Disclaimer: The following account is a very true story, of course, names of agency and persons have been changed. HOWEVER, this is NOT a typical (at least we hope it isn’t) example of an “everyday” experience one might expect to encounter in any national consulate’s office. We hope you just enjoy our experience, all the same —however oddball and unsettling as it was at the time, so many years ago. We are certain diplomatic protocols have changed to be more friendly since the 90s…we…hope. Pictures tossed into this post are for entertainment purposes, not in any way to be inferred as being connected, to the story.
It was an early Spring day and C J and I were taking a little break from a flurry of cleaning activities in the prep-room.
We emerged to set upon the steps out back so C J could indulge in her cigarette habit as I took in a little of the warmth on the soft earth. Just then, I spotted a fetching dandelion, about to go to seed! Ha! A nice treat that would be…
…or not! Just then, Mr. Becker appeared and I scrambled furiously up the cuff of C J’s pant leg, which elicited some vocal excitement from her and an equally surprised look from Mr. B as I did so.
“C J! What is the matter with you? Always so easily spooked! You really ought to cut back on that fancy coffee you drink so much of…” he rambled.
“What did you need, sir?” asked a startled C J, hurrying to her feet.
“I need you to take these papers for Mrs. Galey down to the city, to the Fantasian[i] Consulate’s Office,” he said. We were going out of town today. Going on a long trip, oh boy!
“Yes sir, I’ll go up and get my things put away and get ready to leave right away,” she answered.
Within half an hour, we were headed down that long road leading toward the metropolitan place they referred to as ‘the city.’ That place was huge and fascinating, but as a mouse, I can say with certainty that I would be terribly frightened to have to fend for myself in such an expanse of noise and concrete and cars.
Mrs. Galey was a ‘ship-out;’ that meant she was going to be sent for burial in another country. She came from Fantasia and that is where she wished to return for her final resting place as well. Sometimes these arrangements were made without any hitches; others were rife with problems. For C J, they were always an adventure. I liked it when we could get away from the old routine and hit the open road! We had never been to the Fantasian place before.
It was a long journey of more than two hours before we finally pulled into the very center of the downtown business district of the metropolitan city area. The buildings rose up to meet the blue sky like tall, blackened glass candles. I got dizzy just trying to see to the tops! I felt the plunk of a hand push me down into the briefcase, saving me from myself, as I nearly toppled off the zippered edge looking all about.
“Stay down or ELSE!” C J admonished in her loud whisper as we entered the door of the elevator. Of course, I did as told. I could feel the funny flutter in my tummy as we flew up the floors to our destination and very relieved when we exited at the 18th floor and made our way to the front desk of the Fantasian Consul’s office.
C J was handed some odd paperwork and asked to fill several pages about herself out as we waited for our turn. I poked my head out to see that she was perplexed with each progressively, personally probing page. Her brow furrowed, at first, and then there was an unmistakable scowl. Oh my! Whatever could be the problem?
C J rose from her chair, crossed over to the receptionist, and politely asked why she was being made to fill out these questionnaires. The papers were job applications! She was met by a blank stare and no intelligible answer from the doe-eyed dodo behind the desk. Dodo picked up the phone and, in a language assumed to be Fantasian, spoke to someone briefly, and hung up. Dodo managed a weak smile and said we could go in now.
We entered a spacious, light-filled suite which contained three desks and a whole lot of clutter dripping off the shelves. There were two men and a woman, each at a desk littered with piles of papers and computers and such. They spoke to each other in harsh, strange language of their own, not of English; they waved C J to sit, in bare acknowledgment of her entrance into the room. They continued to banter amongst themselves for what seemed an eternity before one of the men motioned to C J to hand paperwork to him. In doing so, C J quickly snatched the papers beside me in the case, nearly lifting me out with them.
It was all so off-putting, the gruff way he grumbled as he rifled through the neatly typed bundle of documents she’d presented. C J was shrinking in her chair, I could see. The moments ticked by like hours, as he seemed to ignore her there in front of him. Suddenly, in a burst, he jumped from his chair and literally threw the pages at the woman across from us at the next desk! The outburst in Fantasian was akin to what I assumed would be a curse word!
The woman replied with a gasp and spat out the word “Galey!” The look of disdain on her face was dark and ominous! She glared at C J with a curled upper lip as she picked up the paperwork to read further.
C J became even smaller in her chair…almost as if someone had just walked over and slapped the poor girl!
The woman began to speak loudly in her foreign tongue and repeated the name ‘Galey’ with indignity numerous times as she pulled a stamp pad from her top drawer and began to violently, deliberately stamp each page in the bundle. What in the world could be wrong?
This went on for another fifteen minutes…I tell you, it was weird and tortuous. C J sat like a captive in her chair, frozen, unable even to flinch or speak. Meanwhile, the two men and the woman were engaged in what seemed like a personally charged argument, with animated hand gestures punctuating each retort and rebuttal. The debate went on. Periodically, the name ‘Galey’ flew from the lips of the woman and she made the spitting gesture at the paperwork, again rubber-stamping as she did so. It was surreal.
After another thirty minutes of this angry weirdness, the woman hurled the bundled documents at the third man, missing his head by a mere couple of inches. The inky, crumpled mess landed on the floor behind his chair and the whole rigmarole began anew. He shook his fist and threw a paperweight at her…it missed and landed in the waste can. YIKES!
This was getting serious! I crouched low in the briefcase. I feared that we might never be able to leave this awful place. Was this about to turn into an international incident?
Then, it became quiet.
We were finally able to leave after another hour. C J stuffed the papers into the briefcase and rushed out of the suite, half-running for the elevator. We could hear the voices and yelling resume as the doors shut behind us.
C J was just so happy to have an approval for Mrs. Galey to be able to be flown out and accepted in her homeland for burial after that incredible experience. After all, it was up to those people to permit this and it sure wasn’t looking favorable, the way things were unfolding in there. I didn’t understand why all the fuss. Give me some crackers and I am happy just handling the cares of being ME, thanks!
On our way home, we talked about the ordeal and we came to our own conclusion that the Fantasians must not have been too pleased that Mrs. Galey had apparently married an Anglo, or an American, and not a Fantasian — as apparent by her name ‘Galey.’
We never really knew for sure, but that’s the best answer we could come up with, because, as the old saying goes: it was all Greek to us.
©2014, C.S. Thompson.
[i] fictional name for the actual national consul’s office where this true event took place
- What Happens When Someone Dies Outside Of The U.S. (greaterdenver.co)
There is a sacred space in the catacombs of Rome — an ossuary (a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains–wikipedia) which is dedicated as the tomb for possibly 4000 Capuchin clerics. Much can be found regarding how these bones came to be placed within this extensive tunnel- lined underground burial place, and we have included some links, below.
Additionally, there are SEVERAL other locations with similar crypts, one in particular which holds a significant inscripted poem, beseeching the visitors to think about death. Capela dos Ossos in Portugal, serves to remind us of our mere mortality and temporary station in the world as humans.
Our goal was more to point out the interesting poem that can be found within the walls of this place.
We felt that was more thought-provoking and appropriate to the subject of the meaning of life, and death, and where we figure in the scheme of things when each of us gets down to it, really.
We felt it was trying to tell us, as we looked at the eerie bones stacked up along the walls, and into the fleshless skulls piled high: Hey YOU, do not hurry past us so quickly! Your curiosity brought you this far, now stay a minute and LOOK at US! SEE us? YES! We are dead, and you, my friends, shall be dead too, someday. Yes, it IS an uncomfortable thought isn’t it? But we want you to slow down and think about who we were, what we were, what we did in life, what we contributed to the world as living human beings—then we want you to think about what YOU are doing with your own life, with your own gifts, and what you are giving to your own world around you. Are you making the best of what you have and doing what you ought? The longer you pause to ponder these things here, the wiser you shall be, the better you shall hope, the better you shall live out your days afterward…
We are crediting the
following to the Wikipedia where it included a number of pages dedicated to this place and its history, and this wonderful, solemn poem—in the original Italian along with an English translation:
Inside the Capela dos Ossos a poem about the need to reflect on one’s existence hangs in an old wooden frame on one of the pillars. It is attributed to Fr. António da Ascenção Teles, parish priest of the village of São Pedro (wherein the Church of Saint Francis with its Capela dos Ossos was erected) from 1845 to 1848.
|Aonde vais, caminhante, acelerado?
Pára…não prossigas mais avante;
Negócio, não tens mais importante,
Do que este, à tua vista apresentado.
Recorda quantos desta vida têm passado,
Pondera, que influido d’essa sorte,
Porém, se os olhos aqui levantas,
por Padre António da Ascenção
|Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?
Stop … do not proceed;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
Recall how many have passed from this world,
Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
If by chance you glance at this place,
by Fr. António da Ascenção (translation by Fr. Carlos A. Martins, CC)
©2014, C.S. Thompson.