by Janet Skeslien Charles, guest blogger and author of Moonlight in Odessa
When people ask how I met my husband, I usually tell them the short version: we on my first day in Paris when I came to teach English in France in 1998. It seems random and romantic.
The long version, a truer version, began a year earlier in Missoula, Montana, a city nestled in the Rocky Mountains, where a cranky, chain-smoking French teaching assistant played the role of cupid. Amélie was my officemate when we worked at the University of Montana. Every sentence she uttered began, “In France, we…” For example, when she saw how many individuals and businesses displayed the American flag, she scorned, “In France, we don’t need flags to remind us of who we are.”
Amélie was angry that store clerks would not accept her French passport as proof of identification so she couldn’t buy cigarettes. She was angry that a social security contribution was taken out of her paycheck. She had signed a long-term lease on a horrible flat. She was miserable. And I was miserable sharing an office with her.
After a trying school year, I accepted a job as an English teacher in Alsace in the autumn, but before leaving for France, I decided to host the next teaching assistant so that she would have a better start than Amélie. At the airport, I met the new French TA. All 6’2”, 250 pounds of him. Looking at Stephane, I realized that I’d invited a total stranger, a huge total stranger, to stay with me. I walked with him to the luggage carousel, berating myself for my stupidity. When Stephane bent down to pick up a suitcase large enough to stuff a cadaver inside, I saw he was wearing Mickey Mouse socks. Perhaps it would be all right.
It was – he was affable and interesting and funny. We found him a furnished apartment near campus and explained the paperwork. His transition was seamless. And this would have been the end of the story, except for one thing: Air France went on strike. My ticket to Alsace was canceled and rebooked to Paris. Stephane called his older brother and asked him to get a train ticket to Mulhouse.
“I’ll meet her at Charles de Gaulle and drive her there,” Eduard replied.
Eduard was at the airport, in a bright red shirt, as promised. We spent the day in Paris, where we made our way through parks and little flea markets and sat at a café near the Seine. As the French words spilled out of my mouth, I tasted each one – tart, sensual, new. Now that I have lived in Paris for ten years, I see (and hear) the traffic, the crazy prices (how can a coffee cost so much?), and people yakking on their cell phones and flooding the sidewalks. As the holidays approach, I am homesick and wonder if I was right to move so far away from my family. But that day was perfect: the man of my dreams in the city of light, at a moment in my life when all doors were still wide open and possibilities were endless. Perhaps this is the reason romance novels appeal; they remind us of these moments in our own lives, before the mortgage, brutal coworkers, the difficult in-laws, the kids having trouble in school, when life seems relatively easy and choices were simple. Writing my novel Moonlight in Odessa was a pleasure, but it was also a bit painful, to see the world through the eyes of Daria, a 23-year-old single woman. Each date and job and trip held so much potential, so much anticipation, much like my own trip to Alsace.
On that first day, Eduard and I were already a couple, and I knew that we would get married. So did he. This year we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. And it is thanks to our cranky cupid.
About the Author:
Janet Skeslien Charles is the author of Moonlight in Odessa and the first American recipient of the British award for comedy romance, the Melissa Nathan Award. She lives in Paris, where she is the Programs Manager at the American Library. Her debut novel has been translated into twelve languages. Please visit her at www.jskesliencharles.com.
Here is my favorite short review/ summary from Publishers Weekly:
“This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them. Daria, a savvy, warmhearted but standoffish secretary in Odessa, Ukraine, fears that her boss will fire her after she refuses his sexual advances. So to keep him busy (and to keep her job), she sets him up with her shallow friend, Olga, who promptly turns on Daria. Fearing imminent unemployment, Daria takes a second job at Soviet Unions, an Internet dating service that connects Western men with available Ukrainian women. As Daria, who is fluent in English, bridges the language gap between the women and foreign men, she wonders if she will ever find true love. The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love. Meanwhile, her own romantic life swirls between a sweet suitor in California, a Ukrainian gangster and her manic boss. The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female.”
Buy: Moonlight in Odessa