I have to go see about a girl.” Do you remember Matt Damon’s line at the end of Good Will Hunting? This week, I get to be in the movie. Like Will Hunting, I have to go see about a girl. The girl’s name is New York City. In the French language, all cities are girls, “la ville,” but even if they weren’t, I would have still thought of New York as female. A complex, colorful, and resilient girl. Always surprising. Exciting. Unforgettable.

New York City and I have been friends for a really long time. In 1981, a wide-eyed 18-year old French girl flew in from Greensboro, NC, with her American host family. What a high school graduation trip that was! Three weeks in the United States, including field trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City. My American pen pal and I wrote for three years before I came over. Once we met on this side of the pond, we did not get along. I was disappointed, but it did not really matter. Her parents and siblings could not have been more welcoming. I owe them big time. Moore family, Greensboro, N.C. Merci, wherever you are! A lifelong habit of building international friendships started that summer. One of the highlights of the New York trip was my first Broadway show, Pirates of Penzance, with the original cast, Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Estelle Parsons. What a rollicking good time we had! There would be many more special moments in New York over the following 30 years.

Fast forward a few years. I returned during the summer of 1987, after completing part of my college education in Atlanta GA in 1984-1985, where more friendships were born. By 1987, I was back in Paris, working on my Master’s Thesis and, as an English Major, had elected to research a popular American novelist, John Irving. Mr Irving had gained international acclaim with The World According to Garp, his fourth novel, published in 1978.

By 1987, he had added two more bestsellers to his growing body of work, the Hotel New Hampshire (1981) and the Cider House Rules (1985.) When I started taking a closer look at his novels, he had become a household name. It was said that the author could have pursued an acting career thanks to his good looks and charismatic personality.

The famous Time magazine cover:
John Irving enters the Big Leagues in 1981

Irving did dabble in movies, and at least three of his books were adapted successfully to the big screen. In The Cider House Rules movie adaptation, Dr. Larch, magistrally interpreted by Michael Caine, remains my favorite Irving character. By the mid-1980s, Irving stood out in the literary world for being respected as a serious writer while being promoted “like a rock star.”  How? This begged further investigation.

Dr Larch to his orphans :
“Good night, you Princes of Maine; you Kings of New England!”

In January 1987, I contacted a good friend I had met in college in Atlanta. She had since graduated and worked in the fashion industry in Manhattan. I told her I intended to meet some of Mr Irving’s publishers and asked if I could stay with her for a few days. She agreed, and the days turned into three weeks. During that time, I was fortunate enough to land meetings with several publishing houses, including the prestigious Random House and Pocket Books. 

Random House, New York City
(Photo credit: Samantha Casalori)

I could not believe my luck: That summer, I lived (and commuted) like a New Yorker for several weeks. Every day, I left my friend’s apartment in New Jersey and took the train to Manhattan; met interesting people who had, at one point or another, worked with John Irving and had enjoyed the experience so much, they enthusiastically granted me access to their files and archives. Then I would grab a quick lunch; go over pages and pages of notes (no laptops in 1987) and, as my reward, spent long afternoons walking everywhere in Manhattan. I remember getting lost on purpose, riding the Subway and stepping off along the line to discover a new neighborhood.

Commuting in Paris or New York: same difference, to this French Girl!

I fell in love with New York City that summer and have not recovered since. If you read this, “Cui-Cui,” thank you. I have not forgotten what you did for me then. There were other trips, of course, the last one two or three years ago when I returned during a beautiful week in April with Junior. We hit many tourist spots. I was pleased to see Junior – who lives in American suburbia – embracing the big city as enthusiastically as I did, so many years ago. He is his mother’s son, after all.

“If I can make it [here], I can make it anywhere!”
Junior in Central Park

New York Subway? Paris Metro? No problem!

Yes, I have to go see about a girl, my old friend, New York City. This has been a rough 10 years. Battered and wounded, she is still standing, and I will be happy to see her again in a few days.

One incredible skyline

Oui, I am looking forward to seeing you, New York City. My bag is almost ready. It has been far too long.

A très bientôt, mon amie.

Junior et Maman in New York City, 2009
Travel Essentials, by French Girl in Seattle

Most photos in this post by Savoye Images.

To read more about this trip to New York City, visit this story, and this one too.

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