Thursday, July 30, 2015


You would have to be at least a two year reader of Ocean to recall my travails with renewing my Polish passport. Let me pick up the pieces of that suspended tale, with a refresher to bring it all before us again.

My dad, who lived in Warsaw for the better part of his life, including in the last decades of his life, died in March of 2013. To participate in the distribution of his very small estate, I needed to present myself with valid Polish identity papers in my own home town of Warsaw. Unfortunately, not expecting to ever live in Poland again, I had let my passport lapse.

When I traveled to Chicago in May of 2013 to renew my documents, I encountered the stern face of the Polish bureaucracy. If in the past certain protocols had loosened up and Polish Americans were able to pay the fee and walk away with new passports, for whatever reason, the country has decided to tighten up record keeping for all Poles living abroad. Basically, that means that such things as name changes (my maiden name had been Lewandowska), marriages (I had entered into a legal union in the US), divorces (mine took place ten years ago) had to be presented before the Polish authorities for proper registration in that country. Only then may you update your passport.

Oh, the work required for this! Procuring original documents, official attestations, legal translations and more attestations, and then filing these before Polish authorities -- each event separately and chronologically, beginning with the request for a legal acknowledgement that I had not relinquished my citizenship, and of course, proper legal authorization for my sister, who walked twice around the perimeter of the earth, it seems, to take my papers to the proper offices and agencies -- all this took the better part of two years to accomplish.

I think my file is in order. I'm traveling to Chicago for the third time in my never ending attempt to obtain a passport at the Polish Consulate there, with my Walgreen photo slapped into the document.

It's an absolutely gorgeous day. I'm up with the sun. I let let the cheepers out, I admire the flowers on the peaceful strip of land that is the farmette...

to chicago-3.jpg

...bracing myself for the city that had been home for six years of my life (when I was in my young twenties), a city I had never loved (never hated either), one that I now think of as the place my kids like to go to, to visit their dad.

Breakfast? Oh, of course! Ed's up for it. On the porch, with delightfully cool summer breezes passing through.

to chicago-6.jpg

And I'm off.

It's a long trip. Car to bus, bus to Chicago airport, train to downtown, bus to the lakefront, walk to the Consulate.

to chicago-12.jpg

Once there, I may as well have crossed the ocean. The TV in the waiting room blares the news from Poland, Polish speaking people drift in -- all there to renew or acquire their Polish passports.

The clerk who helps me process my application is exquisite: friendly, efficient, encouraging.
Do yo have the affirmation of your citizenship? Check!
Your Polish marriage certificate? Check1
With divorce noted? Check!
Do you have your birth certificate? Check!

She glances at me. Are you retired? Do you receive a pension?
I am. I do. Oh oh. Is this not allowed? But not from Poland. I worked here, in the States.
Do you have some letter attesting to the fact that you're receiving a retirement pension? I'm thinking -- did I ever even receive a letter attesting to it? Will she turn me away??

I may be able to find something... back home, in Wisconsin...
She smiles. Great! Because then I can give you a retiree's discount on the passport! Half price! Just email it to me when you get back. She smiles a wide and beautiful Polish smile and then adds, as if recognizing my name from previous lists of "difficult people," -- don't worry, you'll get your passport (albeit a temporary one to tide me over) today.

It's amazing how much a friendly and helpful clerk, administrator, or  bureaucrat can put that bounce back into your step! Last time I was here, meeting with a difficult and seemingly angry at the world consular person, I hated everything about the Consulate and my dealings with them. Today we are not enemies. I'm bursting with Polish enthusiasm.

It's not that the whole process today is seamless. I'm told to come back in two hours. I take a walk through the city, trying hard to stick to my vow that I shall not spend a penny on this trip beyond that which I need to dish out for public transportation and for the passport. I break down for a glass of iced tea, nothing more.

to chicago-10.jpg

I am back at the Consulate at the assigned time of 3:30. I'm thinking -- if all goes well, I'll be on the 5:30 bus back to Madison.

But the passport isn't ready. Ha! The director of the operations is having his last revenge! The administrative staff is apologetic. They don't know what's taking so long.

I watch the people come and file their papers. The place suddenly seems a bit chaotic. If you come through the front door when the security guard is away from his station, you'll walk through. Alarms will sound (all those metal buckles and cell phones and purses filled with who knows what), but no one notices or cares. People wait. The order of operations seems random.

But the clerk at the window is ever sympathetic, as if looking out for me, even as the clock ticks the minutes away. 3:30, 4:00, 4:30...

It's here! She tells me at long last.

Yes, it's here -- that little booklet that tells me nothing new about myself: I am a dual and I remain a dual.

I exit quickly and run to the bus stop. Damn! I just miss the city bus on Division! There wont be one for a while. A cab! Splurge, Nina splurge! Take that cab to the El train stop!

I do. $10. check!

The train comes promptly, the ride is a quick thrity-two minutes to O'Hare. That's two minutes too late for me to catch my bus.

I retire to the Hilton across the road and order the cheapest glass of wine and a tiny side salad. $26 plus tip. Check! I wont be home until 10. I eat every scrap of lettuce on my plate. The glass of wine? It goes without saying...

I settle in for the wait. A young woman pulls up a baby stroller to the bar. She orders a drink. Her child is young -- just five months. On her way to Janesville Wisconsin. Missed the same bus. We talk. I think about how her child wasn't even conceived when I first traveled to Chicago to file for my Polish passport. I glance at my iPhone to study in great detail the photo my daughter sent me of Snowdrop playing today. I smile.

The bus to Madison is packed. But the seat is comfortable, the road traffic has loosened up a bit (why would anyone like living in a city that has clogged arteries at most any time of the day and then rely on their car to get around in that city is beyond me) and I have images of the farmette and reheated chili before me. It'll be a late return, but I'll have finally accomplished my paper goal. The bus speeds to the light of an almost full moon. Did you know that this month will have had two great big beautiful full moons to show for it? It only happens once in a blue moon...