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Fabi, Jean et les quatre filles !

Fabi and Jean getting married in Las Vegas, September 20, 1996. Only two girls before the wedding!

The Fabi-Jean family, four children and from Paris, is very partial to the USA. And not just because Fabienne and Jean’s wedding took place in Las Vegas about nine months before ours. Regretfully, we did not attend. We would have loved to have done so, if only to admire this seriously cool French cowboy!! Like us, they married after having a child or two, in their case Fiona and Maeve. Gotta work on that timing!

The log slide is one of our favorite rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Jean getting splashed with two of his girls at the bottom of the slide.

This is a friendship that goes way back: Marie-Hélène’s father, Grand-père, went to the same school as Fabi’s father back in the 1930s, and the two men belonged to the same theater troupe and hunted together in the 50s and 60s. That’s an interesting combination right there! Naturally enough, Marie-Hélène and Fabi got to know each other pretty well in their youth, and after settling down with families in the 1990s sought each other out afresh.

We saw them almost every year for most of the period covered by this memoir, either at our home in Santa Cruz, or at their home in the 9th arrondissement in Paris.

This gives a great sense of the glee in that splash! For Jean as much as for Fiona and Leah, his little girls! These shots were taken during their 2005 visit.

They were the closest thing to Marie-Hélène’s family for us, after grand-père, and the only members of her French family who visited us more than once in our thirteen years together in Santa Cruz.

My guess is that her family’s absence reflected the anti-Americanism which is as prevalent in France as in the UK. Having had their skins saved during the Second World War by a bunch of brash upstarts who weren’t even European did not sit well with many in both countries! I’d dealt with those feelings among my peers in England: seeing them in France was hardly surprising.

Which is one of the reasons that the Fabi-Jeans were so welcome: they actually appreciated and liked the USA! Especially Fabi.

Another Fabi and Jean picture taken during a trip to the Boardwalk! This time it was the summer of 2003. Fiona is in front of her maman, and Maeve in front of Daphné.

They also shared some of the same challenges that we faced, with our six children. They had four all together, and all girls. For the first few years, as the four arrived, they all lived in a smallish apartment in the 9th arrondissement, which was a bit tight. Fabi stayed home and mothered, just as Marie-Hélène did.

Fabi took this wonderful shot of Maeve holding a nervous little Charlie’s hand at our wedding reception at La Bellanderie. It was May 1997, and the little chap had yet to turn two.

At the same time, they were trying to find a way to emigrate to the USA, as we had done. But it was a lot easier for us: I was already a citizen, and thus could come in and out at will and work freely, wherever I felt like it.

Notwithstanding their Las Vegas wedding, Fabi and Jean were still tourists in the US. He is a well qualified physical therapist working for the Paris Hospitals, but couldn’t find anywhere in the US where they were prepared to go through the complicated visa process to bring him over. Fabi started trying to import art from France and sell it in the US, which had promise as a way to make money but was logistically difficult. We helped her out here and there, but it was all a bit too complicated.

Grand-père beaming behind his three God-daughters at our wedding, including Fabi in the middle. By the way, Marie-Christine is in blue: she is Marie-Hélène’s Godmother. So the father’s Goddaughter is the daughter’s Godmother! Think about that one!

Fabi was a very giving mother. We almost worried that she was too giving with her daughters and would burn herself out. As each little girl arrived, she would reapply herself to taking care of the baby and maintain her efforts with her older sisters. She wasn’t moving to the US, as she deeply desired, or even finding an acceptable way to move out of Paris into a roomier house in the suburbs. But year in year out she maintained her commitment to her daughters.

Until the day that something snapped. I wan’t really a party to the dialog around what happened, and so should not try to elaborate it in any detail. Marie-Hélène kept up a long conversation with Fabi, mostly over the phone, or rather a series of long but separate conversations over a couple of years.

Little Chenoah in her father’s arms during our summer 2004 visit to the family.

I began to realize that something serious was happening when Jean visited us in July 2008 with no Fabi. He was more visiting his son Vadim than us: one of the reasons that we saw them regularly was that Vadim, a software engineer, has lived nearby in Silicon Valley almost since we moved here. He’s a lot like his father.

Jean was really freaked out this trip. Fabi was either pursuing some sort of cult or a guru of some kind, in New Mexico one month and India the next. I never got straight whether it was one group or guru or a sampling of random New Age communities. She apparently held Jean at fault for many, many things. Which is pretty hard to understand, if you know Jean. He’s a saint, as he has been demonstrating by looking after the younger girls while their mother explores the universe, normally alone.

Fooling around in their Paris apartment during that same visit.

The older girls were either with their mother as she traveled. Or not! Somehow, and this is quite extraordinary when you think about it, Maeve ended up graduating from a High School in Utah, and Fiona from Beverly Hills High. How did that happen! I was given some of the background at some point, but couldn’t really follow the stories. All that was clear was that each girl went through those crucial years living with another family or almost alone and with only occasional visits to and from one or other or both of their parents Neither of these girls is American, and both made it through US High School with only the occasional presence of their mother or father. You have to admire each of them.

Old friends under our garden arch, July 2005.

I do. But I also wonder if what we feared about the extent of Fabi’s commitment to her daughters as children had come true. Had she burned out as a mother, and flown off at a tangent desperately seeking something else to tie her to this world?

Again, my thoughts are almost pure speculation. But Marie-Hélène was party to Fabi’s thoughts and feelings at times during these strange later years of the Fabi-Jeans and their four daughters. Did she feel some sort of common ground with her friend’s evolution?