Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Here’s a fun little story (at least it’s funny now) about an incident that happened after I got out to Venice in May. I’ve never really considered joining the military. I have all the respect in the world for what our troops do for us, but at the same time I’m grateful to have the choice as to whether or not I want to serve.
Up until a couple years ago, that choice was not available to young men in Italy. I am well aware of this fact, because about 10 years ago I was stopped at the airport in Rome where two less than helpful machine gun carrying gentlemen detained me for about four hours as they figured out where to place me in the Italian army. Apparently, they weren’t informed of my American residency which exempted me from serving. My elementary level Italian speaking skills at the time didn’t help me explain my case, so I resorted to the only thing I could think of on the spot. I whipped up some tears and hoped that the pathetic sight would be enough for them to just let me go...and it worked!!
When I got back to the States I spent a week or so at the Italian consulate in San Francisco getting all my paperwork in order to make sure this type of incident would never happen again...
Now, back to Venice a couple months ago. I thought nothing of it when our landlord asked for our passports one morning. Apparently, the island of Lido wanted a record of foreigners who had taken up an apartment for a few months. No problem...until the police showed up at my apartment later that day looking to take me in. Is my being in the Italian army that important to Italian national security that I must be hunted down? Italy says YES!
As expected, speaking with the police captain was a futile effort. He wasn’t having any of it. My passport had still indicated that I was a prime candidate for the army, so he wrote up my letter for official placement in the army, told me to go to Rome to get my assignment, and that was that.
There was good news and bad news to this situation. Good news was that I was supposed to be in Rome for my appointment anyway, so it didn’t require me to take an unnecessary six hour train ride down there. Bad news was that I couldn’t find the papers I had completed 10 years earlier stating that I am exempt from service. I had my parents searching every inch of my life back home while I ransacked my apartment in Rome hoping that the papers would pop up. A weeks worth of searching and nothing. The day before my appointment with the main military offices in Rome, Sadie walks out of the bedroom with an envelope in her hand. I was skeptical because I had searched every inch of the apartment, but my principessa had found my papers. I was saved!!!
The last step was going to the offices and showing them that they had made a mistake and I was home free.
So, we go. Sadie, myself, and one of my Italian cousins for backup in case any funny business went down. Here is where things get good. As soon as we enter the office, we see the first few signs of how things are run at this top shelf operation. First, the office is pretty sizable with about 10 desks scattered around. Loose papers everywhere. Posters of kittens hanging from trees up on the wall. One computer in the room (I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I’m fairly certain it was a Commodore 64. The same computer I had when I was 8 years old. That amazing piece of technology is really only getting better with age!) Yup, exactly what you would expect from a first world military office. This is a place where stuff...gets...done.
The scene only gets better when I explain to the women that “Yes, my name is Durante. And yes, I was born in 1980.” She leaves the room only to return moments later with huge leather bound book reminiscent of something Harry Potter used for his potions class. Yes, I’m a big Harry Potter fan...let’s just move on. The book had “1980” emblazoned on the cover...in pen. The women uses all your might to open the cinder block like book and flips to the “D” section. After a few more flips, she finds the right page, and there is was. All my information written out by hand in this 12 century text. Sadie and I couldn’t believe it. Everyone else in the room...business as usual. The ancient writing with my information, coupled with my papers from the consulate confirming my US citizenship and residency was enough to turn the tides. They had understood the situation and were willing to let me be a free man! They wrote up my release papers (a process that should have taken about six minutes, max) and 3 hours later I was back on the streets. Durante military crisis number two averted...
I’m back in Italy now, but I’ve duct taped those papers to my leg so I have them wherever I go. Next time I’m stopped, which I sure will be within the week, I’ll be prepared.