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Serendipity Moment and a Paris Legend

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Travel Serendipity and a Paris Legend for Across the Cafe Table

Travel serendipity happens all the time, but I’m not sure we are always present enough to recognize it. Which begs the question, is it serendipity if no one is there to see it?

I’ve got a good memory for faces, but I am not so great with names. At times this can be kind of embarrassing. Firstly because I often can’t remember people’s names that I have no business not knowing. Almost equally as bad is when I run smack into someone I remember from a breakfast buffet or an elevator in a big place like Manhattan. Our eyes meet and it is apparent they have no memory of me.

Making up for all that are the occasions when upon meeting the eyes of a stranger, there is a light of recognition. Everyone seems to know this light when they see and feel it, and sometimes this recognition even occurs between people who have never met. This kind of serendipity doesn’t only happen when traveling, but I do think it is more likely. Strangers end up chatting the night away, lifelong friends are made, futures are changed.

One of my favorite serendipitous travel meetings was in Paris. My husband, infant daughter and I were staying at the Le Grand Intercontinental Hotel next to the Paris Opera and where the famous Café de la Paix is located. The cafe at the time (probably still is) was a lively and glamorous people-watching spot and the kind of place I could sit for hours and be happy. There is a legend surrounding Café de la Paix that says if you sit at one of their sidewalk tables long enough, you will see someone you know.

We watched the hordes of tourists, fashion models, businessmen and ladies with shopping bags from nearby Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, waltz, swagger and rush by. I spotted Paulette in the crowd at the same time she saw me. She had been my French teacher, which I know doesn’t sound all that spectacular, but I hadn’t seen her in almost two years. Add to that the fact that she was from Burgundy but currently residing in The Netherlands, and we were currently residing in the northeast corner of France, and we’ve got ourselves a pretty good coincidence.

We air-kissed cheeks and made introductions, and proceeded with an entire dialogue that I’m pretty sure was almost directly plucked from one of my French dialogue cassettes (yes, cassettes – this was a long time ago.) Just as she did when I was her student, she refused to speak a word of English, and for that I was grateful. For those few serendipitous moments, I belonged in Paris and Paris belonged to me, among the lively and glamorous.

Photo via flickr Fabio Penna

This post is for Across the Cafe Table, our monthly cafe chat on The Travel Belles.

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About the author

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at

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