They say the USA is the hardest of all countries to get a visa for. They just might be right. Tomorrow morning, I will be up at 4 am, braving transport strikes, petrol shortages and alleged increased terror alerts to travel 600 km across France, so that the US embassy in Paris can interview me. To decide if I would make an acceptable visitor to their country for a period of 6 months and 4 days. I have a bad feeling about the 4 days.
They've asked me to leave my cell phone and netbook at home, but to bring half my filing cabinet and something with which to entertain myself while I wait... The mind of the 21st century human boggles... do they not understand that I keep all my books, games and important papers on the netbook I'm not supposed to bring??? (Yeah, I know, I know, it's more that they don't care!)
Still, at least it's an adventure. Stay posted!
It's Tuesday evening and the SNCF have made up their minds that both my trains tomorrow will be canceled due to strike action. But they also sent me a nice little email telling me I could be reimbursed or travel on any train that's going in the right general direction. There is one other train that would get me to Paris just about in time. So rather than cancel my appointment, I'm going to take the risk of arriving late. I don't have a definitive plan for getting back yet - it's a case of coming back earlier than I would like, or the next day. I'm inclining towards coming back early.
9am, Wednesday morning - I'm on the TGV that should make it to Paris just about in time, but now we are having 'technical problems', and can't possibly get into Paris much before 10:00. I prefer being early to being late, but there is not much I can do about it except gaze out of the window and wait for the fields to turn into Paris. I probably shouldn't have brought my netbook because now I still have to detour via left luggage to drop it off. In fact, I should probably have postponed my appointment. I just have a whole series of non-optimal choices going here, and the only way it's going to work out is if someone wants to cut me some slack. The US Embassy?
About lunchtime, Wednesday - I don't know when exactly, since I left all my electronics at Gare de Lyon. It's just as well I did. They really, really mean it about the laptops, but they couldn't really care less what time people show up. The so-called 'appointments' are just traffic calming measures, to keep arrivals spread out. I think we are not used to this concept in France, because as I stood waiting in the second security line, 45 minutes late, the couple behind me were stressing out about their appointment that was supposed to be in 10 minutes!
There are 4 separate layers of security and preliminary paper-checking to get through to get into the US consulate, and 2 stages of dealing with paperwork and interviewing once there, so I've waited in a lot of lines, and jumped through a lot of hoops. Still, after all that, I feel almost as if I've been rubber-stamped. Rubber-stamped repeatedly all over, perhaps, but rubber-stamped nonetheless. Everyone was quite pleasant and polite, though you can feel that they have the system very well set up, and there is next to no leeway for the person being 'processed' to take any initiatives at all! After scanning me, questioning me and fingerprinting me, the last staff member to get her hands on me told me I could have a ten-year, multi-entry visa, with length of each stay to be settled at the port of entry, and I would get it in about 4 days. But, she warned, if Mike ever thinks of really moving back to the US, he'll have to apply for a different visa for me. So I didn't say 'wow, I though you'd stopped doing those 10-year visas', I did say 'thank you, goodbye', and I left.
Now, I'm sitting on a nice chair I found by a pond, in the beautiful, sunlit, jardin des Tuileries, and feeling, actually, a little bit ... sad... I'm going to be leaving home for quite a long time.
Thursday - of course, the hard part was always going to be getting back to Grenoble, but the SNCF have pulled out all the stops they can to make things work. I went to the Louvre for a little while, thanks to my pre-paid ticket, then headed back to Gare de Lyon, hoping to catch the very last TGV of this strike day. It was running at 16:38, 3 hours earlier than the canceled train I had booked on. SNCF solved everyone's problems by just hitching an extra train to the end of the regular, pre-booked 16:38 for all the overflow passengers. I got home last night at 8 pm, having had nothing to eat since I got up at 4 am, except a croissant and a small croque-monsieur. I went straight to bed and slept for nearly 12 hours. Hmmm... I hope I'm not getting too old for all these adventures already!