Breaking Into Europe
There was work overseas, finally. 6 months after 2 weeks to beat the curve, time to get back on the road. Buying the ticket was the first taste of volition, forward motion, and meaningful rebellion in a half year of hell.
Traveling to Europe as an American during Covid is neither easy nor impossible. What guidance you can find online is contradictory, and likely to have changed a dozen times between buying your tickets and arrival. With work taking me to the UK & after a judicious study of the U.K’s guidelines I had two choices:
1 – quarantine for 14 days in England, or
2 – quarantine for 14 days on an approved list of 40+ other countries before transiting to the UK.
Needless to say I had only one choice.
Of those 40 countries only Turkey (with e-visa) Greenland, Aruba, Jamaica, Croatia, and Italy (for work, with substantial substantiating paperwork) are open to Americans. From the U.K almost all of Europe is open to you. I applied for and received an e-visa for Turkey, this would serve as my backup. Italy however was my goal.
Research into Italy proved more confusing at each turn. The Italian Consulate (open only for phone calls, from 2-3, exclusively on Wednesday’s) sent me a stock email with dead links. I found two relevant, but slightly contradictory forms, The Self Declaration Form, and Self Certification Form. Between this and other sources it seemed after arriving I would have to either:
B- quarantine after 4 days
C- Carry on as usual.
Covering my bases I took a covid test 50 hours before flying, printed a full itinerary, purchased medical insurance, and arranged an invitation letter from a company I planned to develop an Observer design with. Arriving at the airport, nearly it’s only traveler, I was told by the airline that it was their responsibility to screen me for Europe (a unspoken rule that proved true across the entire month of travel, and a rule found absolutely nowhere online.) At the airline’s request I showed them emails proving my business intentions in Italy, and purchased, on the spot, tickets departing Italy.
My foremost issues with the global handling of covid is the absurd level of bureaucracy leveled at a crisis that is only combated at the personal level. This combat I take seriously. To fly as safely as possible I purchased, and wore for the duration of the 14h flight an OPS-CORE SOTR respirator mask. Designed for military units operating in highly contaminated environments it offers a complete face seal much like a gas mask, exchangeable filters, and best of all no fogged glasses or that fucking mask-breath-smell. Beyond the higher 99.97% filtration I also gambled that the subtle Bane cosplay would send the right message to any authority figures. The valves proved a point of contention on American flights, but showing that they had filters resolved any issues. Additionally I wore my ballistic “safety” glasses to cut down the risk of eye contamination (3% chance says science).
The toughest hurdle would prove to be behind me, with my passport stamped in Paris connecting to Napoli, no questions where asked. Maybe it was the mask.
I arrived in Naples with 30 pages of documentation, A freshly pressed Anglo Italian suit & Seebag in hand leveled at the Dogana (Italian immigration police). Failing that Istanbul is 4 hours away ( I budgeted a few extra days should things go wrong, so that my plans for London wont be interrupted). Iv’e rehearsed the border-grilling session a thousand times in my head.
The questions never came, no passport check, no inspection, no stamp. After the baggage claim a un-uniformed man with some sort of ID strung around his neck asked me where I came from, I took him for a pushy taxi driver and replied “Paris” (True, and advantageous ). He retreated to what could have been a medical stand.
In a Taxi, in the wind again, laughing. As the first rays of Italian sun hit me the sneaking depression and anxiety of 6 months dropped from me like a sheet. Im in Italy for business, my hours are 2200 – 0500 at Flanagan’s bar, no need for an appointment, I’m there every night.
Every morning 1000-1500 I ran, scouting the city, or swam along the lidos of Possilipo, burning, floating, forgetting. Naples spills directly into the sea, more like Rio, less like a sewer, unlike Los Angeles. The Seebags removable liner bag proved ideal at these urban beaches. It drew no more attention from thieves than a common market bag, conversely the hi-vis rescue yellow was easy to spot at a distance while swimming.
Naples has a reputation for thievery, it’s no more than another set of city rules you need to learn if you want to have a good time. I left my watch at home, kept my phone tucked away, and used my Seebag’s liner bag for the first few days, learning the rules. Playing by them I wore my watch to the inside, and my camera tucked in either my Seebag or Indy. Nights I stuck to disposable cameras. More than what not to do, learning the rules is also learning what to do. My mask rested on my left arm at the bicep, as all the Italians do. I take it as an adaption from the mourning bands they still wear in the south.
After a week it dawned on me I am the only American in Italy. How many times did I pray for a summer without tourists? At what Faustian price where my prayers answered? When Kerim lays down his brilliant succession of cocktails along the Negroni road ( Ottro Teatro, Boulevardier, Paper Planes ) I thought I made it away with with my soul intact and Europe to myself. The devil gets his the following morning, along the first quarter mile.
The rough side of Naples is the charming side, if you can’t see it, don’t go. 6 euros and 3 Michelin stars later you can have a pizza margherita on steps that where probably last cleaned by the Romans. If you like yachts go to Capri, if you like old sailboats, old sailors and old friends tour the waterfront with Giuseppe, down from Florence hunting more vintage for his brand Peplor.
They where wrong about Naples, at least partly, its not rough all over. If you stumbled into Flannagans or The Grand Tour any night and yelled “Doctori” half the room would turn around. Doctors, Lawyers, Actresses all home on quarantine, all stare back at you, demand a shot, and they settle the bill by highest temperature.
I haven’t drank so much, or swam in so much sun since the Recon days. Im drinking like Im 20 with the stratagem of a wicked old man, everyone else is under the table, I’m never up before noon. But all good things must end, I pack my Seebag for London, for work, really.
Im a moving image of efficiency through Heathrow, Tango in hand, Seebag cross body with Paperwork and passport indexed on the outer pocket. I fill out my PLF (passenger locator form) cross the (electronic) border, (empty) customs and derelict baggage claim alone, unchallenged but surely surveilled.
London is quiet, but the charming streets carry on, more precariously, and just as vigorously as before. I drop by all the old haunts, Savile Row, more ghost town than usual aside from the torch in the night that is coffee at The Service. I track down a good celebratory stick with Max Foulkes. I cannot drink anymore but do anyway with Dan Graham.
Beirut via Athens is next. I do my research in preparation. The American consulate spells out an explicit ban, but the Greek tourism website’s opening statement reads “traveling from EUROPE”. Another covid test, more travel insurance, Itinerary, my Beirut ticket in hand. The Greek system of entry involves an online questionnaire in great detail, of which approval is granted or denied only on the day of your arrival. You receive a QR code and number as a pass ( if it starts with 1 or 3 you’re tested and quarantine for a day, 2 or 4 you don’t) Explicitly it’s stated the burden of screening is placed on the airline you fly with.
I headed to the airport hoping for the best and having prepared for the worst. The airline grilled me at check in, they hold me just before boarding to verify by radio:
“are Americans allowed?”
I hold my breath
2.5 hours later we land and I was promptly jailed, alongside some North Africans with real things to worry about. No amount of paperwork, or even pre-approval seemed to matter with an American passport. The gravity of the situation sunk in when they confiscated my tie. By 0600 I’d managed to procure a return flight (all the way home) over a barely there 2g signal. I grabbed my Seebag and head to the gate, flanked by police.