19 May 1980

Soviet visa and duck

In the morning we drive to the Soviet consulate to pick up our visas. Of all people, who do we see driving past us as we approach the imposing building? Leonid Brezhnev, the President of the USSR and General Secretary of the CPSU. He sits, as per protocol, in the rear right-hand seat of the big black armored car. It looks like a joke but we later learn  that he is on an official state visit to Poland.

Relations between the two countries are a bit tense recently. Moscow does not like Poland's relative freestyle communism. The Polish brother party allows lots of easy contacts to the West and little ideological discipline, never mind the large room for maneuvre enjoyed by the Catholic Church, especially after the election of pope John Paul II and his triumphal visit to his home country last year.

Our visa is ready and is quickly handed over by a dour employee of the embassy. Unlike most visas issued by countries of the world, it is not stamped on our passport, but rather it is a separate piece of paper, with all of our data and a photograph. All of which will be taken away from us when we leave the USSR. Luckily, I took a picture. It is, of course, in cyrillic alphabet, and stipulates exactly where and when we are allowed to go in the USSR. For every day we have prepaid our accommodation to Intourist, the Soviet tourism board.

We are warned by Marian and other friends not to even think of exchanging Soviet rubles in the black market, an activity we have grown accustomed to after months of Poland. It would be very risky.

My Soviet visa

In the afternoon the three of us go for a round of shopping, we'd like to find some porcelain to take home but can't find anything of quality worth buying. Prices are reasonable for us but a proper set of tea cups and pot would cost an average Pole some half of his salary. At least the official salary, but as we know by now very well very little here is official, and very much is "kombinowac", the art of solving problems circumventing the law.

In the evening dinner at our first "duck place" where we ate one of our first meals when we arrived in Warsaw for this incredible experience which is about to come to a close. We called it "the First duck place" to distinguish it from the "Second duck place" we found a few days later. Good duck at cheap (for us) prices. I never had much duck before, maybe never had it come to think of it. Chicken, turkey, quail, but not duck. But I have come to like it and I will make sure I look for it when back home.

Home? What is home? Where is it? Sometimes I think about it. I am Italian, but live in the States, and now feel more and more comfortable in Poland, at home here really. I like that feeling: to feel at home where I am. Maybe I have just been lucky, to spend time in hospitable places and make good friends. Maybe I am a nomad by nature. I guess I am too young to deliver a verdict yet. We'll see.

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