Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Orléans: High Hopes And High Ceilings

I was required to show up in Orléans last Monday at the Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration, the new (since 2009) administrative department that deals with foreigners in France, including students. While I have a year-long valid student visa, in order to stay for that year I also needed a valid carte de long séjour, a long-stay residence card. Orléans is the headquarters for the Centre region, including the department of Indre-et-Loire, in which Tours is located, and my appointment was set for 1:30pm. I went a little early so I'd have time to look around the town. Unfortunately the tourist bureau was closed - I hadn't really looked up "what to do in Orléans" before leaving - but the cathedral was right there. I am constantly amazed by the size of the cathedrals here, and the one in Orléans must be among the tallest in the country.

A fellow visitor was kind enough to take this picture of me in front of the main door so I'd be able to give you some idea of the scale of this structure. I'm approximately 5'7" and the door is what, six times my height to the top of the arch? And the door itself is less than one-third the total height of the ceiling of the cathedral. So that's - hang on, doing some math ... I come up with approximately 107 feet tall. Immense. And impossible to picture the work being done by hand back in the 13th century (with additions and reconstruction over the next few hundred years).

Orléans and its cathedral are closely linked to Jeanne d'Arc, who lead the resistance against the invading English army in 1429 and broke a siege that eventually led to France retaking control over much of the territory held by both Phillip III of Burgundy (then a separate realm) and Henry VI of England. I'm sure the tourist office would have been able to point me to more historic sites in the area, and when I have time perhaps I'll go back and look for them; I didn't see much more of the city than the cathedral on this visit.

It's nice to travel alone, because then you can spend as much time as you want looking at things, or passing them by completely, without worrying about someone else's interests or priorities or schedules. But it's not nice to travel alone, because then you can't share ideas and images and discoveries, which is part of the fun. Taking pictures and blogging about them afterwards isn't the same at all. The back of the cathedral is ringed with alcoves where specific saints are portrayed and venerated, and when I saw St. Helene I thought of my friend Helen, and wondered if she would enjoy seeing this place, and experiencing France as I am. If you're reading this, Helen, remember that I've a spare bed for guests, and open for visitors in February and March and after mid-June! Oh, and that goes for the rest of you, too. I've got classes in April and my friend Pat is visiting then, and Mom and John will be here for most of the month of May, but if anyone happens to be in the area, do stop by and say hello.

Orléans has an excellent tram line that goes through the square in front of the cathedral and winds around back towards the station, and I followed it looking at the houses along the way, and looking for a place to eat before my appointment.

There's a slightly different style to the houses that I saw here, compared to the ones in Tours, but I can't really say how. More brick is used, and the chimneys are taller, and the façades seem flatter. Maybe it's because the little mini-balconies and ironwork are missing. But there are the same winding streets that go in random directions and lead me astray, so I knew I was still in France.

I did make it back to the center of town, and saw a Chinese deli/restaurant that looked pretty good. There were only a few people when I walked in, but within five minutes (I must have arrived just before the businesses took their lunch break) the place was packed with people eating on site or ordering to go.

I had non-gluten-free stir-fried chicken with basil, and some very nice bean thread noodles with tree ear fungus. I don't know why I've been in the mood for Chinese food lately but I've also been eyeing some of the restaurants here in Tours and thinking of dim sum.

The official business at the OFII was a walk in the park, contrary to my worries of not having the right paperwork or not answering the questions correctly and being told to go home and pack up to leave immédiatement. But just as my freakouts related to getting my visa in the first place were completely unnecessary, my concerns about getting through this particular bureaucratic maze were as well. In fact, I got some useful tips on applying for health insurance - my interviewer told me that in fact as a student I cannot be denied insurance - and on applying for another year's stay in France. "Actually, if you wanted to stay ten years that would be just fine," she said. "If you're still a student, there's no problem." So now I have to figure out how to stay a student for the next ten years. That university degree in Medieval French poetry is definitely a possibility now ...

After the interviews and the x-rays (no tuberculosis here!) and the pasting into my passport of the carte with its official seal of approval, I had just enough time to do a little window- and food-shopping at the mall by the train station before catching the 3:40pm back to Tours.

As the duc de Magenta once said, "J'y suis, j'y reste!"

1 comment:

  1. She's kidding about the size of Orleans Cathedral. It is only the size of a large house. She says she's 5'7" and that it's a huge door, but the truth is it's just a normal door. Elizabeth is 1'3".