How It Began

postcards from france

When I am growing up, my grandmother often prints out thick packets of stories and legends about women who did things and sends them to me in large manila envelopes. After a while I have history and myth all mixed up, but I know more about Sacagawea and Joan of Arc, Jane Austen and the goddess Athena, than any of my friends in Mrs. Smith’s first grade classroom.

Every summer we make the drive to North Carolina to visit my grandparents. This time, I walk into the room where my sister and I always sleep and instead of the familiar stack of printed-out pages there is a small hardback book sitting on the bedside table. The cover shows a collage of train tickets, magazine photographs of the Eiffel Tower, and plastic figurines of women in traditional southern French dress. I like it right away. I have always judged books by their covers.

Postcards from France is a series of articles written back to her American hometown newspaper from a young woman spending a year living in Valence, a small city in the southeast province of Savoie. I finish the book in one day. I read it again the next year, and again, and again. Inside the back cover, in the careful, blocky handwriting of a child just starting to write, I inscribe, “This is a great book!”

From then on, I am completely obsessed with the idea of spending a year in France---of travelling the entire country, becoming fluent in another language, and making unforgettable friends. I will do this, too. And I do, in my own way.