As we pulled into Napoli, the traffic became thick, and we slowed to a crawl. I voiced my concern over the time. Our appointment was at 10:00, and the Embassy was on the other side of the city. Clearly, we would not make it on time.
But Andrea seemed unconcerned and said that the Embassy would be on Italian time, so we needn’t worry, either.
We were on a main road, but I was enjoying looking down the side streets as they clicked past. This part of the city was not very attractive: industrial and dingy, but interesting nonetheless.
At one point, the road paralleled a railroad track. An older man on a motorcycle tried to bypass the congested traffic by riding on a narrow strip that divided the road from the train tracks. We gasped as we saw him topple over, bike and all. As he struggled to right the bike, someone in one of the slow-moving cars jumped out to help him up. Andrea shook his head, telling us people did that all the time and not only was it very stupid, it was very dangerous.
Around 10:30, we finally arrived at the embassy. While Andrea waited for us by the van, we crossed the street to the large, imposing building. Military vehicles were parked alongside the wall, and soldiers glanced at us coolly as we passed by. Pushing open a heavy glass door, we entered a small lobby.
An Italian in uniform greeted us from behind a glass wall, asking what our business was. He instructed everyone in our group to wait there, allowing only the wedding couple and parents to pass deeper into the inner sanctum. After collecting our passports, he told us to leave our cameras with him, but allowed Nichole and I to bring our purses.
As the five of us crossed the small courtyard and entered the main building, I realized that although we were still in Italy, officially we were now on United States soil.
We followed signs up to the third floor and entered a room filled with rows of chairs, several occupied. Nichole and Kris approached a window to announce their arrival. After a little bit of paperwork, and a little bit of waiting, we were done. First hurdle jumped! Now off to the Prefettura to fill out the Italian documentation.
But Andrea had a little surprise for me. During the morning drive, I had been speaking Italian to him, so he knew I could speak a bit. I also knew that he was somewhat worried about translating for us at the Prefettura because that would mean he would have to leave the van parked in an area that could not legally accommodate its size.
He pulled me aside to inform me that I was perfectly capable of acting as the translator. Yikes! But he promised he would be right by the van should I need him. “It is nothing to the problem!” he said, reassuringly.
At the Prefettura, the rest of the group stayed with Andrea and the van while Kris, Nichole, Tony, Gino, and I walked around the back of an institutional-looking government building and up a scruffy stairway to the office. A heavy metal door opened onto a plain waiting room with chairs lining the wall. Kris aptly described it as looking like a third world Department of Motor Vehicles office.
Upon entering, we found no signs and no instructions — only a ticket machine in the corner. We pulled a number and prepared to wait, knowing the reputation of Italian bureaucracy.
There was already a small group hovering near an unmarked door, each person clutching a ticket number. Every few minutes, the door would swing open, and a woman would poke her head out to call, “Next!”
Since she didn’t announce a number, we really didn’t know who was truly “next.” But in a spirit of camaraderie, we all compared ticket numbers to determine our pecking order and everyone scrupulously adhered to their place in the wait.
Since I was now the designated translator, I was a bit worried about screwing things up. An English-speaking couple accompanied by a wedding planner were called in, but emerged a few minutes later flustered and frowning, and rushed away. They had not brought the requisite bolli.
It was a short wait. Shorter, in fact, than at the American Embassy. The woman called out “Next!” and Kris, Nichole, and I entered the secret room behind the door.
It turned out to be a nondescript office with three or four desks set about, all occupied by people engaged in conversations and shuffling documents.
We were directed to a desk where a man and a woman were organizing papers. They greeted us amicably and offered us chairs as we introduced ourselves. I advised them I would be the official translator, but warned them of my limited capacity. “It will not be a problem,” they stated. I had heard that before.
Nichole handed over the documents from the American Embassy. Everything was apparently in order because we simply had to produce our passports and sign an Italian equivalent of a notary book.
The translation didn’t turn out to be much of anything. “Are you the person indicated on this document, and is the information on this document true and correct?” And that was that.
My heart skipped a beat, however, when the man informed us that the documents from the U.S. Embassy must be presented at the Prefettura five days prior to the wedding. EEK! Here is was Monday and the wedding would be held on Thursday, only four days away!
This is it, I thought dismally, the nebulous menacing snag that had been lurking in the back of my thoughts. We had meticulously followed all instructions. Now this!
But then the man lowered his voice and said, “But we will make an exception. There will be no problem.” The blood returned to our faces, and we thanked him, our relief and gratitude apparent.
Now that I think back, I wonder if this five-day requirement was mainly for Italian citizens, but they routinely cut foreign citizens a certain amount of slack. I couldn’t imagine Anna making a mistake so devastating. Whatever it was, it really turned out to be “nothing to the problem.” Nichole produced the two bolli that Anna had purchased for us, and we were done.
Triumphant, we returned to the van.