February 13, 2024

It’s a nice warm late winter day.


What some people call serendipity is just having your eyes open.

-Jose Manuel Barroso


Today, the weather is quite warm, for January, with a high of 54℉!  I left my gloves at home and I’m walking bare-eared under my wide brimmed safari sunhat.  It’s cloudy and a little breezy, so I did wear my light fabric flight-jacket, but it’s not zipped up all the way.  Waldo is happily prancing down the path, sniffing on one side, then the other.

I decided I’m going to visit my brother in Switzerland again, this June and July, so I’m committed to reviewing the French I’ve been able to learn.  I would like to take a class in intermediate French, but that’s not something I can easily afford.  So, I pull out my phone and replay the app I used in the past.  Using the app makes me listen and speak and the repetition helps me form neuronic pathways that lead to speaking with some facility.  I put the app on speaker and stick the phone in my shirt pocket where I can hear it well.  I begin with the first lesson.

Because it’s warm and a Saturday, there are quite a few people, some with dogs and even some bicycles, on the trail.  We haven’t walked more than ten minutes and an “elderly” couple, I don’t recall meeting before, passes us.  I’m saying “Je ne comprend pas” (I don’t understand) to the app and the woman gives me a strange look.  I smile and tell her, “I’m trying to learn French.”

“We are French!” she says.

Well, I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so we walk side by side and converse in French.  Well, they speak in French and I mumble as best as I can, but they seem to understand okay.  Waldo, he doesn’t speak any French, so after a cursory tail-wagging hello, he continues on down the trail in front of us, entertaining himself.  Anyhow, I discover that the two of them have been in this country for some twenty-five years and have lived in Marlborough for fifteen.  The man, whose name is Gilles, works as an engineer at Boston Scientific, a company whose headquarters is just off the rail trail opposite to the open field at Fort Meadow Reservoir.  I didn’t get where his wife, Germaine, works.

It’s been about six months since I’ve worked at learning French and I’ve forgotten a lot.  It’s still there, just under the level of my conscious awareness, and I have a lot of “Oh, yeah!” experiences.  It’s funny.  Over the years, I’ve tried to learn Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.  If I don’t work at using one, what comes out is “Spitulese”, a combination of all of them.  Since I haven’t used the French in a few months, I subconsciously default back to Spitulese when I’m searching for a way to say something in French.  After an “Uh” or two, the French comes up, or my new friends provide it for me.  It’s work, though.

After a half an hour or so, I tire and revert to English.  We then talk about all manner of things, including politics, dialectical differences in the various parts of France and Switzerland.  Germaine is from the south of France and Gilles is from the north.  We compare health care systems and retirement benefits between France and the US (Gilles says he’s thinking of retiring in about five years).  They plan to return to France when they retire (they are dual citizens of the US and France).  Heath care is every bit as good there as here, there’s universal health care, retirement benefits are enough to survive comfortably and it’s home.  Add to that the wonderful food, wine and French culture and I can see the allure.  For one thing, the French pride themselves in living the art de vie, the art of life.  That means basing one’s life on the pleasant things life has to offer: good food, good wine, good art of all kinds and good companionship.

Germaine tells me she knows someone locally who teaches French and there is a community of people in the area who get together to speak it.  Sounds like just the thing I’ve been looking for.  I would think that meeting Gilles and Germaine was serendipitous, if it weren’t for the fact that Waldo and I have been out on the rail trail some 1,800 times over the years and, if anyone speaking French were to ever walk here, the chances are good we’d meet them eventually.  Just the same, I’m really happy to have met them and, sometime soon, I’m going to have to invite them for a walk, or maybe a glass of wine (we exchanged phone numbers).  Too bad there aren’t any sidewalk cafes around here like in France.

Gilles and Germaine stay with Waldo and me for the entire walk.  At the end, we go one way, back to our car, and they go another (their home is within walking distance of the trail).  “Enchanté!” I say, shaking their hands and “Aurevoir!”

Waldo and I go back home to rest, relax and savor our new friends.


No flowers in the Covid Garden yet.

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