To visit France and stay for more than 90 days, you need a visa long séjour, a long-stay visa. And to get one, you have present yourself, in person, at the appropriate French consulate general, with the right documents. I started months in advance to determine what documents those were—and the list seemed endless: the application form, passport photos, passports, proof of U.S. citizenship, proof of Florida residency, proof of income, proof of solvency, proof of internationally valid health insurance, birth certificates, marriage certificate, certificate of non-criminal record (!), supposedly available from my local police department—and some had to be presented in "certified" French translation! Different consulates' websites listed different assortments and required different numbers of copies, and the Miami consulate (the one we had to deal with) was the vaguest of all, and when contacted by phone refused to see us any sooner than November (for a January departure) and wouldn't even accept the appointment until October.
Fortunately, sometime during the summer, all the conflicting stories consolidated—all the consulates started linking to the same set of pages, so at least I got the same answer every time I looked. It also included a menu-driven system for figure out what category we fell into. That helped a lot; because David was invited to visit an official French scientific lab, things got much simpler. A scientist in position of an invitation document—a protocol d'acceuil—needs to present only the application, passport photos, passport, and protocol d'acceuil! It still said that the each consulate reserved the right to request additional documents and to specify the number of copies, but at least it was a manageable problem. I needed to present the same stuff but substitute the marriage certificate for the protocol, and the consulate finally admitted that they only wanted one copy of everything (very unusual for any French transaction).
David's colleague in Villefranche came through with the protocol, signed and sealed by the director of the lab and by the Villefranche mayor and police chief, and we finally got an appointment (learning in the process that the hours during which they claim to be "open to the public" are those during which you can't apply for a visa because, well, that's when they're dealing with the public), so in mid-November, we both few to Miami for the day—yes, down in the morning and back in the evening—to apply at the the Miami consulate. Yes, the consulate in Atlanta is much closer, but we live in Florida, so we're not in their territory. (It took me a while to establish that, since phone calls to the Atlanta consulate are directed into a circular system of recordings that never gives you a chance to talk to a person.)
The Miami Consulate General is in the new Espirito Santo Plaza building (a handsome picture thereof appears on their website), and their suite on the 10th floor is entered through an impressive set of large wooden double doors leading to a plush lobby. Visa applicants, however, are directed right past those doors and into a small, grubby, windowless room with metal chairs and a single, small, bullet-proof-glass teller's window. It was still "open to the public" at that hour, so we were told to come back after lunch. Fortunately, the Conrad Hotel, also in ES Plaza, includes a lovely rooftop restaurant, where after we ate, we used the thoughtfully provided telescopes to check out the view. I waved to my editor at Bulletin of Marine Science (whose office is at the Rosensteil School o f Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, visible some miles away on Rickenbacker Causeway), but I doubt he saw me; it's the closest we'd ever been to meeting face to face, even after all the Mote proceedings volumes we've brought to press together.
Back before the bullet-proof glass, we learned that the documentation described on the website was just what David needed to present but that I needed to fill out a whole different application form, not mentioned there. Fortunately, we had brought with us every conceivable relevant document (as well as many irrelevant ones), so I filled out the new paperwork while they processed David's, and in less than half an hour, start to finish, they affixed elaborate, signed, sealed, and hologrammed visas to our passports, right there under the large sign on the wall that said, "Absolutely no visas will be issued within 24 hours of application; no exceptions." Wonderful people the French.
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