Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Let's start with the upside:

Breakfast (though again, indoors)! And the flowers outside!

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And, too, it did not rain. Which is important for me today.

I have a fourth point! At the Chicago Caribou cafe, where I am currently wiling away a few hours, a kind patron unplugged her computer so that I could plug in. She did it without asking, in a gesture of sharing. I was touched.

Moreover, I have a lovely evening ahead of me. That's a big one. The family is celebrating my older girl's birthday (a day early) and a gathering of parents and daughters with their sweeties is always, always upbeat and wonderful. But that's looking ahead.

Looking back on the rest of the morning and afternoon hours, I have to say, there was a lot to growl about and growl I did! It's not easy to get me riled these days. In fact, really kind of hard. I have so much that is easy and beautiful in my life that most frustrations get a shrug out of me. Not much more than that.

But the Polish Consulate in Chicago can set the fires burning within. And it did just that again today!
Perhaps you remember? I needed to clarify ambiguities about my Polish citizenship in connection with my father's death this year. (Different rules apply for the disposition of his effects depending on my citizenship.)

And I got a stream of tsk tsk commentary and instruction and reprimand when I tried to reestablish my citizenship here, in Chicago, back in May. And so instead of dealing with the bureaucratic mess I was presented with at the Consulate, I decided to hand over my papers to my sister, who could do it in a faster and kinder environment back in Poland.

The decision was issued in Warsaw in good time -- my citizenship was confirmed. So I am a dual. Okay, The last step in the process is for me to pick up the document every Pole living abroad needs -- a passport. Since I had to be in Chicago on this day for the birthday dinner anyway, I thought -- bam! Two nails with one hammer! I will apply for my passport as well.

After the long bus ride and a host of El and bus connections, I enter the venerable building of the Polish Consulate. (If you are not interested in how bureaucracies function, you might want to skip down to the photos and call it a day.)

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And I get all the tsk tsk, shake the head, reproach, reprimand, pack your bags and go home empty handed all over again! I protest.
I called this office on Friday and I was told I could file, now that I have the decision!
You were told wrong. I can't be responsible for that. (No, but you can have me curse the fact that I got you and not that other person to talk to today.)

Why can't I file? I have the citizenship confirmation, I have the documents listed on the website.
Ah, but you haven't registered your marriage in Poland.

Yes I have! Look at that! I show him the document confirming my Polish citizenship. It has my married name clearly at the top of the form!
What that office does is really of no concern to me. You need to file the change of marital status in Poland with the appropriate
(meaning different) office there.
But I'm not even married. I'm divorced!
That only makes it more complicated.
So go ahead and file it all! Here's my marriage certificate. (I travel with a backpack full of papers in case, like now, they pounce on me with some new request.)
Not so fast. You need an Apostole, attesting to its veracity.
That again? I already did it once!
That was for another office. Not for registering your marriage.
What else?
You need a certified translation of the certificate. Or give it to us -- we'll translate ti for you. For $40.

From English to Polish? You need a translation from English to Polish? You speak English, don't you?
You need to file it with an official translation.

What else?
You need a copy of your birth certificate. Because look how imperfect the Illinois marriage certificate is: it has your age and your husband's age at marriage, but not your dates of birth. Compare that to the Polish one --
he hands me a copy of one smugly -- now that has everything you need, right there!
Well now, my former Polish passport has my date of birth. I have that! And I happen to also have my birth certificate! (I tell you, I come prepared.)
Also that of your husband. His date of birth is essential.
Why? He's my ex-husband! I told you, I'm divorced.
I do not pass judgment on that. I only tell you what you need to establish marriage. Most people will establish marriage at a time when they are happily married. (I get the very real impression that he does not understand the concept of divorce.)
What if I can't procure that, what if my ex wont obtain that for me -- you mean I then can never ever get a Polish passport? Isn't that just a tad bizarre?  (It's less of an obstacle for me than I make it out to be, but I am curious.)
I did not say that. You make your best case. I cannot get into the mind of the decision makers. (I bet. The Wizards of Oz out there are hardly transparent. Maybe they wont accept my name change. That would be interesting.)
So that's it? And if I had all that by this afternoon, I can file today?
No. I am only the Consul for certain conversations. Not that one. That one is done by a different Consul and he is right now out of the office. It would have to be another day. 

And so I have to come back?
I do not tell you what to do. You asked me what papers you need and what to do with them. Once filed, the decision will be made on your name change. Then you can file for a passport.

So I have to come back at least two more times? 
I would not presume to tell you what to do. I am just saying that your case is complicated.

He says all this in a thousand incredibly long sentences and he does not like interruptions. Nor questions that take him away from his preferred narrative.

Of course, he remembers me from our previous (May) conversation. We did not part friends then. I decide to try for a more amicable exit this time, but I see that it all makes no difference to him. His satisfaction comes from outlining hurdles, not from helping you overcome them.

Back I go to the Secretary of State of Illinois to get an apostole for my marriage certificate. But I miss the filing time. By ten minutes.
That's okay -- send us a stamped envelope -- we'll send the papers back to you at home!
Now that's a helpful office.

I had mentioned to Mr. Consul that my sister was met with people going out of their way to help her when she filed papers on my behalf in Poland and that I missed that kind of attitude here in Chicago. But, he is just one peg in the board of workers here and so I should not pass judgment. The security person who checked my backpack at the entrance, for instance, was very pleasant.

I'll include some scenes from my scramble from one end of downtown to the next. And tomorrow, I'll come back to the brighter side of my visit here -- the joy of seeing my girls at dinner.

On the El: can you see that his wrist strap is decorated with bullets?


On the city bus: father and son.

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Running, from end of the city to the next, missing the deadline anyway.

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Neighborhoods in Chicago: onto Wicker Park. Or is it Bucktown? At any rate, it's all about brown and red.

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That last one seems right for a parting photo. May as well be me, with my technology, trying to deal with life's frustrations.