beautiful bureaucracy

We drove the three hours to Houston and then sat for another three hours in the visa office. As a complete neophyte to international long-stay travel, I was expecting something a bit more grandiose for the office that sends away all my documents to another office far away. But the building is a regular office tower with multiple companies housed inside and an elevator with a touchscreen. Even though I had an appointment, there was still a wait. I sat nervously, hoping that I read all the paperwork diligently and accurately. When my name was called, I felt my heart skip a beat. This is the next phase of “this is happening for real.”

As it turns out, I did make a couple blunders in the process, but nothing extraordinary. Thank goodness for our little computers we hold in our hands as I fished for a missing document to print in a slight panic.

In the sad cafeteria, the kiddo and the dude wait for me. All the while, my stomach chortles with hunger pangs.

Eventually, all the papers are in order, the monies paid, and we must get our biometrics taken. We place our fingers on a glass pad that glows green while a computer scans the print. Are my biometrics now filed away in international databases? Will need to research this for my continuing curiosity related to privacy and electronic data.

The others in the waiting room were almost all citizens from other countries. I heard four different languages while waiting in a 20 x 40 foot room. Houston is actually one of the most densely diverse cities in the U.S. And it is astounding to me the performance of bureaucracy in such spaces where bodies intend to cross borders and the patience, persistence, and tension tied up in the process.

Finally, after the long wait, the ever-calm agent behind the counter finished my application. We now wait, again, for the visa to arrive. Tick tock. Very exciting.

Even though Houston was my birth city, I rarely visit, but when I do, I go to Galveston, only an hour away. We had swimsuits and towels in the trunk and headed southeast. Once we go over the bridge to the island, everything shifts. We are now in a beach town. And it’s summer with lots of tourists.

My hunger demanded a stop, so we did, on the Seawall, at a tourist bar/restaurant called The Spot, which had multiple decks that overlooked the Gulf. I ordered seared tuna tacos and a piña colada served in a coconut. Looking around the restaurant, it is clear that this joint is for working-class and locals as much as tourists. One thing about Galveston is that it is a beach town for all. Sure, you can find a resort here and there and overpriced hotels, but you can also pull into the state park for a full day on the cheap. So we did. Keep in mind that Galveston State Park is only open for another month as they go about some repairs.

The ocean heals me. The beach calms me. The waves energize me. I needed the sea. The water here is gray and warm. The waves are modest and almost nonexistent. But we boogie-boarded anyway, my favorite beach activity. If I had lived by the sea, I would surely have been a surfer.

Galveston State Park

After hours at the shore, as dusk descended into scorching pinks and purples, we determined it would be best to drive home…so, we go another 4 hours back to Austin…and the next day, something shifted in me.

I met someone in my dreams that night of our return. I woke up hearing a word over and over again… Melpomene…

Melpomene, the ancient Greek muse of tragedy (song and dance, as well.) Her counterpart is Dionysus. Henceforth, as they proclaim, Melpomene will be my protector, guide, muse, and companion along the path.

Melpomene

found a home

After several more weeks since the last entry, I was finally able to acquire a wonderful place to stay in university housing for families and graduate students. Although I am far from being a graduate student, I am grateful that I was able to receive such a cozy spot. It is further south than the centre-ville. But that’s quite alright since most of the places are within walking distance.

Once the housing was established and contract made, the next step was to purchase the plane tickets. This part has been quite difficult as the prices were great in February, but I did not feel confident in fully investing at that time, so I waited. And sometimes, the waiting game for airline tickets can be cost-effective and other times it is a complete waste of time. Well, despite searching for the best options, I settled on a direct flight to Paris out of Dallas. Not ideal as there is extra travel both ways, but the objective is still the same: get to France by any means possible at a price that is not exorbitant. Date set for departure. Housing set. Now it’s a matter of settling the visa and other hosting paperwork.

To be honest, my biggest concern now is whether I should pack books and which ones. Some folks advised against bringing extra ANYTHING when researching under such an award. But to be without certain key texts to my research seems outrageous. I will allow myself until July to make a decision on the books situation. In the meantime, I must prepare to have a garage sale to bring in just that little bit of extra income to help with the transition.

searching for a home

I have spent weeks trying to narrow down the best spot for us to live. The plan is to be as close to the school as possible, but also cost is a factor as I am on a fixed income for 5 months. I made a slight mistake in the process when I sent information over to an immobilière. I was ignorant of the fact that this French real estate agent would immediately initiate a contract for me to sign. This led to some less than sweet emails from him but I apologized profusely and requested to speak with him via an international call. Apparently, my phone plan is set up to do this without extra charge. Maybe I am paying to much on that one…? Anyway, I called him, speaking in my French-English mix so that I do not appear utterly ignorant and tried to remedy any sour feelings. He told me he has lived in Aix his entire life and that he would show me the area when I like, when I arrive. He again urged me to get the apartment, and I gracefully told him that I will need to continue to review all options. Over all, the conversation was smoothed out and I ended the call feeling like I had accomplished my first feat of international diplomacy. Oh, such small victories!

Earlier in the week, I showed the kiddo pictures from the French school’s cafeteria. They have their own Facebook page, for goodness sake! Our mouths watered and our eyes grew. With each delightful photo, accompanied with a description of the local ingredients, we gleefully dreamed together about our taste buds playing in the future. He is getting excited, I think. But it is so hard to determine this when he too busy trying to be a cool tween boy on the brink of massive brain and body growth. I do believe, however, that this journey to France with him, will change our lives forever, and for the better.

Currently, I am waiting to hear back from university housing, crossing fingers and hoping that they could offer accommodations that are more fitting for both my budget and my work.

Aix in History

Here’s something else: there is a building in Aix that has something unique engraved on its railings. It used to be a brothel. Now, people live there in regular, boring apartments.