Posted by: 4initalia | February 24, 2009

Going Postal

Great news! The long-awaited package of mail arrived!! It came on Friday, the day after we got back from Tenerife. We were all sitting around the apartment when the postino rang. We flew down the steps, he gave us the package, and we all gave him a grateful wave as our selfless public servant scootered off….okay, no.

The postino rang, we flew down the steps, and found a slip in the mailbox. No again.

The postino rang, and we found the package safely perched atop our mail slot.


Here is what really happened: lateish on Friday morning, we ran out of bottled water, so Andy went out to buy more. When he opened the door to the street, he found the package propped up against the outside of our building. The Postman Always Rings Twice? No, not really. Sometimes the postino doesn’t ring at all. He rings if he doesn’t have a package, he rings if he’s not going to wait for you, sometimes he rings just for the pure thrill of knowing that by pushing that little round harbinger of hell, he can make me run down seven flights of stairs, babble incoherently, and quite possibly get locked out of the building. But the package that I’ve been waiting for for two months? Why tell me? Leave it outside, I would have found it eventually. Or…was it meant for the…MIME????

In the packet of mail was my debit card. But it was long dead; I had cancelled it a month before, in the vain hope of getting a new card. I was so disappointed I couldn’t even open the envelope. I left it, in its pristine paper coffin, with its raised and hopeful little numbers pushing against its thin cold shroud. It’s sad, really. While all the other debit cards have been gleefully sliding into ATMs and card machines, financing martinis, mocchacinos, and Maseratis, that little card expired before it got a chance to pay for a mere muffin. It was dead, and I killed it, because I didn’t trust that a package that was two months late would ever get to my door.

I’m afraid I’ll have to do something about my paranoia.

And what of my new debit card, to replace the one I assassinated? The bank was supposed to send it by
FedEx,and – by sheer force of will, I had obtained its tracking number!! The FedEx website is tracking the card’s meandering progress through Europe, which is making the advance of the Allies in World War II look speedy by comparison. The card cleared Customs in Paris, sauntered on to Palermo with some two-day book orders, and is currently having a cappucino with an overnight garment delivery on the outskirts of Milan. Thank God it wasn’t fresh squid.

From the looks of my card’s FedEx itinerary, it won’t get here before we leave in December, and definately not before we left for Tenerife. If I’m not here to sign for the package when it is delivered, FedEx will return it to the States.

So Miss Overly Controlling Person emailed FedEx, and asked them to hold the package until we returned. Much to my relief, FedEx emailed me a copy of my request. Of course FedEx didn’t tell me it would hold the package, but they helpfully let me know that I had asked them to. Customer service isn’t dead, but it has such a pleghmy, hurlish kind of a flu that you don’t want to get close enough to actually ask for anything.

I also emailed my bank, to let them know that I requested that the package not be returned to the US. Because if the card is returned to the bank, they’re going to take a meat cleaver to it. Since the bank has already spent all the money in my account on a Customer Service Appreciation retreat, if they hack the card to bits I’m going to be left with nothing but a FedEx tracking report. And of course, FirstBank, that toils on my behalf to the point of martydom, it’s embarassing, really, responded that they couldn’t stop FedEx from returning the card to the US. So I have an old card that doesn’t work, and I have no idea what happened to the new one that does.

So much unfinished business, and so many unanswered questions, including some big ones. For example, in Italy there aren’t many private doctors, because Italians have established a system of – no – don’t say it – socialized medicine. There are doctors, hospitals, clinics – a whole free medical system – but you have to get permission from the government to use them. We have a visa for a year. Are we entitled to use the Italian health care system? If not, how would I contact an Italian doctor who takes private insurance?

In our first burst of settling-in activity, Giovanna took us to an office that provided access to the medical system for Italians and other people living in Italy. Giovanna thought that since were living here for a year, we were entitled to access to their – don’t say it – socialized medicine. So she took us to ASL, the office that processes those permits.

It was a typical government office: a long line of people holding numbers for no apparent reason. But Giovanna popped into a doorway, and soon was speaking in rapid Italian with government officials about our situation. As always, the offiicials scrutinized our documents and concluded that we didn’t have what we needed in order to do what we wanted to do: Andy and I couldn’t use the health system because he was being paid by an American university, not an Italian one.

What about the children? There was a heated conversation in Italian, and the gist of it was that that in order to keep the children, we’d have to go to the American Embassy, in Florence. Apparently there are consequences for failing to take a number at an Italian government office.

Well, that was a new one. We were not only not entitled to medical care, we weren’t going to be able to keep the children. Unless we went to Florence. Not that I’m averse to a trip to Florence, but this time, I was willing to call the Italians’ bluff. These particular children are high maintenance, and I knew that even if the Italian government took them, they wouldn’t keep them for very long. So a trip to Florence is out, at least until the weather warms up enough to stand in line to see the statute of David. Maybe David would put me in the mood to ask for them back.

I dodged the Florence visit, and no one came for the kids. But one day, Alex got sick. He actually stopped eating, which hadn’t happened for two consecutive minutes since he turned eleven. That was a worry. He looked gelatinous and slumpish, which is fine for a squid, but not for a kid who doesn’t ever stop knocking various body parts into the furniture. He wasn’t sick enough to take to the ER, but he could have qualified for a strep test. He’s never had strep, but Annalise could have died from a virus that mutated into a major menace. I never think “It’s just a virus.” I think “Thank God I have insurance.” Here, I might think “Thank God for socialized medicine,” but I was raised by Republicans, so that would be wrong.

I asked friends in Modena if they knew a doctor who spoke English, and thought I found one. But he didn’t speak the kind of English that would let us know whether Alex had strep or required a knee replacement. And the doctor’s office was open only from 10:00 a.m to 10:07 a.m.. On Tuesday, maybe Wednesday. But definately not Thursday, or Monday through Friday. Either this is a particularly healthy population so that doctors are completely unnecessary, or Italians get sick only in increments of seven minutes or less.

So I turned to the American Embassy, in Florence. That beacon of hope for Americans abroad, staffed with public servants paid for by my tax dollars. I’ve seen the movies: when the going gets tough, the tough go to the Embassy. All I had to do was to reach the gates; once I was on hallowed ground, brave embassarians would sweep me through the doors under a slurry of gunfire, graciously serving tea with one hand while smothering firebombs with the other. These people were poised to deal with every contingency, could solve any problem that could befall any American, even Angelina Jolie.

Surely they could tell me how to find a doctor in Italy?

So I emailed the embassy. I laced the subject line with a reference to a sick child, hoping to play on their sympathy, but it took over two weeks to get a response. Apparently, the Embassy will help only those who can survive the wait for assistance. Better hang out in front of the gates, or ask them to pencil you in about two, three weeks before you anticipate a crisis. But I’ll bet Angelina Jolie gets in without an appointment.

My email asked whether a sabbatical visa entitled us to use the Italian medical system. This is their actual response:

RE: Medical Coverage for Minors Under Parents’ Study Visa – Sick Child
From: “Florence, USCitizens”

Thank you for your inquiry.

Apologies for not replying sooner.

As far as we are aware you need to pay an extra fee at the Italian post office in order to apply for the Italian medical insurance through ASL, although you should contact your local USL/ASL office for more information.

Regards, American Citizen Services US Consulate General Florence

They attached a list of doctors who speak English, in their “consular district.” Their consular district includes Estonia and the International Space Station, but nothing remotely close to Modena. And the reference to the post office was clearly an effort to push me over the edge.

I replied:

Thank you for your response, but I would appreciate some clarification. Do you live in Italy? The suggestion that one can waltz into an Italian post office, pay an extra fee and actually leave with a resolution of a problem involving medical documentation is sheer madness. I’m lucky if I can buy stamps.

They haven’t responded yet. They’re either getting their free flu shots at a clinic in their consular district in Tasmania, or they’re helping Angelina Jolie resolve a problem regarding a FedEx. Maybe I’ll mail them a squid.

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