Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Talking to strangers

It started to rain.

At first I tried to ignore the drops that splotched onto my open book like so many childish tears but then I did the natural thing, grabbed my wine glass, stood up and hugged to the wall. No one had seen the storm coming, least of all me, who had gone to Le Violette, my favorite restaurant in Avignon, for the comfort of their hospitality and a taste of my go-to salad, les Dames de Shanghai.

Busboys ran to bring out the massive umbrellas that usually protect this beautiful courtyard from a beating sun. One of the owners - I like her; she is a no-nonsense blond - waved for me to go to find a table inside instead. I had too much of my meal in front of me to be blown about needlessly. 

There were several of us milling about, table hunting through muffled laughter at the surprise of it all. The unexpectedness. Having been a waiter, I knew not to take a table for four but felt shy about sliding into the only "two-top" left as it was next to one already occupied by a gentleman looking at his menu. I slid onto the banquette with a nod. 

Because of the sheer proximity, the details of him popped into focus, one by one. White hair in curls on the top of his head, glasses perched, yet tattoos peeking out from his shirtsleeve, watch hanging loose at his wrist. 

My salad arrived - I am so addicted to it - and as I snapped open the chopsticks he wished me "Bon Appetite" with a slight smile. His cell phone made a ridiculous beep that made me laugh and remark how much we rely on those little machines. A few minutes later, I also offered a "Bon Appetite" to the trio of ladies to my left and then offered him a "I copied you," with a smirk. "I see that," he responded. And that was it; the floodgates of the conversation opened and began to flow.

We talked about everything and easily - including the moving art that was being featured in the Collection Lambert, where Le Violette is perched. He had driven down from his home in Curçuron, in the Luberon, to see it. I appreciated that. After tasting his caramelized travers de porc, he asked me if I wanted to try it. And I really did, it looked fantastic, but refused out of politeness sake as that is something that is simply not done in France, not between strangers, even if we didn't feel like ones. Somehow neither of us took for granted the facility of our exchange but accepted it rather hungrily.

Of course, he wanted to drill me about the state of American politics, everyone does, and shared certain perspectives that made me think that he was of the generation of the soixante-huitards  - from 1968 - when the youth uprising shook Paris. Despite having known success, like many from that generation, he had chosen a less obvious path and then a quieter life had chosen him. He was forced into an early retirement from his company...and then, quite recently, his wife had died from cancer. It was hard for him to say those words aloud and yet he did with dignity. How obvious it was that he loved her so dearly, how she was with him, with us, at the table.

In having told my story - and I tell it patly now, "16 years in France traveling the world as a...then he...now I..." - he had understood why I was here, also dining alone, knowing no one in a new town. Although I had already taken a second glass of wine to stretch out the lunch, I did not want dessert, even though I had ordered him to get the cheesecake, mandatory. So a decision had to be made.

Maybe I am wrong, but I think that not that long ago, perhaps I would have tried to...push something into being, grasping. But there had been no flirting, the difference in our ages and our respective tenderhearted conditions denying that opportunity. That wasn't this experience. I asked for my check and still we were laughing and sharing non-stop. With an inhale I announced, "Well, I am going to go..." and stood up. 

"Comment vous appelez-vous?
"Michel," he answered and extended his hand, I took it to shake but held it. 
"Je m'appelle Heather...It seems like we are both at a time of rebuilding our lives, aren't we?" 
"We are, c'est vrai." 
"I wish you well as you continue forward." 
"And I to you." 
Both of our eyes were shining, locked with gratitude, pure. I released his hand and smiled again while turning to go.
"Au revoir."
"Au revoir."


Le Violette

Collection Lambert
5 rue Violette
84000 Avignon
Tel. 04 90 16 56 20
Open 11am-6pm
Closed Monday

*PS. I have had this post in my head for two weeks now, but waited to go back to take some photos to illustrate it and the wonderfulness that is Le Violette. I told the manager/owner about my intentions to write about my experience. She remembered the day well and said that Michel had spoken to her about our meeting after I had left and what it had meant him. 

I will keep repeating it, but there is so much beauty available to us. All the time...

Thank you for being here,



  1. This is such a very rich and beautiful story, Heather. I am reminded of Sharon Santoni's short stories with your words. I know you have a hand there.
    I hope you encounter Michel again somewhere, sometime along the way so that you can compare notes in this song of life.
    So very heartened by this post. Mwahs,T xx

  2. I find this encounter very interesting reading. After 35+ years living in LA we moved to Austin TX, home to my wife's sister. Used to the anonymous life in a large city and also the way people in LA look at you when you enter a restaurant to see if you are important or famous, I was taken aback one afternoon in a park where I had been walking our two dogs, for as I was sitting on a bench a man walked up to me, sat on the bench and started talking. My immediate reaction was: "What does he want? Money? To give me a hassle?" No, he was just a friendly Texan being neighborly. And of course my shell was opened and I have enjoyed the free exchanges between people all over Texas, both male and female, that is genuine and appreciated.
    I know that your encounter was as accidental as mine, and that you are starting over in your life differently than our new life in Austin. But the ability to share time with a stranger is so difficult in a large city, and so much easier in areas away from the hustle and bustle. We have spent a lot of our vacation time in and around Avignon. Your encounter was a great story and I am sure you will be blessed with many more.

    1. This comment brought a chortle - I am a country lady who talks to strangers in cities and frightens them with her inappropriate concern for their well being :-)

    2. Richard, it is so good to hear from you and I am delighted to hear about your move. It takes courage to leave LA! I felt that way about leaving NYC. But it seems pretty clear that it was supposed to be for you both. And the dogs too. :)

      And Lisa, you can Crazy Lady talk to me anytime. xo

  3. I read this post over breakfast and I felt I was right there with you -- without a lot of words, the feeling of that encounter came across beautifully. The photo of the two pigeons was the one that really grabbed my heart. And I'd love to know what ingredients go into that salad!

    1. So would I come to think of it...I know that it has ingredients that I don't often eat, such as meat (chicken) and wontons. But it is worth it. I posted the photo of the pigeons on Instagram because of your comment here!

  4. It is just right, to know you are not alone in the difficulties of transition. Like two trees that will blossom after frost, a resonance. Serendipity :-) xx

  5. What a great piece of writing, Rocket !!! Bravo, Bravo, Bravo !!! Mahalo et Merci for sharing your gift.

  6. Heather....surely already know this song by Joni Mitchell and David Crosby? Do yourself a favor and go to:


    He met her in a French cafe
    She slipped in sideways like a cat
    Sidelong glances What a wary little stray
    She sticks in his mind like that
    Saying "Avez-vous un allumette?"
    With her lips wrapped around a cigarette
    Yvette in English saying
    "Please have this Little bit of instant bliss"

    He's fumbling with her foreign tongue
    Reaching for words and drawing blanks
    The loud mouth is stricken deaf and dumb
    In a bistro on the left bank
    "If I were a painter" Picasso said
    "I'd paint this girl from toe to head"

    Yvette in English saying "Please have this Little bit of instant bliss"

    Burgundy nocturne tips and spills
    They trot along nicely in the spreading stain
    New chills new thrills… For the old uphill battle
    How did he wind up here again?
    Walking and talking
    Touched and scared
    Uninsulated wires lay bare
    Yvette in English going
    "Please have this Little bit of instant bliss"

    What blew her like a leaf his way?
    (Up in the air and down to Earth)
    First she flusters, then she frays
    So quick to question her own worth.
    Her cigarette burns her fingertips
    As it falls like fireworks she curses it
    Then sweetly in English she says "Please have this Little bit of instant bliss"

    He sees her turn and walk away
    Skittering like a cat on stone

    Her high heels clicking. What a wary little stray
    She leaves him by the Seine alone
    With the black water and the amber lights
    And a bony bridge between left and right
    And Yvette in English saying
    "Please have this Little bit of instant bliss"


    David Terry
    Hillsborough, NC

    1. Oh, I don't know that song David and it is just phenomenal in its mystery and beauty. Thank you for the gift.

  7. Loved this. A bit like before sunrise a la Provençal

    1. Oh, that comment made me smile. But it wasn't a romantic encounter, just a really good connection.

  8. A wonderful story beautifully written, reminding me of the uniquely intimate exchanges I've had with a more than a few strangers. Usually, this has happened when I was travelling, and almost always those contacts or conversations gave me something I particularly needed. Fellow travelers in this world...

    1. As sometimes we just know. We just know with certain people. I am sorry my response to you is so late in coming. I have to force myself to be at the computer these days when not at work. But there is so much Love going out to you...

  9. A magical encounter and one of your making. Wonderful! I would have loved being in your place-and his, enjoying each other if just for a meal!!

  10. Strangers are just friends we haven't yet met.

    1. Very good timing on that phrase, English Rider. Made me smile.

  11. I just love this. "there is so much beauty available to us. All the time…"

  12. I LOVE THIS! The story, the writing - c'est magnifique! Hooray for not grasping and being relaxed enough to just be. Beautiful.

    1. That part felt kind of huge to me. Love you Sister.

  13. Lovely story Heather. Sometimes, especially when travelling or just alone, we long for and need just a little touch of soul, of the heart..It feeds us and sustains us, until the next time.

  14. It is so good to hear such amusement in your writing. Your tentative smile. The clouds are parting and the sun is coming out.

    1. Oh, I have moments of happiness everyday! I hope that I don't give the wrong idea here. I am just wiped out tired a lot. Not the same thing as sad. :)

  15. Darn, I wish I was over there with you! That is funny, the politics of the USA. It is draining everyday....you cannot believe the fighting in the streets and more. I find it sad really. What a story Heather, I have had a few of these myself, beautiful, touching, and sometimes sad in a way for me. Passing moments but sweet moments none the less. Darn, I wish I was over there with YOU! Merci ~ XO suzanna in Florida....


  16. what a priceless encounter. You bring these things into being, and then write about them in such a tender and artful way, I felt I was there. I'm a bit sad that you didn't trade contact info, he sounds like a lovely person to have as a friend.

  17. A mysterious stranger, a salad, and a surprise rain storm. What a great story! I love your photos too. You must take me there when I visit. Xx

    1. With pleasure! They do "your kind of food." heeheehee xo

  18. Like striking a match, slide, slide, slide, then ignites and becomes something. Nice encounter, easy and natural, poignant too, as kindred spirits. I don't believe in too much serendipity at this age, but still delight in when it appears that way. Our energy/spirit guide us to where we need to be. :) Lovely story, lovely day and thanks for sharing it with us. Agree with you, so much beauty here for us, in each of us. ~Nicole in CA

    1. What a beautiful image with the match! Oh I love that.

      For me, serendipity and Spirit leading us to where we need to go are one and the same. Fun to think about for me (and yes, I think about these things quite a lot).

      Sending good energy to you in CA

    2. Thank you, Heather. I usually am pretty optimistic and I shall return so. I had several what can only be called moments of serendipity this past week and I think the Universe is trying to tell me something. I usually am mostly positive! Let's imagine our best life always, and enjoy the ride with few worries, shall we? xo ~Nicole

  19. You are a divine storyteller ... in words and images. What a lovely encounter and somehow I hope you may run into Michel again. Who knows? If not this Michel, then another. You are so right about the beauty available to us and you are part of it. I've a book to send you and have emailed.

    1. Oh your email was so lovely Patricia! Please forgive me for not responding yet. I am really not wanting to be near the computer when not working. And I would be so grateful for a copy of your new book!!! bisous

  20. Hello Heather,
    It rained and provided this beautiful opportunity to meet a kind hearted handsome stranger. Your description had me imagining the entire lunch and conversation. Wishing you a delightful weekend

  21. One of the grand moments of the day. Page 7 of a novel.
    Wonderful photos.

  22. That was beautiful Heather, and brought back a memory. BAck when they called them Stewardesses and I was one, I came into Kansas City on a very delayed flight and decided to go down to the hotel restaurant alone. It was past the dinner hour and there was only one other person in the room, obviously a business man. After a few minutes he's spoke up and said, "this is rediculas ...I am not trying to make advances but why don't we eat together. It was very innocent....and we enjoyed our meals and conversation.

  23. Another stranger here, randomly commenting on an older post, simply because I have been reading all through your beautiful blog looking for a place to express my thanks.

    Last Friday I arrived late in the evening at a hotel in a random city, where I decided to stop simply because it was a convenient stopping place along the most convenient train connection taking me home to Linz from Barcelona. I was prepared to be greeted with polite irritation because it was relatively late and I was in no position to activate my meager command of French – but then you were there. How did we end up so quickly in such a personal conversation? Reading through your blog, somehow that seems to make sense now.

    As ever, it was so hard to say good-bye to my son in Barcelona. Since his breakdown four years ago, I have been learning to live with the very real possibility that I may lose him, that he may not survive his strange journeys. That makes every moment I can spend with him so precious and every farewell so precarious. As a widow, I have learned to pull myself together and behave like a reasonable and capable adult, no matter what is going on in my mind, no matter how my heart is breaking, but finding myself unexpectedly in conversation with a stranger who allowed me to let my guard down in that moment was tremendously consoling.

    Thank you for being there.

    In return, I hope it might be appropriate now to share with you the song I told you about, the song my son wrote about how he felt when his father died – a song about what mourning feels like: https://soundcloud.com/user-989750997/youve-been-released-demo

    I have added your blog to my RSS feeds now, and I look forward to reading more from you.
    With all best wishes from Linz, Aileen


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