It was October 2017 and they were in Paris for a two-day history-of-medicine colloquium on the subject of the French royal court. As she handed him his name tag, the first thing that Nathalie Demirdjian noticed about Justin Rivest was that he was all smiles.
“I thought he was hitting on me — I couldn’t tell that he was just Canadian,” she said. “And I had my French face on, completely deadpan.” Originally from Los Angeles, Ms. Demirdjian, 26, had been living in Paris since June 2017, after recently completing a master’s degree in modern history at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. She was helping out with the event. At the time she met Dr. Rivest, 34, who grew up on a farm in Comber, Ontario, he was a postdoctoral fellow in history at Cambridge University in England.
Ms. Demirdjian spoke to him about her dissertation (which touched on the health of Louis XIV), so he mistook her for a fellow academic.
“I was not thinking about romance at all,” he said. “I thought she was a clever grad student.”
The two chatted about the tendency of some presenters to dwell on minutiae, so they occasionally caught each other’s eyes during the event in commiseration. When he mentioned that he and several friends had a writing group to encourage focus on preparing for publications, she took note.
After the conference had concluded, she emailed him to ask if he’d like to form a writing group in Paris, with her.
“On some level, I thought he was really cute but I also was just kind of lonely,” she said.
The two agreed to meet weekly in a cafe on the Place des Vosges.
“We’d just talk about ourselves and our family history, but we were supposed to be writing,” said Ms. Demirdjian, who will hyphenate her surname. He graduated and received a master’s degree in history from Carleton University in Canada, and received a doctoral degree in the history of medicine from Johns Hopkins University. Ms. Demirdjian received a law degree from the University of London.
After a few weeks of the writing-group pretext, Ms. Demirdjian offered to take Dr. Rivest on a guided tour of Versailles in November, which, through her Louis XIV research, she had come to know intimately.
She managed to convey to him some of the ordinariness of how even the royals lived, and he was entranced, as he had never been interested in the lives of the elite.
“She calls Louis XIV ‘Loulou,’ and she knew about his gardener, about the palace itself,” he said. “On that day in Versailles, I had a full-on crush.”
She invited him to join her Thanksgiving dinner and shortly afterward, he invited her to another royal residence, the Château de Fontainebleau. They returned to Paris quite late that night but were not yet ready to part and so found a cafe in the Marais. The two shared a first kiss that evening along the banks of the Seine.
“I’m not a romantic, so I was just kind of eye-rolling,” said Ms. Demirdjian. But within a month, she had moved to Cambridge to be closer to Dr. Rivest, and their channel-skipping, Atlantic-crossing, continent-traversing relationship commenced. Dr. Rivest proposed in spring 2020, while they were stuck in Los Angeles because of the pandemic (He had originally planned to propose at the tiny Parisian hotel where they first met).
On Aug. 14, the couple were married at the All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif. The Rev. Gabriel Ferrer, an Episcopal priest, officiated, with the Rev. Mary E. Haddad, also an Episcopal priest, taking part. They had 126 people at the event, all vaccinated against the coronavirus, and asked participants to don masks even so.
Dr. Rivest is now an assistant professor of history at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Ms. Demirdjian is currently studying for a Master of Laws degree at Georgetown in Washington, where she is a scholar at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. In other words, for the time being, the couple’s long-distance love will continue.
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