The Great American Ride – Part One 24 April 2018

We received an invitation to go to Santa Barbara, CA Theatre Festival! We could not believe our luck. We learned the news at the Camp-site “Smokinya” while we were at Julian’s caravan. That was very exciting news, and for me – it was just a sensational one. Because I was convinced that I would never see America in my life. For me, it was not a country where everyone could just go. This conviction of mine was repeatedly confirmed by cases around me. First, my brother wanted to go on a brigade and perhaps stay and live there afterwards. We all supported him but the visa application ended very quickly and tragically – “unreliable candidate and potential emigrant”. He received a black stamp for 10 years without the right to re-apply during that period. It took him a long time to get used to the idea that America would not be the country he would live in. Another case was with my neighbour and friend. He left his one-year-old son and wife and went illegally to New York. I witnessed the whole dramatic story, his lawsuits to bring them there with him. For five years he couldn’t make it, and after five more years his efforts were rewarded and they were finally together, but the child was already ten. Were those nine years worth it, without seeing your child, and, most importantly, not seeing how he grows? When they met the child didn’t recognize him at all. My friend missed something so important, for America.

I had many such stories. At visa interviews they are short of dissecting you to examine each of your organs whether it’s visa-grantable or not. I won’t hide that after all these stories and all this difficulty of people leaving for there, after all this strainer of fit and unfit, worthy and unworthy – I wanted even more to go to this land of the chosen. For me America has turned into something really unattainable. Yes, now that I think about my beliefs, the movies, television and magazines have played a major role. I often thought what would happen if I went to an interview. If I dress officially, they will say, “he’s sucking up and pretending to be a good citizen”. If I dress casually – “he’s an outsider, it won’t happen, we have enough like him in America”. If I tell the truth that I just want to see America – again it won’t happen because I can’t just be seeing the United States. If they ask me what I work and I say I’m an actor – “well well, an actor who wants to try in Hollywood – no, not happening”. It just won’t happen – I’m a potential emigrant and that’s it. And I really wanted just to see the States, because of my curiosity. I was already an actor at the National Theatre and I was happy with it. This was my place and my profession, and it was enough for me. I didn’t dream of Hollywood or anything like that. I just wanted to see what the big deal with America was!

Several years before my departure, something else happened. My friend and colleague Alexandra Vasileva told me in secret that a performance of hers was considered to tour in America. They would tour several states and perform before Bulgarian emigrants, but it was not sure yet so I shouldn’t tell anyone. Few weeks later she told me that everything was settled and they leave for 20 days. I was stunned. I envied her a lot. After the visa interview, I asked her to bring her passport so I can see this unearthly miracle of miracles – the US visa. When she brought it I went through the pages of the passport and… Here it is! Blue, with a little red, nice photo with lots of holograms on it. The words “United States of America” were written in very fine font. I was holding it and thinking how valuable this paper is for so many people. If my friend had it, he would have lived with his son and he wouldn’t have missed his growing up. My brother would have achieved his dream and… Then I thought that if I get a visa some day, I want it to be with my best photo. I’ll torment the photographer to the end, until he achieves a masterpiece in the passport photography. Actually, I was very glad that Alexandra was going. It was a chance for me to get over there through her and her stories. That’s why I gave her precise guidelines. Remember everything seen and happened every day and take notes of it, if she has to. Bring me things – American ones. Take photos, and so on.

Alexandra left, and I started waiting for her and her stories from America. When she came back, I can’t describe what conversations, what a miracle. She was telling about Los Angeles, about the Grand Canyon, about an amazing show at a hotel in Las Vegas. A show with pirate ships, one of which has sunk, absolutely for real! The Great Canyon of Arizona was something huge and overly beautiful. She kept repeating: “No, Vladi, you can’t imagine how beautiful it was”, or “It’s so big you can’t imagine it, Vladi”. All things like that. Yes, unfortunately, I couldn’t imagine it at all! She brought me a dice from Las Vegas and a phone book with a dollar bill on the front. They became very valuable to me, though they both had “Made in China” on the back. Alexandra didn’t calm me down and didn’t satisfy my curiosity, on the contrary – she strengthened it. And I didn’t see America through her eyes at all. Then I was telling everyone that Alexandra had said it’s great in America.

So, we are leaving for America, and for California?! We were overexcited and immediately began to think and talk about how we can go to Hollywood or Las Vegas. Suddenly, however, I remembered that we didn’t have visas, and it was something that gave me a pang. When will the interview be? In two weeks. Nightmare. The next days we had a team meeting and they said we would all go to the embassy together. We had invitations from the American festival, but even with this invitation I’m still a potential emigrant. I asked what would happen if they didn’t give me a visa. The answer was that I will be replaced. So, I will not see America. I was sure of that. The interview would be in English, and I know English as much as an Azerbaijan carter. There are things you feel from inside and now I felt I was screwed. And when I remembered that I had a Pakistan visa in my passport and that the attack on the twin towers was the previous year, my bottom was sweating again. I just said it was pointless to give 100 dollars for the interview fee. How could I want to go to Pakistan last year? And now I have a Pakistan visa stamped in my passport. If I knew how this Pakistan would screw me, I would never go there – I mean never. I was getting dejected and desperate. Plus, it’s not fair.

I was the one who wanted to go to America for years. To me, America was the unattainable destination. And what will happen now – everyone will see it, only me – no. On top of this, because of this Pakistan visa, I’ll probably get a black stamp for three lives ahead as well. A stamp invented by the consul especially for my sake, so I can never see this America even in another life. Everybody started to calm me down, but it’s easy for them, not having Pakistan visa. Two long weeks passed. Every morning I woke up with that thought. At night, I dreamed of how I was just about to see America, and every time something came in my way. Days before the interview, I had already reconciled. It was just not meant to be, and that’s it. But now, should I have a nice picture for the visa? Is there a point at all? I decided to do it anyway. I chose my favourite t-shirt and headed for the photo studio. I fixed my hair to look Western. Just before getting in, it already seemed absolutely dumb and unnecessary to do it. But still – come on, for the sake of a tiny success, I will do it. I sat down and made the nice and always working face, which is like someone calling me and I’m alert with slightly narrowed eyes, as if I’m trying to see something far away. I fixed my jaw slightly, because it’s irregular, and if I don’t fix it, it always comes out on a photo like there is something like a hamster in one of my cheeks, with stuffed food. No, I didn’t like myself on the first photo, the second one –again no. The photographer laughed, but he didn’t seem to care much. Who knows how many freaks like me have passed through his hands. Let him think I’m Lily Ivanova, I don’t give a crap. Eventually, it turned out good, I paid it, and I left with the really perfect passport photography.

The next day was the interview.

To be continued…

24.04.2018                                                                                           Vladimir Karamazov ®