Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The French Connection


The time: late February 1971.  The place:  Argentiere in the French Alps near Mont Blanc. 

I have quit my job at an American bank in Paris so I can go skiing for a month.  My best friend from grammar school has been visiting for several weeks.  When her husband arrives, we leave for the Alps.

After they go back to the U.S., I join a ski club group, a sort of poor person's Club Med.  I'm rather miserable until I meet some wonderful people from Paris.  Among them is a beautiful blonde South African named Carol.  All the guys, especially the son of the French ambassador to South Africa, are taken with her.  She's the kind you would be jealous of, except she is very funny and kind.  Her parents are British, and her accent is very high brow.  She says odd things like, "I'm from Johannesburg, but I attended Varsity in Cape Town."  Varsity?  I meet a journalist, a writer for Le Figaro (he later had a career at Le Nouvel Observateur), and he and I and Carol and the ambassador's son all hit it off and have a great time on the slopes and off.

Back in Paris, I hang out with my new friends from Argentiere until I have to go home in April.  I've run out of money.

Fast forward to 2006.  I have come to Paris and brought my two daughters, one who has just graduated from college, and the other who has just finished graduate school.  Carol has us over for a lovely dinner in her conservatory.  She and I take a flashlight and walk around the garden.  I can tell it is fabulous. 

Through the years, Carol and I have kept up, and the few times I've visited Paris, she has had me over for dinner (the year after our French ski trip, she married Luc Tessier, a Parisian architect who went on to have a career as an expert in the restoration of historic buildings).  Carol worked at the Louvre and was the author of books about children and art (more details on her accomplishments later).  She and Luc have three grown daughters and are grandparents.

What we wouldn't have known back when we were in our 20's, is that one day we would both love gardens and gardening.  In 2010, on my last visit to Asnieres (just outside the walls of Paris), I finally got to see Carol's garden in the daylight.  Luc opened the door in the high wall along the street, and I walked under long chains of wisteria hanging overhead, leading all the way to the back garden.  It was magical.

The photograph above was taken by Carol and shows the conservatory she built with an inheritance from her grandmother.  That's where she serves lovely dinners with views out into the garden.  Another photograph she sent me years ago shows clematis and roses climbing up the side of the conservatory and trained over the back door of the five story house.  

As you can see, her borders are chock full of all sorts of shrubs, trees and perennials.  This is just one border in this beautiful garden, where an irregular-shaped lawn is surrounded on all sides by sumptuous plantings.  

More about Carol and her artistry and garden in future posts.