Borders and Bureaucracy
photo by author

Borders and Bureaucracy

Presenting a series on a few things we found in our move from America to Sicily that made us see red, and occasionally white and blue.


Things We Found to be not as Extraordinary in Sicily, Part One

Carrying on from my post last week in which I shared several things about Sicily we found to be superior to the American interpretation, from windows to the afternoon siesta, I’d like to present now some things from the opposite end of that spectrum. Or, more likely, practices, that have on occasion made us see red, and occasionally white and blue.

As before, my only consideration for what belongs on this list is from a user’s point of view, not anything more (well, maybe a bit more than that, but still). It was fun and interesting to hear your comments on last week’s list, please send any along that pop in your mind after reading this one, too.

I had originally planned for this to be one concise post sharing all we had found so far, however, as I started writing the reasons behind the selections I found I had a lot to say (surprise) about each of them. So this is going to come spread out a bit. Hope no one minds, but if you do I can send you the appropriate forms to complain. Just be sure they are notarized, include an apostille and receipt from a local bar.


These days it seems anything you do anywhere in the world is tracked, collected, reported and often sold to someone else, for a host of crappy reasons. From Zuckerburg to Google to everyone’s favorite, free, language-learning app, this invasion of privacy seems to fly in the face of the most common (improper) arguments for border protection, like disease, security, and taxpayer burden, and is shaping up to be the greatest border crossing of all time, an infraction of the sovereign boundary of Self.

Not surprising. If money can be made in knowing where you live and travel to in the virtual world, people will find the means to shake you down, even if it results in misinformation, corruption and secret alliances and the collection of data that can be used against us.

We let it happen, but why? Is it simply an allowable tipping of the scales in regards to the essential dilemma in life which is to belong, but not blindly. Or maybe it’s a test on us unwitting—or merely uncaring—targets of a tyrannical, modern democracy to see just how far it might go before, or unless, someone tries to stop it.

A third option might be simply because we are human. Through the ages our survival has not been tied to isolation or restricting our movements and the movements of others but of sharing ourselves and our stories, which brought trust, gratitude, and acknowledgment in the understanding that we were not alone.

But there are those who fear such solidarity, pretend-feudal liegeman and their Hands, who are not motivated by money alone but by the courage such camaraderie introduces to the arena and the worry that together we stand a better chance against the violent ferocity of their lion.

Which brings me, finally, to the nature of bureaucracy. It became easy, when we began the administrative process of becoming permanent residents of Italy, to believe that incompetence, disinterest, possibly even pride and certainly laziness were to blame for the issues and delays that ensued. We would’ve used words like runaround, obstacle, interference to describe our impressions to one another had we not been so consumed, again and again, with following whatever next steps whatever next office presented to us.

Was it possible, in a country such as Italy, which has seen its population diminished by hundreds of thousands over the past century with citizens fleeing for better education, better work, a better future, the machine that might change that was indeed designed to discourage such border crossings? Or was it, as I shared recently in a post on social media, simply a case of antiquated methods which held the gatekeepers, and therefore those seeking permission, hostage?

The problem here, I’m starting to think, is not that profit pollutes the process—except for the Italian bollo, which, don’t get me started—but arises out of something less tangible than currency and somehow at the same time more fungible, as it forms a frustration of absurd but virtually indistinguishable proportion, swelling with every document, submission, notary, apostille, certification, declaration, etcetera. Much the same way as Tolstoy’s: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The process is exhausting in every transferable stretch of the word.

If the goal were simply to profit then the administrative machinery would, I’m sure, work more efficiently as simplicity is desired over all else in the pursuit of wealth and power—unless of course you’re a bank, which makes money purely through trickery. But then again, getting your administrative affairs in order here does feel a bit at times like taking part in a multi-level marketing scheme, another valueless, financial feature seeking to create insecurity, because insecure people can be controlled. But I digress.

Or do I?

When the purpose is a test of grit the question becomes not one of how but of why would you even attempt such a thing. Some blame the languor of the government worker and sure, I can see how that might be perceived, but then you hear they, themselves, try to explain the steps and you realize that not even those closest to the operation understand how things get done.

And why? Well, there’s the rub. There is no why. It just is, and the only way to get around it is to just keep at it. Like that robot’s absurd, endless dance represented at the 58th International Art Exhibit in Venice. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but if not here’s a clip:

You do the same. You gather the documents, sweeping them into the pile of papers that proves who you claim to be. They say get more, you get more. They say get them notarized, and when you do, they say a notary is not enough, get them authenticated too. And you do that, and on and on, until it feels like you’re living that scene in the robot’s world, frantically collecting, spillover happening here and there, then everywhere, making what feels like an entire mess of your life.

But you keep at it because, well, because you too can’t help yourself, and eventually you hope and believe the bane of it all (gooey liquid, in the robot’s case; a bureaucrat’s stamp of approval in ours) runs out of excuses or existence and just does what you ask it to.

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