me in the piazza

I'm a writer, publishing both as SJ Rozan and, with Carlos Dews, as Sam Cabot. (I'm Sam, he's Cabot.) Here you can find links to my almost-daily blog posts, including the Saturday haiku I've been doing for years. BUT the blog itself has moved to my website. If you go on over there you can subscribe and you'll never miss a post. (Miss a post! A scary thought!) Also, I'll be teaching a writing workshop in Italy this summer -- come join us!
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Today's crisis

As a lot of you know, I'm going on a six-week trip to Italy and Mongolia, leaving Saturday. If you read this blog regularly you also know I have major travel anxiety before a big trip (and, by the way, minor travel anxiety before a small trip). The anxiety focuses on whatever it wants to but I've learned it's usually about itself, not about real things. So I go about my trip-planning business, make lists, take care of stuff, and then I go. The anxiety usually fades once I'm on the first plane.

Except sometimes it is about real things. I was sitting down by the river this morning when out of nowhere it hit me that I might need a transit visa through Moscow.

Now, on the face of it that's ridiculous. I fly into Moscow SVO Terminal D from Rome, and three and a half hours later I fly out of Terminal D into Ulaan Baatar. No time spent outside the international area, not a step onto Russian soil. But ridiculousness has never stopped a government anywhere on the face of the earth from doing anything. So I went home -- calmly -- and went on the Russian government website. And it says that, even if you're just transiting, you need a visa.

So of course I panic. Calmly. I'm leavng in THREE DAYS. You get visas from consulates, but the government website doesn't list a phone number for the consulate in NYC, just the UN embassy. So I call them and a nice lady gives me the consulate number. I call there and a nice man who speaks almost no English manages to convey to me that the visa office is closed but gives me the cell number of the consul. Which of course the consul doesn't answer.

I go back online to see if I can hunt up any more numbers, or the address of the consulate even if it's closed. I get two more numbers, one a sort of tourist-care number in Chicago, but all I get is voice mail. What is this, a Russian holiday? So while I have the phone in my ear, I keep jumping around online. I go to Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, and lo! I find this nugget: if you're arriving into and departing from the same terminal, you don't need a visa. A huge relief, sort of, but am I willing to trust my Mongolia trip to a travelers' forum on Lonely Planet? And then I find a piece of advice from a traveler to someone who posted that he was doing exactly what I am, transiting through Moscow to Mongolia. The advice: call the airline. They'll know.

So I call three different phone numbers at Aeroflot. The most promising one puts me on hold but sounds like the right place, so I stay on hold. After five minutes I think, Okay, I'm going down there. I'll jump on the subway and walk into the Aeroflot office, up on Broadway at 37th St. I'll get up in someone's face. Then, if I do need the visa, they can tell me where to go to get it. With the phone on speaker I collect my ticket receipt, my passport, my Mastercard, my Metrocard; I put on my shoes, my sunglasses, pick up my keys -- and the Muzak ends and a real person comes on. I grab for the phone, which I've never used on speaker before and don't know how to switch back to normal. She almost hangs up but she doesn't. I ask her my question, standing there at my door with my sunglasses and shoes on and my documents in my hand. She clicks her keyboard, asks me in a lovely Russian accent (she sounds like my grandfather) if I'm a citizen of Italy. No, I say, I'm flying from Italy but I'm a citizen of the US. Click click click. I try not to even move.

No, she says. Our information is, if you don't leave Terminal D, you don't need a transit visa.

My heart's still not back to normal.

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