Film-maker Doug Block is eager to solve a mystery. So much so, he’s currently making a documentary about it. The New Yorker is hoping to locate the author of a mysterious handwritten letter he found two years ago in France. “ In November of 2015”, he tells Lonely Planet News, “my wife and I went on a four-day romantic getaway to Paris, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We spent most of our second day at the d’Orsay Museum, our very favorite, soaking in the masterworks of Monet and other impressionists.”
“On our last day in the city”, he continues, “we decided to go for a long walk through the now quiet streets. I pulled out a used travel book I’d noticed collecting dust on our bookshelf back in New York City, called ‘Pariswalks’. As soon as I opened its pages, out popped a cream-colored envelope with the name ‘Betty’ on it. It was unsealed, and inside was a letter written in very distinctive handwriting on a blank museum card with a Monet painting on the cover (Woman Seated Under the Willows). And not just any letter, an extraordinarily passionate love letter written by a man named Henri to a woman (presumably Betty) he’d hoped to meet up with in Paris, but no longer could. It began: ‘My Sweet Love, will you look for me at the Musee d’Orsay? I’ll be with you in soul and spirit, if not in body. It is there you will find my love of Monet… and find such peace and beauty in a city where I would like to be – with you.’”
“I was stunned”, says Doug. “To be in Paris, the city of love and romance, while it was dealing with the immediate shock and trauma of terrorism, and then to come upon a love letter that exemplified love and romance, not to mention prominently referenced the d’Orsay, honestly, it gave me shivers. My wife felt it was an interesting coincidence and nothing more, whereas I felt it was absolutely fated, that the letter was in that book for me to find.”
Doug immediately set about trying to find clues in the letter. “Neither my wife nor I could remember where we got the book”, he recalls. “We were last in Paris in 2002, so it was probably for that trip. Had it been lent to us, or did we get it at some used book store or flea market? But for me the biggest question was, why would Betty, whoever she might be, put such an incredible letter in a book and then give it away?”
Keen to solve the mystery, Doug enlisted the help of lots of specialists. “I thought, well, what would a private investigator do? So, I searched the internet and found a good, experienced one. He unexpectedly led me to a psychic. It turns out everyone I’ve spoken with is utterly fascinating – they could all be the subjects of their own documentaries – and all are unexpectedly keen on helping me solve the case. Among others I met with are a handwriting expert, a hypnotist, a forensic analyst, an historical novelist who wrote a book on Monet, and most recently, a curator of 19th century French Painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, who the card was published for in 1996. Needless to say, everyone has their own ideas and opinions about who Henri and Betty are. They’re like a Rorschach test.”
Doug is hoping that through the film, he’ll be able to track down the mysterious pair. “ Perhaps the best remaining possibility for finding Henri and Betty is by someone recognizing Henri’s handwriting”, he says. “It’s incredibly distinctive, and I can’t help thinking if we just get the letter out widely enough then somebody somewhere will come forward. It’s the only reason I’m doing any publicity at all about the film, given that I’m in the thick of making it.”
Though he’s eager to locate the lovers, Doug is aware of the potential sensitivity around their relationship. “I should add that if I find the couple, they may well not want to come forward”, he says. “It’s highly likely that this was an affair, and that either or both Henri and Betty had to go back to their marriages. So I have no intention of naming their real names without permission. Of course, I may never find them, and then the film becomes more about my search for this couple based on a lot of speculation and projection. And that’s fine, it might just make for a more interesting and compelling film.” Follow Doug for updates on the documentary, and be sure to let him know if you recognize that handwriting!