27 August 2017

Staying in France: the Long-Term Visa




Off to the big city of Montpelier to finalize our French visa. 
This is a Big Deal, and the Final Chapter (I hope!) in the long process of obtaining a visa that will allow us to stay in France for as long as we want.

But - it hasn't been easy. 
France LOVES its bureaucracy. 
There are lots of administrative hoops to jump through. 

Anyone who has been through this process knows what we mean. 

The "Mairie", or Town Hall, in our local village, Poilhes.

It involved:
 - 2 flights to the French consulate in Los Angeles.
- 2 medical exams.
 - Lost applications.
- Interview at the Préfecture in France after arrival.

And a DAUNTING list of required documents - originals and 1 copy of each. 
Here's the first list:

- OFII application form, signed and completed
- 2 passport photos, correct size and color
- valid passport, plus copy of identifying page
- visa processing fee of 250 € (must be paid online)
- proof of US citizenship
- proof of NM residency (this wasn't easy!)

- OFII residency form, duly completed
- e-ticket or reservation confirmation showing date of departure

- letter of statement of purpose, signed and notarized
- letter promising not to engage in gainful employment while in France, signed and notarized
- letter of employment in US - occupation and proof of earnings
- proof of financial means, excluding investments - only liquid funds
- last 2 bank statements
- investment portfolio, recent statements
- pension statement if applicable
- IRA or retirement statements if officially retired

- proof of medical insurance
- travel insurance for entire travel period, zero deductible (!), $50,000 minimum
- proof of accommodation in France, title deeds, utility bills or lease agreements
- and - 
- a self-addressed Fedex express air bill with tracking number


Only a very few of the required docs.


The difficult one - was proving our address in France. 
It's a deal-breaker if you don't have that. 
Usually, all you need is a copy of a recent utility bill with your name on it.
Or a landlord's signature on a lease contract. 

A nearby winery. If THIS were our house, getting the visa would have been easier.

However, "Maggie May" is a boat. She generates her own power. 
We don't HAVE a utility bill. 
And we have a mooring contract, not a lease.

So - does the canal authority qualify as a landlord? 
Questionable. It's going to take some explaining.

The "Office" at our residence.

So I add MORE documents to the pile:

- Mooring contract.
- Statement of mooring fees.
- Receipt for payment of mooring fees. 
- Bill of sale for Maggie May, in French and in English.
- Boat registration with the French authorities.
- Boat insurance.
- French bank account, showing our mooring location as our address.
- French telephone bills, showing French bank account.

But: There was another problem. 
We needed a lease / rental contract for a year. 
But the canal authority only issues the mooring contracts every 6 months.

So I got the Harbor Master at the Capitainerie to provide me with an extra contract. 
For this season AND for the upcoming season. 
It wasn't signed yet, but - we hoped it would work.

The "Capitainerie" at Capestang.

At the French consulate in the US, you make the appointment online. 
You can't call them to ask questions. They do not respond to emails. 
You are given an appointment and you must turn up on time. 

After a canceled flight, stress, and rescheduling for the following week, we decided to stay overnight in LA before the appointment. Then a missing rental car - quickly hailing a passing taxi to make our appointment. Past heavy security to the consulate.
(There's a longer story here, but this is already quite long enough.)

Fortunately, the administrator we met in the LA office grew up near the Canal du Midi. 
He understood immediately about barges and mooring contracts. Hooray! 

The French consulate administrator grew up along the Canal du Midi.

On arriving in France, I sent our documents off to the French authorities as instructed.
Originals, plus one copy, plus application form plus proof of entry into France and date.
After several weeks, I received notification of my interview appointment.
And the date for my medical exam. 

However: Nothing arrived for Stan.

After numerous calls and much worry, since they were adamant that the ORIGINAL signed documents must be presented, I finally spoke to someone who rummaged through the piles - and found Stan's file. (whew!) This took lots of calls - in French - with explanations.

Talking on the phone in a foreign language is always difficult.
(Getting someone to answer the phone in a French government office is also difficult.)

With Stan's found file, she made an appointment for both of us.
In another month's time (which was by now August).
Both of us on the same day. At the same time. 
Cool. 

Eventually the day came. 

We get into our little rental car and - GO!

Since the appointment was at 8 am in Montpelier, a city about 90 minutes from us, we decided to go the night before and stay overnight, to be sure to get to our first meeting on time. 
We chose a hotel close to the Préfecture, so we could walk there. 


Unfortunately, the medical exam wasn't actually AT the Préfecture.  
It was somewhere down near the train station. 
-Glad we decided to check out the exact address the night before. 

Montpelier is actually quite a pleasant city.

Stepping over a number of homeless characters and weaving through several of their shopping carts, we climbed to the radiology office. A security guard checked our papers. 

A couple dozen people were already there, all nationalities.
We were all given chest x-rays, efficiently and quickly.
Everyone got their x-ray envelopes and left for the next stage of the process. 
Except me.

Finally, the radiologist called me and wanted to talk to me about my x-ray. 

"So, you're a heavy smoker?" 
"No, I don't smoke." 
"But you used to?"
"No, I never smoked. At all."
"Hm. But - you are coughing a lot, yes?"
"No, I don't cough - why?"
He looked at me skeptically.
"You have bronchitis. Pretty severe.
And - you know you have a broken rib, right?"
"No! Broken rib? Are you SURE that's MY x-ray?"

Well, we left the office in total dejection.
I was sure I'd failed the medical exam! 
And I feel PERFECTLY healthy!

And I don't know anything about a broken rib!


I couldn't believe it. 
To have gone through all this - and not pass the x-ray? 
You gotta be kidding me. 
I bicycle, I scuba, I do yoga - I'm healthy!



But we went to the next appointment anyway. Two doctors interviewed Stan and me together. 
One of the doctors put my chart up on a light wall, and said, 
"Yes, it's definitely broken. It doesn't hurt? Usually, a broken rib is quite painful." 

I told her I didn't even know which side it's supposed to be on. 
Then I carefully asked about the bronchitis. 

"Do you have a doctor in France? If so, you should visit towards the end of the year. Take this x-ray and compare it with the next one. If it's not improving, then you'll have to do something."
"So, does that mean I'm okay for the visa?"
"I don't see why not. Just have it checked out in a few months." 

YAY!


The final interview, one more. 
Soon, the official full-page visa is stuck into the passports. 
We're now OFFICIAL. 
And MAN, that was a LOT of work! 

No wonder people celebrate so much after they acquire a new nationality (A German friend of ours recently received his US citizenship-) - and this was just a long term visa!



I'd say this deserves a small glass of celebratory wine.

- Even if I DO have a broken rib.

11 August 2017

Visitors on the Boat - Canal Boat Etiquette


We've had our first boat visitors!

Stan's sister Charlene from New Mexico, was the first.
At the end of a trip from Finland to Holland via Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.




Then - son Mikey, his Italian wife, Iris, and Baby Noah came from their home in Berlin.





(Yes, at one point, we considered changing the boat's name to Noah's Ark.
However, Iris' father, from Venice, nixed the idea STRONGLY.


Finally got the name of the boat painted again!

"You NEVER change the name of a boat! It's VERY bad luck!"
So - we kept the original name.)


"Sorry, Noah. No Noah's Ark this time."

Then - son Erik came from Bangkok.
He's lived there for about 5 years.

He speaks great Thai.
Not as much French. 


Off to the market in Capestang via bicycle.


Erik draws for a living. We even got to do a little drawing and painting together.

And son Kilian, also living and working in Bangkok, arrived shortly afterwards.

"Since I work online, I guess you could say I'm at the office, right?"

Our first local wine tastings in the area - with Kilian.

We never really had BOAT GUESTS before.
So we had to think about BOAT INSTRUCTIONS.

We're still winging it.
So for now, it goes something like this:

Rule 1: Regulations require that we inform guests where the life jackets are.

Well - that's pretty silly, since you can pretty much stand up in the canal.




I can see it now: 
"Man overboard!"

"Should I toss him a life jacket?"

"Nah, just tell him to stand up.
Walk to the edge of the canal.

And then take a REALLY good shower."




But: we DO make sure we use the handrail.
Especially on the canal side of the boat.

And especially after a glass or two of wine.

Yes, people fall into the canal.

Mostly, it's just embarrassing.

Rule 2: Shoes off inside the boat.
That's easy.




Rule 3: Toilet protocol:
This one is important.

NOTHING goes down the head (toilet) that hasn't gone through you first.

Because: NO ONE wants to clean a blocked toilet.




Rule 4: Use power and water VERY sparingly. (We go into this in detail.)

Rule 5: Put everything back where it belongs.




Otherwise, the boat quickly becomes a mess. 




Rule 6: Close the hatch if it looks like rain.

If not, you - and your bed - will get VERY wet.


Stan - showing Noah how life on board works. Noah's got it down.

Rule 7: Enjoy!

Well, that doesn't seem like all that much after all.
I can't think of anything else.

And ALL of our recent boat guests were GREAT.

You know? This is a pretty cool lifestyle.


Would you like a glass of rosé with that?

09 August 2017

How to Cook Duck Eggs & Other Essentials



Remember the ducks? 

Stan was trying to persuade them to move elsewhere. 
Away from our freshly painted boat - and - they did.

They headed down the canal a bit. 

Friends of ours, Ron and Fiona, live on a lovely old barge from 1910 - "The Swan".
It's moored just a few boats down from us.



Maybe the ducks saw the swan on the rudder - and took it as an invitation to the neighborhood. 



A short while later, Ron and Fiona unexpectedly discovered a nest of duck eggs. 
Nicely planted under their bicycle cover. 
A LOT of eggs. 

- Oops. No bicycling for a while.


But: since no feathered female seemed to be sitting on the eggs, we took a couple for lunch.


They're big! And truly - organic. 
Totally free range, obviously. 

The ducks even eat baguettes. 
Of course. They're French ducks. 


Do you have to cook duck eggs longer? 
No, they're more delicate than chicken eggs. 

Just put them in cold water. 
When the water begins to boil, turn it off.
Let them sit in the water for about 12 minutes. Done!



But first: off to market - to buy some new potatoes, some fresh market tomatoes and greens. 
Add a little Dijon mustard, and some French sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon.


Stan choosing greens at the Capestang market.

Duck egg salad. Delicious!

And - a few fresh cherries for dessert.