I met my husband in a hotel lobby in Montevideo, Uruguay on my 27th birthday. We were browsing the lobby stores because the hotel’s only elevator was broken. We hailed from different continents and were both on delayed business trips, which made meeting on yet another continent beshert. He thought I was a local girl from Uruguay and I thought he, a European businessman, was attractive with an accent. By the time they fixed the elevator, we had invited each other for dinner.
Work friends were taking me out for my birthday; when they picked me up, they were surprised at my speed in rounding out the dinner party.
At a restaurant on the Rio Plata, bordering Argentina, we spoke a mix of languages made fluent by champagne. He claimed he spoke English and that my Spanish had a Long Island accent. He laughed at my jokes as if he understood me. We danced to a Beatles cover band. A sense of humor and a dancer: very good.
We discovered that we both meant to spend the weekend in Rio since our respective flights stopped there on the way home to Brussels (him) and New York (me).
I got there first but was in Brazil for a moment when airport security whisked me into an interrogation room. Apparently. Brazil had changed its policy for U.S. visitors and we now needed visas. I wasn’t allowed into Brazil. I had to go straight home. I didn’t know the European businessman’s name or where he was staying in Rio.
Back in New York, I grabbed the Manhattan Yellow Pages, reasoning that he was probably in a French hotel. Parker-Meridien’s global reservations center patched me through to Rio. I asked, “May I speak to the Belgian?”
I thought they would identify him by the Belgian passport he’d leave at reception. I woke him at 3 am.
I had one issue in our international connection and that was that I could not remember his name. He let me call him Marcel for a while in calls and letters before he finally wrote to me that his name was Michel. He’d found the error cute because Marcel was his pet monkey’s name when he was a boy in the Belgian Congo. I liked his civil restraint and his sense of humor at my expense.
His family accepted mine with an openness I had not expected. They watched us marry under the chuppah and attended both our sons’ Bar Mitzvahs in New York.
We got married at the New York Parker-Meridien as a double rainbow arched over Central Park. My parents thought my grandparents were looking down at us. We felt tuned to the presence of family blessings.
Lisa and Michel Delafontaine will celebrate their 30th anniversary this fall. They live in Westchester County in a house with a labor-of-love garden and often think of Candide’s creed to “make our garden grow” as he and Cunegonde also stopped in Montevideo. They enjoy traveling with their two grown sons. Michel joined Lisa in the temple choir after years of sitting in the fan club. She applauds his efforts to sing in Hebrew.