The vehicle in front of me was a minibus overloaded with people, men and women who looked like a bunch of accountants or high school teachers. They didn?t seem at all to be smugglers. A lady in her mid-forties came over to me and asked rather bluntly what was that I was transporting. I didn?t get her question and answered that I was driving to Bulgaria and, if possible, to Turkey. ?That?s very nice?, she said, ?but what are you transporting to Istanbul?? ?What do you mean by that? I?m transporting myself and my luggage.? I noticed that I had offended her and I couldn?t for the life of me understand why. She had just turned her back on me when I insisted, ?Madam, I am just a simple tourist?. She didn?t believe me and asked me to prove that I wasn?t hiding anything from her. I opened the trunk where I was carrying one rucksack with two or three shirts, some underwear, socks, a warmer coat, a rain coat and a portable toilet kit. She couldn?t believe her eyes. I watched her as her eyes were searching every corner for an ingenious secret compartment where I could have hidden bearings, taps, the dismantled parts of God-knows what piece of machinery which I might have traded for blue jeans, carpets, leather jackets or Turkish gold. Her suspicions disappeared only after she had lifted my rucksack and felt how light it was. Then she remarked in an extremely disgusted and spiteful voice, ?Sir, but you are really nothing but a simple tourist!? And she left giggling and in a hurry to bring the amazing piece of news to her colleagues. From the Vama Veche customs building I could hear a roar of laughter.
The importance of owning a passport ?
I had a Ford, a big, powerful, beautiful car which, at the same time, was also very old. It spent more time in repair shops than on the road. That had been its fate until the mechanic told me that I had to change the pistons. If I had had more money, the whole thing would have been very simple: there were a lot of specialized stores selling brand new spare parts which, nevertheless, must have been a lot more expensive than the 300 Swiss Francs I had paid for the whole car. The solution (in my case) was to find the necessary spare parts in a workshop selling dismembered cars. That was how I got my solution. Or at least so I thought because, once I got to the workshop, I found that the spare parts were not compatible with my car. I was lucky, though, because the workshop owner accepted to have them back and gave me the money I had paid for them. Still, I panicked: my holiday was already in sight and my good-for-nothing car was useless. Then I had my moment of inspiration! Instead of traveling back in forth through Bucharest looking for spare parts, I rushed back home, I packed the things I would strictly need in a rucksack, grabbed my passport, dashed to Gara de Nord and got into a coach headed to Istanbul.
I?m not familiar with how things are nowadays but in the mid-nineties there were numerous Turkish companies transporting people on the route from Bucharest to Istanbul every one hour. And the coaches were never empty! I left Bucharest at 4 o?clock in the afternoon and arrived in Istanbul at 6 in the morning the next day. Waiting for the stores to open, I took a breath of the Bosporus air (which I was already familiar with and which I had been in love with since my first visit there). Then I went into a store and bought the spare parts I needed at a symbolic price because they were made in Turkey and not in Germany. The Turks made under Otosan license the exact brand of Ford Taurus 2000 that I owned. The price, road cost included, was much lower than the one I would have had to pay in a Bucharest second-hand store. I was thrilled, so I skipped a 10-dollar-perroom night in an Istanbul hotel I had checked in on previous occasions and got straight into the next coach leaving for Bucharest at 11 am. The first thing I did the next morning, without even going home first, was to go to the workshop which I left in the evening driving my car. The exhaust pipe wasn?t blowing smoke anymore. Then I realized the advantages of owning a passport. Istanbul had become an extension of Bucharest: if you couldn?t find the goods you needed in one district, you just went looking for them in the next one. Or in the next country ?
Translated by Alina Popescu