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.
The final document of my passport renewal came today.
My new passport card arrived by Chronopost after I received an e-mail yesterday from the US Consulate in Marseille advising me that the passport card was en route. It took only three weeks for my new passport booklet to arrive and ten weeks for my passport card. I need to compliment the Marseille Consulate again for its spectacular service. I had incorrectly assumed that with living oversea there would be extensive delays to a passport renewal.
I now have my complete set (passport booklet and passport card) of United States travel documents, ready for use until their expiration in 2026. My passport card will also double as an approved REAL ID document for future domestic US air travel and to enter high security US government offices without having to always carry my passport booklet. In all, it was a much easier process to renew my passport while living oversea than I anticipated.
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.
Tracy and my most recent micro-adventure was joining 10,000 other spectators at the 600th observance of the annual Procession de la Sanch (The March of the Penitents) in Perpignan on Good Friday, 2016. (La Sanch is pronounced “lah sank.”)
Outside of Spain, the Procession de la Sanch isn’t really performed any longer. In France, it is only held in the southern Catalan country. The largest and most famous of the French penance processions still performed during the Semaine Sainte (Easter Holy Week) is the Procession de la Sanch a Perpignan. Nearby Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure also still perform la Sanch ceremonies, though on a smaller scale. The event was originally brought to Perpignan in 1416 by Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Valencian Dominican. (Remember, Columbus reached the “New World” in 1492, 76 years after the first Procession de la Sanch.)The Pyrénées-Orientales département (which includes Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, sometimes referred to as Catalunya Nord) has strong Spanish and Catalan roots that has helped this French department retain a traditional event that is typical of the Semana Santa (Spanish Holy Week). The strength of this French-Catalan-Spanish blend can be easily seen in the departments’ flag, gold and red stripes, the same colors as those used in Catalan and Spanish flags.
The somber, masked procession began centuries ago as a method to support condemned men on their final march to execution and ensure their Christian burial. La Sanch’s robes and the conical hoods (the hood is called a Caperutx — today the entire ensemble is referred to as Caperutx)were worn by the executioners and the prisoners to conceal their identities. Apparently early on in history the victims and families of the victims were a bit too happy to pull them out of the procession and just beat them violently to death in the streets.
The Caperutx worn during La Sanch are either black (worn by the penitents representing death) or red (worn by the leader, the Regidor, representing blood), only the children and priests in the procession (representing the innocents and the saved) wear white. A Regidor, in his red Caperutx is at the head of the procession and rings an iron bell to warn of the coming procession. The robes worn in la Sanch, while reminiscent to the costumes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, actually predate the Klan’s by 500 years and have a completely different origin and meaning.
About 700 members of local associations, Confrérie de la Sanch, organize, march, and carry the approximately 35 “misteris” in the procession. (“Misteris” mean mysteries in Catalan.) The misteris are litters with life-size portrayals of scenes from the Passion of Christ. Weighing between 60 and 100 pounds, the misteris may be carried by up to eight persons. Some of the penitents in Caperutx carried drums and beat a steady, slow tattoo for the procession. Penitents also may sing”goigs,” traditional songs dating back before the 15th century, that recount the sadness of Mary’s suffering in Calvary. We didn’t hear a “goig” being sung while we were watching the procession.
The Procession de la Sanch takes three hours (from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.) to circle the historic downtown of Perpignan and passing other parishes, starting and ending at Église Saint-Jacques(Saint James’ Church) which dates back to 1245.
Prior to the procession start, we visited Église Saint-Jacques. We found a beautiful 13th century church with a unique bell tower that was built in the southern Gothic style. Its most unusual feature is that there are two Catalan-styled altarpieces at opposite ends of the single nave with the organ at the center. Inside the church were many of the Misteris with their fresh flowers being displayed before the procession. We had a wonderful opportunity to see the Misteris up close and appreciate their size and weight. We spoke with another visitor to the church who was admiring the Misteris. He was French, but had completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He recounted the history of the event with us and told us we were very welcome there and encouraged us to have a look around the church. Since Tracy and I share an appreciation of sacred architecture, his invitation was quite welcome.
We choose a location to watch the procession in Place Puig (Puig Square)in the Quartier Saint-Jacques which is also referred to as the Quartier Gitan because of its significant Gitan (Roma people, often called Gypsies or Gitanos in Spain) community. While waiting for the event to start we visited with a local Gitan man who explained the Gypsy history of the area and how the former military barracks adjacent to Place Puig were converted to public housing and was now home to primarily Gitan peoples.
The procession was preceded with a loudspeaker explanation about the history and meaning of the event. After the announcement we heard the tattoo of drums and the procession became a solemn, slow-moving parade. Approximately 700 men, women, and children participated in the procession. Although it is easy to fixate on the penitents wearing the Caperutx hoods and robes, there are a surprising number of women dressed in black marching in the procession. The misteris on their litters looked impressively heavy as their were carried on the procession. Both the men and the women carried misteris. The carriers had an unusual technique of using a forked walking stick under the carrying poles to support the weight of the misteris when the procession stopped and to trade carriers. The use of the forked sticks was performed without verbal direction with orders by tapped by the team leaders with their stick on the ground to alert the other carriers. Tracy noticed that several women were wearing heels up to 4 inches to allow all the women carriers to be the same height. Several of the hooded penitents wearing the Caperutx elected to walk the entire route and to carry the misteris in their bare feet.
I spoke with one of the marchers who was collecting charity contributions from the crowd. He attempted to chat with us in French, Spanish, Catalan, and, I think, Caló (Gitano-Roma) before I explained that our French and Spanish was very poor and that we were Americans. While saying he didn’t speak English, he spoke enough English welcome us, thank us for a supporting the procession,and gave us a prayer card with the “Our Father,” . . . in Catalan, of course. It is always amazing to us the number of multilingual people we meet in the Pyrénées-Orientales département, even though English is seldom one of those second languages, usually the French people in this area of the south will most often also speak Catalan, Spanish, or Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic – Darija.)
At the end of the official procession pasted, members of the public joined at the end of the parade and followed the official participants.
In all, it was a unique opportunity to watch the 600 year old Procession de la Sanch in person. A chance to observe a traditional Catalan and Spanish religious ceremony performed in a very secular modern France. To be involved in the conclusion to the penance and atonement of the Lenten season in a historic ritual dating back to 1416. It was an extremely powerful experience.
Our third effort at renewing our Cartes de Séjour (residency permits) was exceptionally easy. We seem to understand the renewal process well now and are experienced with the requirements at the Bureau des étrangers (immigration office) at the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales in Perpignan.It also help that we started preparing in January although the permits do not expire until the end of March.
The Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales is extremely responsive to e-mail. I was uncertain about which forms to download from the Préfecture’s website, but an e-mail was answered in 24 hours with links to the correct forms and a currently list of supporting documents. The list of documents was the same as last year. They were also kind enough to make an appointment for us to submit our renewal application. The Préfecture’s e-mail responsiveness saved us from making a physical trip to Perpignan to pick up forms and make an appointment saving us a great deal of time while we were in the process of changing residences.
The list of supporting documents for our renewal appointment is actually short and straight forward. Bring the original document and a copy of the following:
1. Current Carte de Séjour (residency permit) that is being renewed. Something that was different this time: during our appointment our Préfecture officer made an extra copy of both Carte de Séjours and added them to each other’s renewal application.
2. Passport with copies of pages with identification information, expiration dates, with all entry stamps, and visas.
3. Marriage certificate since our passports do not confirm marital status. This document was not specifically on our list from the Préfecture des Pyrénées–Orientales but from past experience we knew marriage status had to be confirmed at each renewal. There is also an attestation that we are married on the renewal form that our Préfecture officer witnessed us signing.
6. Four recent passport-style photographs. There are passport photo machines everywhere from retail stores to train stations. Photos are required with almost all government applications.
7. €106 payment for each of us submitted by timbres fiscaux (tax stamps.) The tax stamps are sold in specific Tabacs (tobacco and convenience stores). This was a bit more challenging since I couldn’t find a Tabac in Argelès-sur-Mer who sold them and in Perpignan I was also having difficulties. We were finally sent to the Trésor Public (Public Treasurer) at the Centre Des Finances Publiques à Perpignan where there was a helpful gentleman at a cashier window who was happy to sell us the timbres fiscaux.
8. Proof of financial independence equivalent to 12 times the monthly French minimum wage. I had previously requested an income verification letter about our pensions from the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. We also prepared a translation including a conversion of dollars to euros at the current exchange rate. That was the only document we bothered to translate. We submitted a confirmation letter from our French bank that stated that we were customers in good standing too.
9. Sworn handwritten attestation not to exercise any occupation in France. There is also an attestation on the renewal form that our Préfecture officer witnessed us sign. Our visa status is specifically for retirees and prohibits us from working in France.
10. Self-addressed, stamped envelopes which are available from any supermarket or post office.
Tracy (A.K.A. the “Queen of Organization”) took my collection of paperwork, rearranged and organized our documents exactly in the order of the checklist, and made certain the required spaces on the renewal form were filled in.
On our appointment date of March 15, (yes, the ominous ‘Ides of March’) we took the €1 Bus the 23 kilometers (14.5 miles) from Argelès-sur-Mer to Perpignan.
Our appointment was at 9:15. so we took the early bus and arrived in Perpignan with time to enjoy a café crème and a pain au chocolat before walking to Préfecture’s annex in the Hôtel D’Ortaffa located behind the actual Préfecture. We arrived as the office opened at 9:00 and waited as a police officer from the Police Nationale hand-checked the bags of visitors as they entered.
There was a short line at the check-in window, but before we could reach the window, a young customer service representative in a red vest looked at our appointment e-mail and walked us into the immigration office. We waited a couple of minutes and were called to a window for our appointment at exactly at 9:15.
Our very helpful and friendly immigration officer was extremely impressed with Tracy’s organization and deemed it “Parfait!” (Perfect!) The only issue was with the electronic fingerprint scanner which had difficulties reading my dry hands and it took several attempts to get readable prints. Tracy had no such problems.
This renewal was much simpler than last years since we were not changing regions and we had a regular lease and power bill.
Our final step was to sign and accept our Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour (receipt of application for residency permits) that serve as temporary Cartes de Sejours. Our immigration officer advised us that we will be sent notification letters that will let us know that we can return with our timbres fiscaux (tax stamps), passports, and Récépissés de Demande de Titre de Séjour to collect our new Cartes de Sejours for 2016-2017.
And Tracy received official recognition that she is, “Parfait!” But I already knew that. We were “in-and-out” of the Préfecture in 45 minutes total after processing both our renewals. I know there is a stereotype of cumbersome French bureaucracy, but (“knock on wood”) we have had minimal challenges and all the representatives have been very patient and helpful.
Now we just have to wait for our notice in the mail to arrive and our return trip to Perpignan..
I was part of the Twenty-sixth Amendment’s first class of 18-year-old voters allowed to participate in federal elections and have voted in every election since. My first degree was in political science and I have a master’s degree in public administration and public policy. I have a personal philosophy of “voting for the person, not the party” and have changed my party affiliation numerous time to support a candidate I believed merited my support in a primary election and I have voted for local, state, and national candidates of all parties. I have volunteered to work on election campaigns. I follow elections, legislative sessions, and court decisions the way some people follow the NFL football season. I believe voting is a privilege and a duty and find it appalling that the US has such low voter participation. I strongly support programs like Oregon’s “Motor Voter” system to encourage more people to actively exercise their political franchise. Since moving to France Tracy and I have made a point of “voting back home” by use of absentee ballot.
Hello. My name is Alan and I’m a politics addict.
I can tell you that Tracy, who does not share my politics passion, puts up with my obsessive following of all things political with the same kind of patience that she did when the kids were little and telling her why they HAD TO hit their brother first.
I had recently — and by recently I mean every day since the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary — been lamenting the fact that our home state of Nevada has replaced primary elections with the caucus system since 2008. There is no option to participate by “absentee voting” in a caucus which requires face-to-face participation.
However, while reading about the upcoming March 1, 2016 “Super Tuesday” presidential primary elections, I discovered that Super Tuesday includes the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary that we can participate in.
Democrats Abroad is a fifty-two year old, official Democratic party organization representing US citizens living permanently or temporarily overseas. It has “state-level” recognition by the National Democratic Party for representing overseas voters. The Republican Party has a similar organization, Republicans Overseas, but the Republican National Committee does not considered Republicans Overseas a “state committee” and it does not conduct its own global primary.
From 1976 to 2004 Democrats Abroad have sent delegates to Democratic National Convention using a caucus system. Since 2008, Democrats Abroad have conducted Global Primary Elections for Democratic party voters among the approximately 8,700,000 Americans that live overseas.
2.) Take a couple of minutes to join Democrats Abroad via their website. You list your name, date of birth, phone numbers, US voting address, and your physical address abroad. After completing your application you are sent a e-mail link to activate your membership account.
3.) You are then authorized to vote at one of the 121 official Voting Centers in more than 40 countries, during the week of March 1 to March 8. (There are ten Voting Centers throughout France.)
4.) If you are unable to vote in person (Toulouse is our closest Voting Center and we are in the middle of moving), you can e-mail, fax, or “snail mail” your ballot to Democrats Abroad. In just a few minutes, Tracy and I downloaded, filled-in our indentification information, selected a candidate, signed, scanned, and e-mailed our ballots to Democrats Abroad ahead of the March 1 to March 8 physical voting period. A mailed ballot must be postmarked by March 8 and ballots received after March 13, 2016 as deemed invalid and will not be counted.
5.) Of course, you can only vote once for a presidential candidate: either through the Global Primary Election or through your home state. You can either vote absentee, or participate in the caucus in your home state. or participate in the Global Primary Election.
Based on the results of the Global Primary Election, Democrats Abroad will send 21 delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Our home state of Nevada will be sending 43 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Tracy told me I was “way too excited” about being able to vote in a primary election.
Hello. My name is Alan and have I mentioned that I’m addicted to politics?
Tracy is across the room on her laptop diligently searching for a 12-step program.