Yes, it's true. I'm starting afresh, totally against my will. The event which triggered this? I went today and picked up my new passport. I'm gutted...well, that's an exaggeration, but I am horribly disappointed with this new, shiny, crisp, thin, empty identity document.
This is my third passport. My first one I wasn't ever that attached to, even though I made my first overseas trip with it (to Paris), and became an ex-pat with it (to Lisbon). But my second passport, ah, it was my eternal companion. We had adventures together. It brought me amusement; it brought me annoyance. I adored it. As an exercise in total self-centeredness, I would like to share a few selected memories, fond and otherwise, with you.
1) A story of beginnings. I used to be early. Really early, for everything. Then I got to Portugal, and found that not everyone was as prompt as I was. So, in order to evolve, I determined to be, no not late, but not so early. This is why, when I realized half-way to the bus station that I had forgotten my passport, I didn't really have time to go back and get it. Which wouldn't have been a problem except that the bus was to take me to visit a friend in Switzerland. In the end, I brazened it out, and made it past passport control on the border from Spain into France (not a problem as I wasn't stopping there anyway), and from France into Switzerland (I presented my California i.d., which got me a rather scathing 'you come to Switzerland with your...driver's...license?!', but which also got me into the country).
Then, I started to worry. On the return journey, I was to arrive back in Lisbon just a few short hours before having to go back to work. Any passport related delays would be very bad. So, I made a day trip to the consulate in Bern (this was the day after my friend and I made a trip to the consulate in Zurich...to find that it no longer existed) to get a new one. At the consulate, the guard at the entrance told me, 'You can't get into Switzerland without a passport.' Then the woman behind the window counter told me, 'You can't get into Switzerland without a passport.' She had more to say:
Counter woman: We cannot issue you with a temporary passport. You should have brought yours with you.
Me: I didn't leave it on purpose. But in any case, I don't have it, so what should I do?
CW: Well, you'll have to get someone to send it to you.
Me: But I'm only here for a couple more days.
CW: Well, then you should have thought of this before.
This is the condensed version. At some point, I decided to give up gracefully and just leave, as I clearly wasn't getting anywhere.
CW: But you can't travel without a passport!
Me: Well, I got here without one, didn't I? So, I'll just have to go back without one.
CW: Wait a minute. Please fill out this form, while I check with a consular officer.
The consular officer was friendly and chatty...'Oh, so you live in Lisbon? Great city, Lisbon,' etc. I got to present some passport photos, pay some money, wait around a while and show proof that I was me (the driver's license, of course). And then I got my genuine Swiss-issued U.S. passport. The old-fashioned kind with the number stamped onto the front. As I couldn't prove my citizenship without my old passport, the new one was only valid for one year. When I got back to Lisbon, I went to the embassy there with both passports, had the old one cancelled, and the new one extended to the full ten-year term.
And, for what it's worth, I encountered not one single passport check on my way back from Switzerland.
2) A story of amusement. My passport's humble beginnings provided a good test of who's really paying attention to what they should be paying attention to. This because instead of the expiration date on the main information page, there was a 'see page' reference, to guide the reader to the extended date. No, actually two 'see page' references, the first for the original 1-year limit, which was crossed out and replaced with the reference for the extended limit. It's scary how many airport personnel and customs and immigration personnel clearly didn't look. Even more amusing are all the people who couldn't seem to figure out where to find the expiration. At some point right before moving to Denmark, I had to have extra pages put in...you'll of course kindly ignore the fact that 90% of the stamps that had filled up the original pages were from Lisbon, London or Copenhagen, and just think of me as a world traveller, yes? Thank you! Anyway, the extra pages were put in so that they cut off the page with the new expiration from the back where only the old expiration page could be seen. I have gotten such great quirky joy out of trying to guide middle-aged men behind glass in airports to where they could find that magical date...'no, it's not expired, the new date is on page 22...no, not so far forward...it's before the extra pages...no, no, the page before that....'
3) A story of annoyance. As my passport was issued same-day, it is not the usual cookie cutter format. It's what I believe is called a 'foreign issued' passport, which I'm not sure is done anymore, or maybe just for cases like mine. This was never a problem...except when I went to open a bank account when I first got to London. Apparently, it's difficult to do this in England, especially if you've just arrived and haven't set up residence yet. I could only go to one bank, because I had a letter from my new employer to that one bank (and in fact to that one branch of that one bank). Everything was done, and I was ready to move money into the account...and then my bank advisor made one final telephone call, about my passport. Not to check on me, but to check on the format of the thing. His end of the conversation included things like, 'no, the information is on the third page...typed...the photo is underneath, on page four'. After the call, he turned to me and said, 'I'm sorry, but we can't proceed because we are unable to verify your passport.' Excuse me? His final words (final because I couldn't stand to hear anymore): 'We're not saying that it's not a real passport, because it probably is.' In the end, I went in with my driver's license...well, it worked in Switzerland, didn't it...and made the very logical case that 'If I can't open a bank account, then where am I supposed to put my money?', which quite worryingly seemed to impress the person helping me...but got me special bank manager approval to open an account.
And now, it's time to start anew. I don't want to. I want to keep my old passport, and add more and more pages to it until it no longer fits in my carry-on luggage. But of course that's not possible. So, my new task is how to bond with this thing, which is so fresh it really appears fake to me. The bottom line is, it's time to travel. I've set my plans for the summer (July studying in Lisbon, and most of August travelling in the Sichuan region of China), but that's too long to wait. To anyone reading this, be prepared, I may show up on your doorstep at any time, ready to show off my first stamp in my new passport.
image credit: http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Image:Gov-us_passport.jpg