Eulogy to an Old Friend of the Paris American Community
I had a lot of other things to write about today, but like breaking news, the other tidbits of life in France simply don’t matter as much. The news of someone I’ve known well almost a quarter of a century passing from this earth is the kind of news that shakes one to the core — perhaps not so much of the death itself, something we expect to happen at some time to each and every one of us — but that her absence from our lives took place three weeks ago without anyone noticing.
This is what rocks me out of my seat at this very moment. I’d rather be writing about life, rather than death, but it seems lately that we’re losing some very important members of our American community in Paris that shouldn’t be neglected. At least, I can’t.
Every American in Paris knew Patricia Laplante Collins. There was a time when you first arrived in the City of Light, one of the first things you would do to meet new people was attend one or more of her Paris Soirées (and facebook.com/patricia.laplantecollins).
In turn, she attended almost every one of my Après-Midi events since its inception in 2003, always showing up late and always wearing her favorite color, red.
We hadn’t seen her in a while and we wondered why, but in the haste of our every day lives, we didn’t bother to find out why she was missing. This morning we got word from Parler Paris reader, and American Expat Judy Cascales, who took the time to find out more about Patricia’s disappearance. She wrote: “I was able to contact a friend in Paris and send him Patricia’s former husband’s office address which I used to mail things to her. Today he wrote that Philippe told him that Patricia died ‘about’ twenty days ago. She was dead when she was found by a medical team alone in her apartment. Someone notified the US Embassy who got in touch with Philippe who was ‘shocked.’ The cause was ‘apparently Cerebral and Neurological Diseases.'” I’m not sure what that means, but it doesn’t matter. She’s gone.
Patricia started her soirées in the late 1990s as the “African American Literary Soirées.” That’s when I first met her. A transplanted native of Atlanta, Georgia, she came here to work as an “au pair.” Wanting to stay (like we all did), she needed a way to earn a living. Her bright idea to offer the soirées was a way to do that, but it was also her contribution to the African American community. Almost always held on Sunday evenings, she found a venue (someone else’s apartment or her own) and featured a speaker from the literary community while offering dinner and an opportunity to network. We “honkies” attended to show our support and let’s face it, it was a totally “cool” thing to do. Besides, we were all Americans and it didn’t matter what our color was. That’s just how the American community in Paris was, and still is. We are united as Americans.
Over the years, the event morphed as she dropped both the “African American” part and the “literary” part to broaden the audience and attendance. It grew to great success and remained that way for many years. In later years, as Patricia’s health started to fail, it had its ups and downs. There was a time when Patricia would cram about 70 people into her tiny two-room Ile Saint-Louis apartment, barely able to move thanks to its popularity. She lived in several different apartments over the years, always moving the soirée with her, along with her huge refrigerators and dozens of stacking stools. Towards the end, when she was relegated to social housing, and had to give up her big black Labrador Retriever, “Eve,” she would hold the soirées in restaurants.
If you were new to Paris, you were at Patricia’s soirées. Some attendees were regulars and wouldn’t miss a single event. She would single-handedly serve up a multi-course dinner she had cooked herself, while we’d be juggling the dinner on a plastic plate in one hand, a plastic cup of cheap wine in the other, exchanging business cards and getting to know one another. It was a challenge, but it was fun. The little stools were distributed so we’d find a place to land and at some point in the evening, she would openly introduce each and every one of us.
That was the most amazing part of the evening. Patricia could remember every single person’s name, where they came from, what they did and something special about them she wanted us to know. How she could do that always amazed me. Without hesitation, she’d suggest that this person over there in that corner connect with that person over there in the other corner because they needed to know one another for some odd reason. Thousands of friends were made. Many romances began. I am certain there were lots of weddings as a result, and certainly a lot of business done, too.
She always had a speaker. I spoke at several of them, on different topics. Once I talked about the restaurant guide I had written (“The Leeds Good Value Guide to Paris Restaurants” was the first online restaurant guide to Paris sold on the Internet in 1996!). Another time I spoke about learning French and the French-English Conversation Group I was co-hosting (“Parler Parlor,” that was started in 1998 and lasted 20 years). A third occasion was about finding and buying property in Paris. She could always count on me to talk about something…anything. Her speakers were always interesting.
When I first started Après-Midi, she felt it was competitive with her own soirées and shunned me for a while. Being a straight-shooter, I confronted her and explained that together we could make both of our ventures grow — that our synergy was more powerful than any rivalry. She was quick to understand and within moments we were co-promoting one another and helping each other build our attendance. From that point on, Patricia was loyal and faithful to the cause. As I said in the beginning, she attended almost every single Après-Midi over all the years, but I sadly cannot say the same for myself attending hers, and now feel ashamed to admit it.
Patricia shared her birthdate with my daughter: October 1st. What year she was born, I don’t know. Every year, she would send birthday wishes to Erica, as I would send them to her. But, I don’t know who Patricia’s real friends were. In fact, I’m not sure she had too many. There were regular attendees to the events who might take the title and I do know who those people are, but don’t have a clue as to their relationship with her outside of the soirées. Perhaps Judy Cascales, who went to the trouble of finding her recent whereabouts, was one of them.
In Patricia’s own words, “I discovered that it’s so important to have deep feelings for someone and to feel in love…To feel intensely alive and not like a machine” – Patricia
I will never forget the incredible contribution she made to the Paris American Community, having been responsible for thousands of wonderful relationships generated by her own good deeds. And to think that she left us with very few relationships of her own, or in such a way that her passing went unnoticed, is unthinkable.
How did we let that happen? May you rest in peace, Patricia. There are thousands of us out there that love you and will miss you.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Patricia, October 6, 2004)