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Monday, September 27, 2004

Step Across This Line Susana Magnacca!!!!!!!!!

We here at 47West63rd are happy to report Susana Mercedes Magnacca, the only of the three Magnacca siblings born in Buenos Aires, became a citizen of these United States of America this past Friday September 24. Congratulations Susie!

I feel it fitting to quote from Salman Rushdie's Lecture delivered at Yale in February of 2002 and published as part of the "Step Across This Line" collection of essays:

The most precious book I possess is my passport. Like most such bald assertions, this will across as something of an overstatement. A passport, after all, is a commonplace object. You probably don't give a lot of thought to yours most of the time. Important travel document, try not to lose it, terrible photographas, expiry date coming up soonish: in general, a passport requires a relatively modest level of attention and concern. And when, at each end of journey, you do have to produce it, you expect it to do its stuff without much trouble. Yes, Officer, that's me, you're right, I do look a bit different with a beard, thank you, Officer, you have a nice day too. A passport is no big deal. It's low-maintenance. It's just ID.

I've been a British citizen since I was seventeen, so my passport has indeed done its stuff efficiently and unobstrusively for a long time now, but I have never forgotten that all passports do not work in this way. My first- Indian- passport, for example, was a paltry thing. Instead of offering the bearer a general open-sesame to anywhere in the world, it stated in grouchy bureaucratic language that it was valid only for travel to a specified- and distressingly short- list of countries. On inspection, on quickly discovered that this list excluded almost any country to which one might actually want to go. Bulgaria? Romania? Uganda? North Korea? No problem. The USA? England? Italy? Japan? Sorry, sahib. This document does not entitle you to pass those ports. Permission to visit attractive countries had to be specially applied for and, it was made clear, would not easily be granted. Foreign exchange was one problem. India was chronically short of it, and reluctant to get any shorter. A bigger problem was that many of the world's more attractive countries seemed unattracted by the idea of allowing us in. They had apparently formed the puzzling conviction that once we arrived we might not wish to leave.

I once spent a day at the immigration barriers at London's Heathrow Airport, watching the treatment of arriving passengers by immigration personnel. It did not amaze me to discover that most of the passengers who had some trouble getting past the control point were not white but black or Arab-looking. What was surprising is that there was one factor that overrode blackness or Arab looks. That factor was the possession of an American passport. Produce an American passport, and immigration officers at once become color-blind and wave you quickly on your way, however suspiciously non-Caucasian your features. To those to whom the world is closed, such openness is greatly to be desired. Those who assume that openness to be theirs by right perhaps value it less. When you have enough air to breathe, you don't yearn for air. But when breathable air gets to be in short supply, you quickly start noticing how important it is. (Freedom's like that, too.)

Quote from Salman Rushdie's "Step Across This Line" by kind permission of Random House Publishers.

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