STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, Aug. 15, 2003 -- As the second person into the consulate, I completed my application just as my number flashed on the wall. The consulate lady was very polite. In Sweden even Russian bureaucrats are polite!
She looked over the application I had filled out and the letter of invitation I had brought from my company.
“Well, David,” she concluded in flawless English, “everything seems to be in order. We can issue your visa…”
I heaved a sigh of relief….
”…in seven days.”
“Seven days!” I gasped.
“Is there a problem?” she smiled sweetly.
Yes, but what the hell? It’s only life-and-death.
“I have tickets back to Moscow tonight! I don’t have the money to stay in Stockholm for seven days!”
“I’m surprised you didn’t know,” she said. “It’s posted everywhere. Everybody knows it.” I replied that my company in Moscow must not know it, because I had been informed that one day would be sufficient, and one day had been enough time in Talinn the last time I had had to leave the country to get a visa.
She handed me a sheet of paper and a yellow post-it with the name Alexander Zelenev. “Here, write a letter explaining your problem to our consular officer, and maybe he can speed up the process.
I was about to learn once again that there’s no problem in Russia that money can’t solve.
I sat down and explained to Alexander Zelenev that I had known nothing about a seven-day waiting period (I found out later my company had even called the consulate to make sure they could issue it in one day) and that I would be deeply grateful if he could see fit to issue the visa that afternoon.
After 20 minutes I was called back in. “Yes, you can get your visa this afternoon.”
“Oh, thank god; thank you very much.”
“BUT it will be expensive.”
“5 – 3025 kronars.”
“I don’t know if I have that much, ” I said – more to myself than to her. I had been expecting to pay about 100 bucksi.
“We take credit cards,” she replied cheerfully.
“I don’t know if I have that much left on my credit card, because I took money out expecting to pay cash. Is it possible to take some cash and some money from the card?”
“No, it has to be either all cash or all credit card. Go to Window No. 4 and they will see if you have enough money on your card.”
So I went to Window No. 4, and guess what! I didn’t have 5 left on my card. She couldn’t tell me how much I did have – only that I didn’t have 5.
“There’s a post office across the street. Pay the money there and bring me back the receipt. We will begin processing the visa when I receive the receipt. We close at 12.”
Post office? I didn’t want to mail my visa, I just wanted to renew it.
By then it was 11:00. I went across the street to the post office, where there was a very long line of people paying money for something. They hadn’t been at the consulate. Why were they paying at the post office? What were they paying at the post office? And then I began thinking: Whatever it is the PO is taking money for, they also couldn’t take part cash and part credit card. I remembered seeing a bank nearby. I went in right behind Sven and Irmgard Olsen, who had lots of questions and lots of problems. Finally they smiled Swedishly and left, leaving me to ask my one question and explain my one problem.”
I had in American money, in Euros, and in rubles in addition to about a 5 in kronars – and two credit cards. Could he change everything into kronars for starters?
“Everything but the rubles.” In Sweden even bank tellers speak English.
So now I had 2360 kronars. I still needed a little less than another 800 – about . The ATMs in Sweden and Finland don’t give you a balance, so I had no idea how much I had left on my credit card. So I gingerly punched on my Russian Alfa Bank card, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and pushed the button. Click-click-click, whirr. So far so good.
Now I only need another from Bank-Americard. Click-click-click, whirr. Trimphantly, I strode back to the post office with my 3025 kronar.
The line was not so long now. Slowly I shuffled forward. Only one person ahead of me at each window. Yeah, you’re right. How could two people in two different windows both have problems that complex and that many whatevers to pay?
It was 11:50 when I dashed back through the Consulate doors – 10-minutes between me and oblivion. If anything had gone wrong….
”The saddest words of tongue and pen
are those that tell what might of been,”
my mother used to nod wisely.
“It’ll be ready at 2:30,” the lady at Window No. 4 assured me, kindly ignoring the sweat that permeated the receipt I had handed her.
Less than 150 kronar – about – separated me from starvation until St. Peterburg the next night, when I could start spending my 50 bucksi in rubles. I helped kill the 2-1/2 hour waiting period with a Philadelphia steak sandwich and four cups of water at a sidewalk cafe, which took nearly a third of my remaining fortune in kronars.
The rest of the hour or so I killed watching a bunch of high school boys play something that sounded like “brand ball,” which looked a lot like softball except the ball was a tennis ball and there was no pitcher. The players of each side would throw the ball into the air and then tried to smack it when it came down. You could strike out, or pop fly, or base hit, or home run, which wasn’t so hard because a run was only three bases. The innings were measured by time rather than outs.
And the boys were blond.
After retrieving my long-awaited visa, I decided to save money by walking (the metro cost about 40 cents per station) back to the Old City where I was to meet our tour bus at 6 p.m.
Old City was where I had been planning to buy souvenirs with the 0-0 or more I had expected to have left. Instead, I had 100 kronar – about . Nevertheless, I strolled and shopped diligently and spent my last 100 kronar on a metric measuring cup, two Swedish souvenir pot-holders, and a souvenir cup of Stockholm.
I kept them all myself. They’re on the top shelf in the kitchen with the 5th of Cutty Sark and two full liters of vodka.
This day years ago:
2003-10-1: Chapt. #6 - Desperately Seeking Blond Boys