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The bel-ombre escape

By Tatiana DE ROSNAY SO Sofitel Mauritius

Dear Amélie,

I’ve been meaning to write this letter for a while. Perhaps, by getting my words down on paper, I’ll be able to lift the veil on the mystery surrounding you. For so long, you have remained in the shade, even if you were often mentioned by my paternal grandmother, Natacha, the one who fled revolutionary Russia as a child, and to whom I owe my exotic first name. You fascinated her, and now, as I glean scraps of information concerning your life, I see why. I would have like to have known the shape of your face, if your eyes were light or dark, the shade of your hair. I’ve never seen a portrait of you. I would have liked to have heard your voice, admired the way you walked.

I first wished to know you better two years ago. In 2009, precisely, when you burst into my life in an unexpected way. It all started with a passport renewal. Mine had been out of date for a few weeks. I was told at the town hall that I now needed a French nationality certificate in order to renew my passport. Surprised, I answered that I was French, born in Neuilly sur Seine, that my parents were also French. The clerk pointed out that my father was born in Mauritius and my mother in Rome. This had never prevented me previously from obtaining passports and identity cards. At present, I was curtly informed, when two parents were born abroad, a “proof” of French nationality was now demanded.

Rendez-vous at the new “Pôle of French Nationality”, in the 13th arrondissement, provided with the birth and marriage certificates of my father, Joël, my grand-father, Gaëtan, and my great-grand-father, Eugène. They were all born in Mauritius. And so was Louis-Eugène, my great-great-grand-father, and his father, Gabriel. My aunt Zina, my father’s sister, who found herself in the same ludicrous situation as I, having to prove her French nationality, was asked the following question by the Pôle staff :
“Why did the de Rosnay family go to Mauritius ? ” She was baffled. How would we ever know ? The Pôle administration asked me for the name of the first de Rosnay born on French soil, before the departure for Mauritius. I looked him up on the Internet.
Alexis Fromet de Rosnay, born in 1742, in the Val de Loire.

I ended up obtaining my certificate, not with a certain amount of difficulty and a good deal of patience. The person who is writing this letter, Amélie, is indeed “truly French”. But this unfortunate episode allowed me to find out more about the origins of my father’s family. The little seed had been planted. Why indeed had the Rosnay’s chosen to live on a faraway island, lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles away from France ? My guess is that you are smiling now, Amélie. I did not yet know the truth. And indeed, I have only garnered a few elements of that truth.

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