It begins with a girl. It always begins with
a girl, and even though we don't make it through the summer through
even half the summer she gets me there and changes my life. It
doesn't matter what happened or why, it's one of the best gifts I've ever
It happened like this.
It's 1991 and I'm in her apartment, living her third of our bicoastal
relationship (one-third in New York, one-third in California, one-third
apart), probably the only person in Manhattan looking forward to a summer
in the city, when she says, "Honey, let's go to France."
I close my book and listen, petrified. I hate to fly and don't speak French.
This isn't a good idea. I was in Paris in 1966, and they loathed me, and
I don't think I've changed that much. "Let's go to Saskatchewan."
"It's not the same."
"I know. They speak English and we can drive."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."
It's late May, a beautiful spring in New York, and this is her busiest
time at work. As far as I can see, there's no need to start studying French.
That's my second mistake.
One week later, she announces she's found the perfect place. "It's
special, magical, enchanted." She's a poet. Everything she says is
"Where?" I ask, thinking Paris, Nice, Cannes, Antibes.
"Brittany. It's as far west as you can go. Finistère."
"What does that mean?"
"The end of the world."
That's when I panic. I go to the bookstore and read in a guidebook that
Bretons aren't French but Celtic linked by language and culture
to the Irish, Scots, Cornish, and Welsh so maybe I do have a chance.
On the other hand, they've been French since 1532, why chance it? I go
to the Café des Artistes and write her a note. "Great work.
Could you ask if the place is on-a-country-road quiet, sunny, and large?
Does it have a good bed, hard mattress, running water, hot running water
[remembering my stay in Paris], a TV, stereo, car, separate studies for
writing, a coffeemaker, shower, bath, at least two floors, farm animals
in the vicinity, a washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher, a bar in the
village, a boulangerie, a market, a post office, bikes, and neighbors
who want Americans living next door?" I leave it on her desk, thinking,
Saskatchewan, here we come.
The next day she leaves me a message on her answering machine. "We
have it a thousand a month, with a car."
I wait a minute, put on my happy voice, and call her at work. "Hi...got
"Ouiiiiiii," she sings.
"Does it have all those things I asked about?
"Certainement. The last thing I need is to listen to you complaining
"It really has all those things?"
"That's what the lady said. Her name's Sally. She's English and just
returned from the house. She lives in Massachusetts, you can ask her yourself."
So I do. I call her, and she says yes to everything. There's no way out.
I'm going to France.
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