Lietuva 7: The Case of the Laundered Passport

Posted May 24th, 2012

It was an honest mistake.

It was certainly not the fault of the washing machine.

It was the kind of thing that happens when one is tired and hot and urgently wanting a change of clothes and needful of clean clothes as soon as possible.

River Nemunas at Balbieriškis

It was something of a trek from Balbieriškis to the southernmost end of the Curonian Spit. I took care of checking in at the Hotel Naglis while my Dear One settled us into our room. I returned briefly to strip out of jeans and filthy shirt so that as much as possible would make it into the wash.

Nagliu gatve., Nida, Lithuania

A few hours later, after we had collected useful stuff at the Nida Tourism Office and after a bite of supper in the shadow of the Parnidis Dune, we heard the cheery ring of the doorbell. There stood our host with her daughter, my sodden passport cupped in her hands like some dead thing, like a precious bird that has expired at the climax of its ultimate aria, like the host at Mass. Her blonde daughter stood ready to translate.

No translation really needed.

passport washed and dried flat

They apologized and I apologized and they apologized some more and I insisted, “No, no, it is not your fault, it is my fault, I should have been more careful, I should have checked my pockets.”

pages of a laundered passport

I examine the passport, peeling saturated pages apart, examining the identification page. It was warped and frayed and not likely to pass inspection at any border crossing. I thought of Stonge, a highschool pal who’d worked for the U.S. government making passports for twenty years. What a giggle she’d be having if she only knew. I lay the bedraggled thing between layers of dishtowel and set a stack of plates on top so it would flatten as it dried.

Unwilling to gamble that this sad piece of identification was going to get me home, I fired up the laptop and found the homepage of the American Consulate in Vilnius. Here was listed a number for emergencies (and this was after hours), which got me to an American woman who said that I had dialed a fully private number. I said sorry and explained the steps that had forced her to ring. She appreciated the information and we parted on friendly terms.

So it was back to the website. I requested a meeting with the visa folks at 1:30 on Thursday, May 24, typing data into all the required fields. Then my Dear One and I went on with our plans. We explored Neringa, waded in the Baltic Sea, feasted on smoked zūvys and wrote postcards. Lots and lots and lots of postcards.

The trip from the Naglis Hotel to the Hotel Rinno in Vilnius was uneventful. We checked in, returned the car to the airport (that excursion will feature in a later post), took the bus back into the Old Town and strolled home. Exhaustion set in and we opted for an early evening entertained by the computer, the television (once a desk clerk explained how to turn it on), and the reading currently loaded on the Nooks.

We slept—for us—like proverbial babes. Or kūdikiai.

In the morning we headed for the National Historical Archives of Lithuania. That story belongs to another post-to-come. From there we bussed it to the central train station (stotis) and walked into Old Town, missing everything significant, especially the Gates of Dawn, but finding savory pastries in the central market which we took into a small park to eat. Worried that we might be late for our appointment at the consulate and completely unclear how to read the bus routes, we snagged a taxi. (Lovely fellow, the driver, and he quoted a price of ten litas—extravagant but what the heck—before we got in the car.)

American Consulate, Vilnius

At one-twenty we entered the security area to present ourselves for the appointment. The staff seemed clueless and finally said something about people having lunch and coming back at one-thirty. We went back out and sat on a wall until it was one-thirty and came back in. This time they seemed to have no trouble understanding who we were and why we were there. Security took my cell phone, camera and Swiss Army knife and made my Dear One remove his suspenders before going through the metal detector.

I presented my tattered document at the window and the pleasant woman protected by the glass barrier consulted with a superior about my situation. The picture and information on the identification pages were in fair condition; their main concern was the chip embedded in modern U.S. passports. Yeah, right, the United States microchips its globetrotting citizens the way some person might microchip a pet. She asked did I have two five-by-five centimeter photos for a temporary passport.

No, of course I didn’t.

St. Constantine and St. Michael Russian Orthodox Church, Vilnius

So off we went to the photo place above the Maxima market on Mindaugo gatvė. “Just a ten-minute walk” my eye; a New Yorker in a hurry couldn’t have done it in less than fifteen. Then it was back to the consulate. On the other hand, getting new photos meant that we got to see the glorious green onion domes of St. Constantine and St. Michael Orthodox Church, a 1913 building celebrating the 300th anniversary of the reign of the Romanovs.

I worked my way back through security (my Dear One staying outside with my cell phone, camera and Swiss Army knife), this time being forced to remove my laced-up boots. In the visa office nearly every chair was occupied by a youngster who looked to be between the ages of 18 and 21. Every single one was headed to America for the summer for a job.

These, my friends, are the restaurant staff, life guards, chambermaids and other laborers who make our vacations a thing of joy. All those American kids who complain that they can’t find summer jobs? They need to start applying earlier and they need to be willing to work as hard and for as paltry pay as their Lithuanian peers do.

I handed in my application form and two copies of the new picture. It isn’t flattering but it is, in fact, less horrible than the one on the passport that went through the wash. I was told I could wait or come back tomorrow. I asked how long a wait might be. The clerk supposed that it would  be something beyond an hour. I considered the mob waiting for their interviews and work visas. I said I would come back tomorrow.

I still, however, had to wait to speak to a consular agent and get the old passport back. I took a seat in the back row and asked the girl next to me where she was headed. “Maine,” she answered.

“Oh, how nice,” I said. “Where in Maine?”

“Kennebunkport,” she answered.

Was I familiar with the town? Of course I was, it’s the summer retreat of the Bush families, American presidents number 41 and 43 and their relatives, and just a couple of hours south of Round Pond where my aunt and uncle preside over their clan.

“Bring a jacket,” I advised. “Days are warm but evenings can get chilly.”

By the time we got back to the Hotel Rinno it was four o’clock and my feet hurt, although it was nothing a shot of icy vodka and a short Ekstras chaser couldn’t fix. The Case of the Laundered Passport is almost over, solved by the untangling of bureaucratic red tape, miscommunication with uncaring staff, the filling out of forms, an excursion to a photo studio, and the payment of one hundred American Dollars or three hundred Lithuanian Litas.

I can pick up the document that will get me home between nine and noon tomorrow.

 


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