It's darned near February, already, and that means we're quickly closing in on a year in France.
Which also means I'm quickly closing in on needing to renew my carte de sejour. Since she came into the country gainfully enough employed that it seemed unlikely she'd sponge off of the social services here, Karen's carte de sejour is good for two years. Since I was just freeloading off of somebody gainfully enough employed that it seemed unlikely she'd sponge off of the social services here, I'm on a leash just half as long as hers. I'm not complaining, mind you. Heck, if I were Karen, I'd make me reapply for freeloading off of her every year, too.
Life in France requires a lot of photos. When we made our original applications for residency permits, I think we needed 13 of them, just a couple short of one for every most-wanted list in the country. It was a royal pain in the butt getting those photos in Philly. Even though we live within walking distance of the customs house, with a passport-and-other-official-documents photography service across the street, it took a long time and cost a small fortune to get the photos. The whole picture process was also pretty grim, since all of the photos have to be unsmiling. I'm not sure whether that's so that any official protector of la France won't be tempted to think that a terrorist couldn't possibly lurk behind a charming grin, or whether it's an acknowledgement that virtually any occasion in which your residency permit would be requested will not be a fun one and thus the unsmiling picture will be an easier comparison to the real thing. Either way, mirth is strictly interdit.
But in one of the rare efficiencies in France, since life here requires a lot of photos, there are a lot of places to quickly get them made cheaply. Photo booths that produce document-appropriate photos can be found in many of the metro and train stations, among other places. My carte de sejour renewal required 4 new photos, and the booths give 5 for 5 euro-bucks. You pull the curtain closed, sit on the little stool, adjusting its height so your eyes fall on the line in the video screen, put in your 5 euros, stop smiling, and shoot. You even get up to 3 shots at it before you have to commit. Pick up your pictures (outside the booth-- that took a couple of moments to figure out). It's a snap.
Or at least it would be if you're not 6'4" tall. Even with the stool in its lowest position, my eyes were well above the line, so I had to additionally slide forward off the stool to get my head low enough, bending awkwardly at the neck, my knees pressed into the opposite wall of the booth. Any passersby seeing a glimpse of my near-horizontal body under the curtain would probably have wondered which official document I needed that position for, but I suspect they'd doubt that such a document existed. This is France.
Anyway, I got my pictures, and apparently they were good enough, because I've gotten word that my new carte de sejour is ready. I can't pick it up, of course, because there's still a month left on the old one. I have to go in, pay the residency tax, give them my old residency card, then go get the new one. The only problem is that the old one expires on a Monday, but the office that gives the new ones out isn't open on Mondays, so I'll go 24 h or more without valid documentation. Though I've been assured that this will not be problem, $20 says that when I show up on Tuesday to get the new card, there'll be some crisis around the fact that the one I'm giving back isn't valid, anymore. There's probably another ($20) tax for that.
Would you let this guy into your country? Me neither.
On the way home, just a few doors from our apartment building, I noticed a dog being walked by a woman. Now, our neighborhood is lousy with tiny, decrepit, ill-tempered dogs being walked, or sometimes dragged since the dogs have so little mass that their stubbornness is easily overcome, by small, decrepit, ill-tempered old ladies. So the sight of a matchy dog-and-woman pair is hardly a novelty. But in this case, the dog was an Afghan hound, seemingly 3-feet tall with its Parisian-like upright carriage, impossibly skinny underneath its cascade of long blonde hair, with a darker long pointy face. It would have been striking just about anywhere, but especially in Paris, where I've never seen a dog a quarter that size, it was no less remarkable than a Bengal tiger. And, quelle surprise, the middle-aged woman attached to it was tall, skinny, and blond, with a face dominated by a long nose (I'm just stating facts, here, folks-- Lord knows I'm in no position to mock big noses).
An Afghan hound.
Picture from: http://www.breederretriever.com/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/174
The dog looked to be contemplating an evacuation in one of the tree wells along the street outside our building, and the woman was tugging on its leash, no doubt to encourage it to crap on the sidewalk, instead. Even as skinny as it was, this dog was way too big to simply drag where she wanted it, and so she was really pulling hard, and it occurred to me that she might just break its skinny long neck. Which is when I noticed that the dog was outfitted with what seemed to be some kind of brace, the whole length of its neck, that the leash disappeared into. I guess if you're a committed leash yanker, it's only responsible to put your dog in a neck brace.
But as I got closer, I realized that, in fact, the dog wasn't wearing a brace, but rather a scarf. Oo-la-la. Welcome to Paris.