Pack­ing up the past

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

So we have sold up and are about to move around the cor­ner, from bay to beach. But mean­while, we must pack, and I have cob­webs in my hair and am up to my neck in rub­bish bags. Time to be ruth­less and throw out 15 years of ac­cu­mu­lated junk, es­pe­cially the mys­te­ri­ous and mouldy piles in stor­age be­low the cot­tage. Who among the fam­ily could have re­called we own four leaf-blow­ers, a set of bongo drums, about 20 boxes of mu­seum-wor­thy video cas­settes and (true) a set of samu­rai ar­mour?

The process is tak­ing weeks be­cause when­ever I open a box or bag I sift through ev­ery­thing, read­ing old letters and birth­day cards, fan­ning out air­line board­ing passes and theatre ticket stubs on my desk, and remembering good times with for­ever friends and those sadly gone.

And then there are the pass­ports. I have mine go­ing back 40 years and while surely none of us has ever borne any re­sem­blance to pass­port pho­to­graphs, these lit­tle blue fold­ers neatly doc­u­ment the chang­ing na­ture of hair­styles. There I am with a boy­ish crop, later with se­ri­ous back-comb­ing (hair so big it hardly fits the frame), later still with the nat­u­rally un­ruly curls I had ear­lier tried to tame, and more re­cently with a shorter bob. The older pass­ports are colour­ful af­fairs with full-page visas that bris­tle with many rub­ber stamp­ings and of­fi­cial seals. Some, for African na­tions, have rev­enue stamps and de­cals at­tached. The one for Egypt has a pic­ture of the sphinx; for the Su­dan, a fel­low on a rac­ing camel.

Some coun­tries still is­sue full-page visas and in my present pass­port are those for In­dia, In­done­sia, China, Viet­nam and Myan­mar. I have Land­ing Per­mis­sions for Ja­pan and Zam­bia. None of these is es­pe­cially dec­o­ra­tive but the In­dia one, at least, is a merry shade of pink. So many coun­tries is­sue e-visas and these are un­de­ni­ably quicker and eas­ier but we are in peril of be­ing sad­dled with very bor­ing pass­ports if ev­ery­thing is held on a cloud, and that doesn’t mean one of those lovely plump cu­mu­lus ar­range­ments you see from air­craft win­dow seats but an un­fath­omable space sta­tion of a thing where all our per­sonal in­for­ma­tion is to be held for eter­nity.

Immigration of­fi­cers in EU coun­tries don’t stamp “alien” pass­ports but just take a cur­sory look and wave you through. Aus­tralian pass­ports don’t get marked for re-en­try; in fact most of us sail through the Smart Gate chan­nels, star­ing at the cam­era and try­ing valiantly to re­sem­ble our of­fi­cial photos. That 10-year va­lid­ity is a long time and chaps with hipster beards may have been clean­shaven when snapped for pass­port pics; we all get older and mostly fat­ter. You can’t keep the same pass­port num­ber, ei­ther, although who knows why not when driver’s li­cences are re­newed with­out change. It’s sod’s law that you fi­nally master your pass­port de­tails af­ter nine years and 364 days and then have to re­mem­ber a new num­ber.

I am dis­cour­aged to dis­cover that if you are 75 years or over you have the op­tion of a five-year pass­port. It re­minds me of the great Mag­gie Smith line in The Best Ex­otic Marigold Ho­tel about be­ing so old that it’s a fi­nan­cial risk to buy a green banana. Of which, I am sure I have an en­try stamp with an inky im­age of a plan­tain for one of the Caribbean is­lands. Bear with me and I’ll waste another half-day pot­ter­ing, not pack­ing.

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