By Amy Capron
Carla met the love of her life Nicholas when abroad for a year studying the great museums of Europe and traveling on a Eurorail pass. One sunny crisp afternoon, she was sketching in the Tuileries gardens after visiting the Louvre. It was perfect fall weather, soon to change as the leaves were turning red, orange and yellow.
Stopping to admire her sketches, Nicholas flirted with her in such an obvious manner. “Quelle beauté,” he exclaimed, although it wasn’t clear if he was referring to Carla or her drawings.
Neither of them would speak the same language for some time. Their language of love needed no words – they got by on gestures and drawings used as hieroglyphics. Eventually, after months of pillow talk, by far the best total-immersion language course available, they both became fluent in each other’s native tongue.
When Carla had enough of Paris, and warmer geography beckoned, she moved on to museums of Naples, hoping to improve her drawing technique by sketching ancient sculptures and nudes. Nic just came along. After which, he never left her side.
In Naples, they celebrated Christmas, followed by New Year’s. They stayed in hostels and met other young people from around the world. They ate lentil soup, an Italian tradition to ring in the New Year as it symbolizes good luck, fortune and prosperity, the lentils being seen like coins.
They were told to be careful of walking too close to open windows on the 31st, La Festa di San Silvestro. The Italians have a dangerous way of celebrating by throwing whatever they can get their hands on out the windows. Sometimes this might be small appliances and even furniture! The act of getting rid of unwanted items through the window is a metaphor for moving onto the new and out with the old, all made the more hazardous by how difficult it was to navigate on the streets as the atmosphere was thick with smoke from the fireworks.
Nic would follow Carla to her sleepy little Southern California coastal paradise, Laguna Beach, reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast. She would always say “French lover” even after marriage and living decades together. It was very European of her to keep their relationship spicy and romantic.
Traditionally, they would go out for a local Italian meal for New Year’s. Salerno’s or Ristorante Rumari to Alessa and sometimes Romeo Cucina. Later, when they were really feeling festive, they dined at Oliver’s Osteria. Afterward, they would snuggle at Main Beach to watch fireworks.
Carla made modest sales as a plein air artist. She could often be seen at Heisler Park or Woods Cove with her portable easel, her paint smudged clothing and her hair up in an old-fashioned chignon to keep it from her face.
After many years together, Nicholas passed away from Covid-19. Grieving, Carla threw herself into her painting with fervor. Her art was the only thing that made sense and kept her going. Unfortunately, money was running out, and the small savings they had managed to put aside dwindled. She downsized to a tiny house in the canyon on Fairywood Lane where the prices were slightly more affordable.
At Christmas, she was feeling quite desperate seeing her bank account decrease. With the recession, the local galleries were struggling. Collectors were no longer buying as before.
Carla hopelessly scanned her emails, noticing one from a French insurance company she didn’t recognize. It stated Nic had taken out a policy decades ago. They had been looking for her for a while. It would be her New Year’s miracle, just in the nick of time.
Amy Schwarzstein-Capron is a Lagunatic and francophile who loves to read, cook and lawn bowl while enjoying her family and friends.