Oh, The People You'll Meet

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Hey, remember Vivanne?" And we both laugh as a flood of memories wash over us beyond just that of Vivanne.

Vivanne was, and probably still is, a petite round Parisian woman with a dark complexion and eyes that had seen much. We sat next to her on a trans-Atlantic flight to Paris years ago. Draped across her lap was a brightly patterned South American blanket, and at her feet were several worn tote bags. I decided straight away that this woman had a story. Most of the flight attendants knew Vivanne because they'd stop for an embrace, and then hand her a plastic sack of champagne tops. Partly through the flight when most of the cabin was asleep, I learned some of Vivanne's story .. the other part would come days later over a meal in a Paris cafe .. I looked over toward Vivanne to find her reworking those metal champagne tops into what appeared to be tiny little frog figurines. She caught me staring, smiled, and proceeded to tell me that she'd been making the trek from her home in Paris to a remote village in Peru for years to volunteer with children. "Most of the children don't have a toy .. So I make them one .. The flight attendants collect these champagne tops for me .." She trailed off, finished a figurine, and handed it to me to keep. I think she said something about it bringing luck. I accepted the tiny toy, and put it in the backseat pocket hoping it was indeed good luck. This woman was still a mystery.

Upon landing, Vivanne insisted we trade contact information so she could "properly show us Paris." Chad gave Vivanne the name of the hotel we were staying in and we went our separate ways through Charles de Gaulle. We didn't expect to ever see or hear from Vivanne again. But the next day we did. The concierge had a message for us, from Vivanne. We ignored it, and went about our day as planned. The next morning, same thing. Message from Vivanne. Clearly she wasn't going to give up, so we decided to call her and meet for a quick meal. That meal turned out to be one of the best meals of our trip at a place way across the City we'd never have come across on our own. And again, just like on the plane, Vivanne knew everyone in the cafe. The story she told was storybook- she was a young immigrant to Paris many moons ago and eventually met & fell in love with a Parisian man she'd go on to spend her life with. They were regulars at this very cafe. We learned her husband had passed some time ago, and the majority of her days now were spent volunteering in South America. We ate and talked for several hours. To this day, I still don't know how much of Vivanne's story was real and how much was embellished .. I'd like to think she simply and genuinely just wanted to make sure we had the experience of enjoying one of the greatest meals to be had in Paris. We never got a photograph of Vivanne, but we still have that tiny frog figurine.
I love meeting people like that when we travel. Because in our day-to-day lives we wouldn't meet anyone like Vivanne. We wouldn't strike up conversation with, from all outward appearances, a bag lady, and then take her to dinner. But when you travel, you do and don't think anything of it. Some of the greatest memories I have of travel involve to some extent a Vivanne. I probably have half a dozen similar stories of unique folks we've met while traveling, all with a sordid story .. and a memory is made, only to never hear from them again once we're back home. Do you have a similar story? Who's your Vivanne?

-lila
Image, in Paris by Chad Ermel

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