Life at the Borders

On 29 May 2014, I had to say goodbye to a dear friend of mine, one who had travelled the length and breadth of the globe with me for the previous 10 years, one who opened gates and granted me privileged access to the riches the world has to offer. For at the end of May, my 10 year Irish passport expired, and I had to hand it in to the Irish Embassy here in Vienna, where it was exchanged for a new one. They gave me the old thing back, but it was maimed at the edges, and stamped all over that it was now useless. My old passport, reference number p131248 was retired, and I would never travel with it again. I was always proud of this old, torn, stained passport as in the space of a few golden years in 2006-2010, we filled up all but three of its pages. Looking through the now defunct p131248, I realised that each stamp brought back some sort of a memory, and that much of my best travel stories occurred at borders, and at these borders is obviously where I used this old passport the most. Therefore the biography of my passport is a study in crossing borders and gaining access to new territories, and these events can often be as interesting as what is contained within the actual country of origin or destination. I thus present here, (in random order, just like they occur on the pages of my passport) a selection of border stories from my days with p131248. They do not attempt to describe the country we were exiting or entering, but merely different experiences in the ceremonial exchanging of one’s existence in one sovereign territory for another.

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How Close Can Vienna Get To Brazil?

Even though Brazil is everywhere right now, with promotions running in every conceivable ad space to remind us that the FIFA World Cup is both imminent and important, here in Vienna it really is a long way to Rio. While the Coke ads show emotion, partying, and every now and again some football, the reality of a World Cup is actually quite different in a country that has not qualified for the tournament. What happens is you get all of this buildup, and then…. some football, and more promotions telling us how we are supposed to be feeling. Here in Vienna, there is genuinely a lot of interest in the World Cup, hence all the promotions and new TV’s in bars, and why we will find it difficult to find a bar stool on many match days, but the truth is that not many actually care about what happens at the World Cup. Austria is not in the competition, and Ireland isn’t either. I am very interested in the World Cup, yet I do not really care who wins, it is just for entertainment. You know, like a US election. Now, this is not another rant complaining about Vienna, for in this case, it is not her fault. It is because there is a disjoint between how we are sold the buildup (based on emotion), and what actually occurs (drinking and watching ads on TV). All the promotions are by multinational corporations who do one ad for the whole world, and don’t care who they hurt. Their biggest markets (US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia etc.) have all qualified for the World Cup, so everyone else can just shut up and buy a Big Mac as if they too were at the same party as the big boys. So, the question arises: is it possible to get an actual World Cup experience here in Vienna, just like in the Coke ads, with people feeling things and everything? Continue reading