Under Lock and Key
Earlier this month, we took a business trip to Poznan, a smallish city west of Warsaw and northwest of Krakow. Or rather, Mr. went there on a business trip and I tagged along. He was checking out apartment buildings for sale. I was photographing giant bunnies at the zoo.
Even though Poznan wasn't a top European attraction or even a top place to visit in Poland itself, I was very excited about our quick trip to this city because back in September we found out we weren’t allowed to leave Poland’s borders until we get our residency permit, which, our lawyer told us, would take several months. Several months?! I stared at his fancy mahogany lawyer desk, not sure what to say.
Then, I despaired for days. I didn’t want to accept it. It’s not that I planned to “live” in Poland, while secretly traipsing throughout more glamorous European countries every other weekend (though that too), but more that losing the choice to stay or go scared the living shit out of me. The last time I lived locked by borders was back in the USSR days, a time I barely remember.
Gradually, though, I began to accept this new development. There was a certain irony to it. Perhaps, this was exactly what our optimistic move to Poland from the so-called “free world” deserved – a sobering sign that we had to accept the consequence of our choice and live in it for a while instead of running away at the first sign of trouble (or bad weather or boredom).
And once I accepted our situation, I found myself actually excited about going to Poznan. I looked forward to taking the train – trains are so romantic - and ending up somewhere else, half way to Berlin. Even though I haven’t even been to most parts of Warsaw yet, I was giddy at the thought of having a brand new town to explore.
Poznan promised something special – the mystery of the unknown, which like a drug lures people like me to seek out ever more cities and islands and landscapes and countries. And now that we had booked a super cool attic loft on AirBnB belonging to a fashion photographer, I looked forward to that magical feeling of sleeping in someone else’s bed, of looking at their view and inhabiting their life for just a little while. Because isn’t it what travel is ultimately about - an escape from your regular home on your regular street with your regular weather, people, and laws? For me, travel is a sort of short carnival, made memorable by its briefness and by a certain level of anonymity and remove that it allows.
We got our train tickets, looked up the weather (cold and drizzly – but no matter) and found a list of top things to do in Poznan (a market square, a Baroque cathedral, a must-eat croissant). And then, the day before leaving, our lawyer took us to the municipal office in Warsaw to apply for our Polish residency, which was going to make our travel restrictions official. In a room full of other migrants, we submitted our paperwork, scanned our fingerprints, signed and dated. The frowning municipal officer lady opened our blue U.S. passports and slapped a huge red stamp onto one of the pages. It's ok, I told myself, at least we're going to Poznan tomorrow.
Then, I looked at our lawyer and saw him smiling.
“With this stamp, you can travel,” he told us.
“Travel where?” I asked, confused.
“Like in the E.U.?” asked Mr.
“Yes, the E.U. And anywhere else too.”
We couldn’t believe our ears. For two months, we thought our travel days were basically over and now, one little stamp* and we were free! Free again! Free to go visit our parents in California or my family in Russia, free to ski in the Alps, free to party in Thailand or Sydney or freaking Mars. FREE! The world of choices ballooned in front of my greedy eyes.
And Poznan? Poor little Poznan with its must-see Baroque cathedral and its must-eat croissant quickly faded. It was no Mars, after all.
* We honestly have no idea how or why the administrative gods of Poland decided to grant us traveling rights or if we were just misinformed about the restriction from the beginning.