Preparations for the upcoming Europe/UK trip are being pursued in fits and starts. One fit happened yesterday and today when the tourist agency that is brokering our Russian visas (visae? visii?) phoned asking for my foreign resident’s registration number. While reading the number over the phone my eye strayed to the expiration date and noticed (picture a momentary pupil double-take here) that my foreigner’s ID card will expire on May 11th, 2004.

Now, I certainly have looked at that date hundreds of times over the past 9 years; the card was dated 1995; but I had somehow gotten used to it always being aeons in the future. A quick phone call to the Federal Police, who handle this sort of thing here in Brazil, was initially disquieting: it seems the Feds were (yet again) striking for better salaries and nobody would be able to take care of my problem until some vague future date.

Needlees to say, I could certainly travel out of the country with no problem using just my EU passport but getting properly readmitted later without a valid ID card – which is the only way I can demonstrate that I’m a permanent resident – would be somewhere between tricky and impossible. So, after some heated questioning of the lady who answers the Fed’s phone, we established that:

1) She was just substituting for the normal information lady, who was out on strike, so she couldn’t give us reliable information;

2) A skeleton crew of analogous substitutes would probably be on duty today, certainly in the morning and possibly also later;

3) Her boss had just said they would probably be able to give me some document certifying that it wasn’t my fault that they couldn’t give me the official document in time for my trip. Heh.

So, today early in the morning, off I went to the Federal Police building, presciently armed with a 40GB iPod, a thick paperback which I had just begun rereading (Greg Bear’s excellent Eon), several 3x4cm pictures of yours truly, and several documents which I supposed they might request.

It turned out that, despite the strike, normal activities were being supported by the substitute crews, so after an half-hour wait I had the chance to talk to an actual live substitute federal bureaucrat. My ID photos were deemed acceptable. I had merely to procure an authenticated photocopy of my expiring ID, pay a small processing fee of about US$23, fill out a form and return everything before 2 PM. The fee had to be paid at a bank some miles away, using a form that had to be purchased at a nearby store, and the photocopy had to be authenticated by a devilish Brazilian institution called “Cartório”, which I’m currently unable to describe more detailedly due to advice from my cardiologist.

Anyway, a few hours of standing in line later (that’s what I had iPod and book with me for, after all) I was back at the substitute bureaucrat’s counter. He was away at the moment but the helpful s.b. at the next counter volunteered to look at my papers. “Hah, that’s all wrong! The processing fee is a different value and we’ll need your passport, too! Who told you to do this?” When I pointed out the offending s.b’s counter, he advised me to wait for that person to return, which he did somewhat later, being immediately buttonholed by his neighbor.

After a hasty conference, my s.b. turned to me and apologized, saying that he was, after all, just a substitute bureaucrat and confessing that he had inadvertently quoted me the wrong processing fee. I was able to make a convincingly outraged face at his suggestion that I return to the bank to pay the correct amount and get restitution of the previous payment; he then helpfully offered to take care of this for me if I would give him the balance due in cash.

Although his suggestion sounded somewhat fishy, I said that I might consider if it the balance were not too large; how much would that be, anyway? He started stabbing away at a calculator and finally vanished into the inner sanctum for several minutes of consultation with his boss – an action which he would repeat a few times later. Thankfully, he returned with the information that the boss had considered the balance insignificant and no extra payment would be necessary. Hm. I forebore to repeat the neighboring s.b’s mention of a passport, as I didn’t have mine with me in any case – it was hundreds of miles away, at the Russian embassy in São Paulo, in any case – and nobody mentioned it afterward again, so there.

Next the s.b. informed me that I would have to wait until after 2PM, when the substitute fingerprinting expert would make his entrance. My weak reference to a huge sign that stated the office’s operating hours to be 9AM to 2PM was brushed aside with yet another invocation of the strike’s pervasive effects, so… at exactly 2PM I was back.

Nobody at the counter. I plugged the iPod in again and opened up my paperback – I was at page 286 by now. At last, my s.b. appeared and again took my reams of paperwork for examination. He pointed at some missing fields on the all-important form, which related to my arrival in Brazil in 1953; things such as the original passport number and other immigration details. I protested that I did not have that information anymore; after all, that was nearly 51 years ago and I had come in as family baggage, so to speak. He vanished once again and returned with a printout of my personal data from the database, where most of the missing information had been miraculously preserved, and asked me to copy it to the form. Purely for form’s sake, I presume.

Next an apprentice substitute bureaucrat (or perhaps a substitute apprentice bureaucrat?) was detailed to guide me through various corridors and elevators to be fingerprinted. Interestingly, two metal detectors were driven into a frenzy of beeping by my passage – I suppose carrying an iPod and a digital camera will do that normally – but neither of the s.b’s on duty nor my guide paid attention. I then was fingerprinted by yet another s.b. using the standard infernal sticky black ink – all ten fingers separately on one side of the form, thumbs on the other side, finger groupings below that, and finally the right thumb (again, reinked) in a separate field in the middle of the form.

I asked if they still hadn’t any better way of doing this, and the s.b. proudly pointed at a complex machine standing in the middle of the room, about the size of an ATM: “oh, now we have this modern laser-driven fingerprint scanner!” And why, then, did we just go through a classic sticky-black-ink procedure? “Ah well, this particular form hasn’t been updated for it yet, sorry.” I was then directed to the men’s room to clean off the ink. No soap or paper towels were available, although after some minutes of searching I managed to convince a passing cleaning lady to fetch some for me from the ladies’ room.

Back I went to my original s.b’s counter… more scrutiny of my papers… more consulting the boss… more copying of code numbers onto the form… and finally, after pasting my ID photos as well as several preprinted barcodes on the form, he tore off a small strip and gave it to me. “Present this and the photocopy at immigration and everything will be fine; your new ID will be sent to you as soon as possible.”

OK! What a relief… and when will it be ready, anyway? Perhaps in time for my trip, even? “Ah no! Count on at least two months!”… icon_lol.gif