By Monica Fredette (With input from Yves Fredette)
I met the love of my life on March 10, 2007 at Le Festival de la Francophonie at Chicago’s Alliance Française.
It all started with a look at current events in a “Time Out Chicago” magazine while awaiting my hairdresser, Parto Nadiri. As I searched for upcoming events, I circled quite a few things of interest, but quickly honed in on the French event since I felt very at ease using my language skills learned in college and while studying in France.
At the time, it was a $15 ticket and I had a few friends who I thought would join me for an evening celebrating a culture I loved. Unfortunately, none of my friends were free that night. It was only due to my mother’s insistence that I go (because I had reported many wonderful experiences with FAC in NYC), that I braved it alone.
On that night, I decided to wear a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress because when I called to find out the dress code, a gentlemen at the Alliance responded: “Madame, the ambassador of Haiti will be in attendance!”
So in I went with my navy Inès de la Fressange wool swing coat and high heels. No one at the desk informed me that there was a coat room after I checked in, so up the staircase I went. It seemed like a much bigger and wider staircase than in reality, but I was nervous about who I would see once I got to the top of the stairs. I figured I would leave if I felt uncomfortable.
My eyes instantly caught sight of a very handsome man standing close to the top of the stairs. It was obvious, I was out of place in my coat, and without hesitation, I said (as Polly Platt of “Savoir Flair” would have suggested): excuse me, sir, but where is the coat check?" Of course, she would have advised me to say “excusez-moi, Monsieur, mais où se trouve le vestiaire?”
My husband apparently winked at the man with whom he was chatting (confident he would spend the rest of the evening talking to me), and whisked me down the stairs to help me with my coat. I guess he did not want to be presumptive that I wanted to go back to the party with him, so he left me on my own after hanging my coat….
Back up the staircase I went. For no reason other than it was the first
room on the right, I walked into Canada. It turns out my husband is a French Canadian, and he seemed to be on his way out as I walked in. I made the visit brief, then entered the Switzerland room across the hall and got in line for my all time favourite thing, La Raclette. There was the heavenly nutty fragrance of the melted gruyere cheese that they were sliding onto boiled potatoes and serving with cornichons pickles, cocktail onions, a dash of paprika, and a glass of white wine – an incredibly seductive combination! (I don’t ski, but am told this is what everyone eats in the mountains après-ski).
Even more seductive was the man who had helped me with my coat had reappeared in line behind me! All I know is we never took our eyes off one another the rest of the evening. We went back at least 2 more times for more raclette. We conversed about all the ways his French name was spelled throughout history: Fradet, Fradette, Fredette, Frédette….and he wrote all spellings on a Romanian Consulate card (another guest at this event). Then he wrote down 2 of his phone numbers and an e-mail! We perused a table full of French books for sale, and I bought “Lisa in York,” which I still have on our bookshelf. Throughout the night, we spoke French.
Eventually, he offered to walk me home. It was a beautiful night as we slowly strolled toward Chicago Ave. Not far from the Alliance is Holy Name Cathedral, which we saw as we approached the corner of Chicago and State. I told Yves that Holy Name was my church. He said he went there, too! Who knew that in 2008, we would be getting married at that very church?!
Just this past week, we went for our 10th year in a row to Le Festival de la Francophonie. It happened to fall on the exact day we met 10 years ago! The funny thing is that my husband had been going to this particular event on and off for 10 years prior to me showing up. Guess luck was on my side that night as it was my first time going.
We cannot thank the Alliance enough for their dedication to bringing all French cultures together for this special night and for all the cultural events they host throughout the year. We have met so many interesting people with whom we connect based on our shared love of the French language, French food, film, cooking, literature, decorative arts lectures, etc. We feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have this cultural institution within walking distance from home. It has transformed our lives! Thank You Alliance Française for making our lives better!!!