A Global Family Tree (and the French Version of Me) | 30 Days of Indie Travel Project #indie30

This is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project, a daily blogging challenge with a prompt for every day in November 2011. Check out the prompt at the bottom of this post to find out how you can participate!

My father was born in Germany in 1935, Jewish in an inhospitable time and place, and he spent the first five years of his life moving almost constantly westward. From Germany into France, where he spoke his first words and nearly died from malnutrition, then into Spain with the help of Basque people who shepherded his parents over the mountains, and finally onto a ship bound for America. At the age of five-and-a-half, he first saw the lights of New York City cut through the dark of a winter night as the ship neared the port, and he cried, “C’est le paradis!”

This journey was not an easy or pleasant one, and until the day he died at 71, my father didn’t talk about it much. What the diaspora of his extended family gave me as a youngster, however, was something positive and tangible that I wouldn’t truly understand until many years later.

As a very young child, I knew of cousins in Paris and in Tel Aviv, and of an aunt – my father’s younger sister – in West Berlin and, later, Zurich. My father’s French cousin Pierre had a daughter my age, I was told, and there was the occasional mention of sending me to Paris to meet Alexandra, were money not so desperately tight. Aunt Vicky brought gifts for my brothers and me from her home – Swiss chocolates with wrappers we couldn’t read and square school backpacks that were utterly unique in rural Connecticut.

My French cousins when I met them in 1992; Alexandra is on the far left

My first passport carried me to New Zealand at the age of 19, and it wasn’t until the following year that I finally arrived in Paris and met my cousin Alexandra. She spoke little English and I little French, and her parents and my Aunt Vicky were often tasked with translating. She was, I remember thinking, the French version of me, although we were incredibly different. Her family led back to the same point as mine, and if my father’s parents had brought him to Paris instead of New York… The “what if” was at once massive and very personal. This family, once tied to a single place, had split into three distinct branches, stretching the family tree halfway across the planet.

Any family can give a child a globe and encourage them to travel. What my family gave me were roots on that globe, painfully grown in some cases, but roots that meant I had homes in many places. I can’t imagine a better family heirloom than that.

30 Days of Indie Travel Project: How to Participate

We’re inviting bloggers from around the world (that means you, too!) to join us in a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

We’ll share some of our favorites via Twitter and Facebook throughout November, as well as a round-up article at the end of the month, so if you’re playing along make sure to let us know – use the #indie30 hashtag on Twitter, and link to the 30 Days of Indie Travel page in your post so we’ll be able to find it.

Find out all of the 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging prompts so far – it’s never too late to join in the fun!

Prompt #25: Family

Family shapes who we are, but sometimes the family we create plays a bigger role in our lives than the one we were born into. Tell a story about how either of your “families” have impacted your life and your travels.

Tools and inspiration: Read about people who have traveled around the world with kids

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