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ma nouvelle famille

It poured twice today, and both times I was inside. It was cold and windy, but I was dry. Hooray!

Today was about family — meeting my British fourth cousin Lesley and her husband Duncan for the first time. She got in touch with me three years ago, out of the blue — she’d been researching her great-great-grandmother’s side of the family; she was the sister of my great-great-grandfather, and Lesley tracked me down. So we are distant relatives, and since I have so few cousins — two, to be exact — I was happy to add another, no matter how removed.

So after emails of family trees and photographs back and forth through the years, we arranged to meet today at the Gare de Montparnasse. They were coming from their home in a village near Poitiers. But before telling you about them, I must extoll the Parisian transit system. It is phenomenal. An app not only gives you many choices on how to get where you want to go, but it tells you exactly how long it will take, what end of the platform you should wait on to be most convenient for your next move, and how many calories you’ll burn getting there. This enormous, complex system is beautifully marked — I think especially carefully now, before the Olympics; the platforms tell you exactly when the next train is coming. Riders are polite and clean. It’s a marvel, in a city this size, how well it works. I am ashamed for Toronto.

I got to the Gare early — because efficiency etc. — so wandered around the huge Monoprix near the Gare. It is Madame’s favourite store and mine also; originally like Woolworth’s, with a bit of everything, it is now a storehouse of beautiful things at reasonable prices — this one had housewares, small appliances, computer accessories, prepared food and bread, a huge makeup section, of course — is there a country on earth where the people take as good care of themselves as France? Maybe Brazil, but otherwise, no — and clothes, lovely clothes in great colours, I was drooling.

My only purchase, however, was a box of Kleenex for my runny nose. Europeans, I’ve found, do not seem to believe in Kleenex. I also had a major coughing fit while in the store. I’m not well, but better. I went to a pharmacie and bought some Berocca, a product I’d read about that people stock up on when in France, full of vitamins for my immune system.

And there they were, Lesley and Duncan. I liked them on sight. We walked, chattering, to the restaurant she’d chosen — it said Bistro du Campagne so I knew it would be perfect. And it was; we were the only non-French people there for lunch. So we dined, and we talked. And what interesting people they are — have been living in France for 20 years and love it. She told stories of how kind and welcoming their neighbours were to them immediately, how many friends they’ve made, how at home they feel. They praised the French medical system, which they’ve both had to make emergency use of; Duncan is 74 and she is 67. They’ve published a book, Using Tradesmen in France, for English-speakers needing help to navigate home renovations here. She’s a writer too! She told me she should have been a detective, because she’s so thorough in tracking things and people down. What luck for me. And I told her she needs to write a book about her discoveries. As I always do, I reminded her that once the stories are in a book, they’re there forever. I hope she does.

And not only are they interesting, well-travelled, and kind, but they are both reading my books, he Loose Woman and she All My Loving. Lesley is going to order Midlife Solo now that it seems to be available. Family!

Normally, after lunch, I’d have gone for a stroll — there in the heart of Paris. But I needed to get back to Belleville and rest. And miss the next rainstorm.

Below: fourth cousins; with Duncan; their book.

We’ll meet again, somewhere, dear cousin. Thank you for getting in touch.

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3 Responses to “ma nouvelle famille”

  1. Alan Millen says:

    Hi Beth. I have just spent the past hour or so catching up on your blog and am now right up to date. Your travel stories are highly engaging, especially since I can readily relate to nearly all of the locations. I hope your feeling more robust my now. Falling ill while travelling is a real downer. We just spent a week in Salzburg and Vienna, my first time in Austria since 1993. I had slightly forgotten the overwhelmingly grandeur of Vienna. Salzburg was much easier to process, although I did feel “indisposed” (how quaint that sounds) for most of one day. I am enjoying Midlife Solo immensely and am about to embark on Section Two. I suspended my reading for about three weeks for travel reasons (12 days in Valencia in March). I must mention a film that moved me to tears, a rare occurrence. If the opportunity arises, see “One Life” starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Bonham-Carter, the story of Nicholas Winton, whose evacuation efforts saved the lives of 669 Czech children, most of them Jewish, after the Nazis annexed the Sudetenland in September 1938.

  2. Beth Kaplan says:

    Thanks for the recommendation of the film, Alan – I’ll catch it at some point. I was supposed to visit Vienna in March 2020, the trip cancelled for some strange reason… I’m still not great but getting better. Definitely not a good time to be sick! So glad you’re enjoying the book. Best wishes to you, Alan.

  3. Lesley & Duncan says:

    We too can highly recommend the film “One Life” (which we saw with several French friends at our local cinema). Just make sure to have a box of tissues with you!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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