey and his science project. He was pretty proud! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Italian Visa Challenge

We're All Mad! Posted by Hello

Confusion reigns--or so it seems when entering the schziophrenic world of Italian visas. After some minimal research including the Expats in Italy site, reading a book or two and perusing several of the eleven US Italian consulate sites, I knew we were headed into Alice's Wonderland.

The problem is that clarity is not an Italian bureacracy virtue--not that I have had much experience with this (yet)--but, both American friends who have hired Italian lawyers to explain law to the consulate and Italian friends who live with it daily convince me this is true. So--we are prepared for the carnival ride ahead of us.

Last week was the first of what I anticipate to be many contacts with the Los Angeles consulate--the one we are required to use. After checking several consulate sites and discovering that no two (there are eleven in the US) have the same requirements for an Elective Residence visa application, the logical step was to call and ask my questions (e-mails had not worked). In anticipation of the office's infamous brusque approach to inquiries, I had prepared my questions so that I could be efficient and organized during the conversation. However, this didn't work so well as the young (sounded young anyway) woman I talked with didn't really want to listen. I think she was having a bad day and was tired of dealing with people.

Among other things she graciously shared was that "deciding to move to another country is a major life decision--not like deciding to change your hair color." I appreciate this insight and continue to keep it in mind as we plan our "seven month move" to a country we like in inordinate ways.

I further aliented her when I asked if we needed to have a plane itinerary when we applied for the visa--as is stated on the website of another Italian consulate in the US.

Young woman: Does it say that on the LA site?"
Me: No, but..........
Young woman: Then why do you ask? Just because someone else says so doesn't mean we do.
Me: OK. I just wasn't sure.
Young Woman: I don't know why you would be confused.

One issue most of the consulates appear to agree on is that in order to be issued an elective residency visa (sometimes called a Long Stay visa), we must have a place to reside in Italy prior to application. This tends to mean a rental contract stamped by the local governmental agency where the apartment is located. But---there is an indication (not totally clear) that a Letter of Invitation from someone stating that you are going to live with them is also acceptable (again stamped by the local agency.)

Me: We can get an invitation and then stay with our friends for the first month while we look for a place to rent.
Young Woman: The Letter of Invitation must state you will be there for at least 6 months.
Me: But, could we move before 6 months when we find a place to rent?
Young Woman: You shouldn't plan on breaking the law. You need to be willing to follow Italian law if you are going to live there.
Me: That's why I'm asking the question, so that we can follow the laws. We don't want to break them.
Young Woman: (sigh)

Then I began to ask about what was needed for Casey. We had heard that we would need proof that he is enrolled either in an international school or in an Italian school and so wanted to find out more about that. Unfortunately, that question was short-circuited when I mentioned that we are the court-ordered guardians of Casey--which I did just to let her know that while we are the grandparents we have legal responsibility for him. Releasing this bit of information was a big, big mistake!!

Young Woman: You have a big problem. I don't think you can do it.

Now my heart sank as I envisioned a trip into a bureacratic nightmare of gargantuan proportions--I know that we can, but convincing the consulate might prove difficult. I knew that this young woman was not the fount of knowledge but how to find that source? Then the gods smiled and she admitted that she really didn't know about this type of thing and that she needed to speak to her manager--who was out of town. She asked that I fax my questions--I offered to include a copy of the court orders which she said would be good. She said she would get back to me on Thursday--this was Tuesday. I immediately faxed all the papers with a concise list of well-written, conciliatory, friendly, etc. questions --figuring I should do it while she was still in the office so someone would know what it is about. She preferred to remain nameless so I have no idea with whom I was speaking.

A week has gone by now--and--we haven't heard anything. Do we call and ask--or just let it be and take all of our papers with us when we go in to apply. It is a quandry that would mystify even Alice--I do believe. We would prefer not to drive all the way to LA and find we need to hire an Italian lawyer to pave the way but, then, if we call are we just asking for problems needlessly?

Oh, My--What to do? What to do? Posted by Hello

Monday, May 23, 2005

Location--But First a Digression

I really wanted to, was going to and will write a paragraph or two about location, but, first, a few words about Casey--or KC as he is now re-identifying himself. It is such fun truly absorbing and experiencing a child growing up. We are learning that we see and appreciate so much in this process that simply eluded us and went unrecognized when we were parents--raising children, involved in our own work and ambitions, worrying about making the $$'s stretch, busy being upwardedly mobile. There is definitely something to be said about perspective that comes with age--particularly when that is accompanied by freedom from those early life stage worries. Now we see the little things that in reality are harbingers of things to come and provide clues into the workings of little minds as they try to sort out who they are and what growing up means.

Casey delightfully shares what is on his mind and what strange twist the current topic of thought has taken--sometimes in more detail than we ever what to know--as when he tries to explain what went wrong when rivulets appear to be running down the wall behind the commode. His word images are so vivid that I can only laugh uproariously as the story takes on characteristics of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Anyway, this week on the way home from school, the mute button had been pushed on his normally uncheckable loud and boisterous exuberance. He spoke softly, his English was impeccable, his manners were exquisite and the topic of his conversation was much more refined (in a 6-year-old way) than his normal discourse on who was looking over the stalls in the boys bathroom that day or who had managed to get his name on the board in class (always glad to share this when it isn't his--and, even when it is.)

Then, he provided the explanation for this new him. "I am practicing being a young man." Where that came from and what prompted it is a mystery, but----it has provided us with a whole new weapon in our aresnal of behavior control techniques. We just have to say "Where's the young man?" And--sometimes he emerges!--maybe.

It was just about that day, or maybe the next, that his papers began coming home with his new moniker--KC. I think it is kind of neat and so have no problem if he has exerted a little independence and promotes a new image. Actually, when in Italy his little girlfriend, Sofia, in Montepulciano calls him Kaazee (sort of a soft slur which is really charming.) So--he could even go with KZ to be really unique--or when we are living in Italy.

Sofia and Casey--Italian Charm, American Infatuation Posted by Hello

OK--enough on Casey or KC--as you can see, I kind of get carried away with him.

LOCATION: Now that we have selected a school and trust that all will work out there, the question has become where to settle. We have been to Italy many times, but for some reason, can't picture exactly where Bagno A Ripoli, a suburb of Florence, is or what villages will be close enough to conveniently transport KC back and forth to school each day. And--of course the question is how to contact a rental agent who can work for us from afar. So, begins one of the many little processes which will be a part of the inordinate amount of time this little venture promises to steal. We have a list of agents from the school, maps, friends and cyber contacts who, put together, should make this piece surmountable.

You may ask why we choose to deal with this concern so early on in the planning--well, here is an example of dealing with bureacracy--Italiano style. In order to apply for an Elective Residency visa, we must have a rental contract signed and stamped by the local government agency in Italy. One can't just go and find a place to live after arrival. So--this is an issue that becomes important right from the beginning. Of course, this little glitch gives us a perfect reason for a pre-"big trip" trip--something we want to do anyway so that Casey (KC) can check out the school, know what he has in store, have some gelato and visit Sofia.

More later--but off to buy some patio furniture and other mundane errands.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Ignorance is Blind and Finding a School

I suspect that we are not too much different from most people--especially those here in the US (although, we would like to think that we are much different than many of our countrymen these days, politically speaking.) We are spoiled--think that we can pretty much do what we want, when we want, how we want--such as just picking-up and moving to another country at will--just as we might move from sunny San Diego (our territory) to snowy Syracuse--New York, that is--(once upon a time our territory) or points in-between.

Our sun filled back yard--as I write. Posted by Hello

But--lo and behold! other countries have procedures, immigration controls and laws, I's that must be dotted, T's that must be crossed and bureacracies that sometimes are infathomable. And--as I think of how difficult it is for people of other countries to come here, I know that we just need to get on with it. So--we are starting off on the pre-journey of planning and anticipation with our eyes on the life-changing journey that lies ahead of us. And we are excited and eager.

Before starting any processes, we absolutely needed to address the issue of Casey's schooling. How much we want him to become bilingual and fluent in Italian! But----even more, we want these months (or longer) to be extraordinarily fun and engaging for him--a time to help form an adult who will seek the new, the different, the challenging--who will thrive on the unexpected, taking risk and seeking adventure--a person who sees his God everywhere and who values and understands differences. And so, the fact that international schools, while taught in Engish, do include Italian language instruction, and that these schools have children representing as many as 43 different countries somewhat guarantees that Casey will have the rich experiences we seek for him.

This led us to spend a great deal of time googling to find potential schools--focusing on Rome and Florence--actually, Siena was another major option but we couldn't find an international school in that area. If someone reading this, knows of one, please tell us as we are still open.

When we contacted schools which seemed particularly appropriate, we discovered just how costly this is going to be--we're talking a lot of euro! And, not all schools will accept students for just one school term. Eventually, we narrowed our choices to the Ambrit school in Rome and the International School in Florence. Both schools were easy to contact, enouraging and "just nice" in their e-mails. Both have programs and curriculae that seem to be rich and child centered with many opportunites for growth and cultural experiences. So then the decision became where do we most want to be--and, that wasn't too difficult to decide as the dream has always been Tuscany or Umbria--although, the richness that is Rome made that option very enticing.

With the school decision made and with encouragement from the very nice Ms. Ragusa from the ISF that there will be room for Casey in the fall of 2006, our eyes have turned to where to live and how to get there. Fortuantely for us, our lives are enriched by some very good and dear friends in Montepulicano who have offered to help us through the processes of establishing ourselves and so at least our road is paved by "knowing" someone. My understanding is that one of the governing principles of Italy is that knowing someone who knows someone and the friend of a friend routine is critical to accomplishing things for native and foreigner alike.

Nico, our good and dear friend in Montepulciano

And so--we have our guru--we have our determination--we have goals--and--we have a grandson who makes everything even more precious and perfect. We are off--on a trip to where ever this leads!

Next: Location, Location, Location. Coming up: The Italian Consulates and What It Takes

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Catching Up

Top of the train ride--Ecuador Andes--Great Fun Posted by Hello

We, Ken and I, have decided to implement a dream we have nurtured for a long, long time--an extended visit to Italy where we can settle in, settle down, see what life is really like in this country we have come to love.

The dream began when we were foot-loose and fancy free; when we thought that by retiring, we could freely do what we wanted, when we wanted, how we wanted. You know, those foolish thoughts we have when we think we really are in charge of life. Then--that life brought one of its unexpected twists and we became guardians of our 4 year old grandson--whom we adore, love, treasure and who rules our life more completely than our children ever did.

At first we thought that our traveling days were over--except for the occasional trip to Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Sea World and campgrounds--all things we enjoyed when younger and at the proper age for parenting but not high on our agenda in retirement. In our current top 100 list of favorite things to do, you won’t find these meccas of high-energy and youthful exuberance. (Although, for Casey we have already learned to love Legoland and I know, without doubt, that we will revisit the others--unless we can talk Uncle Jeff into them.) Already we are regulars at the Little League field,the soccer field and the local rec center's basketball court--places we willingly left behind 25 years ago. Now our new peer group is the same group we watched play years ago.Like I said--life has strange twists and turns--somewhat like driving the beautiful Almafi Coast. You don't know what comes next, but you better be prepared to handle it in a hurry!
But, I digress....

Back on track--We soon realized that there was no reason that we could not travel, taking Casey with us--what a great opportunity for him to become a “child of the world” with appreciations and knowledge far beyond that of most young people---and what joy we could find in seeing familiar and new sights through the eyes of an awestruck child. So, in 2003--when he was 4, we set off for 6 weeks in Europe--3 in Spain which was new to us and 3 in Italy, where we go to relax, regroup and feel at home. I’ve written about that trip and the experiences on Travel Memories--complete with lots and lots of photos and tips on traveling with a child.

Casey loved the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Everyone loved him. Posted by Hello

Since then, Casey has traveled with us to the Galapapos Islands, the Amazon Rain Forest, the high Andes of Ecuador, Amsterdam, France, Hawaii, several of the 48, a second trip to Italy,including Sicily and other shorter, closer to home trips. In August we will spend 3 weeks in Alaska--flying into bear viewing wilderness, landing on glaciers, riding dogsleds, etc.

After all of this, it is not surprising that he already has a love of travel and after a few weeks home begins to ask about our next trip. He can find his way around airports like a pro, his first question is always “where is the Red Carpet Club?”; he thinks that everyone gets to ride in the big seats and have white linen tableclothes; he has a well-used passport; he is amazed if we are ever on a one-plane trip and he has been in almost as many different cockpits as there are planes. He has friends all over, including budding romances in Guyaquil, Ecuador and Montepulciano. He believes that gelato is meant to be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner; he knows how to say bruschetta correctly and knows that a margherita is a pizza. And--he is still just 6 years old. What a life!

Now we are preparing for his biggest adventure yet--the opportunity to, for a short time, truly live in another country, another culture; the opportunity to establish a core appreciation for human differences; a chance to learn to be comfortable in and relish the new and different; a chance to define whom he will become in a manner differently than growing up with his only experience being the fast pace, new world mentality of the United States.

As we do this, his schooling becomes the primary factor in determining where to go, when to go and for how long. When we first began the brainstorming, we wanted him to attend an Italian school; however, several people have convinced us that unless we move for long term, the language barrier will be very difficult. And, since we are considering just one school term for this first experiment, we clearly won't be there long enough for him to learn the language and enjoy the classroom. Thus, reluctantly, we have decided to settle near an international school, a decision which severely limits our location options.

Our dreams have focused on the Tuscany/Umbria area--maybe because we now have good friends in Montepulciano and having friends is important, maybe because we love the landscape and the sunrises and the mystical light, maybe because our "new world" framework longs for a sense of the old, maybe...maybe...maybe. Whatever it is that draws us has resulted in the selection of the International School of Florence with the primary school campus housed in Bagno a Ripoli. So--with that decision made, we are now ready to begin the journey to fulfillment.