J’aime la France


Photos Courtesy of Johanna Saldyt

The travel bug has been killing me lately. Although I don’t really have anything huge on the slate anytime soon, I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough friends who are currently traveling or will be traveling in the near future. Besides Matt and Karen sailing around the world, I have friends who will soon be traveling to Costa Rica, France, Spain, Canada, Syria and Morocco. Being able to at least hear their stories temporarily keeps me from quitting my job, selling my house and car and striking out with nothing more than my backpack, camera and a penchant for adventure. Okay, maybe that’s an extreme scenario, but don’t think it hasn’t played out in my mind a zillion times over.

This morning I went downstairs here in my office building to talk to a friend about something totally non-work related….actually about borrowing a hat for Donna to wear this weekend at an event we are attending. Anyhow, she, Johanna, is without a doubt one of my favorite and most well-traveled friends. In fact she’s getting ready to leave to Spain/Morocco in the next few weeks and of course we had to talk about that after we finished talking about hats. Blah, blah, blah, eventually through our circuitous conversations she told me a story about a guy from her neighbourhood that she’d recently met and who is now painting the inside of her house (which is another story in unto itself since it’s one of the coolest houses around!)

Because I love, love, LOVE this type of story and lifestyle, I had totally forgotten all about the hat request I’d originally gone down to talk about and was now fully engulfed in this awesome tale. As everyone that knows me knows, this type of person is exactly why I travel to faraway places or at least seek out funky places close to home to hang out and meet people. Everyone has a story and most are pretty interesting if we don’t judge first and find out the truth later (or never).

Anyhow, his name is Phillipe, probably in his late 40s and originally comes from Paris (France, not Texas). Johanna explained that he’s a very kind, interesting and humble guy with no car, no phone and in true Bohemian fashion, lives on the garden level of a friend’s house there in the Highlands neighbourhood of Denver (and has for the previous seven years). Get this, if he attends a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater (which is about 15 miles from their neighbourhood), he walks there and back. Grocery shopping? Walks. Errands? Walks. How novel is that? Somebody actually walks these days!! Insert sarcasm and a roll of the eyes here. Anyhow, to add to his coolness, he only wears sandals, even when it snows. Johanna said that when he arrives to work, he kicks off his wet sandals on the porch and fishes dry ones out of his backpack to wear around the house while painting.

Johanna said that Phillipe works for $100 per day. Pretty good given that he has no expenses. But you ask, isn’t living in someone else’s house like sponging off of friends and taking advantage of the kindness of others? At first glance, yep, that’s what the drones of today’s American society would think. But in the world outside the Universe of the United States, things sometimes aren’t always so material or cookie-cutter when it comes to sharing and “paying back”. Again, that’s why I travel! I want to see different ways and means of living. I want to see and experience it all!!

So back to Phillipe and what he contributes. It seems that every Sunday he will invite friends, old and new, to dinner. He treats everyone to a fabulous French dinner complete with all the usual suspects of French Cuisine, especially the pastries, which I naturally only tolerate to be courteous to my French friends. Yeah, right. I could never live in France because I would weigh as much as a Peugeot within a year. Hello, my name is Barry and I love French food! There, I said it.

Anyhow Phillipe invites everyone for the feast that he’s prepared and gets to know people through food, wine, music and relaxed, festive conversation. This is not networking or gratuitous socializing because he doesn’t need material or “status” advancements, only friendships and the associated treasures of human interaction. He gives back through his culinary talents, something he obviously does quite well.

We’ve hosted many, many exchange students over the years. Some from Japan and another from Germany. Absolutely, positively some of the highlights of our entire lives were during their stays with us. And among the most memorable times were when they’d cook their native foods for us a couple of times a week…that and when Yuki sang the most amazing “a capella” solo as a gift to us for letting her stay. Talk about a tear jerking few minutes!! Oh my gosh, that was truly, truly amazing! Anyhow, for them to share their culture and food with us and to trust that we would accept their culture and difference without judgment or prejudice was by far the most flattering and rewarding gift we could have EVER imagined. We still consider Nina, Hitomi, Yuki and Daisuke our own kids.

For Phillipe to prepare meals from the heart and from his sincere appreciation for the graciousness and kindness of others, well, that pretty much tells me that for the people lucky enough to be part of his world, he more than surpasses any monetary expectations the rest of the world may have envisioned might have been required.

Giving of ourselves is a gift that I wish everyone appreciated. I know I appreciate people’s time when they cook a fab meal, host a party or take time to talk. And wouldn’t it be an awesome world if we did nice things for nice people every day, just for the hell of it?

Bravo Phillipe. Viva la France.


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