Waiting in the half-light
Dark inside the day
Light inside the dark
Waiting to come out and play
A door standing homeless swings open
Memories in curious choreography
Drift in and out

I do not always appreciate living in France.

Until recently the only Internet option in the village was dial-up. Pokey. Dropped connections, unreliable phone lines, frequent outages, fried modems. Then France Telecom installed DSL. Hallelujah?

No. Every time a new customer is hooked into the grid, an established customer is bumped out. (Surprised by the senselessness? Clearly you have never lived in France.)

Yesterday we were disconnected. Again. No phone, no Internet, Customer Service in name only. Modern times, modern angst, French style. No wonder they so frequently take to the streets here.

Which is what I did. With research to do, online lessons to teach and promises to keep, the wretched and supposedly weak (aka me) gathered up heart and files, and hiked across the street to call FT's Customer Service from the Agence Postale phone. I punched the numbers 3-9-0-0. The odds are there to beat…

An accent from northern Africa answers. I correctly guess Tunisia. At least we both speak French. I report that we have no service at our house, that the DSL connection is not working and that I am calling from the phone at the Agence Postale. He runs through the list of standard questions, the last of which: “Are you calling from your home phone?” I hear the edge in my voice as I tell him again that the reason I’m calling is because our phone is OUT, as in “does not work,” so NO, I am NOT calling from our home phone because it does NOT work. I am calling from the village Post Office. “Are you near your computer and router box?” he asks. No, I am not, because I am not at home, I am at the Post Office, I politely reiterate.

He asks for my cell number and tells me he’ll call me at home, on my cell, in five minutes. Twenty minutes later my cell rings. Record time; I appreciate it. He asks me to turn off the router box, wait three minutes then turn it back on. This, he says, will re-boot the system and all will be fine. I tell him that I’ve already done that, twice, before calling in. He decides to test the line. Announces that it’s not functioning normally. I don’t tell him that it's a good thing he’s on the other side of the Mediterranean.

He proposes that we uninstall and re-install the router box. He is trained to assume the customer knows nothing. He is trained to avoid confirming that the problem lies with FT. I do not share his illusion. Nonetheless I follow his rather odd and lengthy instructions. More than an hour later nothing has been repaired and, worse, now the router box is not working at all.

Mr. Customer Service calmly concludes that there “may” have been an “incident” and that, according to the report he’s reading on his computer screen, our phone service will be re-established in two weeks. Two weeks. No phone service, no Internet service. Unacceptable, I tell him with equal calm, explaining that I work online, that this is far from the first time our service has been interrupted and that I will be sending a very large bill to FT for lost income. He recites the appropriate department number and asks if there is anything else he can do for me. I ask: “What else can you do for me?” He says he can check back in the morning to see if the system is working. (He didn't.)  "Bonne fin de journée, au revoir, madame." No wait, I need you, I don’t need you, I need you, I don’t need you…

I need music. At least the electricity is still working (not always the case). I put on The Essential Leonard Cohen. Wonder what The Essential France Telecom would sound like. Dissonance. I k
ick up the volume. FT can't reach me in Leonard's tower of song.

I listen through both CDs then head to bed. Drifting off, I hear France Telecom chanting, “give me absolute control over every single living soul.” I punch back: “I’ve seen the future, it is murder.”

When I wake up, I glance at the router box. The Internet angels have forgotten to pray for us. I get dressed and head for the Mairie, where I ask Monsieur le Maire to call someone important, use a little muscle to rectify this mess once and for all (it’s election time). I learn that ours wasn’t the only line disconnected yesterday. But ours is the only line still out. The secretary tells me she’ll call FT, give them our info and have them call me on my cell. Hours later the Mairie is closed and FT has still not called. Sublimating, I eat M&Ms by the fistful, even the blue ones.

Then I make a decision to do exactly what FT tells you never to do without their assistance: un-install and re-install the router box. The Customer Service guy from yesterday probably screwed something up. I glance through the manual, toss it on the floor and go to work.

Fifteen minutes later, it’s V-day in the trenches. I'm back on boogie street.


Making the decision to move to France is much easier than making your way through all the official paperwork to live there legally. That requires patience, tenacity and a pretty good sense of humor, so adapt a flexible and creative frame of mind before embarking on your visa adventure. If you cling to linear thinking and appealing to logic as necessarily effective communication tools, you’re going to run into more than one difficult-to-circumvent roadblock and probably provoke a few migraines, not to mention a few French civil servants.

Why? Because the usually overworked, under-experienced, few in number and often very young French Consulate personnel treating your visa request will more likely than not discard anything you have to say before it even leaves your lips. Never mind that you are older (even much older), more experienced and possibly wiser.

I was lucky enough to deal with a delightful and very knowledgeable woman when I applied for my visa. She was the Visa Section’s supervisor. The young woman working with her, however, fit the stereotype for a young, attractive French fonctionnaire (civil servant). Haughty and self-important, she made no effort to hide her disdain for those seeking visas. She seemed to consider us all guilty of some crime and our very presence in the Visa Section as an offensive intrusion into her own personal space.

West Coast Americans are generally far too polite and too easily intimidated when faced with this kind of behavior. That’s probably true of Americans in general, who tend towards excessive politeness, at times even to the detriment of realizing their goals. North-Easterners, who can be aggressive in their interactions, would be an exception to this generalization. This is an observation I allow myself as a native New Englander who lived many years in the Northwest and several in the South.

At any rate, the interaction between a “typical” French fonctionnaire and a “typical” American can be a tricky dynamic to negotiate. If you overreact, you’ll never get anywhere, but if you present yourself as willing to be walked all over, you won’t get anywhere either because you won’t be respected. In France, it’s your job to elicit [read: impose] respect. This is a generality, of course. Know that the French person with whom you’re interacting is not necessarily going to treat you with respect simply because you yourself are well mannered and respectful. Unless you’re already familiar and comfortable with this dynamic and/or are an older, charming and well-dressed man, I suggest that you just take a deep breath and keep your comments to yourself, while inwardly chanting your mantra of vouloir c’est pouvoir, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you have the required documents, there is no reason for your file to be refused and therefore you can consider the visa process as a series of hoops through which to jump, gracefully or not. Some hurdles are directly linked to French culture, but most are simply the result of typical administrative exigencies. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy; the visa process for non-Americans asking to stay in the States is just as unclear and bumpy a road to travel. Chapeau to all who make it through the ordeal intact, in their country of choice.

Some important details about a visa for France
Americans are allowed to remain in France for up to three months with just a passport. Anything beyond that requires a long-stay visa and a carte de séjour (a green card). Make your life easier by following this inviolable rule of order: first comes the visa, then the carte de séjour. In the past, if you were tenacious enough and knew the right people, you could sometimes score a green card without a visa, and even do it while in France. Nowadays, though, you absolutely must have a visa first and your visa request must be made while you’re in the United States. The subsequent request for a carte de séjour must be made within eight days after your arrival in France, visa in hand. Be sure to open your passport to the page where your visa is affixed so the French authorities see it and stamp it when you go through customs.

Both the visa and the carte de séjour require almost identical paperwork. You’re perhaps tempted to think that this goes towards efficiency, the assumption being that the branch of the French government that treats your visa request forwards your file to the authorities that will process your carte de séjour request. Erreur! Yes, that seems logical; nonetheless that’s apparently not what happens.

You submit your paperwork twice: first, in the United States to the French Consulate, who sends your file off to France for a yea or a nay. The files are only expedited to France every two weeks, not systematically as requests are made, and not electronically as you might think would be the case, given all the technology at our disposal nowadays capable of dramatically facilitating bureaucratic procedures.

In the eventuality of a yea from France, you’ll then submit pretty much the same documents to your local Préfecture when you arrive in France. If you live in a small village like I do, you can leave your file with the Mayor’s Office. They’ll either send it off to the Préfecture by mail or the mayor himself will deliver it in person. This is one of the many real advantages of living in a small convivial French community. I lived a long time in a fairly cosmopolitan American city and am amazed and delighted by the mayor’s genuine availability to his constituents here in the village. He even stopped by late one night after a long day of work and meetings to counsel us about the paperwork with which we were faced. Perhaps there are still towns in the USA where that happens, but I’ve never experienced it.

If you live on the West Coast of the US, you have to travel to San Francisco to file your visa request in person. This can be costly if you’re out of state, so be sure your file is complete. The Consulate usually won’t accept incomplete files, although they’ll sometimes allow you to fax supplemental information post-visit. Check the web site for a list of documents required and take at least 3 photocopies of everything. You’ll need several visa request forms – not photocopies -- each filled out identically; you can download the forms from the web site. The San Francisco Consulate requires four, if I remember correctly. Contrary to logic, not all the French Consulates require the same number of forms; information you find on their individual web sites does not always match. Va comprendre.

If your original documents are in English, translate them into French and make 3 copies of the English translations. It doesn’t seem to matter if the translations are perfect. Two of my students planning a long ski vacation in the French Alps did all their translations themselves. They contained errors of grammar and syntax, but were quite understandable and were accepted by the Consulate. Be aware, however, that some French agencies demand professionally translated, officially notarized documents. It all depends on the type of request and file being made.

Three passport-size photos are required for the visa application, then four for the carte de séjour. It’s practical to have the copies made all at once, but if you forget, as I did, you can easily have more photos made in France. Don’t waste your money on a photographer – just look for a Photomaton at a local supermarket, shopping mall or train station. It’s quick and cheap: six color ID photos for a few euros. Be sure to press the right button, though: the machines take several kinds of photos and the Préfecture requires photos specifically formatted for legal documents. Click on the photo d’identité button or you’ll find yourself back there popping more coins into the Photomaton.

As of September 2006, you need an appointment in order to file a visa request with the San Francisco Consulate. This is an easy step if the Consulate’s web site is up and the links are all working. Access the English page for visa info and you’ll see a link to click on to make an appointment on line, the one and only way to make a visa appointment, at least with the San Francisco Consulate. Be sure to print the information once you’ve set a date, and then take that paper with you to San Francisco; you won’t get past the guard without it. Don’t count on the Consulate’s having a copy in case you forget yours. They probably do have a record of your appointment, but since their site instructs you to print the appointment document and take it with you, showing up without it will be clearly perceived by the Consulate as your error – never a strong negotiating position from which to begin, especially not for dealing with fonctionnaires.

Try to wrap your mind around this irritating reality: despite the fact that the phone number and email address for the Consulate and Visa Section appear on the Consulate’s web site, the Visa Section in San Francisco does not answer the phone, nor does it respond to emails. Once you’ve filed your request, however, you may be given the direct desk number of someone working in Visas. This won’t necessarily allow you to speak with anyone, but at least you’ll be able to leave a message and may receive a return call. You can also fax the Visa Section, although you’re unlikely to receive any acknowledgment of your fax.

In case you forget to buy the catastrophic health insurance required for your visa (and carte de séjour) or in case you don’t have all the photocopies you need of your documents, there’s a travel agency next door to the Visa Section where you can purchase insurance and/or have photocopies made for $1/page. They probably have to frequently replace their copier, judging from all the visa applicants I saw heading over there for additional copies of essential documents.

Once your file is accepted, you’re fingerprinted then asked to pay for your visa -- you pay before the visa is granted, not after. Hmm… You’ll be given a receipt that you’ll be asked to reproduce later on when you go to pick up your visa (no appointment necessary for this step). That caught me off guard, although as I hopped on the BART and headed for the Consulate the day before I was planning to leave for France, I had a sinking feeling that I should have grabbed the receipt out of the file I’d left on my hotel room bed. It didn’t make any sense since I’d already paid, wasn’t returning anything, had submitted numerous pieces of identification, had been summoned by the Consulate…

Nonetheless, when I presented myself at the Visa Section, the haughty young woman I’d met during my first visit told me in a condescending voice to present my passport, my plane ticket … and the receipt for the visa. It was the one thing I didn’t have with me. The Visa Section was not open that afternoon, I wouldn’t have time to go back to my hotel room for the receipt and was supposed to fly out the next morning. I stated these facts in a polite yet assertive fashion and was met with a steely regard and a repeated demand for the receipt. I certainly was not going to re-schedule my departure to France because of this absurd detail. Of course the Visa Section had a record of the transaction. On top of that, I had been told in a phone conversation with the Section Supervisor two weeks earlier that the only documents I would need to present to pick up my visa were my passport and a travel itinerary (plane ticket). This was the next information I politely yet assertively gave to the younger fonctionnaire. She wouldn’t budge, so I calmly reiterated that I had been told by her supervisor to bring my passport and itinerary, that indeed I had the receipt but not with me, adding in a surprised tone, “Vous n’en avez pas de copie ici au Consulat?” [“You don’t have a copy of it here at the Consulate?”] She didn’t respond, merely shrugged her shoulders and told me not to bother about the receipt. I understood that she indeed had a copy and that I had trumped her by invoking her supervisor’s name and instructions.

Off to the right stood the supervisor, smiling.

[NOTE: This visa information may no longer be accurate. Check the French Consulate nearest you for visa requirements.]


    J'étais en Cycle 3. Ou plutôt l’équivalent américain, puisque j’habitais dans le Rhode Island. Tout le monde parlait anglais, à l’école et dans notre quartier aussi. Pourtant dans la rue d’à côté vivaient des Arméniens, une petite famille russe aussi, et
juste en face des Suédois. Un peu plus loin des Italiens, dont le papa était un influent mafioso. C’est ce qu’on disait en tout cas.
    Nous étions cinq à être convoqués ce jour-là. Nous ignorions pourquoi. Quand on ne sait pas, on se tait. Nous suivions la Directrice, en silence, le long des couloirs. Arrivant à la bibliothèque, la Directrice nous laissa avec un monsieur parfaitement inconnu de nous. Il fit un geste et nous comprîmes qu’il fallait prendre place. Tout en gesticulant à la Panturge, il plongea sa main dans un grand sac, en sortit une poupée. “Doll” en anglais.
    “Poupée, dit-il, c’est une poupée.
    Il répéta : “Poupée. Pou-pée. Un-e pou-pée. Une poupée.
    Il n’avait pas l’air de plaisanter, avec sa POU-PEE.    
    Déconcertant. Où voulait-il en venir ?
    Et c’était parti...
    Il dut sortir d’autres objets, d’autres mots. Je me souviens seulement du premier, “poupée”.  Moi, garçon manqué, piégée par une poupée. Scotchée. Amoureuse. D’une langue. De la langue française.
    Elle finit par s’enraciner dans mes os, par laisser une empreinte dans mon système nerveux. Elle fidèle comme une ombre, moi plus capricieuse. On se perdait de vue de temps en temps, pour reprendre de plus belle le chemin. Une affaire d’amour. J’avais beau la tromper avec le latin, le japonais, l’espagnol. Même l’italien. Ce beau prétendant-là faillit me conquérir définitivement...

ton regard mécanique et vide
n'est jamais indolore
c'est un serpent invisible
pourtant sonore
qui enfonce dans mon ventre
d'un geste immobile
un désert immense
en mouvement inutile
et sans amour

je chante le charme fébrile
de tes yeux
qui chassent la lumière ordinaire
et embrassent
d'un geste céleste et invisible
le tendre tourbillon de mes désirs

HISTOIRE COURTE "Nos hommages, madame"
Enregistrée par Bonfils

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Type : mp3


Ça fait un mois que je suis partie. Ou peut-être deux. Sans rien dire on s’est embrassés. J’ai bien senti son souffle contre ma joue, son cœur contre ma poitrine. Je le devinais lourd. On s’est lâchés, j’ai monté l’escalier. Lui est resté en bas. Je ne me suis pas retournée. J’ai mis mon bagage sur le tapis, me suis déchaussée. Serait-il possible d’ouvrir le bagage de Madame ? Sûrement à cause de la poêle en fer. Que voulaient-ils que je dise ? Oui, bien sûr. Ils s’attendaient peut-être à un refus ? Voyant que ce n’était qu’une poêle, ils m’ont signalé d’un hochement de tête que je pouvais récupérer mes affaires. Ils n’ont pas posé de questions, je n’ai rien expliqué.
    La salle d’attente était à 8608.3 kilomètres de chez moi. Façon de parler. Je n’avais plus de chez moi. J’avais un billet de retour parce que moins cher. Il n’y aurait pas de retour. J’ai pris l’avion à 6h45 et je suis arrivée dans l’après-midi du même jour.
    Ma fille m’a retrouvée à l’aéroport. Il ne pleuvait pas. Nous avons déposé mes affaires chez Paul, comme d’habitude. Comme si j’étais en vacances. Je ne me souviens pas de la suite. Peut-être qu’on est allées manger quelque part. J’étais très fatiguée à cause du vol, du décalage horaire. Ajoutés au décès de ma mère quelques semaines auparavant. Et surtout à cause du reste. Je sais qu’on est allés acheter un téléphone portable; le mien ne marchait plus. Quand je me suis réveillée le lendemain, je ne savais pas où j’étais. Je voulais rentrer chez moi. Interrogeant mes e-mails, j’ai trouvé un message de lui. Il voulait savoir si j’étais bien arrivée, me disait qu’il pensait très fort à moi, que c’était très difficile pour lui aussi, que j’étais partout dans la maison. Pourquoi me dire cela ? Je n’ai pas répondu tout de suite. Plus tard, oui. Pour lui dire que je n’avais plus rien à part deux grosses valises et quelques cartons empilés contre le mur de chez Paul, que je voulais qu’il vienne me chercher, me ramener chez nous, que j’avais très peur et que je me sentais très seule. Je l’ai dit parce que vrai. Pas pour changer quoi que se soit. J’étais trop fatiguée pour lutter contre l’impossible. Et je n’avais plus l’âge à y croire.
    Il est assez tranquille chez Paul, tout de même c’est la ville et je ne supporte plus le bruit. Je passe la plupart de mon temps seule. De temps en temps, quelqu’un m’invite. Par curiosité, par sympathie, par amitié. Je compte chaque sou. Je réfléchis. Je me promène. Je cherche des offres d’emploi sur internet. Je fais des demandes de travail. Je fais du networking, je contacte tout le monde afin de trouver une solution. Je remplis des formulaires, écris des lettres de motivation. Je ne peux pas rester chez Paul indéfiniment. J’essaie de positiver. Mais je sais que cette fois-ci je suis brisée, et que j’aurai du mal à me remettre.
    Presque personne ne m’en parle. De pourquoi je suis rentrée au pays. Tant mieux, je ne saurais que dire. Une seule fois quelqu’un m’a demandé : “Mais qu’est-ce qui s’est passé enfin ? “  Je l’ai regardé un long moment avant de répondre : “Il m’a demandé de partir. C’est tout. Sans explication, sans discussion. J’ai beau essayé, il ne voulait pas. Je ne comprends pas moi non plus.” Je ne sais pas pourquoi. Je ne sais pas ce que je ferai, et je sens le désespoir me gagner. Pas à cause de lui. Parce que je dois recommencer à zéro, encore une fois. Je ne sais pas si j’ai la force. Sept ans. Sept ans de ma vie perdus. Je me souviens d’il y a sept ans, où tout commençait. On m’aurait bien étonnée en me disant que je finirais paumée et seule. Je ne peux pas me faire à l’idée. Ce n’est pas la même chose pour lui. Il n’était jamais parti, il était encore chez lui. Dans une certaine mesure, il n’avait rien perdu.
    La fin est tombée brusquement. Très vite. Il avait préparé à manger, je n’avais pas faim. J’ai hésité. Je voulais qu’on se parle de la dispute de la veille mais ne savais pas par quel bout prendre la bête. J’ai réfléchi, au fond cela n’avait aucune importance. Je me suis lancée, il m’a coupée court. “Je ne veux plus de cette vie.” J’ai dû passer le reste de la journée sous le choc, parce que je ne me souviens de rien. Si. Je me rappelle que plus tard dans l’après-midi, on s’est retrouvés par hasard devant la porte d’entrée. Il m’a attrapée, m’a dit qu’il m’aimait. Cela ne voulait rien dire. C’était déstabilisant...

Gun sireadh gun iarraidh...Without seeking, without asking...on ne va nulle part.

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