Letter to France

Dear France,

As someone tells Jenny in my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX,

“you ‘ave captured my heart.”

I’m not sure exactly when you did it. The first time I saw you, I was a little bleary-eyed, and I felt a little awkward. I had been looking forward to meeting you for so long — years — and I had started to believe it would never happen.

You were just so, well, distant.

When I started to feel comfortable with you (and you know it took weeks), it was almost like I’d always known you. I was so at home with you. It was like déjà vu. Sort of.

I didn’t know everything about your past…but what I did know, intrigued me. What I didn’t know didn’t seem to matter.

You understood me, even when I struggled to express myself. You encouraged me and seemed happy to have me. You shattered the stereotypes about les français — your people — when they politely welcomed me with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle!”

They listened patiently as I spoke your language, learned its expressions and worked on my accent. They charmed me with their own accents when they practiced their anglais, particulièrement when your (good-looking) young men said “ze” for “the” and “zat” for “that.”

I know you had greeted millions of girls before me who studied traveled had a blast abroad for a year. Some of them loved you as much as I did, but, I dare say, not all. Some of them were just playing with you. Some just wanted to shop and drink wine, discovering but later forgetting about your certain, well,  je ne sais quoi.

Mais pour moi, c’était impossible.

I never forgot you, even as my French vocabulary dwindled and my memories of our time together faded. I kept my few pictures of you, not knowing that (or how) I would use them someday. For years, I dreamed I would come back to visit you with the man I love.

Then, un jour in the summer of 2012, I did.

I had spent months getting ready to see you again, studying your language —  listening, reading and practicing it weekly. I had written my novel (set in your south) and was getting ready to release it this fall. I had planned an itinerary for our visit en juillet, but our emploi du temps was flexible and open to spontaneity.

Which was fortunate, because our unplanned moments with you were the best ones.

I loved seeing my husband discover you: the Côte d’Azur, Provence, Languedoc, Beaujolais… Paris. I loved hearing him try out the French phrases he had learned. I loved going with him to see parts of you that I had never seen. I loved taking him to see other places that had once been very familiar to me, that I had been while thinking of him.

He already knew me well, but now he knows me  — and my heart — even better.

A la prochaine,

Julie

 

Le menu, and making a choice

“Vous avez choisi?”  (Have you decided?)

— a French waiter

Choices can be difficult, and many of them haven’t changed (but they may have evolved over time):

Café américain or café au lait? Prix fixe or a la carte? Wine or cocktail? Skirt or pants? Flats or heels? One-piece or bikini? iPhone or BlackBerry? Paperback or e-book?

The list goes on, and making the right selection can sometimes be a daunting task — or at least, pretty stressful. Especially when it’s not possible to choose both alternatives, like buying two pair of the same shoes (or pants) in different colors. Something I’ve been known to do…

But back to restaurants and cafés. When one must make a choice, sometimes it’s best to study the menu (en français, “la carte”), and sometimes it’s better just to glance at it and look for something  appealing. The same could be true for art, and for fiction…and some people judge a book by its cover.

Which brings me to the image below: a small bit of of the cover of my novel, MAKE THAT DEUX. The full cover will be revealed next week…

What’s on the menu?

Beaucoup de choix:

Classes. Beaches. Museums. Wine, and pastis. Baguettes, croissants and mille feuilles. Windsurfers. The Alps. Love.

Bon appétit!

Call me, maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un

From what I’ve seen, dating has changed since mon époque.* But I wonder why les jeunes filles gens of today sometimes make going out with someone more difficult than it used to be.

It’s been years decades since I’ve sorti avec mon copain — gone out with, or dated, my boyfriend (or any other guy – but not au même temps, of course). And though my husband and I have gone out on many a “date night” during our marriage, well, once you’re married, you’re not dating anymore.

But way back when, we were dating. Normalement, he would call me, ask me out, I would say “Yes,” and we would set up a rendez-vous (date). He would call me from a “land line” or even a pay-phone similar to the one in the photo, and I would answer the phone. If he called and I didn’t answer, it meant I wasn’t there, and he would call again. When the time for our date came, I would be almost ready, and we would go to a movie or out to dinner.

I’m not one to changer d’avis (change my mind) very often, so it worked.

But back then, when a guy called and asked you out, if you said “Yes,” you didn’t cancel on him at the last minute (or even before that), unless you got sick, someone died, or you had an accident. Yes meant yes, and it didn’t mean maybe. There was no easy way to cancel, anyway, like there is today. So you just went out — and had fun.

Like lots of people, I’ve enjoyed listening to a popular song recently that demonstrates (I think) how different dating is now:

““““““““`

Hey, I just met you,

And this is crazy,

But here’s my number,

So call me, maybe?

““““““““`

Hmm. Is she going to answer the call, I wonder? When I first heard those lines, it reminded me of a song that mon copain at UNC and I liked, featuring these lines:

““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby 

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around 

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby 

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still 

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’ 

You know that I have from the start 

So build me up (build me up) Buttercup, don’t break my heart 

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““

In my novel — about to be released — characters go on dates, and (because they live in a time before cell phones, or even answering machines) they don’t stand up their dates. They live up to their commitments, even if they’ve only committed to Saturday night. “Oui” means “Yes.”  

And like today, no one wants a broken heart.

* Autrefois, or back in MY day

’til death do us part: Le mariage

During my lifetime, marriage has changed a lot.

At the time my father passed away on October 31, 2010, my parents had been married for over 58 years. On Memorial Day, Mom and I drove to the Georgia National Cemetery and said a prayer together, thanking God for the gift that Dad was to her and our family, and asking for strength and courage as we learn to live without him, one day at a time.

The eighth of nine children, my father enlisted in the Navy in January 1945, two weeks prior to his eighteenth birthday and unknowing that the war would end before he saw action. He was honorably discharged in July 1946, the same year that he met my mother; he was nineteen and she was fifteen. When they married six years later, there was no money for a reception or even a wedding dress. They said their vows in church before family and friends who sprinkled them with rice as they departed to begin their life together.

Ten years ago, my siblings and I hosted a golden anniversary party for them. It was the most fun evening of my life — and that includes my own wedding day and my silver anniversary party a few years ago. Young and old attended, including my parents’ college roommates, work colleagues, neighbors, friends from church and extended family who came from long distances. My parents finally got to cut their wedding cake, toasts were made, and all who could still walk danced the night away.

Growing up, I never doubted their love for each other and for their children. They were always affectionate, relying on each other for support as they faced many trials together. They were grateful for all the joy they experienced in one another and in their family. Forgiveness and a sense of humor were two very important ingredients in their life as husband and wife.

When mom and I arrived at the cemetery last Monday, she wanted to show me the short handwritten note she had written to Dad to leave with the bouquet of red, white and blue flowers she had brought. I felt surprised and honored that she wanted me to read it. Of the two of them, Dad was the writer, and he was even more sentimental than she is. But in her note, in just a few sentences, she expressed the essence of her lifelong love for him, her devotion and her pain at losing him. She even mentioned the shorthand symbol for “I love you” that she and Dad had used when they were young — the texting emoticon of an earlier time — and that they had had made into matching pendants.

I was overcome with emotion as we placed her note in the envelope and in the bouquet and as we stood together remembering Dad. Marriage is not always easy, but two people who share a lifetime of love and laughter can still find joy and happiness.

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