I search for words that when stitched together, as in an eye-catching tapestry, express something with texture and richness, and I hope, beauty. Fingers are crossed for a glimpse of a sparkling thread, or an unexpected color that draws a reader in. Sometimes I fail miserably. But on a good day, as with the surprise of a wonderful candid photo, I capture a spirit, and a heartbeat. Then I watch a story come alive.
Jocelyne, a French woman in love with the United States, put an ad on the internet. “Looking to chat with someone from the western U.S. with French roots,” so she could improve her English, learn more about the west and create American relationships.
Such was her passion for America that she made an annual pilgrimage there and though she had traveled the states extensively it was the song of the west and southwest she found irresistible. Sizzling desert sand, expansive redwood forests, soaring mountains, and the vast Pacific Ocean contrasted with the bustling, fog-shrouded City by the Bay, and combined for an exhibition of extremes that captured her imagination, and her heart.
A Nevada man responded to Jocelyne stating his parents were French born. He signed on as her modern day pen pal. Early in their emails they discovered Jocelyne and George’s father were both born in the same small French alpine town of Gap, so tiny that it rarely rates a mark on a map unless the Tour de France cycles through.
George was delighted to meet someone who not only knew of his father’s village but also was intimately familiar with it. Joce’s father searched the village archives and was able to supply George with family information going back for generations.
Nevada George immediately called his California cousin, Paula, to tell her the news. Their mothers were sisters and with their parents deceased Paula was also excited at the possibility of creating ties to the country of their ancestry.
All three took to Facebook where they could exchange questions, photos, language, and anecdotes. Their internet relationship flourished and on her next trip to the United States, Joce and her family visited with George and his wife in Nevada. They all began to call each other cousin.
I’m not French. I am related to Paula, my first cousin on my Italian mother’s side. And all this French excitement tumbled my way as Paula told the tale about her cousin, George, answering Jocelyne’s ad and the coincidence about Gap.
I was the next one added to Joce’s Facebook friend list where she practiced her English with me and I made attempts (mostly caving to the Apple translator) to use my French. In October of 2009, Paula and I met Jocelyne face-to-face for the first time in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building. I became the cousin of my cousin’s cousin by declaration.
Funny thing, of all the parties mentioned, I’m the Francophile who’s been to France multiple times, studied the language and routinely schemed to make “just one more trip.” As Joce loves the U.S., I have loved France.
Why am I telling you this story? Two years after this meeting?
I’m now in Provençe, staying with Jocelyne. I’m here for the month of November. I work when she works, I play when she plays. She still speaks more English than I speak French, but I’m learning. We’re no longer cousins of other cousins for now we’re sisters, each one longing for that something special we find in the other’s country.
I’ll be making petite French posts while here. So far I’ve seen Provençal rain, tasted homemade fig, plum and orange jams, and eaten the best ratatouille ever. We’ve taken a walk along a stony path from the tiny harbor in Mejean, winding above cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean to an outcropping from which we could peer across glistening water to see the teeming city of Marseille.
It’s been a living hell. Drinking café au lait every morning, eating croissant, pain chocolat and baguette. But I’m getting along without my shredded wheat, and grapefruit juice.
Sadly, with internet I’m still Keeping Up With the Kardashians whether I want to or not.
Ah, la belle France. The country Americans perceive as prickly and perhaps it is. Our two countries with their tightly bound histories. The press is Americans are pushy and French are rude.
I find it fascinating that while we dine in French restaurants, wear French make-up, perfume and fashion, and feast upon French fries, I came across the pond to find Starbucks and accompany my French sister to her local cell provider to get an iPhone. And by the way, the only time the French use the English diphthong “i” is when describing a much desired Apple product. Familiar?
Quibbling siblings, will we forever be when we have so much in common?
So, for another day — last night’s dinner conversation trying to explain to Joce why the country of her heart can’t figure out how to put an acceptable, working healthcare package together. As good as her English is, she can’t understand it. But then, neither can I.