Francine

 May of 2010, I drew Francine’s name and address through the random pot luck of postcrossing.com.  She didn’t say much in her profile other than stating her preference for art cards and including a link to her blog where I saw some pictures of her  beautiful hand knitted creations. I chose two postcards for her: The first was a collage I made from a magazine model and a mistakenly decapitated live orchid bloom.  The second was a favorite painting from The Art Institute of Chicago called “A Vision” by Joseph  Stella.

I wrote Francine about my clumsy orchid killing accident and the bloom’s fate to be immortalized as a hat. Then I talked about “The Vision” and how I wished I could  sprout from a shell,  swaddled in orange cloth reborn each morning. When she received the cards she sent a nice message of thanks.  I thought that was that,  but then several months later she wrote back and there began our journey down the pen pal path.

Marie-Anne Foucart “Dans mes filets” March 2009

The above message in a bottle reading mermaid was one of the cards that made it’s way from Provence to Chicago.  I already shared  some special mermaid history with two close friends so this card has been display prominently since it’s arrival! Along with this card came a CD of her favorite music and some notations of associated memories.  I thought this was such an interesting way to get a feel for an unmet friend.

Another great card was this painting with view of  Sainte-Victoire  by Paul Cézanne. Francine wrote: “….On my way to work, I see it and it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a beautiful view to look at every day.”  I’m sure it was right then that I started thinking how lucky I’d be to get invited to Provence!

Francine was a soon to be retired English teacher and her partner Jean-Pierre,  a physics teacher and violin player.  They have a creative bunch of kids and she sent some pictures through email of her  family. I think I was a little star stuck.  Confession:  I have sort of  had a crush on France, French culture,  French accents and French people since my first trip to Paris. When I looked at those pictures,  I latched on to some myth from within and stereotyped them as way cooler than myself. But still….and yet….I invited myself to France. Why? Coz that’s what I do!  I may have said I want to travel to France and Francine may have graciously insisted I come visit. I can’t remember but however it came to be, in May of 2011,  I spent 9 days (one of which was my birthday!) in their lovely home in Puyricard , near Aix-en-Provence.

I stayed in her son’s former bedroom and next to the bed was a big mural of a lion painted by friends for a birthday present.   On arrival (after a nap) I was greeted with cocktails and snacks featuring Rum punch, a Caribbean thing, with Francine and her friend Cathy. The highlight was listening to them practice singing for choir.  They both had beautiful voices but most striking was their personal transformation. Their faces changed, as if  illuminated by the sheer joy of singing. It was an amazing and relaxing way to get introduced into a day in the life of my pen pal! Later that week, I went along for the official choir practice.  I witnessed 40 mostly white French people singing American gospel music! They were great and I loved it but wow, what a surprise. That’s just not something a Chicago girl expects to find in France!

The vibe in their house was most harmonious.  All pre conceived “cooler then me” notions were eradicated. Both my hosts were completely down to earth and sincerely welcoming. In the day, while they were at work I wandered in different directions on foot or by bus. I had a really nice time exploring Marseille and taking a boat ride to Chateau D’If , from Count of Monte Cristo fame. On the days they were off work, Francine and JP took me by car to see a giant flea market in L’Isle sur Sorgue , Oppède and the best was a long hike along the cliffs of Cap Canaille near Cassis.

 

 

Most nights Francine would come home from work and whip together a great dinner that we’d eat leisurely while chatting and drinking wine.  I’ve always enjoyed eating out in different countries but there is much to be said for the comfort and intimacy of a home cooked meal and I really appreciated it. I also felt really spoiled and possibly unworthy. I couldn’t think of any way to reciprocate properly other than trying to entice them to come visit Chicago and since thus far no pen friends had made the journey  I wasn’t counting on that happening.

Ha! I underestimated my friend because come November,  I was picking her up at the airport in Chicago.  I was so excited to show her my favorite things, introduce her to friends,  and even better, she was here for her birthday!  Sadly, Jean Pierre couldn’t come but there’s always next time!  Also… always I dream of France and with me, travel dreams cannot help but come true.

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9 Responses to “ Francine”


  1. 1 Olga July 31, 2012 at 12:54 am

    I feel sincerely lucky that I had a chance to meet the lovely Francine when she came to visit Chicago! Thanks!!

  2. 2 Startare July 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    So lovely to read about your visit here and be reminded of the great times we had together!
    When are you coming back?

  3. 4 JP August 1, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Quels bons souvenirs !!!
    Amicalement.
    JP

  4. 6 Inga August 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Your words paint beautiful pictures that fill me with emotion. I wonder if Francine’s remembers the Mr. Toad’s wild ride in vChicago? U-Turn in the middle of Irving Park…Whoa! I remember Francine’s beautifuliy knitted sweaters. I imagined knitting one…and it remains only an image. During the Fall\Winter, I will give it another go, but a knitted headband, not a sweater.


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