Multiplying Coincidences

You know how there are some things that line up too well that convince you that not only is the universe intelligent, but that she’s messing with you? Or that world events are scripted and the writers are getting lazy? Why is it that fiction has to be plausible, but reality doesn’t have to be? I’ve been feeling like that lately, usually when I read the news. Sometimes it happens in so-called real life. Several months ago, Mark and I were in a Belleville jazz bar that we’re fond of. There was an American woman singing there that night. We’d not heard of her, but an acquaintance of ours (the woman who had initially recommended the bar to us) told us she was going and that she thought it would be a good show. We arrived early, as usual because it can get quite crowded and we like to have a planche (a cutting board filled with various cured meats and cheeses which makes an ample dinner) with our wine. The singer was standing at the table perpendicular to ours, introducing the older couple sitting there to a younger man. She told the younger man that the older couple were friends of hers who had chucked it all, loaded up a couple of suitcases, moved to Paris just over a year ago, and were currently living in the 11th. Familiar story, right? When the younger man left, I tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “I think we need to meet”. Friends, meet Joel and Tish.

We met for coffee a couple of days later and have been hanging out regularly ever since. It turns out that not only do they live a stone’s throw from us, but that Tish was also an herbalist and had studied with another well-know teacher and we knew people in common. Sure, crap-ditching American expats living in Paris are a dime a dozen, but crap-ditching herbalists? Ok, maybe that’s just a nice coincidence, let’s see if I can up the ante.

My dear friend Joan has a high school friend, Sheila, who has been living in Paris since graduating from Rutgers university in the early 60’s. That would be enough to make Sheila super cool in my eyes, but on top of that she has done the much needed and monumental work of a new and unabridged English translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. That makes her a feminist hero in my book. She’s actually the co-translator, along with her good friend Connie, a fellow student at Rutgers, who move to Paris at the same time as Sheila. I’d read excerpts of the original translation at school, which was done in the 1950s by a man who was a zoologist, not a philosopher. As you can imagine, it was lacking in nuance, not to mention the entire sections that were left out, at the behest of the publisher from what I’d heard. Sheila and Connie were going to be giving a talk about their collaboration at the American Library. I asked my friend and French conversation partner Janine if she would like to go. Janine and I met through a site called Conversation Exchange which is essentially a message board for people wanting to improve their language skills either through face-to-face meetings, via Skype, or even simply writing. We’ve been meeting for coffee weekly for over a year now and we sometimes go to English language events together. The lecture at the library was an interesting conversation with an animated Q and A, but Janine seemed distracted, which is quite unlike her. She was looking at her email. When it was over and we were going up to introduce ourselves to Sheila, Janine said, I think Connie is a friend of my American friend Chris. Chris is Janine’s language exchange pen pal who lives in New York. They’ve been writing each other for several years and visiting when they happen to be in the same country. Seriously? Sure enough, in her email was a picture of Connie and her daughter. So the two of us are friends of friends of the two friends who collaborated to translate The Second Sex.


Meeting up with Sheila at her incredible flat in the Latin Quarter

I love living the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Now I want to collect stories for Oh, The People You’ll Know! How about you? Any good tales of coincidence?

P.S. I just heard from a friend who told me G. K. Chesterton called coincidences “spiritual puns” !  Isn’t that marvelous!