So here in Vilnius, after several weeks on the road, I decide finally to take pictures … at night. I dig down in my luggage, remove the tripod, attach the remote shutter release to my camera, and head down to the nearby Cathedral and into the maze of streets of Old Town. I hope I get a few decent shots.
Vilnius, the capital if Lithuania and its largest city, has a population of about 540,000. History here dates back to 1243. There is so much to see.
In 1902, Jehoshua Lifschitz bought a one-way ticket. All the Lifschitz Family purchased travel tickets. “One-way!” Jehoshua’s brother Schmuel bought a one-way ticket as did his brother Yitzchak, his sister Lena and Jehoshua’s wife Pesha Tziril.
They left Grodno, their home town, traveled overland across the Russian Empire (horseback? cart? train?) to the Baltic Sea where they boarded a ship (more than one?) bound for the dangerous, often disease-ridden “steerage” crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. The Atlantic crossing took at least eleven days.
The Lifschitz Family was not alone. Between 1900 and 1914, eleven million immigrants from Europe made the crossing, 85 percent of them in steerage. Steerage was the lowest fare and passengers sometimes were housed below the main decks of the ship.
Immigrants landed in New York, or Boston. If they were sick, they may have been refused entry. So some stayed aboard the ship and traveled to Galveston, Texas.
They arrived. Most stayed. They never looked back.
So after the drama at the Belarus Embassy in Riga, what can I expect from the Immigration officials when I arrive at the airport in Minsk? Discrimination? Suspicion? Paranoia?
Belarus has five neighbors: Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Will the immigration officer display a Russian attitude, a Ukrainian or Polish or Lithuanian attitude (I have not yet been to those three countries), a Latvian attitude? Or a unique Belarus attitude?
I approach the Immigration counter. A young woman takes my Passport. She’s blonde. She’s gorgeous. She scans the information page, stamps my visa, and with a bright and totally sincere smile welcomes me to Belarus! The whole bit take about six and a half seconds. If this is a Belarus attitude, well, gloriousky!
“Sorry.” Your passport photo is unacceptable. Your passport photo is on a blue background. We require a photo on a white background.”
“It’s a nice photo, isn’t it?” I inquired, hoping for a bit of flexibility that is probably non-existent. (May I humbly say, “My looks and my demeanor usually go a long way in many countries.”) But this young punk of a consular official was unimpressed. “Yes, he agreed, “It’s a nice photo. But it needs to be on a white background.”