Visa Transit, review: a road trip from the past

Visa Transit, review: a road trip from the past

Visa Transit, review

The 1980s of traveling across borders, being careful not to lose the necessary visas to transit, with little more than a map, a camera and some money in your pocket. This is the exciting and visionary story that Nicolas de Crécy tells in his Visa Transit, a graphic novel published in Italy by Eris Edizioni, now in its second volume. With the simplicity and lightness of the road trip, the author recalls an era that seems to be very far from ours, aboard a grinder which, despite the fact that it always seems to want to abandon its passengers at any moment, goes through a multitude of countries and becomes not only the means, but also the witness of the life that flows between cultures, landscapes, borders that almost no longer exist today. Jump aboard this slightly battered Citroën Visa and let's go together to discover this graphic novel.

From France to Turkey

It's summer of 1986. Nicolas and his cousin Guy, just in their twenties, set a goal together: to take a road trip to Turkey and back, putting their battered Citroën Visa on the road for the last time, on an adventure that takes them from one country to the other transported by the desire for discovery and by a vehicle that could abandon them without warning. The two cousins ​​bring little or nothing with them, but they do not give up on loading a small "mobile" library on the Visa, made up of the best of French literature to which the two young people feel connected.

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Once they leave, Nicolas and Guy cross Italy, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, passing through those areas most affected by the Chernobyl disaster, to finally reach Turkey. It may have been the Chernobyl tragedy that moved the two young people, marking the ticking of a clock that seems to have put the accelerator on. What better way to spend the summer and youth, then, than by traveling and exploring in this time that has become so fragile and ephemeral? In the company of a Citroën Visa ready for the junkyard, ghosts of deceased poets who occasionally make their appearance when they are misquoted, curious and diversified cultures with new customs for the two protagonists. Along a red-hot asphalt belt, without knowing what the next stage will have in store for tomorrow.

Visa Transit: a car, two guys and many borders to cross

Getting off by car right with the necessary, few clothes, some money to make sure you can eat and sleep, a map and a camera. Today for some all this would be unimaginable. Thinking of embarking on a road trip to Europe without relying on the navigator of your smartphone (the writer could not even reach the nearest region without GPS); starting with the prospect that from one country to another it may be necessary to show a visa and undergo checks; or even just imagine visiting new places without being able to immediately post an image of what you are seeing on Instagram, live. Visa Transit is instead the story of an era that seems to belong to centuries ago, of a world divided by borders and fears, in which everything was different and nothing was taken for granted.

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Nicolas de Crécy, French cartoonist formerly author of Prosopopus, Diary of a Ghost, La Repubblica del Catch and Il Celestiale Bibendum, relies on the memories of his youth and through this autobiographical graphic novel, leads us together to he and his cousin Guy in a battered Citroën Visa that also serves as a time machine here. The goal is the journey made by the two cousins ​​through what at the time was not yet Europe as we understand it today, in a period in which post-Chernobyl doubts and fears were always lurking, crossing the borders between countries was a source of anxiety and certainly there were no technologies available on which we can rely today (to make the Citroën Visa, a Radar 2000 affixed to the dashboard like a spaceship bridge, more “futuristic”). The narration is therefore built on the basis of the memories of that trip, with some photographs taken during this road trip that come to the aid of the author and, peeking through the pages from time to time, make the story told more real.

Visa Transit Vol. 2, the evolution of the graphic novel in the second volume

Visa Transit Vol. 2 continues the road trip of the protagonists, letting the flow of the author's memories flow freely and reach out to other memories connected with this journey. Crossing Eastern Europe, the author Nicolas and the young traveler Nicolas (who merge here, breaking down the space-time constraints) recall another journey, the one made years later at a more mature age in Belarus. In 1996, Nicolas de Crécy was invited to participate in an art contest in Minsk and, while the memories of that period resurface, he takes the opportunity to tell not only the atmosphere of that new place, torn between the brutalism of the high-rise buildings and the artistic sensibility that certain groups have tried to apply to urban architecture. But also the will to live arising from the underground fear of radiation, of the poisons nestled in the air, in food, in water, spread following the Chernobyl accident a few years earlier.

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The youthful journey of the two cousins ​​is therefore temporarily "paused" by this new flow of memories, which however does not suddenly and unpleasantly take over from reading, but acts as a natural link. A memory in the memory, like those that normally spring in our mind when we think about something from the past and a small detail reminds us of other episodes, other people, other places. In Visa Transit Vol. 2 the journey continues, not as we expected, but towards another era and another place, still strongly reverberating the same emotions of the past. This digression also allows us to increase the curiosity towards the road trip of '86, which will most likely continue in a third volume, giving rise to the need to find out how this journey will end, not only physical, but also mental.

Visa Transit thus becomes a double journey: that of the author, experienced in first person and described through memories, and that of the reader, experienced by proxy but no less adventurous. This graphic novel is in fact an immersive experience in quite different times from today, through burning streets, chaotic cities or welcoming and green villages. An old-fashioned road trip, a low-cost trip under the sign of adventure, surprises and discovery, which in an era like the present one, made up of fast flights, comfortable accommodations and reviews on TripAdvisor, opens the doors to a totally new world (especially for the new generations who have never experienced similar experiences). Nicolas de Crécy manages with his Visa Transit to make us perceive the discomforts, for example, of having to sleep in the car, only to wake up in pain; but also the nostalgia for a touristic and experiential paradigm conceived in a different, more exciting and "reckless" way.

Nostalgia for an era never lived, for those who were not there yet, but also nostalgia for the old days for those who lived the 80s to the full, when everything was more difficult to obtain and at the same time life seemed more flowing. This is what you feel when reading Visa Transit, which with a light and at the same time visionary narrative, tells the passing of memories of an adventurous experience, in which even having to show a visa at the border could be a moment full of excitement. and uncertainties. The title of the graphic is not chosen at random: the French term "visa" translates into Italian as "visa", and in this case it is also the name of the means of transport that takes the protagonists to "other" places and the reader in a "different" era.

Ironic and visionary

To better understand what Visa Transit is able to convey, we consider this passage, contained within the first volume, to be an example:

It's been 33 years… Which certainly can't scare a hippocampus or properly functioning synapses, but it was another century. It was the prehistory of memory hypertrophy. The monstrous artificial hippocampus and generalized technological hypermnesia had not yet arrived. The reality was palpable, fragrant: without screens, without filters, without guides in the form of algorithms, without data to deliver to anyone.

A past world in which it was easier to "touch" what was in front of you, without the mediation of long sessions behind a camera, or on a phone screen in the choice of filters, tags and catchy phrases. But can you be visionary while recounting a bygone era? Nicolas de Crécy certainly is, with his ironic and at the same time reflective approach, in which there is no lack of playfulness and humor behind absurd situations (such as forgetting a backpack containing money and clothes at a gas station, only to realize it 300 kilometers further on). But above all, it is in inserting an element both of disturbance and of "epiphany" for the author-protagonist: the French poet and writer Henri Michaux, who died in 1984, here imagined by de Crécy as a motorcyclist who, in pursuit of the two young people, comes to ask for an account of the quotations that the cartoonist inserts between the balloons.

A narrative that thus becomes a destination, throwing the eye on the concepts of art and artist, on the ability that different languages ​​have to convey universal concepts with different words and approaches, while paying homage to what for Nicolas de Crécy was certainly a literary point of reference. It is accompanied by an original style, typical of the author and unmistakable. If on the one hand he seeks realism, on the other his figures sometimes appear grotesque: subtle and detailed inks outline a world that is bizarre, albeit true. It is a poetic style, which draws strength from a particular propensity for the fantastic and the absurd principal of this author (one example, Il Celestiale Bibendum). To color these distant memories, the shades of orange, blue, yellow, watercolors and pastels, which make the tables almost sepia-effect images, snapshots of a past journey tinged by the sun and the passing of time. The result is soft and mellow and conveys the perception of a warm and sultry world, but also sparkling as only a summer trip can be.

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