Stamps and medals

Stamps on a passport are like photos in an album, or like honor medals in a jacket. One browses through them, remembers past journeys, and feels a bit proud about all the places one has visited. At least, that’s my feeling, and I believe I am not the only one.

Then, alas, the day came when I needed to renew mine. And, dread, all my medals are gone… See, I don’t know about other countries, but here in Portugal, one is obliged to hand in the old passport before getting a new one… loosing the medals, and the worn-out jacket.

By chance, I knew this beforehand (a friend of mine with much, much more entrance and exit stamps warned everybody …) and I could digitize the stamped pages. Just for memory’s sake. But it’s like keeping photos of the medals, and loosing the jacket.

While digitally safeguarding the passport pages, I looked at an old exit stamp from Croatia, reminding me of that week I spent clandestine (at least formally…) in Croatia, and curious enough, completely unaware of it! I arrived to Hrvatska by boat from Venice, and arrived in Rovijn, in the western edge of the country, province of Istria. At the time of disembark – around 20h – there was nobody there to receive us, all potentially illegal immigrants, from the ship. No border lines, no gates, nobody in the small wooden booth there, in the middle of the pier, which I had no clue at the time that it could actually be the Customs booth (I still don’t, actually….). So I just walked in the country, clueless of my illegality, putting myself in the same boat as the Africans which reach the south coast of Italy or Spain.

Of course, after a week or so, the day of return came, so as the ritual of passing through Customs at the airport. “Where’s your entry stamp?” – the nice Customs lady asked. “Did I need one?” – said my half-surprised, half-“you-have-got-to-be-joking-me-am-I-really-going-to-be-taken-to-Customs-police-and-held-there-until-all-this-crap-gets-cleared-out-and-in-the-mean-time-I-will-miss-my-flight” face. ‘-Yes you do.’ ‘-Fuck…’ – echoed in my head. “You had to wait until somebody arrived” she said after I explained the story of my arrival. Yes, I could imagine myself briefly, camped out in front of the little booth which could, or not, be Customs, spending the night on the harbors concrete floor waiting for the customs’ officer, which could, or not, arrive the next morning… which was a Sunday. Sure… Luckily, for some reason, after a 1-minute pitch of what I did in the country the previous week, she was somehow convinced I was not a terrorist. I don’t know if she truly believed me, or if she was just 5 minutes away from her shift ending, and didn’t wanted the extra paperwork (Crotia is still a Mediterranean country, after all…) but either way she stamped my passport, with a “don’t do this again” smile on her face. And I thanked her, smiling and silently grateful for not having a cavity search in some backdoor cell in Split’s airport.

On that day, that stamp became a ‘smiley’ pin on my jacket.


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