crossing continents and parallel paths

by Sharon Santoni

A while ago I met a young girl who reminded me of myself 30 years earlier.   This little story is a fictional version of our meeting.  We all have to make big decisions in life, and now and again a door opens that allows us to change everything, forever.  It takes a brave person to walk through that door, as I’m sure many of you know.

eiffel tower

Claire hurried along the narrow street in the seventeenth arrondissement in Paris.  She had just finished one meeting and was eager to grab a quick lunch before her last meeting of the day at 3pm.   Summer was well advanced but the sky was grey and menacing, and just as she was trying to remember where she had seen a sweet little café, the skies opened and it started to tip down with rain.

She gasped as the rain drops splashed against her bare legs, she covered her head  with her bag and cursed herself for having left her umbrella at home.  In front of her a door opened onto a noisy bistrot and without a moment’s hesitation she hopped through the doorway and into the dry.

A young waiter in white shirt and long black apron tied low on his hips came up to her “Dejeuner Madame?”, “oui, s’il vous plait, je suis seule… yes please, just for one”.

CAFÉ IN PARIS

He led her through the noisy  bustling bistro to a small table along the back wall, “Voila, vous serez bien ici, je vous amène la carte”.  She took off her coat and folded it across the back of the chair facing the wall, then eased her way carefully onto the other chair, the one with its back to the wall.

It was one of those very Parisian bistros whose tables are packed side by side; optimising space and  making the service quick and efficient.  She looked around the restaurant and smiled to herself; just the sort of place she liked best.  Busy, packed full of smart professionals and from the look of the plates she could see, serving great food.  The perfect choice for a discreet solo lunch, nobody would pay any attention to a 50 ish woman having a quick lunch alone, she could people watch to her hearts content and enjoy her meal alone with her own thoughts.

As she started to look at the menu, the waiter appeared again  followed by a young woman.  With the same quick gesture, he pulled out a chair, signalled to the girl that this would be her place and immediately darted back towards the kitchens again promising to return to take her order.

The girl smiled at Claire, and took off her coat ‘Il pleut beaucoup”, she said.  From her accent Heidi knew immediately that the girl was American “yes, she replied, I got in just in time”.   As the girl settled down, they found themselves sitting side by side.   They were the only people in the little bistro not eating with someone else, and after a while they struck up conversation.

The girl was called Heidi, she told Claire she was 23 years old, and had been in Paris for a year and a half.   She asked Claire a few questions, in particular about how old she was when she first arrived in France.   Once she understood that Claire had arrived in Paris  over 30 years earlier as a student,  and had married a Frenchman and lived here every since, she became more earnest.

“So you arrived here at the same age as me today?”,  “Well yes, I suppose so, ” replied Claire, “Give or take a year or two”

Heidi, paused and smiled, she looked suddenly timid.  “May I ask you a personal question?” .   She left no time for Claire to reply, but continued “Do you ever regret having left your home country?”  she hurried on  to another question, obviously caught up in her own thoughts; “I mean do you ever think it would have been easier to have stayed at home and married the boy next door?”

Claire smiled, “sounds like you have a lot on your mind right now”,  “Yeah, replied Heidi, kind of.”

” I met this boy, he’s called Jules …. he’s really cute, and fun and well, you know we get on really well …. I hadn’t planned to stay here forever, but now meeting him makes it feel possible, and I just don’t know what to do.”

Claire took a deep breath and paused.  A hundred thoughts were rushing through her mind, this was after all a subject she had often thought about.  What should she tell this young woman?

She looked at Heidi, who apparently was holding her breath waiting for an answer.  Claire smiled, “You know what Heidi, I can’t really help you make this decision because it is your life, and I know nothing about you, and I certainly don’t have any call to influence you one way or the other”   Heidi’s face fell, visibly disappointed by the non-committal reply.

There was a pause, while Heidi pondered and Claire gathered her thoughts;  “What I can tell you though is that today, and after thirty years living in this country, I still enjoy the Frenchness.   I can still see the beauty in the architecture and the countryside; I still love the French attitude to food and to eating well; I enjoy the way we can take our time on the small things that make such a difference and I admire the French savoir faire more now than I did as a young girl all those years ago.”

“My husband is French, and I love that our children are bilingual and bicultural.   Having this mixed marriage has kept things interesting, and so I suppose I wouldn’t change a thing”

Heidi smiled gratefully, “Ok thanks, this is great,  that makes everything easier”  she looked at Claire, then noticed the look in her eyes, “What?, is there something else I should know?”

“Yes said Claire slowly, “you asked me if I regretted having left home, and I suppose that I don’t, but you should still know some of the downsides”  Heidi took a deep breath.

“You will miss your family and if you stay here for ever then that will be worse as your parents grow older and you’ll worry for them….  All the hard work you have put in trying to build up your career will come to little because you are leaving behind all those references that make you who you are today: your neighbours, your family,  your high school teachers; your first employers … You will find it frustrating not being able to communicate perfectly until you’ve been here long enough to be totally bilingual… and at times you will long to be among your own, with people who share your culture and upbringing and your sense of humour”,  poor Heidi looked devastated, with a hint of a tear in her eye.

Claire squeezed Heidi’s shoulder, “But you know what Heidi, life will never be simple no matter where or with whom you choose to live it.   Whichever choice you make will be a brave decision, and it is up to you to make it the right decision and move forward without looking over your shoulder. Right now, you just have to choose whether you want to walk through that open door, and discover a new life on the other side, or whether you prefer to stick to what you know best and avoid the risk and uncertainty.”

There was a long silence as both women took in what had just been said.  Claire worrying she had been too outspoken, and Heidi just grateful that her options had been made so clear.

“Heidi?  Claire made the young girl jump! “This is not a moment to feel worried, it’s a wonderful point in your life where everything is still to come.   Let’s celebrate, let us drink to your future, wherever you choose to make it”  Without waiting for Heidi to reply, Claire caught the waiter’s attention ” Champagne s’il vous plait, une coupe pour moi et une pour mademoiselle qui va bientôt accomplir de grandes choses!, CHampagne please, a glass for me and one for this gorgeous young lady who will soon accomplish great things!”

That lunch lasted for several hours, as the two women, two versions of the same situation 30 years apart, chatted and laughed together.   They never met again after that day, and Claire never knew which decision Heidi made, but that didn’t matter.   Their meeting was a pause in everyday life, where their parallel paths touched and ran together for just a few thought provoking hours.

paris in spring

45 comments

Lindsay June 28, 2017 - 3:18 pm

Sharon,
I loved this story. It brought tears to my eyes. Wishing I had been a little braver and taken some leaps in my life. I don’t regret my choices. Thank You

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Sharon Santoni June 29, 2017 - 2:07 pm

Thank you , Lindsay. x

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Averyclaire June 28, 2017 - 3:29 pm

Beautiful and lovely story. I always wish I had visited France in my young days. Rather I have become an avid Francophile! Thank you for sharing.

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Debbie Dearing Leal June 28, 2017 - 3:41 pm

What a lovely story of two people meant to cross each other’s paths that day. In Mexico they sometimes call it a “chiripada”, an unexpected blessing. That’s what your encounter reminds me of. It was an unexpected blessing for you both.
Cheers!

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Sharon Santoni June 29, 2017 - 2:25 pm

I like that word. Thank you 🙂

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Victoria June 28, 2017 - 3:53 pm

I always love your stories. They draw me in so I feel like I am part of the story and cause me to be emotional. I can see your story in Claire story. Hopefully it wasn’t to hard for you to travel from France to England when your family needed you. Me living in United States it would have made it impossible to do what you did. I have a large family that I am close to. I have learned to accept some of my dreams will never come to fruition. But your stories help me escape to the France that I can only dream of. I am so happy I discovered your blog years ago.

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Sharon Santoni June 29, 2017 - 2:26 pm

Thank you, and I understand. It’s never an easy decision to make .

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Amy K June 28, 2017 - 4:06 pm

What a lovely story. I did make a leap of faith 35 years ago after knowing my love for only 2 weeks. It was the best decision of my life. Was it easy?…no but certainly the right decision for me. Thank you for allowing me to remember that. I think he deserves a special dinner tonight!

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Sharon Santoni June 29, 2017 - 2:34 pm

I love this 😉

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Pat June 28, 2017 - 4:09 pm

Love the story…I am 68, reminds me of myself at 22 just married and moving to a small rural community, having been raised in a city in a different state with mountains surrounding me…I have lived in the flatlands of central VA for almost 47 years now and grown to love the “country”…thanks for your gentle reminder.

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Jenna June 28, 2017 - 4:13 pm

So lovely, thank you!

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Mette June 28, 2017 - 4:16 pm

oh my goodness what a glorious story. It brought tears to my eyes and reminded me so of when I moved to France and then to the USA. Thank you!

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Audrey Friedman June 28, 2017 - 4:19 pm

Lovely story and it brought back many memories for me as well. My last apartment in Paris was on L’ile Saint Louis and I crossed the bridge many times to go to the restaurant Louis Philippe. Oh those were such happy times in Le Marais.
Thanks for the memories.

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Sharon Santoni June 29, 2017 - 2:40 pm

that sounds lovely 🙂

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Peggy June 28, 2017 - 4:23 pm

What a message of encouragement you gave that young lady and for all of us as readers, regardless of our ages. Thank you.

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Vicki Crown June 28, 2017 - 4:36 pm

You never disappoint with these fabulous stories! Thank you for brightening my otherwise dreary day. I hope you let us know when all those novels will be published. Do you have one out now? I love your stories and always want them to go on and on.

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Bertha June 28, 2017 - 4:46 pm

Your beautiful story made me remember my own. As a Mexican married to an American, I can certainly identify with the frustrations that came my way. Oh, the looks on people, not approving! But we just enjoyed our life together, and our love. Of course, it helped that our families were not that far apart, in different countries, but only 4 hours apart. Never regretted it!

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Joyce Gee June 28, 2017 - 5:01 pm

Your story awakened many memories. We were faced with the decision whether to stay in Geneva or Rome many years ago. We came home to the USA. I’ve always wondered where we would be if we would have chosen the other path? Keep writing your touching stories.

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Mercedes June 28, 2017 - 5:07 pm

Loved it. We meet people for a
reason, a season or a lifetime. Claire and Heidi were meant to meet.

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Irene G Peterson June 28, 2017 - 5:11 pm

Oh so heartfelt. Thanks for sharing. I never had that opportunity present itself to me. It is a long-held dream.

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Susan Gabriel June 28, 2017 - 5:52 pm

Salut Sharon, especially loved the sentiment at the end that often a chance meeting is not destined to bloom into a friendship, yet that unique spark of connection is still meaningful in our lives. I was at such a crossroads years ago deciding whether to remain in Europe or return to the USA for my son’s education. I returned and his path to becoming a doctor ensued. He is now a global citizen and travels widely for research. So he got the best of all worlds. As for me, Europe and its charms is only a plane ride away. Thank you for your lovely writing.

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Nicolette June 28, 2017 - 7:04 pm

This post really hit home for me, in fact I haven’t commented on a blog post in years. I almost felt like I was reading my own story. I was a blogger 5 years ago (Simply Colette) and met Mimi from Belle Inspiration at Laduree in Paris. She is also an American who met her French husband. I was going through similar internal battles myself. I’m finally just now finishing my book about my trip to Europe, Running Away to Europe, which I’ll finally be publishing on Amazon in a month or so. Every day I regret not staying longer in France, where my heart trues lives. But it was hard being on my own, and the communication was harder on me than I thought. I wish I wouldn’t have given up though. Thanks for sharing your story! It meant a lot.

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Fiona June 28, 2017 - 8:06 pm

Wonderful, Sharon! Thank you so much!

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Madeline in Texas June 28, 2017 - 8:17 pm

Delightful

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Taste of France June 28, 2017 - 8:42 pm

You really nailed this story. I have been in France for 13 years and six years in Belgium before that. At first, it was easy, flitting back and forth to the U.S., and in Belgium I had a great job. But when I moved to a very rural part of the south of France, it suddenly became far more complicated to get to the U.S. Just getting to the airport takes an hour and a half, and then there’s an additional flight. It was hardest the year my dad was dying and I was called back to the U.S. several times. And then my mom died weeks after my dad. That was when the distance hurt the most.
That said, I love love love living in France. I am really at home. The culture, the mentality, the joie de vivre…they are in sync with my soul.

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Antonietta June 28, 2017 - 8:44 pm

Mon ami, Sharon! Do you think you could possibly turn all this into a lovely book for us? Perhaps a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with all the enticements and perils of such a divided choice in life? Oui?

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Marie June 28, 2017 - 9:26 pm

Thank you for a pleasant pause in my day. I too loved the short story and it set my memories and thoughts to turning. I am nearing age 76 and most of my dreams and traveling days are over. I am now content to enjoy and appreciate my cozy home and family and friends who are close. There was a time too, when my best friend (wonderful husband) and I were more adventurous and moved some distance from people and things we loved. I have been blessed along the way and do not regret the choices we made at the time for in all they help make us who we become as time passes.

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Susan June 28, 2017 - 10:00 pm

I only thought I was brave…I long for more now that I’m in my 70’s…
I love your stories. Don’t ever stop writing!

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Vicky from Athens June 29, 2017 - 3:56 am

Wonderful tale, Sharon! Very thought provoking! I’m always fascinated thinking about the people who’ve come in and out of my life, many of whom have made such a positive impact or who’ve taken me in a direction that I probably wouldn’t have taken. “And that has made all the difference” … thank you, Robert Frost!

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Trisha June 29, 2017 - 4:26 am

Hi Sharon,
I love your blog. I look forward to receiving your posts in my email and have read every single one since I subscribed. That being said, I absolutely love your short stories. I hope you colaborate them all (and write several more) and compile them in a book. You truly have a gift.
Thank you!

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Darina June 29, 2017 - 6:55 am

Such a beautiful story that made me think that it is a pity I didn’t visit Paris in my younger years. To live there for a while, to learn more about myself. But I am an happy person.

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Anne June 29, 2017 - 10:39 am

I really enjoyed your story Sharon , and the links led me to your previous ones…………loved the watercolour illustrations of your earlier (2015?) story about Catherine .
My sister lives in the South of France, quite near to Callianes and the illustrations took me straight there……….lovely.
your blog photographs are beautiful , and I really enjoy reading it .
Anne ( UK )

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Kathryn June 29, 2017 - 7:00 pm

A beautiful story and applies whether or not differing countries are involved. But please tell me you’re willing to sell prints of that gorgeous photo of the Eiffel Tower.

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Deborah June 29, 2017 - 11:36 pm

Beautiful! Non, je ne regrette rien…

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Delaine June 30, 2017 - 1:11 am

Love your stories! Merci!

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Elvie June 30, 2017 - 3:46 am

Great story Sharon ,really enjoyed reading .Thank you for writing the story.

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Judi July 1, 2017 - 9:33 pm

Love your stories! I really wanted to read “all that money …but all the links give errors. Are they lost forever? I tried searching but no luck. Can you help. That happened on some other stories to. The “catch up” link didn’t work. I’m on an iPad. Thank you!!

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sharon santoni July 3, 2017 - 7:40 pm

Hi Judi
Thank you for letting me know about the broken links. I know that we had an issue on the blog where a number of links stopped functionning. I’ll take a moment to go through again and fix them 🙂

x

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sylvia faye July 3, 2017 - 9:56 am

No regrets leaving my home state for my Canadian Frenchman and that would be 65 years ago.

Viva la France! Viva French Canadians and yes they have joie de vie.

Your stories make easy mental pictures and a moment to ‘smell the roses’.

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Karen July 5, 2017 - 4:06 pm

Lovely, as always Sharon. Your writing reminds me of a favorite author from long ago – Mary Stewart. She was always able to evoke a “feel” for place and time. I also appreciated that her heroines were always strong young women – usually out on their own with danger and mystery lingering on the edges of exotic locales that I had never visited. The heat from rocks and the un-ending song of cicadas of southern France or Greece formed the books’ magical backdrops. This story reveals to me that we have choices throughout life. My current one as a divorced woman on my own is how to handle upcoming retirement. I like your idea of being committed to whatever choice you make and making it work – I think that is the best answer. You will never know if it was the best or the right choice. I have always wanted to live parallel lives – only then could I see what other options live like! Thanks as always for your photos and stories being a part of my life!

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Charlotte Des Fleurs July 5, 2017 - 8:20 pm

Hubby and I, in our late 60’s, are thinking of making “the leap of faith”. We found a house in France that we love and are thinking of buying. We have children and grandchildren in The States who we will be leaving behind. We have taken other rather radical leaps in the past and our lives have been enriched as a consequence. So, peut-être…?

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Christy Hobart July 15, 2018 - 8:02 pm

Hello Sharon,
I am just now visiting your website for the first time. It’s wonderful! This story brings me back. Like you, I moved to Paris ages ago and never wanted to leave. I married a Frenchman…but…my story has a different twist. It didn’t exactly work out. But I don’t regret it at all. It was fascinating. I stayed for a few years after that, then decided to return to the States for my master’s degree, with the plan to return. I stayed in NY, however, had some great jobs, married a lovely American, had children. I continued to visit Paris regularly and, a few years ago, bought a place of my own in the Marais. It’s not the aerie overlooking the Seine I’d dreamed of way back when, but it’s just a few steps away. In a couple of years, when my children are out of the house, I plan to spend more time in Paris and to pick up where I left off 25 years ago: shopping at the markets, seeing all the museum shows, wandering, and enjoying the parade that is Paris.
Thank you for your blog and your writing!
Your newest fan,
Christy

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Mary Britton September 23, 2018 - 1:05 pm

This weekend I found your blog! Refreshing, beautiful, inspiring, thank you! As I peruse a smattering of your posts I find a life so different from my own. And yet, in this post I resonate with a quote which reverberates often in our home as we raise our children in a land foreign to their passport country. They have grown between two worlds, and relish the richness of their experiences and privileges while also grieving “normal,” that elusive state which all teens seek. Claire’s words to Heidi reflect what my husband and I often remind them, “Life will never be simple no matter where or with whom you choose to live it.” Thank you for sharing beauty as you see it!

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Anne January 22, 2019 - 7:44 pm

Loved your story today and it half reminds me of my story. We arrived here as a couple to live permanently. We had no French language. We are both attending lessons with different teachers. Every day we end with a list of little mis-understandings, not too serious. We love, love living here in our retirement years although I still give Pilates classes every day. We enjoy living as a couple and welcome our family from London and Sydney to stay a few times a year when I cook for them French Cuisine which I have been trying to perfect, with some success, since arriving. I cannot think of a happier time and nor can my husband.
Congratulations on your excellent photography,
Bon soirée,
Anne

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Solar May 24, 2024 - 2:36 pm

I learned something new from your blog. Thanks! Solar

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