He Offered Her a Seat at His Table, and Later, a Place in His Heart


If accidental matchmakers got Yelp reviews, Pamela Grace and Arnim Ludwig Kaiser would give five stars to the waitress who served them on Oct. 11, 2022, at Le Plaza-La Paillotte, a restaurant in Arles, France. A half-star deduction for one too many tableside visits might be justified, though.

Ms. Grace and Mr. Kaiser were both out-of-towners having dinner alone when Ms. Grace, 80, got up to leave and felt unsteady. Mr. Kaiser, 79, seated nearby at his own table, invited her to sit for a moment. “It was the first time he’d ever asked a strange woman to his table and the first time I’d ever sat down with a man I didn’t know,” Ms. Grace said.

The waitress, she said, “was watching the whole interaction with a smile on her face.”

“I think this nice young woman got a kick out of seeing this old man and this old woman who had come in alone sitting together,” Ms. Grace said.

On a first sweep by their table, the waitress reinforced a sense of compatibility by noting they had ordered the same dinner — salmon followed by a crème brûlée made with local lavender. But on a subsequent check-in she interrupted Mr. Kaiser midsentence. “She ducked in to ask if we would like anything else, and Arnim had just said, ‘My wife.’” Because of the interruption, “he never got to finish his thought.”

Ms. Grace returned to her hotel that night assuming Mr. Kaiser was “a nice, honest European man” who was happily married, she said. It wasn’t until several days later, when she was back home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and he in Gernsbach, Germany, that she would learn that he was a widower.

Ms. Grace, a retired adjunct professor of film studies at Brooklyn College who earned a Ph.D. in cinema studies from N.Y.U. at age 60, is a longtime member of the New York committee of Human Rights Watch. Her 2022 trip to France was for a Human Rights Watch summit meeting. She grew up in Watertown, N.Y., and graduated from Manhattanville College with a bachelor’s degree in English; She earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia.

Mr. Kaiser, who had traveled to Arles for a photography workshop, has a doctorate in social sciences from the University of Bonn in Germany and later worked as chair of the humanities faculty at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, from which he is now retired. He grew up in Saarbrücken, Germany, and has a bachelor’s degree in romance languages and literature from the University of Bonn.

Ms. Grace was divorced in 2002; she has two children and a 15-year-old grandson. Mr. Kaiser lost his wife to liver cancer after a 53-year marriage in 2019. He has no children.

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When they first saw each other at Le Plaza-La Paillotte, Mr. Kaiser had greeted Ms. Grace as he took his seat at a table next to her with a cordial “bon soir.” She was charmed. “How sweet, I thought,” she said. “Someone who doesn’t treat his fellow diners as furniture.” After he invited her to sit and learned she was American, he struck up a conversation in stilted English over a glass of rosé.

“It was the first time I felt feelings for someone” since he was widowed, he said. Before they said a final “bon soir” that night, they exchanged email addresses. Ms. Grace wrote first.

“I hadn’t heard from him for a few days, and I was thinking, you know, I kind of like that guy,” she said. After a week’s worth of correspondence, though, she got flustered. “One day she said to me, ‘Arnim, I don’t know how to handle this situation. We write very personal emails. What is your wife saying about us having such a strong relationship?’”

By the end of the year, they were in love. “I was always looking at my email to see if he had written me, like a teenager,” Ms. Grace said. But “then came another obstacle,” Mr. Kaiser said. She invited him to visit her in New York in January 2023. He had never flown before, preferring to travel by train or car, and felt unready to start. “I was not anxious,” he said. “But I don’t love it when I can’t master a situation.”

She flew to Germany instead. Four weeks later, they flew back to New York together, a committed couple. By the end of the year, they had been back and forth between New York and Germany every three months, each spending four weeks with the other.

In December 2023, Mr. Kaiser proposed over a candlelit dinner at his apartment in Gersbach.

“I never thought I would want to marry again,” she said. “But I was so thrilled.”

On March 15, they gathered 26 guests for a wedding at her Fort Greene apartment. Jane Croft, a Universal Life Church minister Ms. Grace found through an internet search, officiated a short ceremony.

The couple plan to spend half the year in Brooklyn and half in Europe. Each feels familiar with the other’s hometown now. But their pleasure in finding each other still feels new.

“I didn’t know or believe such feelings would ever come back,” Mr. Kaiser said.


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