Margaret and Dick   


August '05: I'll take the crazies
Given a choice between the crazy people of Limoux and the bureaucrats, I'll take the crazies. Let's talk first about the mentally ill, then about the bureaucrats.

The biggest employer in Limoux is the mental hospital. We see patients out for walks, on their own if they're judged capable. On the old bridge to the hospital, I'll often cross paths with a person having a lively conversation with him- or herself.  

Then there’s the always-well-dressed man with the dog, who has not only a conversation with himself but an ongoing fight, sometimes at the top of his lungs. Nobody minds him as he wanders around trying to settle some huge debate.

The hospital is proud of its success in reinsertion, mainstreaming the mentally ill into society. Unfortunately for us in the center of town, the reinsertion involves many halfway-house apartments in our neighborhood. There’s an apartment down the street where we would hear loud shouting at unpredictable hours, with things occasionally thrown out the window. We were not surprised when the word “TOX” (for toxicomanes, or druggies) was spray-painted on their door.

Other reinserted folks are less obvious until you notice that they don’t quite act right and have nothing to do all day. Our former next-door neighbors seemed almost normal, though poorly socialized. She dressed like a man; he had a rottweiler so nasty that the city made him muzzle it. Previously institutionalized, next reinserted, and now they have a baby and stroll the streets happily together.

The woman who replaced them in this apartment is friendly, rather butch, and harmless, but she has no idea how loud she talks, day or (worse) night. It’s like having a person with a bullhorn living next door.

The couple across the street fights loudly and daily when Monsieur has had a little too much to drink, but at other times they get along well. Madame stands on the street most of the day in conversation with another neighbor. She is clearly not very smart, but I thought she was normal until a long-absent neighbor returned and Madame’s regular parking place was no longer available. I overheard her on her cell phone, the motor still running, talking in extreme panic. “What should I do now?” she screams. Find another parking place, I guess.

Reinsertion provides a big opportunity for landlords, since the rent is guaranteed by the government. Landlords have bought up old houses in the center of town where young French families typically don’t want to live. They fix them up, marginally, since the marginal people don’t notice or have a choice. As a result, the mood in our neighborhood has an off-center ambiance. 

But given a choice, I prefer my off-center neighbors to the bureaucrats. The context of this is, sigh, this year's carte de séjour, the long-term visa that permits me to stay in France more than three months. Each year I go through the trauma of getting it renewed. Why bother, I ask myself, since nobody ever asks to see my papers. But they might… 

I have the routine down. Each year, I review the list of required documents, photocopy items that have changed (yearly proof of social security and pension), photocopy the documents that have not changed (marriage license), take a new photo, and submit the dossier to the Sous-Prefectureoffice in Limoux, the official representative of the national government. Another year, another saga. Here is the 2005 chronology: 

June 13: Submit dossier. “Looks okay, should be no problem,” say the woman who inspects my dossier. She makes no decisions, just sends it up the ladder.

June 24: Receive status letter. “Your dossier is incomplete. Please provide (1) proof of your resources, by French bank attestation, and (2) evidence of your current social coverage, translated into French.” I went to the Sous-Prefecture to learn what they really wanted. The file had seemed complete, but requirements change. No matter that I had provided evidence of my pension income; I had to provide a statement from our French bank showing that transfers from the USA covered outflows in France. No matter that I had provided the usual Social Security statement; this year it had to be translated into French by an approved translator. So off I went to get the bank documents and to pay an approved translator for the Social Security statement.

July 11: Return to the Sous-Prefecture with the two new documents. “Will you please look over this letter and verify that I have provided the documents they require?” I asked. “Looks okay, should be no problem,” she replies.

August 16: Still no response, more than 4 weeks later. I return to the Sous-Prefecture to track down the problem. Madame the boss interrupts whatever she was doing to ask what I want.
“No, we don’t have anything to do with tracking that down. It’s all in the hands of the Prefecture in Carcassonne.” I hand her the June letter requesting documents. "Well, you have to provide these documents,” she says, sounding annoyed.

“But I did, more than a month ago,” I reply. “Is there someone I can talk to there who could check progress on the dossier?”

“No, you have to wait for the letter to come.”  She turns and digs into the hand-written log of incoming and outgoing visa requests, and shakes her head.

Then she looks puzzled, and digs into a file of pending requests. There it is, my carte de séjour. It had been in the files for some weeks now.
“You received no letter?”
“It is not possible.”

Okay, it’s my fault, or maybe the post office; the bureaucracy can never be wrong. She releases the precious document, an embossed engraved multicolor paper with a forgery-proof hologram, to a subordinate to paste into my passport. Now I’m legal, for another year.

I wonder. Might the bureaucrats be what put our neighbors over the edge?