The Chaos that Calms


I arrived in Milan this morning at the start of a three-week trip through Italy. Weeks two and three are about research for the Italy guide, but week one is all about my future life as an expat in Italy.

In the month leading up to this trip, I’ve been battling higher levels of travel-related stress than I’ve had since I can remember. Some of it was because I waited until a point well past my normal comfort zone to get accommodation sorted for my first week in Milan. I didn’t have an apartment secured until the day before I left home. But the biggest part of the stress was, I think, due to my impending date with the as-yet-unknown quantity of the Milan questura.

It’s been something like three years now that the husband and I have been working toward obtaining a permit so that we could (theoretically) live in Italy. Until this trip, all of the appointments with immigration or other government officials have been handled by an agency here in Milan that we hired to help us through the complicated process. This appointment is different, however. This time I have to go to the questura.

The questura, for those who don’t know, is the branch of the Italian police department that deals with immigration. It’s a place that – like other government-related offices in this country – is notorious for being difficult to manage and impossible to predict. For me, what this boils down to is that while I know in my head that the immigration laws set up by the Italian government aren’t really designed to keep me – a white Westerner – out of the country, anything could happen at a questura appointment to derail the process, regardless of how immaculate my paperwork might be.

This kind of unpredictability doesn’t sit well with a Type A planner like me, and my stomach has been churning off and on (mostly on) for the last couple of weeks in anticipation of the appointment. I kept chalking it up to anxiety about not being prepared for the trip itself – I didn’t even think about packing until the day before, which is unusual for me – but in the end the trip prep was calming in its routine. It was just that every time I’d think about this week’s questura appointment that my heart rate would increase again.

My appointment is Wednesday. A representative of the agency that’s been guiding us through this process is going to meet me outside the questura on Wednesday and be with me for the whole thing. I’m told that if things go well, and they green-light my documents, I’ll get finger-printed and may walk out of the office with something that says I can stay in Italy for pretty much as long as I like. I’ve no idea what happens if things don’t go well. Frankly, I’m trying to ignore that possibility.

24 hours ago I was checking in for my flight at Portland’s airport, overtired and focused on my usual travel day tasks, but there was still a bit of a nagging anxiety about my visit with the questura. It wasn’t until I landed in Milan’s Malpensa Airport this morning and was en route into the city on the shuttle bus that I realized how much more calm that nagging had become. After checking into my apartment for the week and taking a long walk around the neighborhood, thinking and even writing about the questura appointment isn’t worrying me.

Now, there’s every possibility that what has really calmed that worry is the jetlag I’m fighting (jetlag does, after all, have many of the same side effects as being drunk), but I think it’s more than that. I wasn’t prepared for how much my affection for this city – and, by extension, this country – would make all of the things I’d been worrying about a scant 24 hours before slip comfortably onto my mental back burner.

Simply watching the bus drivers and maintenance workers outside Malpensa feigning heavily-gestured fisticuffs before breaking into song, or getting into a taxi at the central station with an adorable old driver who was playing Tosca on his car stereo (and singing along) and who kept calling me “bellissima signorina,” or stopping at a local market to pick up a few snacks and getting a little Italian lesson from the clerk… All of this has reinforced what my heart has known solidly for years now, and what I’d allowed myself to forget in my mini-panic – that Italy soothes me.

Italy, this bastion of chaos, relaxes me.

I’m not sure how to explain why this would be so, and even less confident in my ability to explain it while I’m dizzy, but I suspect it involves some kind of counter-effect to my natural state of worry and insecurity if things aren’t going according to plan. I learned long ago that nothing goes according to plan in Italy, so I don’t tend to expect anything here. No expectations means no worry – or at least quite a bit less worry.

Maybe there’s a part of me that figures the people who live here manage to deal with the uncertainty, so there’s no reason I can’t as well. Maybe it’s also my confidence in knowing that eventually, things will work out and I’ll be able to move here. Italy’s been here for a long time. I think it can wait a little longer for me if need be.

We’ll see how calm I feel in the morning, or on Wednesday when I’m making my way to the questura, but for now I’m reveling in the feeling of being at home here in this place that I love so very much.

6 comments on “The Chaos that Calms

  1. One thing I remember from my Questura visit – sharing in case it ends up being relevant – was that the paperwork was going to take some incredibly long time (maybe 4-6 months or so), *unless* I had to leave the country imminently, in which case it would take some incredibly short time (4-6 days or so). I told them well of COURSE I needed to leave the country (and come back) soon. Of course I needed proof, so I bought a fully refundable plane ticket (actually my company bought it for me), presented it to them the next day and got kicked me into the expedited process. Then I refunded the plane ticket.

    good luck!

  2. @Simon – Thanks for the words of encouragement, & I hope you’re right. Also, you’re in Milan? We should definitely meet up this week. ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Pam – I’m not sure if it’s a hearing, per se, or just a few minutes with a clerk behind a window, but I suspect the outcome will be the same as you described. So, yes – I think I’m going to sleep much better after Wednesday is over.

  3. I’m going to make a leap and guess that what you’ve got going is an immigration hearing, yes? I’ve been through two, one with the US embassy in Vienna when we got J his green card, the other in an office in a small town in Austria where I got the equivalent. Both times, my nerves were tightened in a manner completely disproportionate to the results. Both times, the hearing took 10, maybe 15 minutes tops while the officer asked us a few verification questions and paged through our papers. And then, clunk the rubber stamp, the “your papers will arrive in 6-8 weeks” remark, and off we went for (this being Austria) kaffee und kuchen. Man, we’re we relieved.

    Good luck. Here’s hoping it goes like that for you.

  4. Oh, Jessica you shouldn’t worry too much. As you said, Italy is a strange country with a lot of contradictions but in the end, in a way or the other, you’ll come with what you want.

    Good luck at the ‘Questura’. I hope that the person who is following you has a ‘preferred access’, otherwise better prepare yourself for a long line. No fears however. It’s quite an experience so take it easy… That’s Italy.

    Apart from that, I live in Milan so if I can be of any help during your stay, just let me know (I’m @1step2theleft on Twitter).


  5. Been there, done that! We’re from the UK originally so the process may be slightly easier for EU residents – but although there’s enough paperwork to keep paper mills in business for several years, it was a relatively simple process (albeit with much waving of hands and many cups of espresso involved!) and as you have someone to help you through it, it should be fine.

    Should be …

    Good luck, and enjoy Italy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *