Thursday, August 11, 2005

To visit my country, you need to get up early and wait

For the last two mornings in the row, I went to Italy Consulate General on 69 Street and Park Avenue, in order to obtain a tourist visa for my trip.

Yesterday morning, I was having an early meeting and waited for a fax to come through. Then I was on the wrong address. I did not get to the side door on 69 Street until 11:00 am.

The visa office hour is officially 9:30 to 11:30. But the poster on the door and on the website both state that from July 19 and on, they only accept first 45 applicants per day. I was pushing my luck.

A security guard in his late 20s was standing there talking to another Asian looking woman. She was not getting in. The guard was not bad looking but has that typical weary and arrogant look of a guard--little power to abuse but not much and with a boredom disrupted only when he feels empowered by his guarding job and people's eye full of questions and plead.

I did not make it hard for him. I said I came for visa application. He said we had already had our 45 for the day. You have to come back tomorrow, at 7. He smiled at me but looked firm. I said thank you and left.

This morning, I cancelled my training at 8. Got up at 7:30, took a shower, put on my Thursday outfit which is suitable for drinks later and headed out around 8:30 with all of my application materials. I stopped at my favorite breakfast place on 55 and 8th Avenue and had a quick but pleasant breakfast.

I knew I was again pushing my luck. I should be more rush and nervous, like a typical applicant, like what I used to be.

Then I walked out and got into a taxi. It is not that far but I don't want to walk under the heat and looked all sweaty when I got there. Traffic was bad. I did not get there until 9:15am. There is a line of around 30 people already outside the side door. In front of me are an American girl and an Indian guy. I was the last one in the line.

I asked the India guy: how many people have been let in? He said: “some but not a lot. I don't think we are the 46 or 47th “(Touch the wood next time you say this). “Plus, he said, maybe they are only using 45 as a guideline to make people come early.”

The American girl smiled and said let's hope that is the case. She is getting a student visa. Usually an Americans don't need a visa to visit.

Sun was rising and it began to get hot. I stood with my back against the sun and kind of wished someone will stand behind me and give me some shadow. I hoped that I will not be send away again today. I opened the book I brought with me and started reading.

An Indian family soon stood behind me and the little boy they brought took a book and squatted in the shadow of a tree and started reading too. He was very concentrated. And I was looking at him. Half an hour passed, we moved forward a little. They let more people in in 2s and 3s. Our hope was high.

A chatty American girl joined the end of line and she said she had been here two times already for lack of documentation. At least it is good to know they treat everyone as bad.

Around 10:00 am, after standing in the sun for 1 hour, I am 2 feet and 2 people away from the black hard wood door. We were waiting for the door to open again and it would be our turn to enter the sacred place and ask for a permission to spend our money and precious time in their beautiful country.

I began to fantasize cool waiting rooms in both style and temperature, high ceilings like the church in Italy, and maybe paintings, fake ones by the renaissance masters. The door finally opened. The good looking guard showed his face and asked: who is the next one in line?" The American girl was. He let her in and said to the rest of us, which was 5 of us in total under the Sun, not Tuscany sun, but just as hot, "we are done for today. We got our 45 applicants".

I stared into his eyes and asked “Please. Can you take maybe a few more? There are only 5 of us.”
He recognized me “I told you to come at 7. When did you get here?”
He shook his head, but in a half-joking way.
“You have to come back tomorrow then.”
“But it is closed tomorrow”.
“Oh. Sorry. You have to come back Monday morning”.
I looked at him saying nothing and trying to gain some sympathy just being cute and persistent.
Maybe there is indeed nothing he can do.
The chatty girl tried also to gain some advantage just by being a nice and sweet girl. The guard does not give in.
The five of us remain outside of the door. And the Indian guy and I were exactly the 46th and 47th.

I am the 47th on the line of visa application outside Italian Consulate in New York on the 11th day of August of the year 2005. I don't know whether that is of any significance to anyone. What I do know is that I need to go away and come back again to wait in line and to hope that I am a number less or equal of 45 some other time.

I don't know how they reach the number 45. It is only 10:00 am and the office hour is supposedly until 11:30.

I remembered the visa office of US in Montreal, visa office of Canada in New York, that of Singapore in New York. There will be long lines but there is not weird rule like this where large degree of uncertainty is built in. Maybe this is the Italian style. Maybe they want to make sure enough Fiesta time is set aside.

But then I also remember the long line of visa office of US in Beijing where the ultimate level of patience and tolerance of loss of dignity will be tested, not because of the US policy but because the attitude of the Chinese Guard, I know this is not as bad. Friday office is closed. It seems that they also have a summer Friday schedule. So I will come back on Monday morning. I will come at 8:00. I will make sure I am in the 20s or 30s, but I will be able to get in.

I heard the efficiency of the visa processing is even worse. I pray that the hotel reservations that are asked to fax in to the Consulate which bears my name and can be found whenever I am able to get in. I know questions will be asked and more materials will be needed and I may need to make phone calls right there to Italy to ask for things.

I will do all that just to see Rome for the first time, at this time of my life. I want to see the color of Mediterranean, tanned skin of people, and villas on the mountains off the Amalfi coast. I shall worry as a tourist about pick pockets and getting lost.

And I will keep on coming back until I get this visa to go.

And I find this Song relevant to how I feel right now about this waiting anxiety

Right Here lyrics

I know I've been mistaken
But just give me a break and see the changes that I've made
I've got some imperfections
But how can you collect them all and throw them in my face
But you always find a way to keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting
And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting
I hope you're not intending
To be so condescending it's as much as i can take
and you're so independent
you just refuse to bend so I keep bending till I break
But you always find a way to keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting
And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting
I've made a commitment
I'm willing to bleed for you
I needed fulfillment
I found what I need in you
Why can't you just forgive me
I don't want to relive all the mistakes I've made along the way
But I always find a way to keep you right here waiting
I always find the words to say to keep you right here waiting
But you always find a way
To keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting
And if I chose to walk away would you be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep me right here waiting


Anonymous said...

last time I visited France, Italy and Switzerland, I mailed the application (and I believe it was in the hands of French consulate). The waiting itself anyway would make me wondering how well I would be treated in that country.

Beijing Loafer said...

Five years ago I applied for a visa to Italy in San Fran. The visa officer asked me for evidence that I have a job in the States. I had a new job offer then but I really wanted to ask him why he would think I'd consider staying in Italy to take jobs away from him compatriots.

Still, Italy is worth the wait. I loved Rome and Venice.