How I met my husband fourteen years ago at the Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge

It was a Saturday morning fourteen years ago when I met the man I would marry. I was at the Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge in North Park, San Diego, where I had a scheduled meeting with a man I was working with on a volunteer basis. I saw my future husband walk in wearing sweat pants, a tee shirt, and a baseball cap. (He later told me he was running late and didn’t have time to dress right and do his hair because he also had a meeting with other people in a volunteer organization and had overslept.) I practically bumped into him as we both got in the line to get our coffee and pastry. He said, “HELL-oh!” as if he were gladly surprised to run into me. We did a bit of a dance as to whom should go first. I don’t remember who went first, but the next thing I remember I was stirring my coffee at the condiments bar and he walked up to do the same and said “Good MORNing!” as if he were happy to meet me. We were both in such a rush to get to our respective meetings we didn’t dare exchange names or any further pleasantries; we just left it at that buzzing undercurrent. I swear to God, as I watched him walk to his table, I thought “he would be good for me,” like the lyrics in the song from Evita:

I don’t always rush in like this / 20 seconds after saying hello / Telling strangers I’m too good to miss / If I’m wrong I hope you’ll tell me so / But I think you should know / I’d be good for you / I’d be surprisingly good for you.

I looked over at the table where he sat, and recognized one of the men he was sitting with; in fact, I had that man’s number in my phone. After my meeting, I texted the man and asked him to give my number to the cute guy with the reddish brown hair. I never heard from my mystery man, but I went to a Memorial Day pool party two days later and there he was! I went up to him — or he came up to me — I forget which. I found out his name was Andy, and learned more about what he did for a living and as a volunteer. I got out my sunscreen and he asked me if I would like him to do my back. I said, “You don’t have to… I mean… if you want to… I mean… yes, thank you.” I was so flustered, I was bumbling for the right thing to say. Looking back now, I’m glad I got over my nerves and took him up on his offer. We got to know each other at the party, and after a few hours, when he said he needed to go home and walk his dogs, he asked me what time it was, and I said “time to take me home with you.”

(I never thought about it until just now, but I get annoyed now when he asks me the time, because he does it all the time. Nowadays the answer is sometimes “time for you to get a watch,” but if he hadn’t asked me the time that first day, I wouldn’t have had that clever response, and who knows how I would have made my move? Hm… makes you think… the little things that bug us about our loved ones are what makes them them, and we would miss them if we lost them and their annoying little quirks.)

Well, I’ll just say the rest is history because I don’t want to get too intimate here. And speaking of history, here are a few fun facts about the coffee house where we met, the song that inspired the woman who opened it, and the poem that inspired the song. I Googled it this morning and found out that the correct spelling of the bittersweet song by Debussy is Clair de Lune, which means moonlight, and the song was based on the poem “Clair de Lune” written by another Frenchman, the poet Paul Verlaine (who, coincidentally, had a scandalous love affair with the then seventeen-year-old French poet, Arthur Rimbaud). The reason the coffee house had an e at the end of Clair was that the owner’s name was Claire. I also learned that, sadly, Claire closed her coffee house in February of last year.

Here is the original french text and an English translation of the poem “Clair de Lune”:

Clair de lune

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

From Fêtes galantes (1869)


Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life’s largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The calm, pale moonlight, whose sad beauty, beaming,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming–
Slender jet-fountains–sob their ecstasies.

And here is the song played in a video “with an animated graphical score”:

There is a bittersweetness to all of this, but as the French say, c’est la vie! At some point, if one of us loses the other, that will be bittersweet too, but the bitterness of the future doesn’t diminish the sweetness of the present. For today, and for the fourteen years we have loved each other, I am blessed.

Fun with French — a language learner’s laughter

I just got home after staying in Quebec for a week, and I encountered some words and phrases I found very funny. Here are some of my travel notes.

Life is a Cabaret — And so is a tray!

This tray is a cabaret!
This tray is a cabaret!

When I ordered two coffees at a Starbucks, they asked me if I wanted a cabaret — « voudriez un cabaret? » Like “Come to the cabaret?” I thought. No, it turns out a cabaret is a little tray– that molded cardboard thing you can put four cups in. Who knew?

Just Want to Do It

"Bienvenue - VOUILLEZ ATTENDRE _ICI_, S'il vous plaît! Please wait here." - a sign at the front of a restaurant we went to in Montréal
“Bienvenue – VOUILLEZ ATTENDRE _ICI_, S’il vous plaît! Please wait here.” – a sign at the front of a restaurant we went to in Montréal

There is a polite way of telling someone to do something in French; you tell someone to want to do it. For example, « veuillez attendre ici » means, literally, “want to wait here.” Of course, a more equivalent translation is “please wait here,” but I think the literal grammar is very funny.  The closest analogy I can think of in English is a sentence like, “You will want to be on time tomorrow.” This is something a boss might say to an employee, the implication being “if you want to keep your job.”

Daddy Has Reason

Jane Wyatt & Robert Young - Papa A Raison
Jane Wyatt & Robert Young – Papa A Raison

We were talking with the friends we were staying with about US TV shows in Canada and Canadian TV shows in the US. (For example, did you know that Rookie Blue is a Canadian show?) Well, the conversation got around to classic US TV shows translated into French, and one of our friends said his mother looked like Jane Wyatt in “Papa a RaisonDaddy Has Reason?” I had to laugh at his quick translation, and thank God I knew French, because I realized he was talking about Father Knows Best. See, in French, avoir raison (literally to have reason) means to be right. It makes sense that the French would translate knows best to a raison. It just sounds funny in English to translate it back. I suppose they could have translated Father Knows Best to Pere Sait Meilleur, but I guess it doesn’t sound as good or have quite the same flavor as Papa A Raison. Anyway, I got a great laugh out of that. Daddy has reason!

Rhyming Neighborhoods

One There Thinks

Richard, Louis, Daniel, & Andy at Le Saint-Amour
Richard, Louis, Daniel, & Andy at Le Saint-Amour restaurant

Our waiter at this beautiful restaurant in Quebec City cracked me up when he gracefully approached out table after we had eaten our main course, and said « Maintenant on arrive tout doucement à la croisée des chemins — fromage ou dessert? » It was funny in itself that he said, “Now we have gently arrived at a crossroads: Cheese or dessert.” What I got even more of a kick out of is what he said after we asked some questions of him and each other: he took his leave graciously by stepping back with a sweeping hand gesture to us, smiling and saying « On y pense » (literally, one there thinks). I had never heard this expression before, but I knew enough about French to know that the word y means more than just there; it can also mean on it. Thus, he was ever-so-suavely saying, “one thinks on it.” I just love the way people contrive language to tell you to do something without telling you to do it (like veuillez). Our waiter really was a sweet and funny guy — not the American stereotype of the stuffy, prissy French waiter.  I could imagine an English waiter saying, “I’ll leave you gentlemen to think upon it at your leisure,” but how much more elegant is it to convey the same meaning in three syllables? On y pense. Love it!

Who Woulda Drunk It?

qui lait cru!?! fromagerie - who would've thought!?! cheese store
qui lait cru!?! fromagerie – who would’ve thought!?! cheese store

When we went with our friends to a huge farmer’s market Marché Jean-Talon,  we walked by a fromagerie (cheese store) called Qui Lait Cru!?! One of our friends told me the name of the store was a jeu de mots (play on words) of the phrase qui l’eu cru!?!, which means who would’ve thought!?! What is different is the word lait means milk. Pretty funny! Well, allow me to suggest an equally funny translation for them in English: Who Woulda Drunk It!?! See, it rhymes with who woulda thunk it, an even quirkier way of saying who would’ve thought, and drunk it refers to the milk. In other words, who would have drunk the milk when we could make such delicious cheese out of it? You’re welcome, qui lait cru. I take PayPal. 😉