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An Alliance with France and Florida

At the Bel Aire Hotel in South Beach as I write this, directly in front of me is an enormous poster of Le Touquet Paris-Plage. Even among the palm trees, Paris is not forgotten

The flight to Miami was uneventful and particularly pleasant, but landing in the U.S. was like arriving onto foreign soil. Thanks to a stolen passport in 1994, each time entering the U.S. they send me to the immigration office, a wait of almost two hours, to be treated impolitely by the immigration officers, only to be told I’m wasting their time. “Who’s wasting whose time?” I asked with frustrated contempt, then ran off to find my luggage which had been sitting alone waiting for pick up along with Mary Fort of Banque Patrimoine et Immobilier who had gone through customs with her Irish passport more easily.

No matter. The weather in Miami was picture perfect — warm and breezy on a Valentine’s Day evening. Schuyler Hoffman, our Conference Coordinator, Mary and I hopped into our rental car and headed to South Beach where we had booked the Bel Aire (do not take this as any kind of recommendation!), checked in and chose a seaside restaurant along Ocean Drive filled with tourists and Miami International Boat Show participants (on February 14 – 18, 2008) in which to i

naugurate our stay.

The first morning, Schuyler and I met with Alliance Française officials to tour the new facility and plan for the conference logistics. It’s a fantastic new building on “Calle Ocho” (8th Avenue) that stands out from the bright pastel stucco buildings by its red, white and blue towers. Philippe Timon, the director, was very proud to show us his ‘little village’ — the educational facility along with its boutiques and amenities that create a French community and cultural center unlike any other. This is where we set up the conference in its auditorium where we could take advantage of its new big screen, top of the line audio/video system and spaciousness for lots of chairs and attendees.

That first day in Miami was ‘old home week,’ meeting for lunch with a high-school friend, a successful American mortgage broker who lives here, whom I haven’t seen in several years and who coincidentally is a business colleague of Mary Fort’s. We lunched luxuriously at the elegant Casa Tua in South Beach then had drinks at the Ritz Carlton on the beach. Not a bad introduction to Miami with lots of reminiscing mixed with business.

Then, at dinner at Michael’s Kitchen in the Newport Beach Hotel just up Collins avenue Mary and I met up with another high-school/college friend — this time the long lost boyfriend and his wife whom I hadn’t seen or had contact with in 38 years! What a pleasant surprise to find he hadn’t changed much at all and his wife was absolutely charming and magnanimous. We reminisced, caught up on lots of our old friends’ current lives, realized we had crossed paths in many ways over the years and discovered what a different direction our own lives had taken.

The conference started Saturday afternoon with a bright and eager group who had come primarily from Florida, Chicago (escaping the winter weather!) and all over the U.S. We welcomed lots of people we had met before in other circumstances. As it always is, our attendees are earnest folks who dream of living or purchasing property in France and need to understand how to go about doing that in the most prudent and intelligent way. The passion for France oozes out of them — even the one woman who declared her love for France, but had never been there!

Our first afternoon, John Howell opened the conference with the number one question, “Why Invest in France?,” followed by my own presentation explaining the best ways to find property and Mary Fort’s presentation on how to get financing using their newest and most creative loan products. Before we left the AF for cocktails and dinner at the Provence Grill, Director of the Alliance Française, Philippe Timon, spoke about his incomparable non-profit organization and the best ways of learning French before coming to France. Philippe is an enthusiastic Frenchman quite proud of his new 5.6 million dollar facility that was erected thanks to a 10% contribution by the French government, massive contributions and devoted volunteers. Next weekend the facility will be inaugurated by seriously high government officials and we felt privileged to have ‘broken it in’ prior to its formal launch.

Cocktails and dinner at The Provence Grill was exceptional (1001 South Miami Avenue, (305) 373-1940). This is always a perfect opportunity to get to know one another better and relax after a long day of presentations. The Provence Grill is a dining venue I’d highly recommend! The bistro is a family affair, co-owned by siblings Eric and Nathalie Cormouls-Houles from Toulouse who could not have been more accommodating, nor could the cuisine have been any more delicious.

Sunday presentations with John Howell, Jody Cracknell, Peter Zipper, Marcell Felipe and Ginny Blackwell, started bright and early at 9 a.m. covering the topics of “Buying and Owning Property in France,” “Renovating and Renting Your French Property for Profit,” “How to Reduce the Risk of Currency Exchange,” “The Best Kept Secret in Offshore Banking and Investing,” “How to Minimize Your Tax Liability and Maximize Your Investment Potential” and “The Fractional Ownership Solution” before ending with an open Q and A session involving all the presenters.

For lunch many of us carpooled down 8th Avenue to the “Versailles” Cuban Restaurant, an institution in Miami well known to be “the meeting place of Miami’s Cuban power brokers, who meet daily over ‘café con leche’ to discuss the future of the exiles’ fate” (3555 SW 8th Street in Little Havana, Miami, (305) 444-0240). A trip to Miami without a meal at the Versailles is like a trip to Paris without having seen the Eiffel Tower. Again, we are reminded of France here in Miami in a most curious way!

As we all said our good-byes, Philippe Timon and AF board member, Cheryl Handley, without whom we could never have produced the conference, encouraged us to come again next year, same time, to provide such an informative seminar for their Francophile community. We agreed it was the perfect venue in the middle of winter to have such beautifully warm breezes.

With the conference behind us, the rain coming down making for a steamy Miami, my daughter has joined me to organize together the massive application we must submit to the co-op board to purchase the apartment for her in the West Village of New York City. It’s even worse than preparing the application for a French long stay visa that one must submit to the Préfecture (!)…so I’m sure we will survive it. Hopefully, too, we’ll catch a few rays in the Florida sunshine while we’re at it.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S.
The Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group turns 10!!! Join us for our 10-year Anniversary Lunch Party Saturday, March 15 at 12:45 p.m.: Au P’tit Boulevard, 23, boulevard de Sebastopol, 25€ with choice of 3 entrées, choice of 3 plats, Special Anniversary Cake, 25 cl of wine and coffee or tea. Please make your reservations and payment in advance…email [email protected], or call Elisabeth at 01.48.42.26.10 or Adrian at 01.40.27.97.59. Visit http://www.parlerparlor.com for more details.

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