Two days ago, we visited the French Consulate’s office in West Los Angeles/Century City. A month earlier, Leslie, my first French angel (she’s not French but she speaks it and has a degree in French literature), made four appointments, as each person applying required their own time slot, most likely to allow time for the French clerk to review the requested documents. And there were many. The weekend before, while preparing the many documents, Leslie noticed the consulate provided an email address against which we could address any questions prior to our appointed times. We asked about the entry date, wondering whether we could post a date as late as June, and we asked whether all documents needed to be translated into French. I included my cell phone number in the email. Because we were sending the email so close to our date with the Consulate, I didn’t expect a response in time to matter. To my delight, a helpful clerk called me the afternoon before we were to arrive. She stated that French Polynesia and the consulate’s office understood that in the case of a sailboat, it takes greater than the 90 days typically required of applicants, to arrive in the French territory after submitting their visa requests. She also understood that sailboats often like to visit other countries along the way, and gave examples. She asked when I wanted to arrive in French Polynesia. I said June 1, 2015. “That would be fine, no problem,” she replied. I asked whether any of the documents we were providing required a French translation. She replied, no, that the LA Consulate and French Polynesia understood both French and English, and therefore no translation was needed. A huge burden immediately lifted from my shoulders. In my mind, her voice transformed into that of an angel’s.
She also said that the boys would not need identification cards beyond their passports, that their parents’ ID cards would cover them. I informed her that police departments wouldn’t provide clearance letters for the boys. “No problem, we don’t expect them for children,” she said.
“They don’t have their own financial statements either, just copies of ours,” I declared. She said that was fine too. I said that we’re providing a financial summary of our investment portfolio, indicating the value of our trust, instead of the bank statements requested on their website. She said that we must provide copies of our bank statements, that investment summaries could be included, but that French Polynesia wants to see bank statements. She then asked if we had the other documentation, going down the list of what was required. She said that with the boat’s documentation, we wouldn’t need to provide the original, as she understood it was legally required to remain with the boat. She asked about the medical insurance and had me read some of the information to her, after which she said that upon arrival in French Polynesia, if our visas were approved, we’d likely be required to show coverage over the entire one-year period we expected to be there. She was extremely helpful, and even though it meant even more printing and photocopying work for Leslie, the Consulate official gave us the information we needed to succeed in our endeavor to acquire a long-stay visa. I was so grateful. As tears of frustration welled in Leslie’s eyes, I pointed out the bright side: we know what is missing and still have the time needed to get the necessary documentation in order, that no translations were needed, and that we had the time we needed to sail to French Polynesia. We could now visit Easter Island, Leslie’s most anticipated destination of the whole trip, and spend more time in Mexico and Galapagos. This was for me a huge relief. Leslie was concerned that the significant sums of money spent on the boat these last months depleted our bank accounts, showing meager balances. We both had heard about a boat that was recently rejected for insufficient funds. We could only hope that the cruising nest egg that was our trust would be enough to convince them of our financial solvency, and that the officials on the other side would understand that that’s where we kept our funds and not in our bank accounts. Leslie went back to the task at hand, getting everything ready for the next day, spending the next three hours printing the additional documents and later, copying at FedEx.
The family awoke before dawn the next morning to drive down the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway to the French Consulate’s office in Los Angeles, the city of angels. We arrived minutes before our scheduled appointments. Because we’d been there eighteen months before, we knew that the visa office was outside, around the corner and not on the 6th floor where the main offices are located. After standing outside for a couple minutes, we were buzzed in by the security guard. With a look of suspicion, he confirmed our appointments and identities, asking that all electronic devices be shut off before allowing us to enter further.
As we entered, the clerk behind the protective glass asked to see us together. She looked at me and said that she had been the one who had spoken to me the day before. My second angel had a friendly face and an easy smile, and a great French accent. One by one, she requested documents as Leslie dutifully shuffled through her four folders, one for each crewmember, retrieving and furnishing the requested articles. After reviewing the documents, depending on the type, the angel would give us either the original or the copy to keep. Leslie had everything our angel asked of us. When it came time to hand over the financial documents, Leslie explained to the angel about the financial trust. Good thing too, because the angel had seen only the retirement accounts. After Leslie’s explanation, the angel nodded approvingly. After electronically capturing each crewmember’s fingerprints and mug shot, she told us the visa response would likely be provided to us in 4 weeks. Instead of mailing back and forth, they now scan the documents and email them back and forth. The website had stated 6-8 weeks and Leslie and I added another week atop that to allow for the holidays. The four-week timeframe meant we’d have even more time to visit other countries before arriving in French Polynesia. I was elated. For the first time in many months, instead of new problems popping up, events were seemingly working in our favor. We handed the angel the pre-paid, self-addressed FedEx box Leslie had prepared for our passports and other official documents to be shipped back to us, hopefully with visas affixed. She provided Leslie receipts for our passports, in case they didn’t arrive. And we were done. With a sweet “au revoir” from our angel, we passed by the now smiling security guard, leaving the visa offices toward the underground parking garage, the happiest six-bucks I’d spent in a long time.
Excited and optimistic for our chances, I wanted to celebrate. Leslie had worked so hard to prepare all the documents; I thought she could use a special treat. Close to Beverly Hills, keeping it French, I suggested the Patisserie Artistique in the Rodeo Collection on Rodeo Drive. Thirty years early, I had worked as a captain* in what was the penthouse restaurant of the Rodeo Collection, Excelsior. The restaurant long since retired, the space was used for other business needs. At the pastry shop, Bryce chose a small white chocolate cake, intricately fashioned into a present with an edible colored bow and all. It resembled a decorated ring box. Trent selected a small circular pecan tart coated with caramel made on premises. Leslie picked a piece of sliced-pear tart with almond filling and a cup of French-roast coffee, in honor of our excellent French Consulate experience. It was a good day, filled with much promise.
* Footnote: *Wait staff in a traditional fine European dining room in the ’80’s, comprised typically of men, included a busboy, back-waiter, front-waiter, captain, and maître d’. I started at Excelsior as an evening elevator attendant, then worked my way up (pardon the pun) through the ranks, from busboy to captain. American-born captains were rare in Beverly Hills; a young one, even more so.