This week's Sunday Scribblings challenge is to write about "My Shoes". I could have written about any number of shoes I've owned in my lifetime: the platform shoes, circa 1975, that caused me to fall down a half-flight of stairs in Junior High; the sexy stiletto heels I used to wear in my 20's; how since I broke my leg and ankle 10 years ago (barefoot at the time, so I can't blame the shoes) I can't really wear high-heels anymore at all; and the Liz Claiborne red calf-skin ankle boots I bought about three years ago that are really too tight to wear for more than 15 minutes but which I refuse to give up -- we've formed an emotional bond, those red boots and I.
But since just last week I posted about a recent shoe-shopping expedition and the pervy foot freak who stalked me in the local Wal-mart, I figured I've already written enough lately about actual shoes. Instead I decided to write about shoes in a different context... an idea I have for a book, based on a travel journal my 93-year old grandmother wrote 50 years ago, when she was just about the age I am now.
In 1956, my paternal grandmother was married to my grandfather, a minister. They had two grown sons: my uncle and my father, who at that time was a young man stationed in France with the U.S. Army. My grandparents decided to go to Europe for three weeks to do their version of the Grand Tour, along with my father (who had not yet met my mother so I wasn't even on the radar screen). They flew to Paris, met up with my father who was on leave, rented a car and drove through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, back to Paris via the French countryside, and then hopped over to London (by plane) to see some of England (by car) before sailing home from Southampton, England on the Mauritania II. During that trip, my grandmother kept a travel journal -- just a small notebook where she jotted down their itinerary along with bits and pieces of her impressions of what they saw and experienced.
I came across this journal about two years ago while helping my grandmother (who is still living) clean out a closet. The journal is not Pulitzer-price material, but it was really interesting to see post-war Europe through the eyes of a woman who was 44-years old, a minister's wife with two grown children. The world was a very different place for a woman back then. She was living the life everyone thought she should be living. And, she was traveling in the way many American women travelled in those days -- escorted by men, doing the "lite" European tour on a modest budget.
My grandmother's journal notes were sometimes amusing. She made a point of always writing down what things cost and was constantly amazed at how cheap everything was... but it makes sense when you remember that countries in war-torn Europe were actively trying to attract American tourists to help boost the economy. People really liked Americans then, too.
It was also apparent from her journal that her view of the world she was seeing was actually rather small and narrow. She tended to see some of the biggest tourist attractions as less important than things she could relate to on a personal level. Case in point: in Paris, they went to the Louvre. Her only comment about it was: "Interesting in its way" which was her polite way of saying it bored her silly. But when they were in Austria and visited the site where the Christmas carol "Silent Night" was written and performed for the first time, she wrote several pages about it; my grandmother was a singer and soloist in her church choir, and "Silent Night" is her favorite carol.
As I read her journal, I couldn't help but draw mental comparisons to her experiences and the Europe of 1956 -- and what I imagined it would be like for me to do the same trip today. What would it be like if I could retrace her journey now, 50 years later -- me a single woman in her mid-40's with no children, traveling alone through Europe in a time when European borders are more open for Europeans but where Americans are not always welcomed with such open arms. And suddenly, I had a great idea for a book... where I would be walking "in her shoes" and retracing her footsteps, journaling my own experiences and then using her journal entries to draw comparisons from the perspectives of two women, only two generations but worlds apart in terms of lifestyle and the life choices available to each.
Within a year or so of that trip, my father's tour of duty in the army ended and he came back to New Jersey, and one night met my mother. They got married in 1959; I came along in 1961 and my sister in 1963. Somewhere in the early 1960's, my grandparents divorced when my grandmother got tired of my grandfather's affairs with women in his congregation; and when I was 10 my own parents split up for much the same reason. There were years after the divorce when I didn't speak to my grandmother at all, and even more years passed when I never talked to my father. Life isn't perfect, and families certainly aren't perfect either. I'm not looking to reclaim some long-lost connection to my father or his side of the family by wanting to take this trip and write this book. But I do think it would be fascinating to compare respective experiences, both as a travel-lover and as a woman, by retracing my grandmother's 1956 journey.
So, the shoes I am most anxious to put on now are my "traveling shoes"... I am eager to get the opportunity to take this trip through Europe and to write about it. I'm eager to see what I will learn and discover -- about Europe, the places I haven't been to yet and even the ones I have -- but most especially about myself. And I'm crossing my fingers that some savvy publisher somewhere will recognize just how special this journey and story will be, and will want to publish my book... even though it hasn't been written yet. It's definitely unique and the kind of thing only I can write because of the connection to my grandmother and her travel diary.
But with or without a publisher, I do intend to take this trip and to write about it. Not so I can fill my grandmother's shoes... but so that I can fill my own, the shoes of the person I imagine myself to be: The World Traveler, The Bold Soul.