Not just another visitor’s visa — my DIY Carte de Séjour!

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My temporary Carte de Séjour

La Carte de Séjour, one of several varieties of titres de séjour, is a French residency document enabling us non-European Union francofolles and francofoux to pursue Paris addiction undisturbed for an entire year.

In pursuit of La Carte, we will have proved to the French government, that, no matter what, we won’t go running to them for financial support — definitely not in the form, for instance, of free health care.  Oh, by the way, without a carte de séjour, I discoveredone can’t even apply for French health insurance. But sans an approved health insurance policy, don’t bother applying for a carte de séjour. . . .

American expats, I was vaguely aware, commonly hire consultants to facilitate the process of prying the official séjour document from the bureaucracy — not to mention to help navigate the health insurance catch 22, and myriad other complexities of resettling in la belle France. The consultants charge what their expert help is worth. A lot. So, I opted for DIY. How did it go? I promise I’ll just hit the high points. . . .

In late 2015, I showed up (again) at the French Consulate in Manhattan to apply for a simple visitor’s visa. The visa is valid for a period longer than the three months (90 days) period when Americans may visit France with only a passport for documentation. At this point, I’d become accustomed to spending at least six months of the year pursuing my rêve français (French dream), so I’d been a repeat visa applicant.

Ten months?!” the consular official’s Gallic eyebrows rose. “Well, okay — “but now you’ll apply for your Carte de Séjour. Here’s the address in Paris; show up within two months of your arrival in the city.” Inadvertently, I’d crossed a bureaucratic threshold. 

La Préfecture de Paris (police HQ) done up in tricolor lighting — to celebrate my Carte de Séjour?  

We need to see more mouvement in your French bank account  —  more euros — so we know you’re actually living here,  explained a bureaucrat last summer, on examining bank statements. Translation: more bank transactions to show that indeed I am here in the lovely capital,  contentedly eating, drinking wine, doing my bit for the local economy.

What’s more, and even better — 2017 was the only year in my history when I lived in Paris all year long, in just one location. No more loading expatriated possessions into taxis and riding half way across the city to a different exchange apartment . . . . A different what?

For years, I’ve routinely searched home exchange sites to find une parisenne or un parisien to live in my Manhattan 1BR while I occupy his or her Paris digs — usually engaging in serial swaps with one Frenchy for a few months, then another Frenchy for another couple of months. Anything to manage to stick around la ville de lumière.

But in 2017, I exchanged all year with only one Frenchy, a gentil French MD doing some très important medical research in NYC. He pays his Paris co-op maintenance, oh là là! And I, likewise pay to maintain my co-op apartment in Harlem. An apartment with the special New York Affordable Housing distinction, accorded by the expensive city that created that budget-friendly, official real estate category. Along with a variety of related “guidelines” (more on those in a minute).

In Paris, on Tuesday, 14 novembre 2017, I heard the word I’d waited for since 2016 from the bureaucrat corps at Paris police HQ. . . Oui, said the beneficent bureaucrat in whose discreet booth I sat. Et voilà, I’m good to go — I mean, stay, officially — for an entire year in Paris. A confirmed parisienne

“. . . That’ll be 269 Euros, s’il vous plait. The bureaucrat readily recalled the days when the fee for la Carte was only 106 euros. Never mind, for the francofolle, Paris is worth it. Also worth some collateral expenses — translations of every requisite English-language document (official translations only, don’t try this at home!) starting with my . . . birth certificate. How many euros for the translations? Never mind. More mouvement on my French bank statements.

After months of bureaucracy angst — I mean angoisse — finally I was taking a deep, deep breath. And sharing a glass of bubbly in the select company of supportive amies, one of whom I met in the early 70s, in Morocco.

Meanwhile, back in Harlem. . . In an ironic twist, the Affordable Housing bureaucrats had decreed in concert with my co-op board that my 2017 exchanger, the Burgundian Frenchy MD, must now sublet — officially — the same charming, Affordable Housing 1BR apartment he already was enjoying in Central Harlem. But, about those Affordable Housing guidelines. . . might the Frenchy MD be deemed over-qualified to sublet affordable housing?! The jury of New York real estate bureaucrats did their esoteric thing, on their own timetable. The suspense would be over (wouldn’t it?) by the time I hit my native N.Y.C. for a holiday interval in late December. Did someone say bureaucracy angoisse?

The bureaucrat ‘jurors,’ hard at work somewhere in the downtown civic center, did pronounce the Frenchy MD an acceptable sublet applicant! Bureaucracy angoisse over — right? Well, what about that co-op board I mentioned? Right — another ‘jury’ with my case on their docket as 2018 blew in.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, more or less as my flight from Newark airport landed smoothly at Orly airport, the Préfecture text materialized in my French cell phone: Show up and collect your permanent Carte de Séjour! When. . .? Between noon and two PM, on the very next day. . . I’d trade in the document you see above left for the real, durably laminated Carte. My one-year (renewable) Carte boasts the same ID photo as the paper version, but is much smaller. I realized no one had ever shown me theirs. Size doesn’t matter; fits nicely in handbag (if you dare leave home with it; some prefer a photocopy.)

In the February Paris chill, I kept my Carte de Séjour cozy. In the February New York chill, a Harlem co-op board sifted through their overflowing IN basket. (Let’s not debate which city has the worst weather, it’s too close to call. . . .) What with one bureaucratic thing and another, thanks to the board, the suspense lasted until April-in-Paris cherry blossoms had bloomed and April-in-Manhattan snows had melted. When my exchanger’s sublet finally was stamped Official by my co-op, I was . . . just about half way to the — routine! — renewal deadline for my Carte de Séjour.


 

In NYC, ‘Je suis Charlie’ solidarity with France — Beryl Goldberg photographs for GallicFever

10 JANUARY 2015. A day before millions mobilized in France for Je suis Charlie solidarity, hundreds assembled in New York City’s Washington Square Park to let France know we support freedom of expression from Paris to Timbuctu — and everywhere else. Without fear of being silenced by late-model weapons in the hands of terrorists.

The form of free expression chosen by one New Yorker in the park was dance . . . pole dance. As leather-clad Carolyn Chui slowly waved a Je suis Charlie placard from high above the crowd, onlookers smiled.”Only in New York,” commented Lamia, who’s from France via Algeria.

Carolyn danced to music of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, played by Colin Huggins on a grand piano. Especially haunting to my ear was Colin’s rendering of Yann Tierson’s, “Contine d’un autre été.” Tierson wrote his ‘little story of another summer’ — as I later learned, for  the movie, Amélie.” That frigid January Saturday [scroll down. . .]

Editor’s note: Play slide show, read captions and click comment link — just move your mouse over the photo mosaic.


was not the first time Colin played Chopin in the Greenwich Village venue, nor will it likely be the last. Where does he garage his grand piano? Wait for warmer weather, stop by the arch in Washington Square Park. . . and maybe he’ll tell you.

Colin’s fingers surely were ready to freeze — as were mine, and GallicFever photographer’s Beryl Goldberg’s. Beryl has photographed West African dance on location, but outdoor pole dance in New York was a first. For me, a chance to stand with the French couldn’t have been more welcome, once I discovered the Je suis Charlie invitation on the New York in French forum. French Institute Alliance France (FIAF), organized the bittersweet moment of Franco-U.S. solidarity.

Beryl and I had planned a second stop that Saturday afternoon: Albertine bookstore, uptown on Fifth Avenue. We’d long wanted to take some photos of my fave Franco-American cultural hotspot, but first we decided to warm up over hot chocolate at the Eighth Street branch of Vive la Crêpe. We thoroughly enjoyed the pleasant warmth of the shop, the French posters and our fresh fruit-filled crêpe. Tasty, and totally French — right? Only the former, since it’s a Mexican chain that opened their first Vive la Crêpe in Manhattan about five years ago.

At Albertine, I scoop up my budget-priced Folio paperback of Le Père Goriot, the Balzac novel we’ll read in the FIAF class I’m taking this semester. Meanwhile, Beryl has been shooting. We sit down in the shop’s upper level reading room and chose perfect photos of la belle Albertine, where the flower of French literature is shelved in both French and English editions. And where, every week, fascinating Franco-American cultural events inevitably attract full complements of my brothers and sisters in francofolie.

Missing urban presences — Paris, Brussels, Bordeaux

Ria (l.) and Suzanne, two from my Brussels charmed circle

Ria suggested in an email that Paris, in tandem with her city, Brussels, are like my part-time lover. Maybe, she added, that’s why you’re so in love. Ria is one of a Brussels circle of long-time special friends whose welcome charmed the city for me. The part-time lover idea appealed; after all, part-time is known to keep feelings potent, n’est-ce pas?

Place Royale in handsome Brussels

My first Brussels belle, Nicole, took this photo of the Musée Magritte, irresistible lure of the Royal Art Museum complex in the Place Royale

When I thanked Ria for the insight, she replied in an even deeper vein: In life, she wrote, rather than keep on missing — one feels better sustained by desire.* The better I get to know my friends’ handsome city, the more Brussels complements ethereal Paris. Two capitals after my own heart. And city missing may attack with no warning. . . .

On New York’s extreme east side — genteel but remote turf well north of midtown Manhattan — on a day when I’d skipped lunch, where could I go to fend off late-afternoon starvation? Just one more block east, said an informant, at a place named something like Pinocchio’s –? The array of sweets at first had my full attention in Beanocchio’s, but then as I Continue reading