Sometimes “the heart wants what the heart wants” and, “ye who have little faith” are two of the coalescing cliche phrases for today’s story. That’s Emily Dickinson and the Bible in one thought process – yikes!
Far be it for me to be alone in waxing poetic on the glories Paris. It happens for millions of visitors and residents alike. I revel daily in attempting to capture the beauty here as many of you already well know. But, Paris has turned out to be one magical place for me, on a level deeper than anything visual or culinary – and not for any of the most obvious of reasons.
The last time I was in Paris, among all of my memorable experiences, one stood out in front – as three strangers (including moi), each from a different continent, and each of distinct language and culture, came together, nearly wordlessly, on the Seine, waiting for our randomly selected cruise to begin. I had become distraught as I sat and watched a pigeon struggle with a long piece of twine tangled, seemingly hopelessly, around its leg. What happened next became a memory of confirmation for me, of the good nature and caring I need to believe in, as we coalesced around one of the smallest and least acknowledged, if not disdained creatures of Paris. You can read about it here: https://www.kitchen-inspirational.com/2015/10/13/a-wonderful-case-of-international-diplomacy-a-pigeon-on-the-seine-my-most-heartening-memory-of-our-trip/
During that trip, on one of our days, we also walked to find the apartment of my dear friend Roseann, the home where she had happily stayed while studying at the Université de Paris decades before. Meeting Roseann, how and when I did so serendipitously, many years ago now, was surely an example of kismet in and of itself – and I suppose that is where this story really began. As a surprise, I sent her photos of me standing outside – to refresh her memories of long ago days as a student. Unfortunately I happened to be in front of a slightly wrong address.
When I was a young girl I never even dreamed of studying at the Université de Paris or anywhere abroad. I had all I could do to hope and pray I’d get myself to college at all. Life was different then and I had to fight for every single bit of traction I could get. Traveling to France at all, let alone getting to study there was something that was, if it did ever occur to me, far, far off in dreamland.
This year, as I continually pinched myself as I made plans to go on my 9 week sojourn to Paris, Roseann asked if I might try to visit two friends for her. One was the Patissier, Carl Marletti. The other was the woman she had lived with on rue de Courcelles in the 17th. Frustratingly, Roseann had lost touch with her friend over the past few years as all of her attempts at contact had fallen flat. Roseann feared the worst as her “maman de Paris” as she was affectionately known, she guessed, was well into her nineties by now. Could I go by and try to speak with the building manager or inquire about the whereabouts of her and/or her son if I had time, Roseann asked. I said I think I’d have time in my 9 weeks.
On July 4, Christin safely dispatched back to CDG, I trundled on over to the neighborhood and unfortunately, via our communication error, deposited myself at the slightly wrong address, yet again. I inquired after Mme and her son to the building manager to no avail with the help of a tenant who was kind enough to help interpret. I felt defeated in this leg of my endeavor, so I moved on to my visit to Carl Marletti where, I inquired in my poor level French after the proprietor. Sadly, he was not there and, as I wrote a long note en Anglais, I wondered if he would understand it. I had Mme. Moreau, my French teacher, in my mind as I wrote – with the benefit of time, I could have well constructed my note en français but I wasn’t going to stand at the counter in a patisserie and complete a French quiz. My two missions of the day had not worked out so well…….. I returned home unfulfilled.
Anyway, where is this kismet story? Kismet is a pretty powerful word…….
So, the weeks have traveled by and I kept my intended mission in the back of my mind, not being one to throw in the towel.
On Monday, after the long weekend, I had in my mind to return to Montorgueil, where I had spent an engaging half day a few weeks ago. I wanted to do a little more in-depth combing there and perhaps do a visit to one of the Monday-ouvre museums afterward. But, as I prepared to step out, I decided at the very last minute that I’d go back to rue de Courcelles and attempt again to find, if not the elusive Mme Cap and/or her son themselves, to seek information to set in place a resolution to Roseann’s inquiries.
This time I deposited myself in front of the correct door, 140 vs 144, yet, not without some trepidation. It’s not everyday that I find myself knocking on the door of someone’s building in a foreign country, without proper language skills, ostensibly doing pseudo-sleuthe work. I found myself faced with a locked door and a buzzer. My heart sank a bit but I rang the bell, waited, and hoped someone would come. Roseann had said there would be a building manager. Would he answer? Would someone ring me in so I could inquire on her behalf? To my knowledge, Paris does not have doormen in apartment buildings.
As I stood there and the embers of doubt and disappointment began to form, but not ready to step away quite yet, in what seemed like just a few moments, a man came along and in French conveyed to me that I needed the electronic key to gain entry. As he opened the outside door, I asked if he by chance spoke English. That he did was indeed lucky for me as I knew I’d have a great deal of trouble conveying my story en Français. I had brought a small slip of paper with Mme Cap’s name and that of her son with me. I showed it to him and explained why I was there. I also had a photo of Roseann with her son and her “maman” on my phone. I showed him the photo.
Perhaps it is difficult to convey this story with the proper degree of dizzying luck. Perhaps it is difficult to grasp that in a particular time and place two people can meet at a spot in a big city while all else in the entire universe is going on in its seeming mixture of fate, randomness and complete complexity which to me, is quite beyond comprehension. But, anyway, at that one particular moment in time, I had serendipitously met up with the precise person I was seeking, Mme’s son, Claude! This could seem to be a smaller random selectivity than it actually was. In fact, Claude was not merely returning to his own home which would have been more understandable. Claude did not live in the building. In a few moments I found that his mother had sadly passed away about 5 years ago. He was only there, he explained, and completely rarely so, because on that particular morning, at that precise hour, he had had a meeting with the rental agent for the apartment, right across the street, and afterward had crossed over to go in to check on the state of some underway renovations. And so, at that exact moment, he came to the door when I came to the door and that strange sensation that one has in the presence of magic, the real kind, buzzed inside of my chest and head. I felt slightly giddy, light-headed and fortunate all at once.
As I tried to comprehend what was actually happening here, Claude kindly invited me in to see the apartment. We chatted and he explained that he was rarely here and the circumstances of this morning’s visit. He did indeed remember all about Roseann. We exchanged contact information and took a few photos together. He reminisced about his Mother’s home which was a beautiful, classic Haussmann-era Paris apartment. My eyes scanned around, sealing, in my mind’s eye, the charm and warmth radiating from this place from under the drop cloths. I mused for a few moments about moving in, an irony in and of itself that was not lost on me.
We did not spend a lot of time together – really less than a half hour. I felt grateful for his generosity and especially for my profound luck in meeting him. Clearly, one minute before or after and the entire episode would not have taken place.
Over 2.2 million people live in the city of Paris. I am but one single random guest. What would be the odds of two individuals meeting up at a certain point at a certain moment? I can not venture to make a guess. I only know that it must be greater than the odds of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning.
I left the apartment after sealing the charm and warmth of its aura in my mind. I imagined Roseann living there with Mme. Cap, knowing of the treasury of her memories. I thanked Claude for his time and kindness and stepped down the stairs. In the lobby I sent off an excited email to Roseann. My head was still spinning with excitement for her and for the stars that had brought me together with Claude.
I walked off to my visit to Parc Monceau. All along the way I tingled as I tried to digest what had just happened. My faith in the powers above surely had to be solidified. My faith in kindness and fate were confirmed. I could go on with my day and my time in Paris with a sense of happiness for Roseann, and with a sense that this visit to Paris had indeed in it a sealed and fateful purpose.