The White Night

Posted in culture, family, kids at 3:57 am

Many cities in Italy have started a new event called La Notte Bianca, The White Night. Usually held right before school begins, this event attracts tons of people. Stores stay open late. Museums are open, and often have free admission. The street markets are usually set up in the piazzas. Stages are set up for free concerts all over the place. My kids were amazed by a group of breakdancers that had set up a makeshift area to perform in.

We got to enjoy Ancona’s Notte Bianca a while back, and it was just great. I was amazed to see how many people were crowding the streets so late at night. The activities wrapped up around 5 AM the next day, though we were in bed long before that!

It made me think: how many community events are there in the states where so many people attend until the wee hours of the morning? How many people would get the kids ready to leave the house after dinner just to see what’s going on in the center? I think it’s a part of life that’s really missing from American culture.


Residency for Dummies

Posted in culture, family at 3:09 am

Our team calls it “slaying dragons.” It’s our term for beating back those cultural beasts that threaten to overwhelm lesser missionaries and send them running for comfortable America. But not team Ancona. We slay the dragons. My most recent dragon? Residency for Heidi and the kids.

Heidi needs to go to driving school. In order to enroll she must be a resident of Ancona. So we begin the process:

Step 1 – Permesso di Soggiorno. Permit to Stay. Last time we renewed, it took 9 months and 1 police investigation.

Step 2 – Codice Fiscale. Fiscal Code. This is a series of numbers and letters based on your name and city of birth that is something like a Social Security number. The fact that it is based on your name will be important later on.

Step 3 – Contratto di Affitto. Rental contract. Assuming your landlord is legally renting you the apartment, you should already have one.

Step 4 – Passaporto. Passport.

Step 5 – Certificato di Nascita e Certificato di Matrimonio. Birth & Marriage Certificates. Translated into Italian by the Italian consulate in the US.

Take all of this stuff, a bunch of photocopies of everything, and go to the Anagrafe. The residency office. I explain to the nice woman (using the formal Lei to speak to her) that I need residency for my wife and kids.

Problem #1 – Americans have middle names. Most Italians don’t have these, and are generally baffled by people who do. When filling out forms, do I put Brian or Brian David as my first name? Will their computer allow for a first name with a space in it? And, unfortunately Brian Rotert is not the same person as Brian David Rotert to an Italian, unless I have documentation to prove it

Problem #1.5 – At the codice fiscale office, the nice man would only give my kids a number based on my kids’ first name, which is what’s written on their permesso di soggiorno. But their passports list both names (remember how I said the number changes based on how you spell your name?). So these documents don’t all match each other. The codice fiscale office refuses to assign a number based on what the kids’ passport says. And I don’t have 9 months to get the permesso di soggiorno changed.

Problem #2 – The city of a person’s birth is generally unimportant to an American. In Italy, you can’t even get a video rental card without it. My birth certificate unfortunately does not have this information. I can tell them the city I was born in, but I can’t prove it.

Problem #3 – States are a confusing thing here. On this particular trip, the person behind the counter insisted that the city of my birth was actually the county of my birth. In Italian the word stato can mean country. But you translate the word “state” as stato. And there are no states here, only regions. Do you see the room for error?

So all of these problems add up and cause the people behind the counter to have to check big thick policy manuals and go back and ask their bosses if such-and-such is OK. I can hear all the employees behind the thick glass talking in hushed tones about the crazy Americans.

However … dragon slain. In about two months, they will be residents.


30 Whole Minutes!

Posted in friends, home service at 12:05 pm

I haven’t really posted about it on the blog, but I’ve started running.

Actually, I started back when we were in the US. I just realized the spare tire around my waist was growing. A friend of mine called it the furlough-15. This same friend also got me hooked on a running program that takes you from the couch, to running for 30 minutes in ten weeks. I started it, and it wasn’t too bad. Our travel schedule in the US made it harder to be consistent, but a surprising diagnosis of high blood pressure became quite the motivator to get in shape.

I’ve kept up the running, even after getting back to Italy. I found a good running partner and a convenient place to run. And today, we finished the running program. On a whim, at about the eleven minute mark we both decided that today was the day. We pushed through the big hills at our track and made it to thirty minutes of running non stop.

It probably doesn’t sound like a lot to some more experienced runners, but to me it sounds like a lot more than the two minutes that I started with!

Oh – the total weight that I have lost … 18 pounds. And Heidi thinks I’m the biggest stud ever.


Just when I thought things were more normal…

Posted in family, kids at 2:37 pm

Being the incredible dads that we are, Jason and I decided to go see Shrek Terzo yesterday, since school is about the start. My kids had already seen it in English, but it was brand new for me, Jason, and his kids.

About 15 minutes into the movie, Fiona’s dad, who is a frog, dies. And there’s an (uncomfortably?) long sequence where the family is gathered around this frog, listening to his final words of wisdom, before he finally croaks (get it?). And I’m watching this scene and BOOM! I’m back in the hospital in Kansas City right after dad’s car accident. I actually thought at one point how lucky the characters were, because they got to talk to their dad one last time. And then I think, “Did I just say the cartoon characters are lucky? What’s wrong with me?!” That’s sort of where I am at right now. I don’t get as choked up talking about the accident anymore. The nightmares have thankfully stopped. But the strangest images will bring it all right back again.

Does anyone know which stage of grief causes a person to think of their father when watching an animated frog die?


If you’re God, whose prayers do you answer?

Posted in friends, ministry at 5:58 am

The news is on right now, and the anchorman just reported how the Dollar fell to a record low compared to the Euro yesterday. The Euro, which when introduced had a 1:1 ratio with the dollar, is now at nearly $1.40 to €1.00. It certainly makes finances tough when the dollars that people send for our support slowly decrease in value.

But I have an Italian friend who is an investment banker. He is investing lots of his clients’ money into American funds because they can use their Euro to buy more shares than normal. So he’s really happy that the dollar continues to fall.

So if you’re God, how do you decide who’s prayers to answer?


Night Life

Posted in church, culture, ministry at 7:05 am

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Sometimes being a missionary means doing some very different things than what you are used to.

Our team is currently without Josh, and we are about to lose Marcus, both because they will be in the US on furlough. Unfortunately, that means that only old, married people will be in Ancona. Night life is such an important part of Italian culture, and even though the old, married people aren’t used to going out on the town after dinner, we want to make it a priority to be a part of the community.

Last night we met at Piazza del Papa, and under a cloudy sky and the watchful eye of Clement XII’s statue, listened to La Piccola Banda Ikona play “Klezmer” music – which sounds kind of eastern to me. I’m still not sure what Klezmer means. But we met some friends and enjoyed the music and the cool breeze coming in off the Adriatic. We listened to another friend tell funny stories about his experiences at work. One friend introduces us to another friend, and the web of community grows a little bit.

On the surface, it looks like all we did was attend a concert. But looking deeper, it’s easy to see that these little interaction, these little bits of time, all add up into something that could someday bring a person further along in their relationship with Christ.


Dermatite Psoriasiforme

Posted in culture, family at 5:26 pm

So how about that title, huh?

My son and I got to experience the Italian health care system today. A rash has slowly been spreading all over, and we decided the calamine lotion wasn’t cutting it.

Heidi calls the doctor, who has appointments from 9 AM – 11 AM every day. After 11, he will see “urgent” cases on a first come-first served basis. He advised us to come in at 11.

I was really surprised when we arrived. There was a small waiting room with toys and chairs for the parents to sit in. And there was a door that said “Do not enter until the doctor calls you.” People would disappear into the room, and then they would come out. Sometimes kids would cry, sometimes they didn’t. It was all very efficient. There wasn’t any staff. The doctor calls the patients in, examines them, bills them, and sends them on their way. And I was in and out of there in about an hour and a half – and I didn’t have an appointment.

However … since we haven’t yet taken the plunge and bought into the Italian health care system, the bill came to €90 ($123.30), plus €30,45 ($41.72 for medicine). Had I been in the system, it would have been almost free.


I have to call … the FIRE DEPARTMENT?

Posted in culture, friends at 2:10 am

Oh boy … sometimes I’m not really sure what to write.

Last night we had a great dinner out to celebrate Heidi’s birthday. With three tired kids in tow, we hopped the late bus home. When we got to our door, our key decided not to work. We stood there for what seemed like forever trying to get the lock to turn, but it was as if someone changed the locks while we were out.

I try and call my team leader, Jason, who I knew was meeting with some friends for dinner. I was hoping they might have a set of our keys to try. He didn’t answer.

I try and call my landlord. She had recently told me that she can’t find any of our keys, but I was hoping that she had found them in the meantime. But it didn’t matter, since she didn’t answer.

I call Matt. He tells me that the same thing happened to him once, and everyone told him to call the fire department. I was thinking, “Maybe a locksmith would be less dramatic?” But it was Saturday night, and nothing would have been open.

In the meantime, Jason calls back. He asks the Italian couple what we should do. They say, “Call the fire department.”

So I slowly punched in the number into my cell phone. 1 … 1 … 5. The guy answers, and I explain the situation. He gets my information, but warns me that they were busy, and it would be a while before they could get to us. I thought, “If an Italian is warning me that I could be waiting for a while, it really could be a long while.” At no point did he ask me why on earth I was calling the fire department.

I head back upstairs, and our new neighbors from India notice the hub bub. He comes downstairs to try and help, but nothing he does works. So he gets his nephew. He asked me if it’s possible to get into our house from the garden in back. I told him I thought all the windows were locked, but we could go see.

Have you seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Because that’s what he did. He shimmied into the garden, noticed the open bedroom window, and wall-climbed up into our second-story apartment. The kids cheered. I was amazed at how easy it was to break into my apartment.

Lots of thank yous were exchanged. I called the fire department back and had them call off the storming of the gates. I called the landlord back and told her we were in, and she half-reprimanded me for not having other copies of the key somewhere (even though I explained to her that the lock had broke, not the key). I went upstairs to thank our neighbors again, who then insisted that we all come in and visit. They were both incredibly kind, though the nephew just arrived here and doesn’t speak Italian. Or English.

When Heidi left the house to come up, she left the door open with the rug sticking in it so the wind didn’t blow it closed.

Smart girl.