Thursday, May 29, 2008

What to do if you lose your US passport

Passport

My passport lies somewhere on this lively street in Ghent.

I've never lost a passport before, and am still kicking myself for doing it this time. My small Grey wallet with my passport, USB stick, Bluetooth earpiece, business cards, and bank decoder was under my arm, along with my umbrella, when I left the hotel, and was no longer there when I reached the conference center. I immediately walked back along the street twice, but no luck: someone was quicker than I was to spot it.

All's well, but there are some lessons learned along the way that might be helpful to others in a similar situation.

1) Make a backup. Years ago, someone suggested that I put a scan of my critical documents up on the Internet where I could always access them from anywhere. So I scanned my passport, driver's license, and birth certificate in a password-protected file that I mailed to a supplemental Yahoo account. It was easy to just download and print it to have all of the information and documentation that the embassy required.

2) Keep your residence card separate from your passport. I had my Dutch cards in my wallet, so those didn't get lost. As it turns out, those cards are the important ones: the visa and passport stamps pare irrelevant, superceded by the residence card. I can still travel within the Schengen Area and verify my Dutch residency with that, alone.

3) Report the loss to the police. I was reluctant to do this: I knew that it was really gone, and thought that filling out a police report was a waste of time and an invitation to trouble. A friend convinced me to talk to the hotel clerk, who was happy to call the local station and give them the information about the loss. As it turned out, it mattered. The Belgians tend to put "found" documents into the nearest postal box, where they find their way (eventually) to the police, so it could produce a result. And the US embassy really, really wants to hear that you did tell the police (although you don't have to show them the report).

4) Consult the Embassy on-line. The US Embassy has a section for what to do if your passport is lost or stolen. There are two forms to print and fill out before you go to Amsterdam: one to report the loss (DS-64), and another to apply for a new Passport book (DS-11). You will also need information about your old passport: again, the importance of having a backup.

5) Make an Appointment. The US embassy REQUIRES an appointment for everything: showing up at the gate at 8:30 am to try to plead through the intercom is futile (I saw people do it). Make the appointment on-line, and be there on-time or you will not be admitted, even to drop off the forms. Bring the forms, your birth certificate (the Apostille worked well), and two passport photos (make sure they comply to new US rules for size and composition). If you are asking for expedited service, you need to bring proof that you are traveling within the next 10 days. And bring a credit card or cash (68 euros for me).

6) Bring no more than you need to. The Embassy is absolutely paranoid about letting you bring anything into the building. Leave the computer, camera, cell phone, Mp3 player, USB stick, outside: they will confiscate it at the door further delaying you going in and out. Similarly, don't bring friends: fmaily is okay if approved when you make the appointment. Do bring photo ID, filled-in paperwork, patience, and a smile. And change enough for two hours on the parking meter.

7) What is an emergency? The web site says that an emergency document for immediate travel is issued if you are flying out within 10 days. In fact, they process replacement passports faster, and the desk agent said that they prefer to do it only for 5 days or less. Similarly, the web site says that you can come without an appointment if you are traveling within 10 days: in reality, it's 5 or less.

Postscript: June 5. I never did get a phone call, so, expecting the worst, I made an appointment, took all my paperwork, proof of travel, and new photos and went to the Embassy this morning. Fortunately the passport was there. it's one of the new ones with lots more anti-counterfeiting detail inside and an embedded RFID chip. It also has an endorsement that it is a replacement for a lost passport: I was advised that if you lose two within ten years, then you start getting issues special ones with shorter terms.

Anyway, all's well that ends well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An interlude for the Visual Arts

Visual arts are a secret pleasure of mine: I took my first watercolor classes about ten years ago at the urging of a close friend and was immediately drawn to the fluid color and interactive freedom of the medium as a contrast to my work with data and computers. 'Feeling like I needed to be able to be able to draw in order to do pen and wash sketches while traveling, I moved on to elementary drawing classes, then to life-drawing classes. The expressive shadows and gentle arcs inherent in the human figure were much more pleasing to draw than still-life, and i still enjoy a session to apply charcoal to paper when i can find it.

As someone who was told throughout school that I was hopeless at art, it became personally gratifying to create credible and satisfying works. It also gave me a much deeper appreciation for the difficult processes that other artists go through while composing and correcting their works. I really enjoy the series of odd exploratory sketches, where lines are moved around to get shape and shadow correct: it's the same issues I struggle with (only my resolutions aren't nearly so satisfying!).

I've collected galleries of my favorite artist's works as inspiration and examples over the years, and pushed them up to Windows Spaces over the last few days where I could reference them here. Each picture, below, should open onto a larger gallery of works. It's impossible to attribute sources for all of these images, collected over years, but many can be found quickly using an image search engine or Artcyclopedia.

The root links for the gallery are here. I'll maintain and grow this archive over time, It's a very human gallery of creativity and beauty.

Henri Matisse: Able to capture the essence of a figure or their expression with complete economy of line and unmistakable style.

JMW Turner: Hamilton's excellent biography of the artist describes a very gifted and universal talent, able to compose in almost any style with unerring accuracy. His watercolor landscapes, lit by diffuse light and contrasting areas of blur and detail, are fascinating

Italian Sanguine: Classical artists were able to accomplish a lot with only line and shade. They contrast with Matisse's simplicity, elegant works that demonstrate the ideal form expressed from a detailed complexity.

Wolf Kahn: A contemporary artist working in pastel. I like the way he blends color in surprising ways, drawing the best from the powdery medium, always with strong subjects and bold forms.

Marc Chagall: A bit like pen-and-wash, with rough figures superimposed on pale colored backgrounds. The overall effect is childish and dream-like: I feel these paintings more than I study them.

Blue Riders: A group of German painters from the early 20th century, among the first to explore bold color and block forms. I like the anthropomorphized animals and unusual colors that bring life to the characters in their images.

Odilon Redon: A symbolist painter who makes great use of contrasting vivid blue on gold. The details almost get lost in the glare, but the paintings have emotional clarity and impact.

y1puqnLMl5bbXy6f280JOYREKDunjT4Q7MPYiPPTKoY-Jg58YbFy7GNliwPo-kS_-ZLYJ4EnaFskdg[1]Claude Monet: As i travel around Europe, I am forever finding places that Monet called his own. It's always exciting to stand in front of a landscape, such as the stone arch at Etretat, and to compare it with the Impressionist's renderings.

Joan Miro: His paintings are all wire and weight, almost an artists rendering of a Calder mobile. They are simple at first, but vibrate with textures and hidden depths as I watch them.

Paul Cezanne: He uses color in blocks like the Riders, but on a much smaller scale that yields a prismatic effect of building images from colored hips of glass. It's a different painting at close, middle, and far distances, colors and shapes combining in steps and clusters.

Life Drawing: As I started drawing the human figure, I became fascinated with the arc and curve of the body, with the variety of expressions in pose, and the challenge of bringing out human qualities in static two-dimensions. This series captures works by a variety of artists who achieve these ends is many, many ways.

Figurative Drawing: The human figure made both indistinct and sharp-edged; vivid distortions of shape and color, and a strong emotional undercurrent. These are the works I would love to be able to create.

Paul Gauguin: An European expatriate living in Tahiti who created colorful native scenes of people and ritual in Tahiti. Although they appear simple, his paintings capture deeper spiritual and psychologic themes of life and death, primitive and modern.

Wassily Kandinsky: A logical and liguistic stylist who creates abstract narratives full of hidden meaning. The lines and shapes are, in fact, understandable once you learn his very deliberate language, which makes them more satisfying to me than completely abstract works.

James Whistler: His Nocturnes are hazy explorations of twilight and fog, soothing and reflective. He said that he captured his painting in the brush before applying it to canvas: the strokes are worth close inspection.

Edvard Munch: Emotionally charged, often troubling expressions of pain and tragedy. The art is not sophisticated, but it is often very moving.

Pre Raphaelites: While these have become a cliche for romantic storybook paintings, Millais' jewel-like representations of myth and Rossetti's infatuated paintings of Liddy Siddal are wonderful examples of narratives rendered into artistic images.