28 june 2013, the delights of moscow airport

Though I can't quite claim the fugitive status of edward snowden, I did feel a hand on my shoulder when reading about him being holed up at sheremetyevo. While working in eastern europe in the early 90s, I blithely found that small dollars got you visa-lessly through borders in the baltics, balkans and bulgaria - but not mother russia. Niet visa, an incredulous and armed guard asked me. Problema. My passport and ticket were taken and I was led to my luggage and a dismal corner of what was then a dismal airport, where I can picture edward now. I was sat on a plastic seat with a black guy from zaire. He was full of the joys of spring, joking that I was sat on his bed. Actually he wasn't joking: customs had refused to believe his passport photo was him, confiscated it and ordered him on the next flight back to zaire. As this was fortnightly, he'd been there thirteen days. But its ok, he said, they bring me food & water. After three hours, the fun had rather gone out of the situation, but on cue, the guard returned, with a new resident for the pen, a besuited british businessman. He did have a visa, but one starting (some secretary in london was really going to know about this monday morning) the next day. The suit bawled out the soldier and refused to give up his passport, until finally he was taken to see the airport consul. $10 worse off, so was I. Having walked through the entirety of a massive airport, we arrived at a rather grand, modern portacabin-type structure. A secretary was busily hammering away on a monstrously-large typewriter with latin letters. Eventually the inner door opened and a red-faced russian in a terrible suit smiled sardonically, and walked off. When he returned we sensed permission to follow him in, which I did despite the angry glances of my compatriot, sitting down on a huge puffy green bench, facing an even larger desk. Suit turned from managing director to lamb, and begged to be let in. I should deport you, he was told. Erm, sorry, clerical error. After some moments he was allowed to buy a new visa - for $110 dollars, cash. The consul then took the old one, and, with his thick cigar shaped pen, changed the '1' on the visa to a '0', and stamped it, beckoning a soldier to walk off the now-fleeced lamb. He turned to me. Why you have no visa ? Excuse. You like us to deport you back to warsaw, where I'd come from, or london - at your expense of course. I asked, grovellingly if he couldn't perhaps, on this one occasion, buy a visa. Four hundred and fifty dollars. It took me a moment to compose my face, but really I had no choice given my round ticket back would be more, no doubt a calculation also made on the other side of the desk. Ten minutes hour later, I was through, as I'm sure edward will be too, eventually.