EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

All pets in Italy are required to have rabies vaccinations. Those who are lucky enough to have owners crazy enough to bring them on vacation need an official passport. It’s called a Pet Passport. We knew we would travel with Duchessa, so we made sure she had her microchip and vaccinations and sherpa travel bag. (When the 3 of us drove through Switzerland, the border inspection was a quick wave. They have a cat in the car … they are being punished enough … let them drive on.)

Health care for everyone … 2-legged and 4-legged … is administered by the Azienda Sanitaria Locale, referred to as ASL. Pronounced AZ-hill. (Yes, I know.) Our vet told us there is an ASL Veterinary office in a town a few kilometers away. David and I went to the office, always skeptical that the first office will be THE office … and lo and behold, it is the actual office that can help. We made an appointment for the next date that the ASL vet would be there.

On that day, the 3 of us drove to the office. The doctor looked at Duchessa’s rabies certificate … waved the black, boxy chip scanner … and filled out the little blue Pet Passport. We paid our fee … about 48 euros … and we were on our way. He barely looked at Duchessa. A pity, because she is a beautiful kitty.

Duchessa …

The week before we were going to Florida, we went to our vet, the wonderful Dottore M, for the necessary check-up. He wrote in the passport that Duchessa was healthy … we scheduled our appointment, threading the needle as to when the doctor would be at that office and our departure date and the airline’s requirement. Rest assured … pet in cabin requirement. I will go in the hold before my cat does. The doctor seemed very confused … I’m not sure why … Ticket. Cat. Trip. As we continued to explain that we were traveling with our cat, our cat is traveling, we are taking our cat to Florida, our cat is being taken to Florida, another employee … hearing the confusion … came out of her office to help. We turned to look at her … it was Sylvia, one of our dancing friends. Confusion no more. We got the signature and stamp of approval in the passport. We were good to go. Sylvia still laughs about this, and always asks about her friend Duchessa.

Fast forward four years. Bailame has joined our family, so we need a Pet Passport for her. As we were about to leave Dottore M’s office, post-chip, post-vaccination, he told us there is a new system to get the passport. No longer can one simply go to that local office. You have to go to either the main office in Florence or another in Pontassieve … and call this number to make an appointment. And, by the way, it’s a toll call (really?) and you need to use a landline.

That is so very Italian … change a system that works and turn it into something more complicated.

We don’t have a landline, and it’s hard to ask a friend/small business owner to make a toll call.

A few days of thought later, we called from the golf course. One of the employees was nice enough to help me navigate the press-1-for-the-office, press-2-for-an-appointment, press-3-to-be-disconnected maze. Within a few minutes, we had our appointment in Pontassieve. The ASL office even sent me a confirmation email that I quickly printed out. And scanned. And copied onto my smartphone. And memorized.

The email said the fee was 56.71 euros .. paid in advance. We knew how to do this! So off we went to the hospital where they have 2 big, red automated machines where you can pay everything medical. I typed in my Codice Fiscale … and there was Bailame’s appointment in the system. The machine printed a long receipt, which I tucked into the plastic sleeve where I was keeping Bailame’s paperwork. (Italians love plastic sleeves for documents, and I have come to embrace them, too … convenient and weather-proof.)

Bailame … cat and Koufax …

We left early on the appointed day, and found the office with a minimum of wrong turns. It’s set back from the street, behind a building and its private parking lot. Bailame was a reasonably good passenger on her longest car ride to date. In the sherpa bag that has flown and driven so many miles, I was glad that Bailame was adding her own scent to the smells surrounding her.

We walked into the waiting area … filled with dogs. Many were hunting, a couple more suited to life in the city. I chuckle when someone says, “Oh you don’t have to worry, my dog lives with a cat / loves cats / is used to cats”. Unfortunately, my cat doesn’t live with a dog / love dogs / most certainly is not used to dogs. So don’t mind if I glare at you … while using my good dog voice to talk with your dog so he/she stays calm. No bakery number to take, we waited until our appointment.

Mancini. We walked in, not a vet’s exam room but a regular office with two desks. The woman who helped us looked at Bailame … and unzipped the carrier to scan the chip. As we sat there, I saw the list of appointments. Next to our name was “paid” … I guess that big, red automated machine is actually connected to something. Without further ado, Bailame had her passport.

The 3 of us spent a couple of hours in Pontassieve, walking up through the old gate of the walled city. We found a health food store, bought tea, and explained to passersby why we were wandering around with our beautiful cat.

Fast forward a year. Now Annie needs her passport, too.

This time, I asked the pharmacy if I could make the phone call. It rang and rang, then disconnected abruptly. Dottoressa C was nice enough to try again … same thing. We thanked her, and said we’d try another time.

I went online to check the phone number. I had the correct one. And it said the office hours were from 7:45 to 12:30.

Another morning at the pharmacy, Dottoressa C graciously said she would call again. It was 12:15. The number rang … a message played… she pushed the appointment option … and was on hold. Tick tick tick. By 12:28 we knew that no employee who was going to lunch in 2 minutes would be answering the phone, so she hung up. We repeated this a few more times during the next two weeks, each with the same non-result. We decided we might as well drive to the local ASL vet office to talk to someone who might have an answer or another phone number or any idea how to proceed.

Buon giorno, I’ve been calling the main number to make an appointment for a Pet Passport, but there’s never any answer … can you help me? Oh, the woman said, they’ve changed the system. As of today. Now you just come here.

I turned to David and said NEW STORY … and I laughed and laughed.

And laughed. Is next Tuesday ok?, she asked, when are you traveling? No, we need the passport for the future. When are you leaving? No, really, we’re just crazy … pazzo … our other two cats have passports, we need to be prepared. Ok … bring in the rabies vaccination certificate and the microchip confirmation and the payment receipt for 56.71 euros. She wrote the list in pencil on a piece of paper, which she tore in half and handed to me. 10:15. I asked if Sylvia was there … she was. We laughed about the new system which is really the old system.

Annie …

The woman called later in the afternoon to change the appointment. Can we come in at 8:15? Gee whiz, I think, that means I have to set the alarm clock … but I say va bene.

The next time we were near Dottore M’s office, we stopped by to tell him that there was yet another change in the system. He shook his head. I asked if there was a rabies certificate he could print out for me. It’s already in their computer system, he explained … and went to the website to show me. He couldn’t print it … I took a photo, just to be safe.

And we went to the big, red automated machine to pay. Annie’s appointment wasn’t there, so we hoped the office would accept the receipt that our money was somewhere in their bank.

At 8:15 we arrived. (No makeup.) At the counter was a woman with a Rhodesian Ridgeback on a leash. I stood in a corner near a doorway, my body blocking little Annie in the sherpa bag from seeing what to her must seem like a beast. The dog continued to be interested. When the woman realized why her hound was being so energetic, she said (wait for it), She likes cats; we have 4 at home. I smiled … and thought, we don’t have any dogs at home, so my kitty is unused to canines. But thanks for considering that.

It was our turn. They wanted to scan the chip with Annie outside of the carrier, and I said we should go into a room and close the door. That morning, as I tried to get her into the carrier, she was in full jaguar … arms and legs tense, spread eagle, little claws trying to grip onto the opening until I could pry her loose and shove her, gentle yet firmly, inside. I unzipped the top … and she sat calmly. He brought out a long, high tech, Jedi light saber of a wand, said Annie could stay there … and the red light went to green as she was confirmed.

Back at the main desk, they filled out the passport. The important information was covered with a plastic strip … I signed … they photocopied … they were happy with the payment receipt.

By now, Sylvia had arrived at work. We went into her office, and she and a co-worker ooh-ed and aah-ed over adorable Annie. A little chiacchierare (chit chat … a great, onomatopoetic Italian word) before we headed home with our now voyager.

Viva Italia!

RIGATONI-ARUGULA-PARMIGIANO

1 lb. rigatoni (or medium-length tube pasta)
1 bunch arugula
4 oz. parmigiano, coarsely grated
1 Tbl. freshly-ground black pepper
1/4–1/3 cup olive oil

- Cook rigatoni until al dente.
- Heat a large serving bowl with pasta cooking water. When the bowl is warm, pour out the water.
- Place arugula in the serving bowl.
- Drain the pasta, and immediately add it on top of the arugula (some remaining water is fine).
- Toss a few times, then add the parmigiano and pepper. Toss thoroughly … add the oil, and toss again.
- Serve … with extra oil for drizzling.
Enjoy!

PIADINA

1-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup farro flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil

- Place the dry ingredients in a cuisinart; pulse to blend.
- Add water and wine … process until a dough is formed, adding more flour or water, if necessary.
- Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead a few times. You can form the piadina now or let the dough rest before rolling.
- Cut dough into 8 pieces, and shape each into ball.
- Roll each ball with a rolling pin into an 7–8 inch circle. Do NOT make them too thin.
- Place into cotton-towel covered plate, covering with a cotton towel … stack the piadina. (4 towels, folding back and forth.)
- Heat a grill pan until a drop of water sizzles.
- Cook the piadina 1 or 2 at a time, depending on the size of the pan … Flip the piadina when it starts to puff and the bottom has colored (both the puffiness and the color will be irregular). Or … cook in your pizza oven (in which case, there is no need to flip them).
- Serve hot or warm … though I love them at all temperatures. Eat them flat … or fill and fold in half. Classic combinations include … Prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula OR salad OR nutella. And there’s one I’m inventing, when our leeks return … roast duck, leeks, plum jam.
Enjoy!