This is the first story in a series of travel memories. I wanted to begin the series with an important memory, so I wrote about my late friend Mr. Michel Felet.
Michel Felet (1940?-2019) was a French journalist, adventurer and space enthusiast. As a journalist, he had traveled to the South Pole and many other extraordinary locations.
Michel’s first big adventure began in 1965. He went traveling with his brother, planning to explore the world for two years. However, his plans changed when he met his future first wife in Finland: he was teaching French, and she was one of his students.
After Finland, Michel returned to traveling for a while. However, he cut his trip short and returned to Finland to reunite with his new love.
For Michel, meeting me must have been like encountering his own past. Just like he was 50 years earlier, I was in my mid-20s. I had recently started my 2-year trip around the world. And just like him, I was a journalist.
And even though I wasn’t French, I was from Finland, the home country of his first wife.
“Oh la laa!” Michel would joyously exclaim as he learnt about all the things we had in common. He was very excited about my adventure and my Finnish heritage. He even sang me an excerpt from a Finnish lullaby (Jaakko-kulta, Jaakko-kulta…).
Michel told me about his life and many colorful adventures. He had been to Tibet a few years before, and he was now on a guided tour of Nepal with a French group. As a journalist, he had interviewed and befriended many of the most famous French people. Michel had lost many of his friends in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack a year earlier.
Michel said that once I’d get back to Europe, he’d be happy to host me in Paris. We exchanged email addresses and I promised to be in touch when I got closer.
Soon after our meeting, I sent Michel an email. I told about my Nepalese language course in Pokhara and affirmed my plan to visit him in Paris in 2 or 3 years.
A week later, Michel replied:
“Bonjour Arimo !
I just discover your email. Happy to learn that your long trip continues… How much time do you think to stay in Nepal ? Are you seriously studying Nepalese language ?! Unbelievable… Your adventure makes me dreaming. 2018 or 2019 is far away : I hope you will remember my invitation in Paris. Courage, Arimo !
PS. An amusing wink to end this email : this photo representing me as an… astronaut (it was for a webradio speaking about the Universe).
By the way, your website is gorgeous…”
I replied, assuring that I would remember his invitation. I also complimented how well the space suit suited him.
In December 2017, I wrote to Michel again. I was in Mexico at the time and I had been on the road for 18 months. I told Michel about my travels and estimated that I could be in Paris in roughly six months.
Michel replied the same day:
What a surprise ! I thought you had lost yourself in the sands of a desert, or had sunk in an ocean, or that an Islamist had taken your life, and now you resurface ! I’m really happy to realize you are well and that your epic continues. I admire you, Arimo, for your determination and constancy. Me too, as I told you, I left France in 1965 for a long world tour of at least two years… until I fall in love with a Finn and decide to come back to Finland… Women are a tragedy for the globe trotters !
Anyway, you are welcome at my place in Paris, where I will gladly host you.
Get well !
Meeting Michel in Paris
I stayed with Michel in Paris in May 2018. His house was like a massive library, and he had carefully archived his numerous writings from the past decades. Michel showed me his old magazine clippings. They included stories of his own travels as well as his interviews with people such as adventurer Jacques Costeau.
Michel was 78 years old yet active and full of life. Michel showed and translated to me how, in their interview, Jacques Cousteau joked that he would name his memoir “My First 80 Years”. Living to 160 wasn’t likely, but one could still dream, right?
Michel had no children and his second wife had died of cancer. In a way, I felt that Michel wanted to pass his story forward. Maybe that’s why he was so eager to share everything with me, a younger version of himself. Besides the articles and adventures, he also shared personal stories he had probably told very few people.
Our reunion ended with some misunderstanding. In our emails, Michel had told me I’d need to leave on Wednesday, as he had guests coming that day. This suited me well, and I had arranged myself a Couchsurfing stay in Versailles.
However, as Wednesday approached and my plans to leave came up, Michel seemed confused. He had been thinking I was staying until Thursday, and he seemed disappointed about my departure. He tried to convince me to stay longer, but I stuck to my plans.
As we said farewell, Michel seemed older and more frail in my eyes. Despite my explanations, he couldn’t understand why I was leaving. I was glad about our reunion, but I also felt that it ended on a sad note.
Remembering a Friend
Michel Fellet passed away in June 2019, a year after our meeting in Paris. He was 79 years old. I learnt about his passing some time later when I searched his name on Google and read the news on Twitter.
Michel was a wonderful gentleman. I’m really glad our paths crossed.