In 2002, 5 years before the release of the movie “The Bucket List,” I composed a list of things I wanted to do before leaving this world. Near the top of the list were: Write a book about my ancestor Jeanne Chevalier, Fille du Roi; learn French; and live for at least six months in France. Well, 15 years later, I am sitting at the table in my little house in Dieppe, France, having written the book on Jeanne in English and now working to get it translated into French. I am still struggling with my French, but I must be making progress thanks to 3 years of French lessons, 3 weeks of intensive French in Rouen, and several trips to France and Quebec for research.
Getting to France this time, getting settled for my year here in Dieppe, and getting the book on Jeanne published in French have all been much more complicated than expected. Even leaving Boston this past January was made more difficult and almost didn’t happen as planned because I, of course, had to bring my beloved, but quite ornery, cat with me. That decision and some newly-published changes in regulations regarding the importation of animals into France caused panic just four days before our scheduled departure from Boston. There were a lot of anxious moments over last-minute correspondence with the American and French authorities to arrange an exception. The authorization came through 24 hours before departure, but brought with it a special “welcome” and inspection at the airport in Paris, more paperwork, and several visits with a vet here in Dieppe.
Then there have been delays and complications in arranging for Internet and telephone service, acquiring a French bank account, and securing final approval for my long stay visa. But my cat and I are now legally here; I have found a good church community and yoga class, have my bus pass and library card, and can find my way around and up and down the cliffs of Dieppe. I can now concentrate on the translation and publication of the book on Jeanne in French.
It will all work out, I believe – most of the time. I love Dieppe, despite the ever changing weather. Jeanne and the majority of other women sent by Louis XIV to Quebec to populate the colony, left France from Dieppe. I do feel her spirit here when I visit St. Jacques church or the chateau, or walk the cobblestone streets of old Dieppe. When I stare at the pastel-colored water of the English Channel, I try to imagine what it was like to climb aboard that ship and embark on the weeks-long journey toward an unknown future in New France. I know a lot more now about Jeanne than I did four years ago on my first visit to Dieppe, but there are some questions that remain. One of them, and the one I am working at the moment, is “how, when and why Jeanne left Coutances and moved to Dieppe!”