FLASHBACK 17 YEARS: Small-Town Ohio, USA …
I began my love affair with the French language at age 14.
For the previous two years I’d been languishing in Spanish class, taught by Mrs. Black, who never shaved her legs but wore nylons that made all the one-inch hairs appear to grow straight up. It’s indelibly etched in my memory.
By the time I reached 9th grade I was ready for a change. Fortunately, over the summer, a mysterious young woman had arrived in our small Ohio town. Miss Nancy Arneau (”Pleeze call me Non-cee!”) was to be our high school’s very-first-ever French teacher. Count me in!
Miss Arneau was everything I hoped to grow up to be. Smart, mysterious, and well-traveled. She wore the most exotic makeup (to these small-town eyes), with heavy eyeliner that curved up at the outer edges, mascara that would make Twiggy blush, and a perfectly coiffed blond pageboy. Her lips (that always seemed pursed and ready to utter “Je t’aime” to some suave Frenchman) wore a shade of Revlon’s best hot pink. And to top it all, she wore a beret.
Needless to say, I loved learning French and eagerly anticipated the day I would set foot on French soil.
FLASH FORWARD 17 YEARS: Khartoum, Sudan …
James and I had been living and working in Khartoum, Sudan for nearly two years. The country’s political situation had gone from bad to worse. We’d already experienced a coup that ousted the long-term president, and now there were specific threats that were worrying. We were due to move back to the States in a month, but I was asked to evacuate early. James planned to meet up with me somewhere in a few weeks. Since communication was difficult (these were the days of telexes), we agreed that I would go via Greece and France, ending in London where we would reunite.
After a disastrous stopover in Athens, I flew to Paris … for the first time ever.
I’ve had many “firsts” in my life, but this was exceptional. After living in the Sahara Desert for two years, the lush greenery of Paris was positively blinding. The Seine looked nothing like the Nile. The Eiffel Tower dazzled. I walked through my first rainstorm in years – quite different from the desert haboobs (sandstorms) I’d experienced. With my 9th-grade French, I ordered a baguette at a local patisserie and strolled along the river like a Parisian. Finally.
Miss Arneau would have been so proud.
The only thing that would have made it perfect? James by my side.
1. By Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia Commons
2. By Luiza Fediuc via Wikimedia Commons
3. By Wladyslaw via Wikimedia Commons