There is always something exciting going on at Avanti for the residents. This month is “Journey to France” month. Throughout the month we’ve been spoiled with a lot of fun-themed events: French speaking class; French pastry-making class with our Taste restaurant Chef, Michael; films about or set in the country of France (I really enjoyed this crime drama called Jean de Florette with Gerard Depardieu); and art classes where we painted famous landmarks, sculptures and paintings found in Paris. I also signed up for French Interview Exercise which asked residents to reach out to everyone they know to see if they could be connected with someone who was born and lived in France for several years and interview them about their career. Then the Avanti residents would read their interviews aloud to each other over a fancy French themed dinner followed by French sing along songs.
Focusing on France was such a welcomed change. Our country, the USA, since this last Presidential election, seems more divided than ever. Lots of vitriol and venom on the news, which didn’t even feel like news to me anymore, since newscasters now gave their opinions instead of the facts like Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings used to do. There was a crazy mentality in the air of “us versus them” and it seemed like everyone had forgotten we were all Americans—in it together. But I digress…
I called my daughter, Maggie, and asked if she knew anyone French. Lucky for me, I struck gold right off the bat. Turns out Maggie’s landscape designer, Joel, was a Frenchman who moved to the United States when he was in his mid-30s. Recently, Maggie had her front yard remodeled in a Southwestern cacti and rock-style by him and was very happy with his work. I had not seen his work in person myself, but Maggie recently sent me a slew of photos of it which I was able to look at on my Avanti Samsung Tablet. Joel’s work was tres jolie! This man was an artist. His medium: plants and grasses.
I rang Joel up. He answered in the most marvelous French-accented voice. I was giddy just hearing those lilting, rolling sounds of his opening words as we made small talk before getting down to the business of my interview.
As a former interior designer, I wanted to know about his artistic influences. He was quick to share, and I learned his favorite garden, The Gardens of Versailles, was also the one most influential in his work. This prestigious garden was designed during the 17th century by the landscape architect André Le Nôtre for Louis XIV. Versailles, Joel explained, was a formal French garden, also called the jardin à la française, and is a style of garden based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order on nature. Its epitome is generally considered to The Gardens of Versailles.
Wow! Joel and I thought alike. I shared with him how in the world of interior design, the same idea of symmetry exists and how we are imposing a sense of order in every room while still being mindful of the house as a whole – so each room flowed into the other.
Something about this interview had my memory firing away and retrieving things I had not thought of in a long, long time. Certain jobs on houses I had forgotten only to have them reawakened by his mention of a certain climbing rose plant. Immediately, I thought of rose-chintz fabrics and a room I designed for a boutique hotel in mid-town Houston in the 1980s. Think brass, a mix of wood antiques, and chintz fabrics with hints of tiny geometric pillows to break up the heavy floral. It was the “Yellow Rose of Texas” job as I remember it now. I gave each of my jobs nicknames to file them under. I knew early on if I couldn’t figure out a nickname for a job, it meant I had not found the job’s creative center and back to the drawing board I would go! I shared this notion with Joel who completely “got it” and in fact, admitted that he too, had little names for his jobs in his head and would now use my “centering check” and “filing” system moving forward. We both had 2 children: one boy and one girl and loved eating at Kenny & Ziggy’s Jewish deli on Westheimer where 4 people could share 1 sandwich! We both were dog people and had shelter dogs at some point in our lives. He was kind to listen to my recent “overnight cat story” from a few months ago and took the time to make me feel less ashamed of it all. What a kind soul. I was so happy to have met someone new, to have something new to think about and to have learned about Joel’s career as a landscape designer. After dinner tonight, I thought I might Google some interesting plants he mentioned I might like. Oh, Joel and I got on like a house on fire! We could have talked for hours!
The interview finally concluded and the talk soon turned to American politics. He expressed concern about the state of affairs in The USA (concerns which I shared). As we talked further, I realized, however, we were on totally opposite political sides of the coin. He was one of “them.” Wonderfully, strangely it didn’t matter as we had already spoken and found common ground and were friends. I thought it so interesting how, since we got to know one another as people first, the difference we discovered in politics later didn’t matter. It was all ancillary. Joel and I had more in common than not. Our differences seemed tres petit to me. This conversation restored my faith in our country. I couldn’t wait to share my interview over a croque monsieur with Grey Poupon spicy mustard with the Avanti group tomorrow.