After three weeks of packing and distributing furniture, clothes, books and other household junk to friends and family we leave England (raining and cold) and fly to Italy (raining and hot). Our hotel room is noisy and very basic. Florence does not look so good in the dark and the rain, but it is still a step up from Clapton.
Registration day. The sun comes out, and the view of the city from the European University Institute is startling. I become acutely aware of (a) only contributing one language to the polyglot babble and (b) being unable to explain my research interests even in English.
"Something to do with trade union policy development and Habermas and management and stuff like that" seems terribly imprecise next to "Japanese direct investment in Brazil 1929 to 1974". Maybe I should change my proposal to "The remuneration of academic staff in the United Kingdom 1949-1997".
Unlike most people, we have been allocated an institute flat - partner Charlotte and I have a baby due soon - but we do not know when we will be able to move in.
Saturday and Sunday
Charlotte (speaking fluent Italian and shamelessly exploiting her substantial bump) persuades our hotel manager that we need a quieter room. He has not got any others available but a new and rather more upmarket sister establishment closer to the centre of the city has, and we can stay there for a "special rate". With no need to look for a home we spend the rest of the weekend pretending to be tourists (well, we live here, do we not?).
Sun is sunny, Florence is beautiful, and hotel is air-conditioned. Realise I no longer care that the Dearing report was disappointing.
Visit the institute flats for pre-tenancy inspection. The northern European contingent arrives precisely on time and gets irritated by the absence of institute staff; southern Europeans arrive late and do not care. Stereotypes confirmed. Our flat looks fine. It is big enough for us and a baby and it is cheap. The only problem is that the road the block is on, which is populated by stereotypical Italian drivers who seem to be involved in a conspiracy to deny the existence of corners.
First Italian lesson in the afternoon, held in a villa supposedly built more or less where Bocaccio wrote the Decameron. Seems rather inappropriate to be learning how to tell someone your name and where you are from on a site of such cultural importance. The class is full of northern Europeans - we all arrive on time, but get frustrated when the teacher will not explain ALL the rules NOW.
Charlotte braves the Italian healthcare bureaucracy. She is sent off to a remote northern suburb an hour's bus ride away to register her presence in the system, but is told that her form (a European Union certificate which confirms her entitlement to maternity care in the Italian public health system) is not valid.
They have never heard of it. Why does she not have a permesso di soggiorno? She needs medical evidence that she is pregnant (a seven-month bump is insufficient proof). But their hearts are not really in it and they soon give in and admit they had a memo about this kind of form a few months ago. The system scores a compensatory small victory, however. She is at the wrong office and should have gone to one 15 minutes walk from the flat.
I now know how to say "I am 30 years old. Is there a pizzeria in the vicinity?"
Some evidence of academic life in the institute.
A note appears in my pigeon-hole explaining the seminar attendance requirements for my department (it comes as something of a surprise that there are any attendance requirements). Everything - with the possible exception of the seminar on the mechanics of international finance - looks fascinating and potentially relevant. Wallow in choice of options.
Finally get the computing facilities sorted out and consult the Association of University Teachers' web site to see how they are managing without me. Things seem pretty much as I left them. Funny how none of it seems quite so important any more.
Conor Cradden, Former head of research at the Association of University Teachers. Has now taken up a PhD studentship in the European University.
Institute in Florence.