The lady is adept at spreading happiness

During the time I've been settled in Vienne, I've met a fair number of characters and eccentrics. But now comes a notable addition to the list - a little lady who has a talent for bringing happiness to others.

During the time I've been settled in Vienne, I've met a fair number of characters and eccentrics. But now comes a notable addition to the list - a little lady who has a talent for bringing happiness to others.

Born in Berlin, grew up in Italy, for years lived in Mexico, much travelled, twice married. Came to live (almost by chance) in Vienne about 16 years ago. These are but the commas of a life. They fail to illuminate a personality who, at the age of 83, still lives in vivacious independence.

In a small town not far from Poitiers, she lives in a medieval house, 500 years old, which snuggles down comfortably among its neighbours. The front faces the road, with a pottery severed head sighing quietly on an upper window ledge. The back elevation looks contentedly on to an enchanting little garden, which in turn runs naturally into a conjunction of little green oases attached to neighbouring cottages.

Henrietta (a good strong aristocratic name) opens the door with a dazzling smile and an enveloping Welcome in a musical mix of accents. "I am," she tells us later, "a professional mover".


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Only the day before, she'd hosted a lunch party for 40 people. She apologised to us for serving the remains of the day - and delicious they were, with Moroccan rice heading the honours list. Now, to business. What is this business about making people happy, you may well ask? Tarry a moment, and all will be revealed.

As she has grown older, Henrietta explains, she has become increasingly attracted by the idea of promoting joy where unhappiness rules. "I have a good intuition about people. If you don't have that gift, then you can't do it."

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Nonetheless, she is the first to admit that chance and coincidence can play a role.

Over lunch, she tells a typical story. "Seven years ago, I had gone early to bed. I slept quickly. Then I came awake, suddenly. I had heard a voice. A voice I hadn't heard for years. I was out of bed in a moment. I just had to check to see if his name was still in the New York phonebook. It was."

The next morning she telephoned him, and he was delighted to hear from her. He had not been having an easy time of late and was very low and depressed. He invited Henrietta to lunch the following day, and she heard that his wife was suffering from terminal Alzheimer's.

The best thing for the moment was to cheer up Jim, decided Henrietta, by meeting nice people - and going to a good party. She telephoned an old friend and fixed an invitation. Jim sat at dinner beside a woman, not young but still beautiful, with whom he soon became deep in conversation. They met again. Age was put aside - they were in love.

Jim's wife died, and after a suitable delay he married his new love. Soon afterwards he wrote to Henrietta with a special thank you: "You have changed my life".

Another story, another place - to a handsome Vienne château. A banquet was being hosted by a distinguished lady-of-the-manor. Among the staff that night was a girl whose job was to look after the children, but who had been drafted to help out in the great dining room. As guests were taking their seats, it was noted that one chair was empty. La patronne directed the girl to take the seat.

She found herself beside a man of wealth and property. By the end of dinner, they knew that their futures lay strongly with each other. Later they married.

Now all these stories may well have a strong whiff of Hollywood saccharine. But I rather fancy that Henriette has been telling me how she saw it.

Take the tale of how she came to this part of France. She'd been living in a rented property near Geneva. She liked it very much, but the contract was coming to an end. A friend knew of something very similar, which he thought she would appreciate.

Into her mind came images of a children's game, Roasted Chicken - all about making your dreams come true. "I said to myself: 'If I don't buy the house now, I shall never have it."

The plunge was taken, which transferred her from Geneva to Vienne, an area of France she didn't know and where she knew nobody. She was also 73 years old. But her zeal was - and still is - working strong. Her parties are famous. Now everybody knows her - and admires her ability to draw in new faces, new names and new links.

cvr_in_france@hotmail.com

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