I often think of my time in Europe as a collection of stories. All woven together in one book that I keep close to my heart. Really, aren't all of our lives just that? A collection of stories. The good ones, the bad ones, the sad, the happy and so forth. What all of these stories have in common though, is that they are full of characters. For me, it is the characters that made these stories so special. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite Frenchmen, named Jean-Claude (or so I thought).
The first French town I ventured to after moving to Germany was Forbach. It was just across the border about 30-45 minutes away. Depending on how fast I was driving on the autobahn that day! I wandered into a second hand shop, I was pretty nervous. I had only been in Europe for a few months and this was my first journey into France. To my relief, the gentleman in the store spoke not only French but German and broken English. I spoke high school French, no German and could barely understand broken English at that time. I butchered telling him my name was Emily...he told me:
"I am Jean...Jean-Claude like the muscle man Jean-Claude Van Damme" While posing like one of those overly tan and greasy looking body builders...except he was wearing jeans and well had a bit of a belly.
I knew instantly that we would be friends. Over the next 3 years I visited Jean-Claude almost weekly. Many weeks multiple times. I found some of my favorite treasures in his store. He loved my "big American Truck" my black Tahoe. He also loved that I appreciated the French antiques the "French people do not respect anymore!" Pretty soon, I introduced my dear friend, Linda to Jean-Claude and we became his best and most loyal customers. For 2 years, Linda and I would make the trek to Forbach to eat strawberry eclairs and see what Jean-Claude had in his shop.
It truly was a magical time. We were so happy chatting on the way there and freaking out about what we had found on the way back! Knowing the entire time how lucky we were to have found Jean-Claude and each other. Trying to ignore that fact that time was fleeting and nothing would last forever.
Sadly, my time to move was upon me. Linda and I made one last trip to Forbach. To tell my first French friend au revoir. My heart was so incredibly heavy as I knew the book was closing. This story was ending...and the magic that it contained would be lost to my memories. Still to this day, I feel the weight of that goodbye...to Jean-Claude, to the treasure hunts, to the strawberry eclairs, to time with my dearest friend, and to my beloved France. Pictures were taken, goodbyes were said and just like that we drove back across the border and the chapter was closed...or so I thought.
A few months later Linda called me after I had moved back to the USA.
I died- tears rolled down my face. For THREE YEARS I called this man Jean-Claude. Introduced him to people as Jean-Claude. When all along his name was simply Jean. Even now, so many years later I'm sitting here chuckling.
And that my friends, is the story of the Frenchman who will always be "Jean-Claude" to me. Until next time au revoir mes amis!