18 May 1980

Customs controls, newspapers and cars

FIAT 126p made in Poland in the 1970s and 80s
Witnessing some creative trade with Simona. You can buy very cheap (in black market dollars) good here, like fur. And an Italian lady won't let that opportunity pass. Marian knows someone who knows someone who works at the airport customs control. FOr USD 100 they are willing to close an eye on her departing luggage.

The way it works is that after check-in and passport control ALL luggage, including big suitcases that will go into the hold of the aircraft, are visually inspected by customs officials. They are looking for stuff that is cheap in Poland because it is coming from other socialist countries (mostly the USSR) at subsidized prices. Caviar is a prime example, but also furs, carpets, and gold. It is entirely up to the official to check. If she or he is willing to close an eye, the departing passenger can get away with anything.

In the afternoon I try to call my former roommate at Georgetown, Ben, to sort out where to leave my stuff. After a long wait at the post office, over an hour and a half, I have to give up, despite the fact I had booked time for an international call.

While killing time I try to buy a newspaper: foreign papers have wildly different prices: the CPSU's Pravda costs only 20 groszy (cents of zloty), practically nothing. The Italian Communist party's paper, l'Unità, costs 5 zloty and La Stampa costs 32 zloty, perhaps because it is owned by the Agnelli family of rich exploiters of the proletariat.

Yet it is the only Italian paper available, at least that I could find. perhaps because the FIAT auto company (also owned by the Agnellis) is a big investor in Poland, where many cars are produced for the domestic market and for export. Among them the 126 model. Polski FIAT produces cars in this country since 1932, it's a long history.

There are actually a lot of cars in Poland, at least in the big cities, it is much easier to get a hold of one, even if just a basic model, than in East Germany, where the wait is measured in decades.

In the evening dinner at Marian's, where I meet Nicola.


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