Take a single 45-year-old American woman vacationing with friends in the French countryside. Add a long-divorced, 44-year-old Frenchman, two dozen well-meaning relatives, a lot of wine and some language translation software, et voila! You either get l'amour or a heckuva screenplay.
"It's the most romantic story you'll ever hear," said Marsha Garber, sister of Laura Nessen, who married Albert Josse of La Boule, France, in a bilingual ceremony on a lovely summer evening Aug. 27 at the Secret Garden in Moorpark. The couple exchanged vows, before 17 of their closest family and friends, with the aid of a minister who managed a few words in French and with Albert's uncle translating (presumably so Albert would be fully aware of what he was doing).
Naturally, it all started with Laura's hairdresser, Vivian Loy. She and her husband, a business associate of Laura's, were planning a two-week trip to France, and Laura begged to go. They were going with Vivian's mother, Rene Jordan, who was born there, and her father, Bob Jordan, who wasn't. "I basically intruded on a family vacation," Laura said.
After two days in Paris, the family headed, with a reluctant Laura, for La Boule, a small seaside village in the Northwest region. "I wanted to stay in Paris, but it was their vacation." They arrived at the family home, late and tired, to find Rene's extensive family, which includes 11 brothers and sisters and their families, who welcomed them with kisses on both cheeks.
Albert, Rene's nephew, was the last person Laura kissed.
"I remember when I kissed him he made this funny little sound like he was tasting a good piece of cake. I thought that was kind of interesting." Later that evening she caught him looking at her and thought: This could be trouble.
After drinking shots of "gout" or French moonshine, Laura figured everyone would turn in, after all it was 1 a.m. Au contraire, the party was just beginning and the group went dancing.
"When Albert and I danced, we felt a definite connection," Laura said. He kissed her good night, and she went to her room thinking: "No, no, no. I'm on vacation." The next two weeks they were together every day.
Never mind that neither spoke a word of the other's language. "I had a little blue Berlitz French-English dictionary I wore out." They took long walks on the beach, stole kisses and held hands under the table to avoid the family's razzes. A few days later he invited her to his place, where he made her dinner, and they, uh, talked.
The next day, she said to Vivian, "I don't know what to do. I don't want this to go too far."
To which Vivian said what any good hairdresser would: "He's a nice guy. You're on vacation. Enjoy yourself."
And just what was he thinking? Here's a woman who's only in town for two weeks. She doesn't speak the language. She lives on the other side of the world. Albert responded with the most beautiful French words ever spoken. Avec l'amour tout est possible. With love all is possible.
When he arranged for her to meet his mother, (Rene's sister), to whom--for reasons still undisclosed--he hadn't spoken in some time, Laura, who was getting quite adept at reading body language, figured Albert had said something. His mother grabbed her and immediately started showing her the family photos and her heirloom needlepoint. The last two days of the vacation Laura and Albert spent in, where else, Paris, the city of love. As their time together came to a close, they talked in their halting way about the future and agreed that they wanted to be together.
"Believe me," said Laura, who lives in Simi Valley and works as a product manager for a semiconductor company in Calabasas, "the thought of bagging my job and home and never returning crossed my mind, but neither of us are that impulsive."
Instead, that night back in Paris, they lay on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower, looking up until the tower's lights went off at 1 a.m.
The next day at the airport, Bob, a former American serviceman (who, not incidentally, while stationed in France, met Rene when he and his Army buddies were driving by in a Jeep and saw her making crepes. She waved, prompting "the U-turn that changed my life"), was marshaling the vacation troop back to the States. He told Laura, "Now you can't make a big scene at the airport. Just say goodbye and consider this a nice memory." Laura held up until she got on the plane, opened her journal to write and saw that inside Albert had drawn a big heart with their names inside.
Back in the States, she immediately began searching for the best translation software she could find. With it she could type letters in English, and the software would translate them into broken French. When Albert sent her a letter, the same could happen in reverse. They talked, sort of, by phone every Saturday: 10 a.m. her time, 7 p.m. his. "I was trying desperately to learn French. Eventually, after a few weeks I could say: 'Tell me what you did today?' I wanted to understand his life."
Four months later, just before Christmas, Albert came out for three weeks. And on New Year's Eve, as they were getting ready to go to a party, Laura turned around and he was on his knee--a gesture that needed no translation.
Ultimately they chose to live in America, mainly, they concluded, because his work as a landscaper is easier here with the language barrier than her work would be there with the language barrier. Plus, she owned her townhouse while he rented his place, and he had family here, while she had no one else there.
The only real hitch was Albert's two children, now 13 and 15, from a previous marriage. The couple agreed to spend at least three weeks a year with them in France and have them out often. They applied for his fiance visa, which was finally issued in July.
And what about the small fact that even when two married people speak the same language, communication can be a problem? "In some ways it's an advantage because we know there's a barrier," said Laura. "When we feel the other person has said the wrong thing, we can always assume he didn't mean it that way."
But, say Bob and Rene, who were in the same situation--minus the computer--38 years ago and who have learned each other's language, what the couple most need they have--patience. "We still get stuck," says Bob. "We may be saying the same word, but it has a different meaning to each of us, and we don't always arrive at the same understanding at the same time." Sounds like most marriages, actually.
But, says Albert, who left the only town he's ever lived in, his job of 20 years and most of his belongings, "the best part of America is finding the woman I love."
"At our age," says Laura, "we'd be foolish not to try."
Do you have a joyful event coming up? We will report on selected special moments in the lives of Southern Californians. Write Celebrations, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, fax to (213) 237-4888, or e-mail to email@example.com. Include your name and telephone number.