Left: Grandmama, age 4 at the beach. Right: Grandmama at the Coast of Brittany
Cecile is my maternal grandmother’s name, and it’s my middle name. I can’t talk about traveling without talking about her. She’s French, and speaks English with a heavy accent and immaculate grammar. She came of age during World War II, and moved to the States to marry my grandfather a few years later. But every summer, she took her family back to France, to Les Houches in the Alps, where she taught summer school and her four daughters became bilingual.
She believes in a lot of things-she’s a physicist and believes in science, she’s a Catholic and believes in God, and she believes fervently in travel. She took my mom, a teenager at the time, to remote parts of Kenya. She sent one of my aunts to live abroad in Japan and another to live abroad in Peru.
Because of my grandmother, I got to see a different world as a kid. I got to hike in the Pyrenees, have goûter-an afternoon snack of bread and chocolate-with my cousins, walk on cobblestone streets to the market, and play in summer weeds in fading evening Alpine light. I never picked up much French, but somehow I’m still able to understand bits and pieces. I learned that the very best crepes have only butter and sugar, that climbing a little rope version of the Eiffel tower in the Luxembourg garden at age three is way more fun than climbing the real thing at age seventeen, and that in some places it’s socially acceptable to kick an eleven year old girl out of a store because she clearly won’t be buying any of the expensive wool sweaters. Most importantly, I learned young that the unknown isn’t always scary, and that the flavors, smells, and sounds of a place teach you things that all the best words and pictures never will.
Cecile is the matriarch, and she passed along many things to me, my mom, my aunts and my cousins: her irreverence for authority, her unfailing belief that she is right, and her passion for seeing the world. We would like to think that other things, like fashion sense and the willingness to throw out rotten food, have evolved and improved over the generations. But I hope that between all of us we can preserve her determination, her fearlessness in the face of adventure, and her ability to move with grace between different cultures and different worlds.
My grandmother would be baffled by social media and the fact that I regularly share with everyone I know how cute my dog looks in her new outfit, or sleeping, or in the snow. She doesn’t know that I’m attempting to start a travel blog; honestly I’m not sure that she knows what a blog is. My mom only recently started understanding the concept. When I asked Grandmama if she wanted some pictures of a recent trip my cousin and I took, she said, “Oh, no thank you, sweetheart. You see, I am in the process of downsizing.” She explained that she already has a soccer picture or two of me, and at least one picture of each cousin. But she’s always loved travel stories. So this is for the travel stories-mine, and maybe some of hers too. Hers are pretty incredible, and she’s a driving force behind each and every one of mine.