I am still floating on a cloud from an absolutely enchanting, magical experience last night: seeing my favourite dreamy duo, Angus & Julia Stone, perform in the ruins of the ancient Théâtre Antique d’Arles.
I purchased this ticket many months ago when I heard they were touring in France when i’d be living there, and I realised that Arles is only about an hour’s train trip from where I would be based in Montpellier. To be honest, I expected it to be a pretty small event, in a tiny theatre or bar, in a regional, non-descript French town. I clearly had absolutely no idea of the treat I was in for!
The even better thing – Arles is a tiny town, and the Théâtre Antique is outdoors, so not only was I privileged to see the show, I actually listened to and watched them warm up in the afternoon. I had just checked into my hotel and made it to my room, when Julia’s sweet melodic voice swirled right in through my window. I wandered across the road to investigate, and sure enough… there they were! Julia started to sing the first lines of Hollywood, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with such an intense, beautiful sense of familiarity. Her whimsical voice reminded so much of everything and everyone I love and miss so much back home, and while i’m not usually a crier, suddenly the tears were flowing! I have never before been so profoundly moved by music.
Aside from that, I have absolutely loved my short stay in Arles. Forget being fascinated by the fact i’m surrounded by the streets, cafes and nature that inspired Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings; I have become completely transfixed on every single window and door here. Odd? No! Everything is so old, so decayed and i’m totally enamoured. There’s such an understated beauty to decay, and it is all I want to photograph. Every single window shutter tells me a story.
Gotta catch my train back soon, had better post this and pack up.
PS. Am realising i’ve got commitment issues when it comes to blogging. And it’s usually all or nothing with me, so maybe posting this will inspire me to upload the million photos from London, La Cote d’Azur and the many wonderful weeks in-between.
Or, maybe some lovely comments would inspire me too. Hint hint. Yes, you!
Has it really truly been 2 weeks since I last blogged?!
It’s been a travel-filled fortnight, with almost a week in London followed by a beautiful few days on La Côte d’azur (the French Riviera). I’ve hardly even looked at photos, but I promise to upload some more very soon for my vicarious-living followers (I mean that in the humblest way possible).
It’s back to ‘normality’ for me this morning… off to French class to see how much I have missed out on, and how much has been lost somewhere amongst the fresher memories of Hummingbird cupcakes, minding the gap, Notting Hill magnificence, Bastille Day beach fireworks, Chagall Museum amazement and sunset gin and tonics with my gorgeous sister overlooking the Mediterranean coast.
But it’s good to be back. The strangest thing – it actually feels like i’m ‘home’.
“Anything may happen in France.” – Francois De La Rochefoucauld.
If / when I post this on Wednesday 6 July, I will have encountered, combatted and survived my second encounter with French administration, and hopefully will never have to deal with anything so ridiculous again.
Today it is Thursday the 30th of June, and I am currently preparing myself for this aformentioned ordeal, scheduled for next Wednesday at 8.30am. This probably doesn’t make any sense to you, lovely reader, so i’ll start from the beginning.
Today as I write, it’s Thursday 30th June, and yesterday was when this perplexing first encounter took place. The day before that, I had received a letter from OFII (French immigration office) requesting I follow a list of formalities to legalise and confirm my 6 month stay in France for my Visa De Long Sejour (Long Stay Visitor Visa) – which I had been expecting. These formalities included attending a medical examination, meeting with an immigration official to get my visa stamped, and to pay a undisclosed fee for some kind of tax purpose. That all sounded fair enough.
In this letter, OFII had automatically scheduled both my medical appointment and immigration meeting for Wednesday 6 July at 8.30am – ironically, the exact day and time I had booked non-refundable, un-changable flights and planned to be en route to London. There was no mention of the possibility of changing the time or date of this predecided meeting, it was just apparently assumed that i’d be available. As a subsidiary, yet equally concerning sidenote, the letter also (finally) disclosed the fee I was up for – 340 Euros / $460 AUD… Ouch! I had been told by my school to expect to pay 55 Euros for this special tax stamp. Having already paid a considerable sum of money for my Visa application from the Australian end, including the need to fly to Sydney to lodge the actual visa application, this was an unexpected, expensive shock.
So, yesterday I took myself along to the Immigration office to kindly explain that unfortunately I was unable attend the meeting they had booked for me, as I had already purchased flights to London for that very day, so could I pretty please reschedule the meeting for another suitable time? Big mistake.
Cultural lesson learned: do not try to change something that has been previously decided for you. The receptionist looked at me as though I was a joke. When she realised I was serious, she quickly became exasperated, shrill, and then furious – shouting at me in French I was actually happy to not understand, arms flying everywhere. It was more than overstepping some kind of unspoken cultural rule – to her, it was personal. What classic example of unnecessary, excessively complicated, procedural correctness. Bonjour french bureaucracy!
Eventually she decided to grace me with some perfectly fluent (but bitter) English. In a nutshell: “You have no choice. This is your only appointment. This office goes on summer holidays soon – if you do not attend this appointment, you must come here in September when business returns, but you will be at the bottom of the waiting list and until you have this meeting, you cannot travel outside of France.”
Completely speechless and shaking from what I had just endured, I thanked her for her time in an totally overly-sincere tone (while feeling an insatiable pull to slap the horrible lady) and walked out of the reception as fast as I could. By the time the elevator doors closed, I was uncontrollably hyperventilating and sobbing. I couldn’t think straight, I didn’t know where to go. Nowhere felt safe. Wherever I turned, I felt absolutely, utterly unwelcome – an intruder. It is such a surreal thing to walk aimlessly down a bustling morning street, bawling your eyes out, hoards of people walking past you, yet to somehow remain completely invisible. The only thing I could think to do was to find a park nearby and just sit on the ground, trying to get myself together and work out a rational ‘next step’. In the end, I called home.
After calming down and picking up the pieces with the support of my incredible parents, we decided that I had no choice but to conform to this ridiculous ultimatum and attend the OFII appointment next Wednesday. Better to get it over with, so I can continue to travel and never, ever, have to deal with the OFII again. I then booked brand new set of flights to London, and oh my gosh I bloody well cannot wait to get on that plane!
Now I wait in anticipation… but if / when I post this, you’ll know my visa is stamped and finalised, and i’ll be breathing a lot easier. It goes without saying, I miss a lot about the easy going, ‘no worries mate‘ way of doing things in Australia. I also miss the autonomy of being allowed to book my own appointments!
No, this does not mean I want to come home quite yet – because every little challenging experience such as this somehow gives me ever the more drive and determination to persist, surmount, and fly higher than ever before. So France, i’m here for a while… whether you like it or not!
It simultaneously feels absolutely that simple, and absolutely that difficult.
I’m back to my free-spirited, happy self and have had a blissful past few days…about time! I’ve met some lovely new friends, enjoying twilight picnics with wine and live music, a spontaneous afternoon trip to nearby town Séte, hiring a bike and riding to Palavas beach (still can’t sit down without a pillow) for gelati, bright sunshine and frolicking in the waves with great company.
Unfortunately it seems i’ve got to meet, get to know, and then say goodbye to most of these great people every two weeks or so, as the majority of students are here for only a very short stay. But the process is fun, ever-changing and keeps me on my toes!
I have also (finally) got myself right back into a solid (but creative) work rhythm, with new projects piling up, my tiny room overflowing with art materials/mind maps/speech notes and most importantly, the serious need, for the first time in five weeks, the inevitable ‘to do list’ (I knew I could only last so long). The weather is so beautiful and there is so much to explore here, but some self-discipline, routine and getting back on top of my inbox feels really good too.
The past week did involve one crazy cultural experience: my first run-in with French administration. I wrote quite a comprehensive post about that after the encounter (it was quite an ordeal) and i’ll post this very soon.
I’m also just a little bit excited to have just two more days at school before i’m off to London town, and after that, some days on the French riviera with my beautiful sister and new brother-in-law who will be in town!
I’ve got SO. MUCH. TRAVEL planned for the coming months. The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany… I know i’ve been in Europe for a while now, but I admit it’s still a total novelty to think that I can just hop on a plane and touch down in London an hour later. Or Stockholm. Or Madrid. Or Portugal. Or Geneva. There is so much choice, everything is so close! Recommendations, dear readers?
So all in all, lots happening, happy times had and more to be had.