The following is about the last two weeks, at times a Herculean effort on Ela’s part, while at times an Ovidian exile for me. Now that it’s over, I think Ela’s mother put it best, when she said, “You two will always remember getting married.” In her own witty way, she means we had better appreciate how much effort is going into forging us.
The operative word, here, is appreciate. I might as well practice now, with a blog post.
The first days of August came with a surprise, when my future wife and I learned that our original plan for marriage did not align with what reality had in mind. To us, what had seemed like a tightly engineered vehicle ended up being more of a dinged up used car, with a passenger door not closed all the way.
The proverbial door that needed to click was this: a marriage ceremony on Oct 5th, followed by a reception. As it stands, friends and family will fly in from overseas. Hotels are booked. The restaurant, set. The photographer. The makeup. The bouquet. My suit. Etc. Basically, all that is left to plan is the playlist. (Big parenthesis, and to pick up the dress.)
Regarding the fairy tale of a divorcee marrying a foreigner in Bucharest, please see the Romanian Civil Code. I imagine its eager forefathers sweating to death in a windowless boardroom, smoking a fresh one after any debate, as they took great pains to draft the most logical document possible. I imagine all this, for recently the Code has been the source of much of my sweating and Ela’s smoking, and both our planning.
Oct 5th, a Saturday. To lock down this date, Ela and I would need to submit all our paperwork two weeks in advance, at the City Hall in our neighborhood. This crucial step creates a two-week window as inflexible as glass. In our case, it would make Sept 23rd a date as important as the marriage itself. Pretty simple, say the smoking forefathers, except that for us (the divorcee and the foreigner) a successful submission of documents depends largely on two things.
On her end, she needs her previous marriage and divorce mentioned on her birth certificate. To spice things up, take the fact that those occurred in another country. And as far as the City Hall in Bucharest is concerned, an up-to-date birth certificate entails eating red tape in two languages (rosso and roșie, respectively). On my end, I need to have the legal right to stay in Romania, at least during those glassy two weeks between the submission of documents and the marriage. There are a few ways to stay here legally, but as our plan had it, it meant having the Romanian equivalent of a green card, also known as the Stay Permit.
Of course, there are other documents we needed (and had!), but they are not worth mentioning now. The point is, we thought we were all set to go. Thought. That is until, on August 2nd, when we visited the wonderfully helpful, the genuinely thoughtful, the extremely patient lady (can I make sarcasm any more obvious?) who takes questions at our friendly neighborhood City Hall.
The lady informed us, No, your original marriage plan won’t work, sorry. Why? Ela’s updated birth certificate would indeed be ready before Sept 23rd. But, but, but: not my stay permit. How did this happen? We had been so thorough.
The date “Oct 5th” had been on a sticky note on my desk for months, across two different desks actually, on two different continents. The date had been with me in New York, and it was with me when I moved to this sunny part of Eastern Europe.
When I boarded a flight for Bucharest at the end of May, it seemed like we had the plan so clear in our minds, that brilliant vehicle, remember? Ela is great about dates and details. And I’m not half bad at logical steps and keeping spirits high. Together we thought we had cracked the code. But no, what we hadn’t taken into account were all the little contingencies, for a government office to fail to send a piece of paper, for jobs to fall through, or for us to be only 99% sure about the days on my passport, that itty bitty wiggle room that leaves, as mentioned, a car door ajar.
What had happened was . . . First, a timer was set the moment I entered Romania, on May 31st, as a tourist. To play tourist, Americans are granted 90 days, meaning I essentially had until the 28th of August to do what any good explorer does, which is ask for student prices at museums and see pretty things with cool people. In my case, with Ela. I could even get married, but the plan originally was to wait until Oct 5th. So, back to the wiggle room, let me also add that the date of August 28th didn’t actually take into account my other passport. Technically, I had also been in Romania for 4 days in April, as an Argentine. So, really, calculating, let’s say I had until the 24th of August.
Second, all things considered — my entry date on May 31st, the 90-day rule, the Oct 5th wedding, and the two week’s prior notice with the City Hall — this meant that there was about one month of oh-oh time in Romania. Basically, during all of September, with some days before and after, I wouldn’t be allowed to stay as a tourist. My money and lols would be no good in this country.
“So,” as Ela’s brother says before continuing an important line of argument, to get married on that fateful day and still be together, the plan was to get a job. A green card via a work permit seemed like the most sensible way to secure a legal stay in the country. For starters, the work permit route is the fastest way to the “green card.” Also, with a job, not only do you help put food on the table, but you contribute to society. Plus, if you find a job that you really like, even love, then you basically have a 100% real life.
Luckily — oh that funny word — Romania seemed to have a straightforward process. 1. Find a job. 2. Obtain Work Permit. 3. Obtain Stay Permit.
Of course, my darling was ever patient and understanding my first days in the new city. She took me to museums and guided me on road trips. She bought me a grammar book. Cooked fabulous meals. And I adjusted, I partook, I enjoyed. Suddenly, though, not out of the blue, Ela hit me with that timeless life-partner question. It came as hot as a shot fired at point blank: “When are you going to get a job?”
She was right to ask. I remember there being weeks and weeks of subtle suggestion and light email-forwarding of job openings, before she put it to me so. Finding a job is tedious. Sorry, finding the right job is tedious! Anyhow, in June, I buckled down. And within two working days, I had applied to over 50 decent to moderate jobs, with a handful of excellent opportunities. In the end, the right one arised: at Eucom, the number one business language service company in the country. After receiving an especially good phone call from the company, I felt like acting out a three-point shot in front of Ela. He shoots, he scores.
July began so hot, so nice.
Everything seemed to be working out perfectly. I had been offered a job, a competitive rate, and the chance to contribute to an ambitious language company. It seemed fated. To top it off, the company even offered to help process my legal right to stay, aka obtaining the stay permit. Of this, I admit, I can only begin to express my full gratitude (thank you!) to the company’s owners. While job hunting, two other language schools went so far as to interview me multiple times, pass me through rounds of hope and hurtle, all to tell me at the final “sit down” meeting, that, Oops, obtaining a work permit is too complicated. “Can’t you just get married earlier?” they had asked me. All that time wasted. Raise your hand if you’ve been there.
Anyway, Eucom: high-five for believing in me and for putting in the time and effort to bring me on board. Just another example of a top-choice working out. Work starts at the end of this month, and we are excited. Onward to a work permit!
Only . . . wait. Remember why we’re posting.
With the first step sorted out, Ela and I figured, as far as getting married on the stay permit, we were set. I received a formal offer. And then we submitted my paperwork for that fabulous step 2, obtain work permit. The work permit would come in 30 days, then the stay permit after that, in the middle of September. Ela and I could submit our documents on Sept 23rd to the City Hall, and then marry on Oct 5th. Ah.
But, weeks went by, and no word from Immigration. It seemed that the actual date to receive my work permit moved forward as fast as the second hand does on a clock. It wasn’t until July 31st that we finally heard back from Immigration: “Your work permit will be ready for pick up on August 29th.” That was after my legal right to stay! As quickly as possible, we petitioned to expedite. On August 7th, Immigration said, Sure. We will expedite. The work permit will be ready on August 26th. That’s technically before my legal right to stay as a tourist ends, which serves as far as work is concerned, but . . . on a personal level, it is too late for the ever important, ever necessary submission of documents for marriage, if it means getting a stay permit 30 days later, on the assumption that there will be no more slip ups, on Sept 26th. Yes, gasp.
No worries, though, we thought. Immigration will issue a document, stating that a stay permit is in process, which allows one to exit and enter the country, even without the stay permit itself. This document works at the border. But does it work to get married? At the City Hall, the lady tells us the bad news, “You must have a stay permit or 14 days on your valid entry visa.” Because the stay permit appeared impossible, there remained now only one option left — use the valid entry visa — get married asap. On August 7th, I had 17 days left.
Those were enough days. Were. That is until we considered that the problem now shifted from me having the legal right to stay to Ela’s birth certificate. Technically it would have been ready before Sept 23rd. But not as quickly as August 7th.
I packed my bags.
All caught up.
Ovidius Naso, known in English as Ovid, is considered one of the most important Roman poets of antiquity. He wrote, among love poems and elegies, a 16-book collection of myths called the Metamorphoses. From San Fran to Istanbul, this work is studied by middle schoolers around the world. What’s more curious to scholars, however, is his biography: an 8 AD exile from Rome, to far beyond the woods in the east, on the coast of the Black Sea. According to the poet himself, he had taken up residence in a small Greek merchant town called Tomis. The poet also claimed in a letter, rather obliquely, that his forced removal was due to “a poem and a mistake”; for historians, and for Wikipedia-enthusiasts including myself, it is believed that the actual cause of his removal was a love affair between both the emperor’s daughters and the poet.
Fun-fact, my financee was born and grew up in that ancient city of Tomis, known today as Constanța. So, with a little imagination and hubris, I compare the poet’s exile to my own. For the last two weeks of my life — how dramatic! — I had been outside of the country. Truly, my reason pales in comparison to the Roman poet. But still, it’s funny. Ela grew up a hundred meters from the plaza and statue dedicated to the poet. Later, she met me in Italy. Next, helped set me up in Romania a year later. Only to watch me leave, in order to save the days on my passport for marriage.
Back to her birth certificate, since we would process the request for marriage on my visa-entry, asap: henceforth, began her herculean effort.
Around the time we heard the bad news from the City Hall, Ela also received the news that her updated birth certificate was not ready (as it was supposed to be, within 30 days of her July 5th submission) in her hometown. She called the division in her hometown responsible for such documents, and they had no idea where it was. She called the main division of what is essentially the state department of Romania in Bucharest, and they told her she had to make an appointment. Cutting time from her work, Ela woke up early and met with the appropriate authorities in Bucharest, to inquire about her missing approval on her birth certificate update. It turned out the main office was missing original copies of her Italian paperwork (because the Constanța City Hall hadn’t mailed them), plus one other important document (which Constanța City Hall had never asked for), a notary declaration about her last name.
It isn’t hard to picture my future wife running to and from buildings and offices, by taxi, bus, and foot, fixing our situation, under the scorching summer sun, as she did. Most people would have complained, or given up, but not her. When it comes to bureaucracy it’s impossible to point fingers, because sensitive materials have to exchange so many grimy hands. Why had two offices stated inconsistent form requirments, why had one kept originals that the other needed, why hadn’t anyone noticed us, why did the system wait until the last minute; including my financee’s ex. For fun, consider how we would have solved Ela’s birth certificate issue two weeks earlier than we did, had the ex apostiled their divorce papers as soon as they were ready, and not the very last day they were available for pick up. Actually, his father ended up picking them up.
In any case, on that daunting first week of August, Ela fixed everything. We just had to wait an unspecified number of days before her updated birth certificate would be available for pick up in her hometown. Not knowing the date, I boarded an international train bound for Bulgaria.
The closest international city from Bucharest is a town in Bulgaria called Ruse, spelled Pyce, pronounced Rousseh. My fiancee and I shared the same bleak mental image of the town, possibly run by border gangs and tax evaders. To our surprise, it ended up being a charming, safe, cultural enclave along the Danube. I recommend it to anyone needing an escape. Ela and I booked three nights there, then “We’ll see.” Before you knew it, since we weren’t hearing about her certificate, three days became 10 days. I would message the owner with a request for more days, four times. Poor owner. None of this meant we couldn’t make the most of it. Ela visited as much as she could, driving the two and a half hours from Bucharest to spend the night, sometimes weekend, then drive back the two and a half hours, sometimes just for the workday, only to drive back.
Ela called it my artist retreat, emphasis on retreat. I wrote full-time the days she couldn’t be with me, including a few blog posts, and on the novel I am working on. On the days she visited, we would eat sunflower seeds on a bright balcony, share old videos on our phones, and watch movies. Slumdog Millionaire, Vlad Tepes (the historical figure that inspired Stoker’s character of Dracula), and Stanley Kubrick and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Each movie, and ensuing conversation, every photo and shared moment together, only made us grow stronger. As her mother put it, we will always remember.
After 7 days in Ruse, Ela heard back from Constanța. The document would be ready the next Monday. We drove to the coast of Bulgaria, to a small resort town called Balchik, to be as near to her hometown as possible. Apparently one of the last queens of Romania had left her heart there, literally, her dead heart in a vat in a palace there, inspiring many 20th century Romanian poets. The perfect excuse to visit. Saturday night, and Sunday night, we watched Gadjo Dilo (a fantastic French-Romanian movie about gypsy musicians) and Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (which I enjoyed and Ela couldn’t stand, hah!). Great debates. Great moments. Again, these two weeks felt like an exile, but with Ela it felt like a retreat. Beautiful. Calm. She cooked dinners and we explored. By Monday morning, on August 19th, we left at 5:40 AM bound for Constanța.
Important note on leaving a two-star hotel before dawn: you should notify reception. Ela and I, on that last morning in Bulgaria, found the front gate of the hotel locked. Luckily — such a lovely word — my legs were long enough to jump it, Ela sly enough to throw over our luggage, and I to help her over. A cinematic exit to a most poetic exile.
And they lived happily ever after.
This morning (it is Tuesday as I write) Ela and I went to the City Hall in our neighborhood. There happened to be another lady there, much nicer than the one before. After taking our forms, she jotted us down for a civil marriage on August 30th at 10:45 AM. We’ll need two witnesses, a translator, and to ask that morning off from work. (I’ll have started my job.) It will be nice.
Ela hasn’t stopped smiling since we jumped the fence in Balchik. I myself can’t help but feel this warm elevating sensation in the upper left part of my chest. Ovid would have called it eros. A union held together by a bleeding arrow.
The only thing left is the playlist. And the wedding dress, and her hair stylist. Oh. And to let the guests coming on Oct 5th know not to bother with the City Hall. It would have been simple, anyway. Now, we’ll witness the exchange of rings and vows somewhere cooler. Somewhere special. Somewhere, a surprise.