Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Week from Hell or, How NOT to Start the New Year

After two solid weeks of nonstop family time, wherein Frenchy and I acted as hosts, tour guides, and translators, it was a shock when Monday morning rolled around and it was actually time to go to work again. Work?! We needed a holiday from our holiday, not a Monday morning.

We were even more shocked when we looked out the window and saw Paris blanketed in snow. Frenchy had left his big motorbike at his parents' house a week earlier, so we hopped on my little scooter and headed for work. This scooter has never seen snow, and knowing how badly it handles in the rain, I can't say I was particularly excited to test out its snowcat abilities, but nevertheless off we went. We were halfway across the Bois du Boulogne when Frenchy decided to give me a snow driving lesson, informing me that while it's best to follow directly behind the cars (which we did slowly part of the way), you can totally drive between them in the snowy area as long as you dont 1) wobble the handlebars, 2) accelerate suddenly, or 3) brake suddenly.

Fine. And he was right, for a few minutes. I'm not sure which of the three he did, but I do know that suddenly we had wiped out, with my left knee taking the brunt of the fall. Luckily we, and everyone else, was going about 2km per hour max, so we basically just slipped and tipped over, and weren't gored by any oncoming cars. And in fact, it was the first time I've ever seen Parisian being helpful or caring or kind at all, as many of them stopped once we were on the side of the road to ask if we needed a lift to the hospital or anywhere else. We got back on the bike and slowly, very slowly, headed back to work.

Which is where I found out that I had become "invalid" as an employee. My card to enter and leave the building didn't work. Which is fine, but it's the same card that allows me to eat lunch. And if you pay in cash, they charge you double. Nice, huh? By Tuesday afternoon when I left for Barcelona, it was finally solved, after several emails and phone calls and even an in-person visit to the official building card manager. I met some interesting people over 36 hours... and also wasted a lot of time.

So onto late Tuesday afternoon, when I headed to the airport for Barcelona, and the next step in my work permit renewal. This is my fourth time, so you'd think I'd be used to it by now and it'd be a total snap, but life seems to like to deal me things to write about in my blog...

Tuesday was a holiday in Spain (La Epifania) so I had planned to arrive at night, pick up the government papers from my colleague who had picked them up from my old flat, stay with some IESE friends, and then get up early in the morning to take care of the last steps and wait in the fingerprinting line. The last step before actually picking up my new card, four full months after after starting the process.

I stayed with a friend in L'Hospitalet and her two boys and two cats and for some reason couldn't sleep the whole night, which is very rare for me. Particularly when I'm as tired as I was feeling that night. But the much-needed sleep simply refused to come, try as I might to relax and not think about how soon I'd have to get up. Suddenly it was 7am and I think I'd finally been asleep for about an hour, but I had to get moving. Before waiting in the line, I still have to take new passport photos and pay another set of taxes at a bank.

I started with the bank, and went to three different ones in L'Hospitalet before I finally gave up and flagged down a taxi and headed into Barcelona proper. I figured I'd just get it all done in one spot, since I was wasting time going to various banks which all had excuses for why they couldn't help me. (One only did those kinds of taxes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and this was Wednesday, the next had a new guy working there who didn't know what to do with my papers, and the third told me I had to make more photocopies first... but all the photocopy places were still closed.)

I was thrilled to arrive at the police station and find that, unlike previous years when I'd been through this, the line didn't wind around the entire block. I ducked into the shop across the street where the woman takes every immigrant's passport photos and makes copies and did exactly that. It was only later that I noticed how pale I looked in my pictures...

Then I ran across the street to the bank and paid nearly 100 euros in further taxes, and then it was finally time to get into the line. By this point, it was 9am, and I was slightly dismayed to find the reason there was no line outside. No, it wasn't because it was only 2 degrees celsius outside and there was snow on Tibidabo and they'd all decided to stay home. It was because the line was in the parking lot inside the police station's gates. I took a number and waited outside in the freezing cold for two hours... to receive another number. In the middle of it all, the guy handing out the numbers, a big burly Catalan policeman, announced that it was 10am and he'd be taking 30 minutes for breakfast so if we wanted to go out to do the same, we should just be sure to be back by 10:30 so as not to lose our places in line.

He finally turned up again at 11am. And I had my new number (188) and was in the next waiting area, inside at least, by 11:30. They were only up to number 99 when I walked in and took a seat. And as I watched the numbers s-l-o-wl-y move on the counter, I started to realize that I wasn't feeling too hot. Within minutes I was feeling downright miserable and realized I needed some fresh air (well, preferably a bed) ASAP.

I went outside to ask the guard if there was a toilet I might use in the police station, as I was feeling rather barfy. He kindly told me no, and suggested taht I go out and try one of the bars down the street and use their restroom. Awesome. I wasn't even halfway down the block when I barfed on a tree. In the middle of Via Augusta. I couldn't really come up with a more appropriate place in the moment... I looked at the ground, at a scooter, tried to find a garbage can, and then just ended up with a tree. Poor tree.

I felt momentarily better and ducked into the nearest bar I could find. There was an old couple at the bar, and their son who must've been my age. I must have looked awful because I barely got the question "may I use your bathroom" out when the old guy pointed up a narrow spiral staircase and off I went. Moments later I was downstairs again, gingerly sipping a manzanilla tea and wishing I could be anywhere but there, alone in Barcelona with no apartment, no hotel, no choice but to go back and sit in that godforsaken waiting room and pray with all my might that I wouldn't barf on everyone.

And back I went. The guard asked if I was ok and I told him I was worried I might've missed my number being called. He told me not to worry, that if it were the case, he'd personally see to it that someone helped me. Unfortunately, that wasn't my problem at all. Rather, they were only on number 126 when I arrived. And so I waited there for another thirty minutes, trying to keep the room from spinning and my head from exploding. The counter was only up to 140 when I realized I wouldn't survive there much longer, and I took a drastic step.

I poked my head into the room of the guy at the nearest desk, who was helping two other people, and apologized profusely and explained my situation: I'm incredibly sick, my papers are all in order, can you pleasepleasepleasePLEASE just help me quickly after these guys even though it's not my turn so I can get out of here without spewing all over your desk? He told me to ask his boss, desk 7. Which I did. She was helping someone on her staff when I arrived, and I spent those three or four minutes (which felt more like three or four hours) trying not to toss my cookies again and focusing on anything that might help. Like, oh, that little trashcan there.

Finally she called me in and I explained myself again. She didn't seem to really want to help until I insisted that my papers were all in order, I've been through this three times already, and it should only take a couple of minutes. She took pity on me, particularly when she saw I was telling the truth. Not only were my papers in order, but my hands were also shaking and I could barely keep my head off her desk. (Note to people who want to skip the queue in this manner, but without actually vomiting: LOOK THE PART!)

Another girl fingerprinted me and moaned that she was sick too, and then that was that. I was outside again on Via Augusta, with a receipt for my new residents card that could be picked up in a month. I got in a taxi and headed to a friend's house. Miguel was in Frenchy's class and his wife Cris had their first daughter in May, and was, thankfully for me, home with her that day. I made it to their place on Muntaner without incident, but proceeded to barf allllllll over the place after getting out of the taxi. Even in front of a group of people waiting for the bus. I guess they felt sorry for me, but that didn't really make anyone want to help.

But fortunately I was soon in the peace and quiet of Miguel and Cristina's guest room, where I must admit I wasn't able to sleep for several hours thanks to my very angry stomach, but where I was very well taken care of and finally managed to sleep a full 10 hours straight through the night. I missed my flight of course, and had to come back to Paris the following night, but there's no way I could've gotten on a plane in that state anyway.

So I finally got back to the office in Paris Friday morning, 10 pounds lighter, several shades whiter, and still feeling nowhere near 100%. I was still sick enough that I had to go home by 4pm, and I still don't know what was wrong with me. Stomach virus or food poisoning, I'll never know. And I will never forget what will thankfully be the LAST time I will ever have to wait in that stupid line!


OverEdge said...

I don't want to upset you or anything, but wait until you meet the french waiting rooms down at the "Prefecture".

NoellieBellie said...

Hahaha. I can hardly wait. But I will also soon officially be French. So it's all under control. ;)

Barcelona Repair Man said...

Just read that real long Barcelona write up and good stuff!