July 20, 2004
DAY 268: "Une carte Mobilis," I ordered at the Metro ticket booth. Asking for a one-day unlimited train and bus travel pass was the first thing I'd say for this and the next three mornings. The Mobilis card is aimed for tourists who want to zip around hassle-free. However, the sights would have to take a backseat to the errands I had planned that day.
After the included breakfast at the hostel where coffee bowls were bigger than the cereal ones, I was back on the Metro riding to the southeast corner of Paris to get to the Russian embassy, along with Parisians going to work during the morning rush hour. The hustle and bustle of commuters was surprisingly nice; I felt like I was more of a resident of Paris rather than a visitor. I arrived at the embassy around 8:30 to find a line twenty-nine people long already outside the gate waiting for it to open for visa services promptly at nine. The guard, a big Russian guy in a suit, opened the gate on time and led us into an outdoor waiting area with a metal fence around us, like we were cattle in a corral. He gave us each a numbered ticket -- I pulled up No. 30 -- not that it mattered because people cut when groups of ten at a time were allowed passed the second gate and into the building.
The office of the Russian embassy was much like an American DMV office. You went on one of many lines, each one serving a different purpose -- none of them giving you a much-needed cup of coffee. After waiting outside for about an hour I was led along with my herd (Nos. 21-30) out of the corral and into the "Russian DMV" to wait on the tourist visa line. I had all my documents ready for a speedy transaction -- a filled-out application form I printed off their website with photo attached, my passport and a copy of the faxed host invitation from a hotel in Moscow that my friend and wannabe travel agent (and soon-to-be traveling companion) Sam set me up with -- but it didn't really matter because tour agencies had priority over anyone in the tourist visa line, and each tour agent cut ahead with six or more of their clients' passports each. I ended up waiting another hour on that line, even when I was two people away from the counter.
Finally I was in front of the young immigration officer and gave him my documents. I spoke in high school French until he just switched to English with a Russian accent. "Everything is fine, but this must be on one sheet," he said holding up the two pages of the application I downloaded on the internet. He gave me the same applications on one sheet (front and back) and told me to fill it out and come back. I thought I might have to wait another hour, but he said I could cut ahead when I was done.
"The thirteenth [of August]," I replied. He pointed at the discrepancy in my documents: it said "13/08/04" on my application, but my host invitation document only had me there until the third. Stupidly thinking that I could just wing it in Russia like I had been doing in essentially every country thus far, I had my friend Sam get me an invitation for only three days in Moscow.
The officer looked at me sternly but let it slide; the duration of time between my scheduled arrival by plane in Moscow (July 30th) and my departure by train (August 3rd) was exactly two weeks, the maximum amount of time one could get for a visa without having to show supporting documents detailing your specific itinerary. I didn't have those supporting documents anyway because I started booking the train on a whim from a payphone in Madrid (while Jack was making out), something highly recommended to do. (Artour, the Siberian travel specialist agent thought it was insane I was booking it three weeks ahead -- the norm is six months.) Any official proof of travel within Russia I wouldn't have until I got to Moscow.
The immigration officer crossed out the "3rd" and handwrote "13th" and initialized it and told me to proceed to another window with another line. I waited some more, submit my documents and went on another line to pay the whopping 106 euros for next-day service.
THE SOUNDS OF BIG BRASS INSTRUMENTS echoed through the canyon formed by the buildings lining the small streets of Paris and up into my sixth floor dorm room. I had come to a stopping point in my writing, copied the files to my camera and went out to investigate the source of the music. Just downstairs around the corner at a cafe, a group of about a dozen horned musicians and one drummer played for an enthusiastic crowd of cafe patrons and passers-by (picture above) that had to stop and watch for a while, including myself.
In the French summer, the sky really doesn't get dark until about 10 p.m., which is sort of misleading for me because when it feels like it's only six in the evening, it's closer to nine. This was annoying when I didn't get out until "late" to go to the only internet cafe in town that I found with a usable USB connection, three Metro stops away -- only to find it closed.
Tired and frustrated, I just wandered around the still lively pedestrian malls near Les Halles in the center of town until I just went back to the hostel. I could have been our partying or something, but I forsake Parisian nightlife to wake up to get my Russian visa early enough to go to the Chinese consulate right after. In the battle between responsibility and Paris, Paris lost again, but I knew I'd thank myself later.
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