This inscription marks the entrance to the public area of the catacombs of Paris: Arrêter! C’est Ici l’Empire de la Mort. “Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead.”
This cryptic message warns visitors to the site of what lies beyond: the bones of the deceased; a subterraneal burial ground containing the dismembered skeletons from Paris’ numerous above-ground cemeteries. Bones line tunnels and are artistically arrayed in underground rooms. Tourists can descend into this public crypt to take in the eerie spectacle where in the 1700s the bones were deposited due to overcrowding in Paris’ above-ground cemeteries.
But beyond this is underground tomb of bones lies a series of tunnels of which few are aware and fewer have passed. It’s difficult to believe that such a massive structure (more than 170 miles of tunnels) could exist so secretly beneath one of the most famous and well-traveled cities of the world, but the lost catacombs stretch beneath Paris. Today they are explored by a sub-culture that refer to themselves as cataphiles, and the complex tunnel system is patrolled by the cataflics, special police who look out for invaders to the catacombs. Entrance was made illegal in 1955.
I stumbled across this secret society and it’s lair while listening to an online podcast. Details, necessarily so, are sketchy, but apparently the sub-culture consists of urban explorers, artists, veteran inhabitants escaping the stress of living above ground, and the rare, but occasional tourist who finds an access.
Access to the former quarries that were used to build the city itself is illegal because it is dangerous. People get lost and die in the complex system of tunnels. Some areas are flooded and sometimes there are cave-ins. But these dangers and the cata-police don’t stop numerous visitors to the catacombs who explore, make maps, have dinner parties, and create make-shift art studios.
During war-time the catacombs were used as bomb shelters. The Germans set up a base in one portion of the tunnel system during World War II. Smugglers have used the underground as a hideout, and religious ceremonies have been carried out in Paris’ most secret place. Although access to the tunnels is illegal, openings are all over the city and so numerous that they can’t be closed off and patrolled.
You can find lots of information on the Web about the catacombs, both the public and non-public sectors. But you’ll have a difficult time locating a cataphile to escort you to this dark underground. Even the most experienced cataphiles will tell you never enter the tunnels without a guide or you may never come out.
The history of the catacombs video from BBC News:
What lies beneath the catacombs of Paris.
Yesterday was Halloween in France, but that’s not the national holiday that had everyone NOT working. Today is All Saints Day (which is, of course, where Halloween has it’s origin). Can you believe All Saints Day is a national holiday? You can add this one to your international holiday list. And it’s big–festivals everywhere. In the South, any holiday means bulls run in the street (Abrivado). I wonder if they run the bulls at Christmas, too?
Oh, wait. Did I forget to mention that no one told me that today is a national holiday?
People stopping by unexpectedly is normal. (Remind you of living in the South U.S., Laura?), but I wasn’t expecting a steady stream of people yesterday. And in France, when people come to your home, you don’t just offer a coke or cup of coffee. No, you provide an aperitif, which includes a drink and a salty snack. And it seems they have a habit of showing up (unexpectedly) at mealtimes, or they stay so long it runs into mealtimes, and then you feed them. And if you read my blog, you’ll learn that a French meal is always at least 5 courses. I’m not exaggerating. When I”m alone during the day, I can eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but this is not acceptable, at least in our house, at other times. Normally, even “quick” meals consist of: aperitif, entre, plate, fromage (cheese), and dessert. (See previous blog on French food.) I’m convinced there is no such thing as a quick meal in France, unless you go to McDonalds or the French equivalent of McDonalds: Quik. Yes, that’s what it’s called–Quik.
And so, let me conclude by saying that I had a minor melt-down yesterday evening. An unexpected holiday is nothing to have a melt-down over. It was the proverbial straw…. After several weeks (let’s say months) of the stress of getting my residency documents, getting attacked by a dog (I”m still taking antibiotics for that one), trying to open a French banque account and buy a cell phone, and numerous other daily life stresses of being a “foreigner,” I just lost it. I mean, why didn’t someone do the small courtesy of telling the American it’s a holiday in France? You would think my husband would have thought to mention it? (And yes, Marion, French husbands are no different than American husbands.)
I’ve discovered that one of the greatest stresses of living abroad, for me, is that feeling of “lostness,” never knowing what comes next.
Next year I’ll be expecting All Saints Day.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve gathered my life into this 3-inch folder. And it keeps getting thicker.
The process of entering a new country seems never-ending. Once I’ve crossed a hurdle, there looms another. This week it was my cart de sejour. What a relief! But now I need to start thinking about changing my driving permit.
Sometimes I haven’t had the papers I’ve needed, and it’s more difficult to get them once you leave the States, or more expensive to have them delivered, so I had the idea to create a list of documents I’ve needed or thought I might need. I’ll add to it as needed. And if anyone has other suggestions, feel free to comment and I’ll add them to the list.
Oh, and sometimes you need these translated into French.
Documents from Country of Origin:
- passport (and many photocopies)
- birth certificate (many photocopies)
- social security card
- driver’s license
- medical records
- vaccination records
- proof of address in country of origin (phone bills, electric bills)
- financial statements: retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance, tax documents, pay stubbs for 3 to 6 months, proof of income
- health insurance records
- marriage certificate, divorce papers
- diplomas, transcripts, French language certificates or other proof of language study
- resume or CV
- work contracts
- important phone numbers
- contracts, agreements, records for any outstanding properties or other incidentals in country of origin (for example, I needed to have my contract for my storage unit with me so I could renew over the phone; car title; house or mortgage records).
- Demande De VISA Pour Un Long Sejour (application for long-stay VISA)
- Demande D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
- Prepaid Flat Rate Mailing Envelope (for return of your passport and long-stay VISA)
- head and shoulders photo (size differs in France, so read all instructions carefully for requirements)
- Power of Attorney (I left these in case I needed someone to deal with business in the States in my absence. It turned out to be necessary. If you have real estate, you need a separate POA that states very specifically the liberties of the person in your stead, and must be notarized and filed in the precinct where the real estate presides; at least this was the case in Virginia.)
Documents in France:
- proof of address (It’s a good idea to put a cell phone or some other bill in your name at your French address. Everything was in my husband’s name, so it was often complicated.)
- proof of income (work contracts, pay stubbs, bank statements)
- French bank card (open a bank account in France as soon as you can)
- Livret de Famille (if you married in France)
- Acte de Mariage (equivalent of a marriage certificate; certified by the local Marie)
- Titre de sejour (record to show you paid taxes upon entering France; required for carte de sejour and auto insurance)
- Certified D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
- long-stay VISA
- national identity card of spouse (if you are married to French national)
- passport of spouse (if you are married to French national)
More helpful information: French Moving Planner
It’s official. Another stamp in my passport to prove it. I am now recognized by the French government as a permanent resident in France. Yesterday, after a long day in Marseille, I received my carte de sejour.
If you’re not familiar with this tiny piece of paper (for which I prepared many, many not so tiny pieces of paper in order to receive), it’s absolutely necessary to apply immediately upon entering the country, because you have to have it within 3 months of your entry date, or they make you return to your home country and apply for another VISA. We don’t want to do that again!
And if you find yourself in this situation, make sure you get your passport stamped upon entering France or the European Union. You’ll need to photocopy this entry date in your passport and send it to the OFII (the office that issues carte de sejour) in order to even get an appointment.
Speaking of appointment–mine was yesterday; at least part of it was yesterday. It’s a little overwhelming when you receive your summons documents in the mail and read all that they require of you on this day. For those of you who may be facing this day with a mixture of dread and hope, I’ll walk you through my experience, and perhaps relieve some of the anxiety.
To start at the beginning, when I received my VISA, they also stamped my paper to apply to the OFII for a carte de sejour. Make sure you have this paper when you go to apply for your long-stay VISA. You need this paper stamped at the French Consulate in your country of origin. You can not do it by mail. You must be there in person.
I almost made a mistake in that I didn’t apply for my carte de sejour immediately upon arriving in France, and the information on the website clearly says apply immediately. I didn’t remember this part. I only remembered that I had to have my carte de sejour within 3 months of entering the country. I mistakenly thought it would be a matter of making an appointment and showing my paper.
Wrong. I miscalculated French bureaucracy, which like good wine and cheese in France, is not a myth.
Upon reading the instructions more carefully, I learned that I must send a few documents, along with a copy of my passport stamp with date of entry, just to get the appointment. The French officials were polite enough to send a confirmation letter saying they had received my documents. That took about 2 or 3 weeks. The next envelope arrived another 2 weeks or so later with several pages of information about the day of my appointment and what I needed to bring.
Let me say here that I prepared a portfolio that was almost an inch thick. I basically brought everything I had needed to date for my marriage and my VISA. I didn’t need most of it; but I do think it had something to do with my situation: first, I think Americans are not scrutinized as well, second I am married to a French national, and third I’m educated and employed. As my husband say, the government wants make sure you aren’t going to live under the bridge. What he means is that France has a social government where everyone is entitled to health care and social benefits. The government doesn’t want people immigrating to France in order to take advantage of its generous social system.
Be prompt for your appointment. There are many people with the same appointment time, and some I suspect, with no appointment, and you all go through the process together (but privately, one by one). It take half a day, at least. You watch a video, have a general medical examination, and spend some time with an interviewer.
First, you watch a video about France and the “four formations” you must complete in order to receive your carte de sejour. These formations are the heart of your application, so I’ll describe them:
You must speak French. If you do not speak basic French, they send you to French school. Don’t be too frightened by this. My French is basic, and the kind lady determined this by asking my questions, in French of course, that were part of my application: What is your phone number? What is your address? Do you have a secondary degree, such as from a university? What is your profession and do you have a job? She was very patient with me.
You must understand French culture and sign a contract saying that you agree to integrate (this includes accepting issues of equality, etc., important because many persons of Arabic descent immigrate to France, and equality of men and women is stressed). Not a problem for this American.
You must understand the Republic of France. This is basic civics, and it’s the only formation from which I was not exempt. No one is exempt from this formation. Everyone is required to take a one-day lesson in French civics. So, I must return to Marseille in one month for this class. They will provide an English interpreter, and I think it will be interesting, so no complaints.
You must be employable. For me this was not a problem. I have several degrees and a job with a U.S. company. I also do a good bit of consulting and freelance projects. I was exempted from yet another day of training, which I think is similar to the American job preparedness system.
And so, I received three certificates and one appointment for a class in civics.
But I had that little carte de sejour stamp in my VISA before I left. The looming civics class did not prevent my immediate access to permanent residency.
All things considered, the experience wasn’t as bad as I expected. But I wouldn’t recommend taking it lightly. For example, I had to produce proof of residency in the form of a bill for telephone or electric. I have nothing like that in my name, but they accepted my marriage certificate and my husband’s telephone bill. But I was distinctly aware that had I not been able to produce this one document, I would not have received that desired carte de sejour. Also, the letter I received asked for many other documents concerning my health, education, proof of employment, etc. I had all of these documents ready to present, but was not asked for them. Again, I suspect my American nationality smoothed the way.
Here’s the catch: in 9 months, I have to do this all again. Yep, that’s right. The carte de sejour is good for one year. And you need to apply 3 months before it expires. I understand from another American, and I think someone said this in French yesterday, that after a few years I can get a 10-year carte de sejour.
By the way, I’ve decided to keep my American passport.
Here’s a great site with helpful information about moving to France: French Moving Planner