Today’s post focuses on Renia’s best friend and her boss in The Forgetting Flower. These two characters’ relationship sets the foundation for the novel. One’s death launches the story. You’ll see why they were friends and how they came to be who they are.
Best Friend Alain Tolbert
Alain is an event planner who regularly orders flower arrangements from Le Sanctuaire, the plant shop that Renia manages. He works for large charity organizations and the National Orchestra of France, planning large receptions, award ceremonies, and auctions. Alain was born in Orléans and was educated in a prestigious music academy before working intermittently as a violinist. As an adult, he came to Paris with his partner who was an oboe player. Though eventually the relationship fizzled out, Alain found work in the social functions related to the symphony, moreso than musical work, which was tutoring and performing. Eventually, he opened his own event planning business. Through his work for the orchestra, he met his partner, François, who was a cellist in the symphony.
Across the Street from Le Sanctuaire
Because Alain lived across the street from a flower shop in Paris, he found he could easily order arrangements from the shop owner, Valentina Palomer. To Alain, Palomer was a chatty, self-absorbed but kind-hearted woman who was extremely talented at making fanciful floral creations. She priced the arrangements modestly compared to other florists and delivered the arrangements to the sites, which was convenient. And so, Alain and Palomer became not only business colleagues but close acquaintances as Palomer often moved in the wealthier circles that Alain worked in. The two liked to gossip about the personalities in those circles and sometimes enjoyed a glass of wine together at Le Sanctuaire.
When Palomer hired a young Polish woman to manage Le Sanctuaire, Alain was delighted. The shop had been going stale in its inventory. Palomer had been focusing on flower arranging, which due to health issues, she often did at home. The young Pole, Renia, immediately repainted the outside of the shop, enlarged the plant inventory, created lush displays outside, and carried the latest natural soaps and cloths. Alain thought her talented and the young woman’s artistic eye impressed him. He particularly liked her botanical sketches and even sold a couple to his clients for her. That they both knew Palomer’s quirky, self-centered ways brought them even closer. Occasionally the two went, with François, to dinner and the movies.
Her Boss, Madame Valentina Palomer
Valentina Palomer was born right as World War II ended. She grew up the daughter of a military officer and homemaker near an air base outside of Marseille. This gave her an appreciation for France as a nation and the military specifically. In fact, during the Algerian War of the late 1950s when she was a teenager, she briefly volunteered as a nurse at the base. She helped treat wounded soldiers who’d just returned from the Algerian battlefield. Seeing the many wounded soldiers left a deep impression on her. She resented what she saw as the Algerians’ ferocity and longed for peace in France.
Later, as a young woman at university in Marseille, she met a Greek businessman and married. He was twelve years older than she and financially well established. As he was an importer of Mediterranean antiques, the two relocated to Paris to more easily carry out transactions with his wealthy clients. She assisted with his import business until she opened a gift shop featuring their smaller imported wares in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. By the two’s late middle age, her husband suffered a heart attack and died, leaving Palomer with more debt than she’d realized the two had had. It took her years to recover from the debt and nearly attain the financial comfort the two had earlier enjoyed.
As Palomer had never had children by choice, she threw herself into her gift shop, making it a booming success in the 1990s, selling clothing, home decorations, and cut flowers. But by the early 2000s, her arrangements brought in the bulk of her income but also took up most of her time. The store grew neglected and tired. Around 2005, a client of the shop named Alain Tolbert encouraged her to focus on the floral arrangements and plants instead. For a brief time, this improved sales at the shop though by about 2009, Palomer battled chronic illness and her lack of care made shop sales suffer.
Help for a Neglected Shop
By late 2009, she’d taken on a young Vietnamese-Frenchwoman named Minh. But Minh was a biology student and didn’t have the time nor experience to manage the shop. And so, Palomer put out a word to friends and colleagues that she needed a shop manager. By 2010, a wholesaler she worked with named Feliks Baranczki suggested his niece, Renia, who had recently moved to the Paris area. Though Palomer liked that Renia had studied art and business at her university in Poland, she was reluctant to hire her because of the young woman’s quiet stoic personality. She hired Renia anyway as she was dogged by a foot injury and suffered occasional migraines. She reassured herself that a relative of Monsieur Baranczki’s must be reliable and smart. Renia went to work at the shop immediately after their interview.
That Renia brought the shop slowly back to life was news to many in the neighborhood except Renia. She felt hemmed in by Palomer’s pendulous behavior between micromanaging and absence due to travel. Plus, Palomer’s impulsive decisions didn’t help the the shop either. Those decisions are part of the reason that Renia gets into trouble in The Forgetting Flower.
To read the rest of Alain’s, Palomer’s, and Renia’s story, CLICK HERE.
Photo by Olena Sergienko