Thursday, July 24, 2008

That Little Blue Book

Two weeks ago, I handed over my most treasured possession to an employee at the post office, a bit reluctantly (although, it was never really my possession, as the small text so firmly states: This passport is the property of the United States (Title 22, Code of Federal Regulation, Section 51.9). It must be surrendered upon demand made by an authorized representative of the United States Government.)

(Photo from Wikimedia)

I was both sad and apprehensive.

Apprehensive because my passport has been so important to me over the years and to be without it felt sort of like going out on a boat in a storm with no life jacket. Unsettling. Uncomfortable. Maybe it will all work out just fine, but who knows?

Sad because, although the State Department usually happily punches a hole in outdated or used passports and returns them so you can keep all those pretty stamps and visas, I knew I probably wouldn't get this one back, because it was fairly mangled (the State Department uses the word "mutilated") and I was told they don't give those passports back. I don't know why. Maybe they think I'm going to mangle it more? Or I don't deserve to get it back because I let it get mangled in the first place?

I say, "Hey, that thing traveled thousands of miles with me, 21,000 in one week, as a matter of fact, and a zillion different climates. Of course it's a little worse for the wear, like my wrinkled skin."

And they say, "You're not allowed to play with it any more because you broke it."

So unfair.

And that wasn't my first passport (I think it was my third), but I went through a lot to get it, after my previous passport was stolen in Munich, presumably by the same person who bought $900 in perfume, $400 in beer and $50 in gas on my also-stolen credit cards (these being 2000 prices, $50 in gas was a lot back then, even in Europe). So this passport said, oh-so-sophisticatedly, "issued in Munich," and it had so many stamps: Hong Kong, Cambodia, Jamaica, Canada. I'm one of those travelers who insists that the customs officials stamp my passport, even if it makes them roll their eyes and they have to brush the cobwebs off the stamp before they can touch it.

Finally, it was my last piece of identification with my maiden name. Which brings up all sorts of psychological issues and plain old nostalgia.

But that's precisely why I had to get a new one, manglement aside. A passport is not usable if it doesn't have the right name. Unless you're a spy, of course, but since I'm not and have no wish to be mistaken for one, I needed a new one.

Today, most of my sadness and and all my apprehension faded when I picked up my new passport. I forgot how exciting it is. A new passport represents my favorite concept: possibility. All those blank pages waiting for stamps and visas, all those places I can go, all those adventures to be had. (All you international bloggers I can visit someday.)

(Photo by Jim Wilson/ The New York Times)

Not only that, but U.S. passports are way, way prettier than they were eight years ago, with engravings of American scenes on every pages, lots of stuff to look at until I can fill up all the pages, although the New York Times might disagree about the prettiness part. But whatever. It's my passport.

I can't wait to beat it up a little.

UPDATED: They DID send me my old passport back. Hurray!


Jeannine said...

I have my old passport from when I was ten years old and living overseas with my parents. Just how you look at your passport for it's possibility potential, I look at mine to remind myself that I once traveled and can again. Possibility - love that!

Hope you get to break in your shiny new passport soon! :)

thebeadedlily said...

This was a great article. I'm pretty attached to my passport too:) Sorry they took yours and I hope the new one garners as many wonderful memories as the old one did:)

radiogirl said...

The plan is that it will make its debut in a few weeks. Prince Edward Island, here I come!

Crashdummie said...

must be bittersweet farewell, but just thing abt the possbilities. What will the first stamp be on the new wicked passport.

Hey, does that mean i can expect a visit from you lot at Far Side? Wicked!

radiogirl said...

Crashie, I totally had you in mind when I typed that! Would love to come out there someday.

Jennifer DeDonato said...

wishing you many new memories.

Prêt à Voyager said...

I was devastated when I got my new one (sorry, I enjoyed the older, simpler patterns more myself) without my old one in toe. The one that traveled around the world with me. Mine too was super mangled - the photo bubbling and 2 sets of extra pages sewn in. But, alas, a couple days later, it arrived in the mail! (it even had a Havana stamp in it). Don't give up all hope. You really should get it back :)


Crushed said...

Our passports are horrid, little purple things fitting an EU standard.
You cabn still buy the old covers to fit them in though, the proper leather ones.

I got one, just because it kind of makes you feel you have a proper passport from a proper country.

iHanna said...

I just saw this, and thought you'd want to see if you haven't already:

Hope you're having a great summer Alison!