The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Further Adventures on Embassy Row

[Unrelated pics: Les Arenes, the Roman colisuem at Nimes--the best-preserved in the Roman world and still used today for bullfights]

For the past seven months, the Tater (formerly known as the Tadpole in this space, but "Tater" seems to have stuck much better) has been a baby without a country: though he has a French birth certificate, he does not automatically qualify for French citizenship--though he can apply for that when he's older--because he was not born to French parents. From an American point of view, he automatically qualifies for US citizenship, but this cannot happen unless formal application is made--this process begins with a form called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad and ends some time later with the issuance of a passport.

As you can imagine, and as our experience with the French consulate had taught us, there's a great deal of paperwork involved, a lot of it redundant, some of it confusing, all of it unnecessarily complex. Plus there's the small matter of a passport photo: easy enough to do in the States, trickier when you have to find a photographer in Lyon who can set his camera in inches rather than centimeters. Getting a seven-month-old to sit up straight on a stool and look steadily into a camera is no picnic either. Eventually, though, we got everything in order and made our appointment with the US Consul.

At the US consulate in Lyon, there is no flag, no white-gloved US Marine, not even a sign. In this building along the quai du Rhone, between a travel agency and a podiatrist's office, you wouldn't even know it was here unless you were specifically looking for it, which I suppose is the idea. In fact, I had passed the back side of the building several times a week (on my way to the grocery store, past the corner where the World's Oldest Hooker plies her trade) and never noticed it. There's just a non-descript acronym on the sonnez pour entree board, and a higher-than-usual number of security cameras in the foyer.

After being buzzed in and directed to the [redacted for security reasons] floor, we entered through a normal-looking door into a security checkpoint. The guard was apologetic as he asked us to turn over all electronic devices (so, yeah, no pictures with this story), plus my keychain with the Swiss Army knife on it, plus Tater's electronic toy (the guard registered brief alarm when it unexpectedly started playing "The Muffin Man"), V's iPod, etc. Then he hand-searched the stroller while I carried Tater through the x-ray portal.

The waiting room is presided over by the official portraits of our President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State. W's portrait is actually pretty flattering; if you squint a little, you could almost imagine that it represents a decent, honest, caring, competent human being. Cheney's portrait, on the other hand, looks as if it is plotting ways to crush you and steal your soul; if it were in a Scooby-Doo cartoon, the eyes would slide aside so that the villain could spy on our heroes from a hidden compartment behind the wall.

I occupied myself with a French-language copy of Pennsylvania: Your Key to the American Market! (see what they did there? Keystone state? get it?) and settled in for a wait. The wait wasn't long, though, and within 20 minutes or so we'd concluded our business, reclaimed our stuff from the guard room, and were on our way.

We should have Tater's passport within about 4 weeks. The lack of a passport for him has prevented us from venturing to even nearby countries (it's 45 minutes to Switzerland from here), but when we get it, boy, look out Luxembourg!


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