For our first micro-adventure of 2018, I decided to join the crowd of 500 local residents in the New Year’s Day tradition of the first swim of the year in the Mediterranean Sea, the Bain du Nouvel An. Tracy expressed her doubts in my sanity, but encouraged me to go, and volunteered to take photos — from the shore. My lovely bride mentioned for me to avoid trouble as she would not be pleased to have to go in that cold water to save me.
The annual Bain du Nouvel An was held at Argèles-sur-Mer’s center beach at the end of the Esplanade Charles Trenet at 10:30 on New Year’s Day morning. The water temperature was 53.6′ F (12′ C) with the air temperature at 55′ F (13′ C).
The crowd was a mix of young and old, athletic and less athletic, swimmers and supporters. There was a Mardi Gras atmosphere with many swimmers wearing Santa hats, sparkling gem-color wigs, and one group with dayglow manga-style hair.
At 10:30 the swimmers rushed into the water while wet-suited lifeguards stood by for safety. Many swimmers were quickly “in and out” but others took to staying in the cold water as a challenge. I strode into the water fast to minimize the shock. The water was chilly, but I thought it was warmer than Lake Tahoe most the year. I quickly joined the ranks of the “in and out” swimmers on shore soon after Tracy got her photos.
After the swim there was free coffee and hot chocolate, and a table to pick up a certificate of participation. There was much laughing and looks of victory in the swimmers’ faces as they waited for their certificates. Tracy and my apartment is only two blocks away so a hot shower was only minutes away for me.
So, a Bain du Nouvel swim in 2019? Let me warm up, drink my hot tea, and think about that.
After a quick six day turn-around from OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration – the French Office of Immigration and Integration) in Montpellier, we received a response to Etta’s Demande d’Attestation letter that we previous mailed to OFII advising that our niece Etta has arrived in France. (Validating Etta’s Student Visa With OFII [Part 1])
The very rough translation of the letter from OFII is:
On 30/01/2017, your Demande d’Attestation letter arrived, but the visa affix on passport is not VLS-TS but a “Mineur Scolarise“.
As such, you are not subject to the VLS-TS (adult long-stay visa) rules, are exempt from the residence card process, and are authorized to travel outside France within the Schengen Area.
On your 18th birthday, in order to continue your studies, you will have to formally request a residence card from the Prefecture having jurisdiction of your residence.
At that time, re-submit your Demande d’Attestation file to the Prefecture so that an appointment for the compulsory medical visit can be scheduled and you can be processed for your adult residence permit.
Please accept my best regards.
So, 17 year old Etta does not have to be concerned about re-sending her Demande d’Attestation until her 18th birthday in October 2017. We will share Etta’s efforts for obtaining an adult long-stay student visa this coming October. Etta’s Demande d’Attestation formand its supporting documents are now waiting for October in our files for safekeeping.
In the mean time, Etta is now free to study and travel in Europe and doesn’t have to be concerned about any further paperwork with OFII until her milestone adult birthday.
Our niece, Etta, and her parents completed her application for her long stay Mineur Scolarise (student under 18 years old) visa with the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. They completed the application process that required completing the application form, obtaining travel insurance, showing proof of financial responsibility, obtaining Etta’s record of immunizations, getting her student transcript, and paying the fees. Tracy and I provided proof of our lawful residency in France to serve as Etta’s “host family,” which is perfect since we are actual family.
Once approved the Consulate affixed a visa to Etta’s passport granting permission for 11 months of residency for studies in France.
Etta’s visa allowed her to enter and spend up to five days in transit through the Schengen Area to reach France. In Etta’s case she, her mom, and Tracy entered Europe at Copenhagen, then took a flight to Barcelona with an overnight stop, then finally arrived by bus to Argelès-sur-Mer in France over two days travel.
Once in France Etta is required to contact OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration – the French Office of Immigration and Integration) to validate her visa with an interview, medical exam, and the addition of a Vignette sticker in her passport to serve as her Carte de Séjour (residency permit.)
Tracy and I are familiar with this process because we completed our OFII medical exams and Vignette validation in May 2013 (OFII Medical Exam and Titre de Séjour) when OFII attempted to make Tracy an Australian . . . but that is a whole different story.
Along with her visa, the consulate gave Etta and her parents a notification form, a Demande d’Attestation OFII, that she is required to complete and mail to the regional OFII office having jurisdiction over Etta’s new residence after her arrival in France. This form includes a bar code that connects to Etta’s account set up when she received her temporary visa. Small snag: the form was safely in a file folder in Reno. But the simple fix was when Etta’s mom returned back to the US, she would scan and e-mail the form to use. The miracle of modern communication technology.
The e-mail arrived with the Demande d’Attestation OFII with English language direction to mail the completed form to the OFII office in Montpellier along with photocopies of Etta’s information page from her passport, her visa, and her entry stamp. All completed the form was off in the mail and we should receive a letter back from OFII with an appointment date to go visit Montpellier within 90 days.
1: an extended tour of the Continent that was formerly a usual part of the education of young British gentlemen
2: an extensive and usually educational tour
2017 has some exciting changes for Tracy and me. Our niece, Etta-Kimiyo, will be living with us in France while she is finishing her high school work online. Her student visa was approved through December 13, 2017 by the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. Etta’s parents want Etta to experience Europe with us and for Etta to enrich and expand her education with living abroad. We get the wonderful opportunity to share the history and culture that we have experienced over the last four years and to to make new adventures with Etta.
Etta is joining us in our adopted home in Argeles-sur-Mer in the Pyrénées–Orientales Department located in Southern France on the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to the Northern border of Spain. Etta will experience the French, Spanish, and Catalan influences on the local history, culture, and food. The Côte Vermeilleand Pyrénées–Orientales area where we live is also still known as Catalunya Nord because it was ceded to France by Spain with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. In fact, there is recent controversy with the greater region being renamed in 2016 Occitanie by the Conseil d’État (when the former French regions Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées were combined) and not named Occitanie Pays Catalan.
We are planning to make use of the flexibility of Etta’s online classes to travel and explore France and Europe with Etta as much as possible, but with school work always remaining the first priority. Tracy has become an expert at “fast and light” discount travel. Potential learning adventures to enrich Etta’s studies that are located in the immediate region include viewing the 17,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux;seeing the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard; walking themedieval walled fortress of Cité de Carcassonne; exploring Collioure, the inspiration to Matisse and the Fauvist art movement; the local memorials to the Retirada, the 100,000 refugees of Spanish Republicans fleeing from the Spanish Civil War; or a tour of the Airbus factory and seeing commercial aircraft manufactured in Toulouse. All of these are a quick train or bus ride away. Perfectly timed for Etta’s arrival is the French national train system, SNCF, has just announced a new “Happy Card” discount promotion with unlimited rail travel on high speed TGV and Intercité trains for 16-27-year-olds at just €79 a month.
Of course, Tracy and I are not “trust fund babies with unlimited platinum credit cards” who never stop traveling. We are just everyday people retired from public service with middle-class sized fixed pensions. We live a fairly simple, minimalist life. So for Etta there will be the mundane “real life” of school work, shopping, dog walking, cooking, and laundry with us. But the mundane can be fun with a flexible school schedule that you decide yourself how to schedule; the shopping is at an open air market at the village center; dog walking is along the promenade beside a Mediterranean beach; cooking is with fresh, seasonal, local food; all with frequent breaks along the way to enjoy a pain au chocolat and chocolat chaud at a cafe or swim in the sea. Oh, and laundry . . . well, laundry is just laundry anywhere in the world, but the Laundromat is a great place to start reading a new book or enjoy music.
There is a bit of a culture shift for Etta. She is sharing with us a small apartment with a micro-kitchen. We do not have a car. We do not have a television. We do not have a dishwasher.We do not have a washing machine. The nearest movie theatre with English language films is in Perpignan. We walk 2 km for morning coffee. We call it “living like a couple of college students.” But we do have great sunrises, the Mediterranean Sea 50 meters aways, palm trees, 7 kilometers of white sand beach, friendly neighbors, bicycles, two spoiled dogs, a beautiful village, an open air market, French pastries, a €1 bus system, and amazing nature and history surrounding us.
Etta’s school curriculum includes studying the French language, I fully expect her to be speaking French better than me in a very short time. She will certainly get a chance for practice.
We are certainly looking for to our shared adventures together.
I am no longer “The Man Without a Country,” or at least I am no longer the man without a passport. My new passport arrived and I can again prove my home country.
Three weeks to the day after mailing my passport renewal application (including my previous passport) to the US Consulate in Marseille, my new passport booklet arrived along with my cancelled previous passport. That was an impressively fast turn-around considering the Christmas and New Years Day holidays were in the middle of the renewal processing. The US State Department’s web site advises that passport renewals generally take four to six weeks to process, although they proudly (and justly in my case) say they can frequently provide faster returns. I have to complement the Marseille Consulate for great service!
I was hoping to receive the upgraded, redesigned 2017 passport with its new polycarbonate page that is meant to protect the embedded and newly machine-readable information chip. I have a tendency to clumsily damage things, especially items I frequently carry. The current US passport’s RFID chip is somewhat fragile and subject to mechanical and water damage. And, of course, I just wanted to be one of the first with the “latest thing.” The new-style passports were originally scheduled to be released in July 2016, but apparently either the redesigned format isn’t ready yet or the State Department is exhausting the last of their 2007-2016 edition passport blanks. The new-style passports are now scheduled to be issued the end of 2017 or early 2018.
But staying with the current passport design allowed me to request the free expanded version with 52 pages (43 for visas) in place of the standard 28 (17 for visas.) Normally it takes an overseas news correspondent to fill an extended passport, but it’s a big world and I’m very motivated to see as much of it as I can until this passport expires in 2026.
I am anxious to see the redesign of the new-style 2017 passport with its all-new internal artwork that will feature “intricate engravings and inks” using microprinting, color-shifting inks, and ultraviolet watermarks meant to deter counterfeiting. Perhaps Tracy will receive one of these updated passports when she renews for 2019. (Tracy, the retired graphic artist, is a big fan of the striking Norwegian passport‘s design.)
As expected, my renewed passport card was not included in the package. The card takes longer to manufacture than the traditional booklet and should arrive in a few more weeks. While the passport card is NOT valid for European travel, I wanted it as a supporting US citizenship document. I also lack a REAL ID Act “gold star” approved US drivers license because I last renewed my drivers license by mail while living overseas. The REAL ID Act’s final deadline for full enforcement is still a “moving target”with frequent extensions. A passport card is an approved REAL ID document for future domestic US air travel without having to carry my passport booklet.
So now with a valid passport in my hands, I am no longer “running barefoot” through Europe without US travel credentials. While I don’t actually carry my passport on a daily basis while living abroad, just having my passport in my possession grants me peace of mind and my ability to travel internationally again.
I also have the challenge of a brand new passport with lots of blank pages to start filling up.
Growing up I heard the southern America folk tradition that eating black eye peas on New Year Day would grant good luck and prosperity in the coming year. We often had black eye peas with bacon on New Year Day. The superstition goes back to the mid-1800s in the US.
In France (along with Italy), there is a similar tradition of eating saucisse et lentilles (sausages and lentils) on New Year Day for good luck. I especially like saucisse et lentilles made with Saucisse de Toulouse and green lentils du Puy (which are sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s caviar” because of their flavor.)
I like the idea of matching, but independently created folk traditions that transverse cultural and national boundaries. So, of course, for my New Year Day lunch I enjoyed a bowl of saucisse et lentilles. Any good luck resulting in 2017 would be welcomed, but you can’t go wrong with a delicious, steaming bowl of saucisse et lentilles on a chilly January day or on any day for that matter.
It’s January 1, 2017 and my New Year resolution is to be far more consistent posting to our blog. So my first post of 2017 is its first micro-adventure: the Premier Bain de l’Année (also called the Bain du Nouvel An), the first swim in the sea of the new year. This is an annual event in Argelès-sur-Mer taking place at the central Plage d’Argelès-sur-Mer (Argelès beach) adjacent to the Esplanade Charles Trenet.
With the overcast morning’s air temperature at 11°C / 51°F and the Mediterranean Sea’s temperature at 14°C / 57°F, the swimmers and their supporters gathered at the beach as colorful traditional Catalan fishing boats (called “barques” in French or “llaguts” in Catalan) arrived to assist the event. At 10:00 a.m. the swimmers started to disrobe to their swimsuits while their supporters kept bags of dry clothes and towels for the swimmer’s return.
At 10:30 a.m. there was a series of whistle blasts and the swimmers ran to the water. Many swimmers looked festive wearing Santa Claus hats, outrageous wigs, and costumes. One female swimmer wore a sparkling ballerina’s tutu.
No, I did not join the swimmers this year. The dogs and I offered our support and admiration from dry land. Perhaps next year . . . NOT.
The swimmers had a spectacular time. They swam, splashed, posed for photos, and there was a spontaneous group sing-along with two dozen hard-core swimmers long after most participants had returned to shore. There were swimmers of every size and age with all having tremendous fun. It was difficult to estimate the size of the event, but my guess is there was 50 to 75 swimmers with 200 supporters cheering them on from shore.
As the swimmers eventually became too chilled to continue, their supporters would meet them at the water’s edge with warm towels. There were free hot drinks and certificates of bravery waiting for the swimmers back at the Esplanade.
Living abroad often require anticipation of “all the moving pieces” necessary to comply with the proper process of maintaining our residency in France. Tracy and I need to annually renew our Carte de Séjour (residency permits) in March, so in January I start collecting all the documents needed so I’ll have everything together for our renewal application in plenty of time.
Among those documents we provide are our valid US passports, however mine expires in February 2018. While that sounds like I have lots of time renew my passport during 2017, in order to renew our upcoming Carte de Séjour for April 2017 to March 2018, my passport needs to be valid at least three months past the expiration date of the 2017-2018 Carte de Séjour. I’m four months short of that requirement.
So in December 2016, I am renewing my passport. Back to that “all the moving pieces” concept, it normally takes four to six weeks to process a passport request . . . plus there is the added complications of renewing a passport from overseas . . . plus the further complications of consulate and passport offices being closed or short-staffed over the Christmas and New Years holidays.
Nothing is ever as easy as you first think it is.
So this is my renewal process and how we worked through the complications:
First off, if you live outside the US or Canada, you CANNOT just mail your passport renewal application back to the US. The application must be submitted through the US Embassy or an US Consulate that provides passport services in the country that you are a resident. With living in France my current options for passport services is the Embassy in Paris or the Consulates in Strasbourg or Marseille. Since Tracy and I live in the south of France, my renewal application package is heading to beautiful Marseille.
A chèque de banque is kind of a big deal.It’s like a “super certified check” drawn directly on and payable by a French bank (not a private account holder) with the payment guaranteed for a year and eight days. Getting the chèque de banque required a visit to my BNP bank branch (our French bank) to make a request using my marginal French (still very much Franglais.) I was told a chèque de banque request normally takes three days to process. The bank started the process, but I was asked to please return to the bank the next day because the directeur (bank manager) was not there to sign the request. Apparently a chèque de banque request requires the most senior bank officer’s signature. I returned to BNP for a second visit and the chèque de banque request was waiting at reception area for me to add my signature next to the directeur’s. Two days later, the check arrived in the mail.
Since I was not picking up the new passport personally from the consulate in Marseille, I was required to include two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes (similar to FedEx Overnight.) A quick trip to the post office and I had the envelopes, cost was surprisingly steep at a total of €52.
I needed to send two envelopes since I was requesting both a new passport booklet and a passport card. A new passport card takes weeks longer to manufacture than a passport booklet. The consulate offers the option to wait and send both the booklet and card together or to send the items separately as they arrive. I wanted to have a passport back in my hands as soon as possible, so I opted for sending two envelopes.
I used the US State Department’s online form wizard to print out a completed adult passport renewal application form (DS-82.) The Marseille Consulate warns that a handwritten form could delay processing the renewal request.
My final application package included:
A completed adult passport renewal form, signed and dated, requesting a passport booklet with the extended 52 pages and a passport card.
My current passport booklet and passport card with photocopies of the biographical page for the passport booklet and biographical data on the passport card.
Two recent photos on a white background meeting US passport standards. (One photo for the passport booklet and one for the passport card.) The Marseille Consulate made a point of saying NOT to staple or paperclip the photo to my application.
Two prepaid, self-addressed Chronopost envelopes for the return of passports.
The application package was mailed as a lettre recommandée (registered mail, €5.93) to:
U.S. Consulate General ACS/Passport Unit
Place Varian Fry
Marseille 13286 Cedex 06
So now I wait for the passport renewal request to be processed knowing the Marseille Consulate will be closed for the Christmas holiday from December 21 through December 28 and there will be New Years and Martin Luther King holidays coming soon too. Not the best time of the year to be requesting a passport renewal.
I have a somewhat uncomfortable feeling with having NO passport in my possession for a month or more while still living overseas. Granted, I have my French Carte de Séjour as an official identification document, a photocopy of my US passport, and I live within the Schengen Area where I don’t frequently have to show a passport, but I feel rather “naked” without my US Passport. In an emergency I would be hard pressed for international travel.
I’m hoping for a quick turnaround of my new passport. I’ll let you know how long it takes.
Our self-addressed envelopes from the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales in Perpignan arrived notifying us that our new Cartes de Séjour (Residency Permits) were ready for pickup. The letter advised us that our 2016-2017 Cartes de Séjour can be picked at the Préfecture on Monday afternoon or Wednesday or Friday mornings. We are required to bring our old Cartes de Séjour and €106 each in timber fiscaux (tax stamps.) It took just over two weeks from the day we dropped off our renewal application to receiving the “ready to pick up” letter.
The following Monday we took the €1 Bus to Perpignan and spent the morning shopping, having lunch, enjoying an obligatory coffee in Place de la République,and wandering around the historic town center before the Préfecture’s étranger bureau (immigrant office) opened at 1:30. We stopped by reception and were issued numbers and there were 14 people ahead of us.
Despite there being only one window open, the electronic display counted down quickly. Most people only required one or two minutes to complete their transaction. Most seemed to be doing exactly what we were doing, picking up a new Carte de Séjour. The waiting room looked like every other large doctor’s office/ DMV waiting room we have ever spent time in with individuals, couples, and families sitting, talking, and straightening out their documents in folders.
For this visit we were only required to bring our Cartes de Séjour and tax stamps for payment with our Passports for identification. But we brought our entire renewal dossier, “just in case.” We were called up for our turns in less than a 30 minute wait and it literally took less than one minute each for the immigration officer to issue our new Cartes de Séjour for 2016-2017. We’ve spent far more time waiting in DMV lines back in the US. As often as we have been warned about French bureaucracy and “red tape” in France, we have pleasantly been surprised how straight-forward and helpful government representatives have been. Perhaps it is a much different story in large Préfectures in major cities like Paris, Marseille, or Lyon, but in the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales and the Préfecture de l’Aude in the Languedoc-Roussillon region we have always been well treated.
This year’s renewal process now complete, Tracy and I are legal residents of France for another year.