“Volets” en France

One of my old, charming volet's on my old, charming house in the South of France.

I’m fascinated by volets in France, what we Americans call “shutters.” In the States they are stationary, ornamental additions to houses. In France you can actually open and close the shutters.

I love getting up in the morning and throwing open the volets. (Forgive my romantic imagery.) It’s like a statement that says, good morning, I’m ready to start my day.

Besides the fact that I find them charming, volets in France are practical.

Today it’s raining and the infamous “mistral” (wind storm) has arrived. Mon amour quickly closed the volets. You see, in France you can actually close the shutters, you know, like in the movie “Gone with the Wind.” The shutters keep the rain from beating against the windows and keep the wind from breaking them.

Shutters also keep out the cold air. When you don’t have double-paned glass, as in most of these old French homes, shutters serve as insulation. I’ve been grateful for our volets on many a cold and windy day.

Probably my favorite practical use of the volets is to keep out the sun. Every night before we go to bed we close the shutters. In the morning I can sleep in the darkness until I’m ready to get up. Of course, sometimes I sleep later than I should; but on weekends I love sleeping in and not having the morning sun tell me it’s time to get up.

In summer the volets keep out the sun and heat. I love a sunny home with lots of windows, but again, in an old French home with no central air conditioning, the volets offer a welcome reprieve from the hot sun that beats down in summer in the South of France.

So if you decide to spend your holiday in the South of France, make good use of the volets. You can sleep in, and then throw open the volets when you’re ready to greet the day.

The Death Empire of Paris: The Catacombs

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.”

The Catacombs of Paris, public access

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.

Wall of Bones, Catacombs of Paris

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 catacombs of Paris and a journey into the unknown.

The history of the catacombs video from BBC News:
What lies beneath the catacombs of Paris. 

National Holiday?

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.

Documents for France

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