Her name was Janet Lanou and although a nun, was the classiest woman walking the halls of Nardin Academy. Lanou was Parisian and probably from a wealthy family as evident from her designer clothes, elegant shoes and elite manner. The Daughters if the Immaculate Heart of Mary were originally a secret society bred during the French Revolution who were permitted to wear ordinary clothes in order to minister to the sick and dying with out being “guillotined” for their beliefs.
Janet Lanou stood out from the Irish nuns like an escargot in a dish of Irish stew, and so did her teaching techniques. The ladies at Nardin were the holiest of saints, and outstanding teachers, but Janet Lanou was the epitome of the learned college professor leading the students in a course destined for a PHD. She was thorough, highly detailed, and above all, passionate in her portrayal of Jesus Christ in the first year religion class, - one of the many elements that completely changed my life.
The first words I ever heard from this French sister were “Assayez-vous” as she motioned us to sit down and then “Levez-vous” miming us to rise where we were taught the “Ave” in French, “Je vous salue Marie” which I remember to this day.
Ah to be French, to be elegant, to know what Paris is like, to be as accomplished as this beautiful lady (and amazingly brilliant) was the reason I have emulated this holy “goddess” my entire life. Years later, when I heard she had left the order and was working as a counselor in a Veteran’s Hospital in New York, I called to say “hello” I barely rolled one word out of my mouth before she cut in with “I know who you are Bernadine (how she remembered my voice from thousands of former students I’ll never know).
The first step in becoming a “Lanou” clone was in studying French—to a degree where I could speak it fluently (not just grammar please). I then planned a visit to this magical place, which became a lifelong desire. I continued to study French my entire life, reading the French bible everyday, joining the Alliance Française and taking class at Canisius college. It was an endless obsession. I think I even prayed to Janet Lanou (she must be in heaven right now) to help. My production of “Paris 1920” and the research involved with authentic people and places involved in that era even accelerated my ardent desire, however, work, family, finances have a way of holding up our dreams, -yet they never seem to go away. My children were actually sick of my repeated “Someday I’m going to Paris” wish and when able, one of my children made it happen.
My son Mark, a world-traveler via the US Army (taught in many countries throughout the world) , gave me a ticket to that “City of Light”. “Mom” he said in a phone call, “You always said you wanted to go to Paris so set the date, Your ticket is paid for.”
“Janet Lanou, here I come” I thought and actually ‘floated’ for days before that big gray bird took me away. Spending endless hours on the internet to find the right arrondissement , hotel, memorizing streets, maps, places of interest only accelerated my anticipation.
With maps, cameras and French beret in hand, I landed at De Gaulle where I headed for the first bus to the Eiffel tower. Heavy suitcases and an unknown hotel would not deter the first thing I wanted to see. -Big mistake—trudging along the streets and up long stairways loaded with souvenirs was not easy. The first time I got into trouble was illegally filming from the elevator at the Eiffel, but by then I already had shot most of details of this architectural genius to show my artist son John, but later, I was really in trouble with a capital “T” I was lost in a myriad of tentacles in the metro with signs going everywhere, (I hadn’t located my hotel yet), and believe me if I couldn’t speak French, I would be there to this day trying to locate Rue Magenta”. Later, in visiting the Louvre, a group of American visitors asked if they could take my picture, (thinking I was a real Parisian). In the very best accent I could muster, I replied, “ ah mai out,Certainement”! ( I shall always wear a beret in Paris).
The usual “visitor’ highlights were more than one could handle on a plate of merely six days, but the “frosting” on the cake was an unexpected treat. “Saint” Janet Lanou must have put in a special word for me for I noticed on the hotel bulletin that the last night of my stay was the same evening of the opening of a two year collaboration of artists from all over Europe to produce “Les Enfants du Paradis”, a ballet/drama of the remake of the famous street mime movie of the thirties. Sitting in a red-velvet chair close to the stage in a setting worthy of heaven itself, (cherubs, pilasters, marble walls and floors, and an enormous Marc Chagall painting on the ceiling, I bathed in the most glorious production of live theater I have ever experienced. It was here all the great artists of Europe performed—If walls could speak,I would have heard Anna Pavlova telling Nijinsky he was a hot-headed Russian!
I “walked” with Janet Lanou across the bridges of the Seine, down the entire Champs Élysées, Through the hall of mirrors at Versailles, the palaces and museums, the enormous churches and parks., and reveled in it all, but thanks to the influence on on Janet Lanou, a teacher and human being of great inspiration, I shared the heart of the people where she came from; people whose “quest for freedom” of the human spirit led to the event which changed the world, the French Revolution. It was there that the spirit of the Daughters of Mary was born to minster to downtrodden men and women. The Free spirit of the French changed the world. The spirit of Janet Lanou changed my life.