The time has come for me to renew my passport. It’s past time, according to the immigration people the last time I visited the US. My passport has seen better days. Fortunately, I’m told the process for renewal at the embassy is swift and painless.
If you can catch them open, that is. My first trip I arrived at the front door at 12:15, only to discover that the hours for routine services are 8 – 12. No problem, I had accomplished something, even if it wasn’t much. While I was there I checked over the rest of the posted information, and noticed that they close for both Czech and American holidays. Nice job if you can get it.
A couple of days later I got up bright and early and set out for another assault on the citadel. Is was a promising day, and I took my time getting there, enjoying the peaceful morning, the deserted streets… the closed shops… The little light bulb over my head blinked on. It was a Czech holiday. I had known that. I had even asked a few locals what the holiday was to commemorate, but no one knew. The calendar just says “Czech Holiday.”
Well then, the next day was most certainly not a holiday, and I made my way through a morning much cloudier and chillier than the day before had been. There was a long line outside the door. I joined the queue and opened my book. I was prepared for the hurry-up-and-wait routine that I assumed would accompany any visit to an official building of any government. In fact I was too prepared. I was deep enough in my book that I didn’t notice others walking up and waving their U.S. passports to be allowed right in.
After going through security I made my way upstairs to a waiting room packed with people. There was a sign directing Americans in need of passport stuff to a side room, which was also filled with people doing nothing except waiting. I looked around for a number to take or any other imposition of order, but could find none. Finally, self-consciously, I approached a window, fully expecting the woman behind the glass to berate me to wait my turn. Again, I was incorrect. She cheerfully gave me the needed paperwork and instructions on where to get a photo and I was on my way.
Of course, another trip was required once I completed the paperwork. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, using a minor head cold as an excuse, but today I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the last clinging remains of the illness gone in the night. It is bright this morning, but there is a crispness to the air that is invigorating and refreshing, even while it is foreboding. I considered walking the few miles to the embassy, but in the end I decided to get there as early as possible, take care of business, and then enjoy the rest of the day. With my previous embassy visit under my belt, I felt confident that I would not be there long. To simplify getting through security I left most of my electronics at home, and foolishly did not bring a book with me.
There was no line of people outside the embassy. The door was closed up tight, and a sign said the embassy was closed in observance of an unspecified US holiday. Today’s a holiday? Now I’m going to have to find some Americans and ask them what the holiday is in observance of. I’m sitting in a café now, greatly regretting not having a book, as I scratch this episode out on napkins. It is, by any measure, a beautiful day, and it would be a shame to go all the way home to get a book when there are so many nice places to sit and read nearby.
Addendum: I ran into an American friend in the bookstore, and he was equally baffled by what today’s holiday might be. I bought four books, and this afternoon read Bukowski’s Post Office from cover to cover. It was pretty good, but not great. Engaging, quite funny at times, and it’s nice to know what people are talking about when they refer to him. I also bought some F. Scott Fitzgerald based on some comments in a previous episode (and the price of the book), a collection of letters by a Czech writer while he was imprisoned by the Communists, and a book called The Bookseller of Kabul, also about survival and art keeping one’s humanity in a totalitarian culture, and about surviving in the aftermath of a destructive war. It sounds interesting, anyway.
Overall, a nice way to spend a holiday, whatever it was. Tomorrow, I think I’ll pop by the embassy.