NO VISA? BETTER HAVE AMERICAN EXPRESS
Once upon a time I had no passport whatsoever. It was "the golden age" of communist ideology and there was no use to travel if you already lived in the best of all human societies. Passports were kept safe and clean by Securitate, our version of the KGB. But I had a friend who did not believe that the lack of milk, freedom of speech, soup, and blue jeans meant pure happiness. His dream was of decadent West Germany and he kept trying to swim the Danube, cross the Hungarian border on foot, and high jump the electric fences protecting us from you. Every time he tried (by water, land or sky), our legendary peasants, embodiments of common sense and national pride, would catch him, tie him down, beat him and deliver him to local police for a more professional beating. The last time he tried he was brought home and publicly judged in front of the fellow workers of his socialist factory. At the climax of the theatre the communist leaders staged for the working class they asked him a basic question: why you wanna leave such a wonderful country? No need to answer because exactly at that very moment - due to the National Savings Plan - the electricity was cut in the city. Now he is in Germany living the dream of his youth. He is fat, lost his hair, and the last time I meet him he was falling asleep while we drank some beers after his 10 hour a day job.
Once upon another time there was a revolution. 1000 dead people did not impress the world media who felt betrayed because there were not half a million, as it was said in the first moments of confusion. But what matters is that after some weeks I got my first passport and I started the ten year habit of queuing in front of Embassies. Three or four days in front of the Italians with hysterical mothers and new born kids. The impossible mission of getting through the crowd in front of France. If you get in, you sit and listen to a 40 minute love chat between two Romanian clerks at the front desk who are supposed to be processing your application. Or after a day and a night assaulting Belgium and miraculously finding yourself in front of the desk, you see it closing in front of your eyes … half an hour before schedule. Winter time in front of the Austrians is not a joke. Because of the ice on the walkway, you can easily slip and loose your position in the queue and then nobody will let you in again. The Romanian clerk at the Austrians accepts bribes in full view for letting some guys pass you and enter in front of the queue.
You have to have nerves and a suitcase full of papers: a proper invitation (food, bed and pocket money provided by your host, clearly mentioned), no fax or e-mail accepted; a copy and original of your working record; if you're an artist and have no working record, an official paper from the Union of Artists proving you are an artist; a financial record for past few years; to show you have reason to come back - proof of property (car, flat); a letter from your job agreeing to give you a legal holiday; valid health insurance; respectable references; copies of old passport etc. etc. etc. depending on the different tastes of each of the unified Schengen spaces. And of course you have to have money. One on one with your western counterparts. US citizens pay 60 bucks to get a Romanian visa, you pay 60 too, for their J, E, I or whatever type... But once you pass the first border of the civilized world you heart grows huge and you feel the taste of victory. You have just achieved something important. It's called freedom.
One year after Bulgarians we don't need visa for Schengen states anymore (we don't care about Serbs or Albanians). New year's day 2002 was celebrated with banners: Europe here we come!!! Big joy, national pride restored, old humiliations forgotten, our 2000 years of history re-enforced. We deserve, we are recognized, we are Europeans. Now I only have to show at the border a proper invitation - no fax accepted, a translation in Romanian language authenticated by a legal office, a valid insurance, and 100 Euro in cash for each day I want to spend as a 21st century politically correct, human rights endowed European citizen.
Bucharest, Romania, July, 2002.
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