Wednesday, May 03, 2006

from Isola dei Pescatori (nr. Stresa), Italy: …what now?

First, why am I on a tiny island in the middle of a large lake (Lago Maggiore) surrounded by hills and mountains?

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Because it seemed like an interesting place to pause for a night. Wednesday we fly down to Palermo. Here’s the lucky thing: I do not have to worry about the infamous pickpockets of Palermo. They wont steal my passport. I don’t have my passport. As best as I can figure out, it’s hidden in a little black case, snuggly nestled on the baggage rack of the train that runs between Switzerland and Italy.

I discovered its absence yesterday (Tuesday), during our final hour of train travel. Unfortunately, it was not the same train as the one that is now home to my little navy book that allows me to cross borders.

Finally, we arrive in Stresa – the place from which we take a ferry to the tiny island, where a tiny and empty at this time of the year hotel is holding a room for us. A room with a view.

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Paco, owner of the hotel, is at the desk. Paco is the single most helpful individual on the planet.

No problems getting here?
Actually, a monster of a problem.
I tell him of my sudden realization that I am without passport.

And thus I enter into the labyrinthine bureaucracy of passport replacement. With very little time before a plane is to fly us down to Palermo (Wednesday, noon).

For passpost replacement, you need to take eight steps (the consulate recording tells me).
First, do not come to the consulate without an official police report (so inviting).

Paco, I need a police report.
Ah. You go to the carabinieri on the mainland, you will be there three, four hours. You will miss the last ferry to the island. I call for you to ask if they will see you. When you go, do not tell them where you are staying, okay? Do not use my name there at all (why? I wonder…). Allora, they say they will see you in half an hour.

Paco, maybe we should go back to Milan tonight. I need to make a personal appearance at the Consulate first thing tomorrow.
No. Milano hotels are all bad, all expensive. Let me find
a room for you at a hotel here, on the mainland, close to the train. You can take the first train out tomorrow.
Can we find someone to take us to the mainland tomorrow before dawn? We’d like to stay here, at your hotel.
Bene! Giancarlo will come in his boat. He will take you tomorrow before the sun comes up. He will help you

At the carabinieri, things are calm. Children play in the courtyard, my officer fills out a form, precisely, with care. My college days Italian suffices. We make it through every irrelevant question. We shake hands, he stamps a piece of paper, I leave.

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across the street from the carabinieri

At a grand hotel by the lake Ed buys me an expensive drink. And another. And expensive internet so that I can finally email my completed questions for the law school exam. And do a blog post. Running, I just make it for the last ferry that makes a last run to the island.

A moment of calm. The island has no cars, no commerce at this time of the year. But it has the views, and the sound of water, and alley cats, moving around, eyeing us suspiciously. Did you forget to return to the mainland? No, we’re not day trippers. We’re here for the night.

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Someone in the kitchen of our little hotel with the wonderful view cooks up a wonderful meal. They open a bubbly prosecco – on the house, for all your worries. We eat gnocchi with saffron, radicchio and tomatoes, grilled fish from the lake, cakes too – you must have all three, for all your worries. And we packed you a bag of food for your journey tomorrow. It’s not much – cakes, yogurts, juice, maybe you can have it with an espresso on the train.

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At 6 in the morning, Giancarlo pulls up his boat, we climb in, cross to the mainland. He gives us a ride to the railway station.
Paco wants you to email him when all is resolved, so he knows you’re okay.

A small island with the most wonderful view, and food, and people who take away the worry with cakes and prosecco and kind hearts.