Dearest granny, today we take tea together, the second time in two weeks that we pass an après-midi ensemble, a rare treat given my destination across the ocean and yours in this border town oasis for the elderly, your mandate for independence and solitude complete, a wonderful little box of habitation on the other side of the milky turquoise Rhône.
My dear Mamouchka–an appellation I butcher as your first born grandchild, calling you Mouche-à-caca instead, a twist on the Russian word for grandmother the francophones will appreciate–you complain of old age and diminished eyesight, but truth be told, I find you as fiery and spirited as ever, intrigued by my travels, comparing my experiences with yours from the last century, weekends in Paris’ art world with your painter father, surrounded by about-to-be-big-wigs in the world of modern art.
And, now, you sit flanked by the same furniture and paintings, your faithful entourage for the past thirty years, and pick up on the same conversations we’ve had over time, the subject matter identical, the details shifting with the decades.
My dearest grandmother, sometimes, I wonder what it must be like to be you, to have had such a unique youth, growing up in a home built by LeCorbusier, Belgium’s only one, frequenting the makers of CoBrA, facing the savage catastrophe of WWII, only to live your later years in the natural recluse that was your garden oasis in Saint Tropez’s Les Parcs, splendid beauty, and now, to see you press along with your green thumb, terrace filled to the gills with potted plants.
Oh, my Mamouchka, to be a traveler in your mind and to understand your experiences and how they color your worldview; I think it must be quite riveting, indeed.
After all, and as Marie-Do, my grandmother’s faithful keeper, remarks, being in our family is already quite an international voyage–“une mamy belge, une tante suisse, un chien arabe, une amie française, vous l’américaine!”
But, alas, time calls this the end of our lunch, a sunset cruise around your neighborhood, and this time, Nathalie takes the wheels for the ride back to civilization for she magically makes the 1.5 hour journey in fifteen minutes less, and given my track record from the last time I journey to Belley to see you, where I accidentally route myself via the backroads, and this morning, where I turn a ten minute journey into twenty-eight whole ones as I miraculously feel my way to the manège, remembering this and that, en route to collect my cousin Alix.
And, as always happens after a visit with Mamouchka, we reflect on this family of ours, pondering how exactly it is family traits pass on, if it really is genetic or learned, if people resemble each other physically or because of their mannerisms, the embodiments of one parent or another more so than the other, a lineage of attitude trumping the lineage of last names.