Mad River Union
When I was a young adult, I took a trip to Cuba with my father. This trip was the one and, as it turns out, only opportunity I ever had to travel solo with my dad. We spent a week in Varadero, where we rented a catamaran, rode bikes, visited tourist attractions, ate really greasy pizza and drank a lot of $1 unlabelled beers, which my father ordered using the only Spanish he knew, “Una cerveza, por favor,” augmented by one of his few English words, “quickly.”
Based on a miniscule sampling of personal experience and Janine S. Volkmar’s book, France with My Father (2013, Fithian Press, McKinleyville, Calif.), I can only assume that all francophone dads are the same when it comes to travelling with their adult daughters: light packers, good drivers, pillars of taciturn strength during travel-induced panic.
Volkmar’s France with My Father documents two trips the Trinidad resident and her father, Pierre Volkmar, took to France in 2007 and 2008. Volkmar traces her recent family history to France, her great-grandfather, American artist Charles Volkmar, having exhibited in the salons of Paris and grandmother Henriette Roigneau, reputed to have been born in Bordeaux (a matter which Volkmar investigates in her travels). In addition, Volkmar writes crime fiction featuring Paul Cezanne as a sleuth, so these trips to France served as research into family and fiction.
Family and fiction both set the scene early on in France with My Father, as Volkmar composes a delightful historical vignette of a day spent by Henriette and her sons (one of them being Pierre Volkmar) in the park.
Following this, Volkmar’s memoir stays in the present of the trip itself, documenting the many towns, restaurants, hotels, museums and roundabouts the pair experienced. Volkmar’s descriptions of their daily travels are spiced with well-crafted descriptions of people and landscapes she and her father encountered.
Volkmar occasionally waxes lyrical, but never in a maudlin or precious way, and her accounts of her reactions to both the delights (their beer of choice was 1664) and terrors (oh, the infamous roundabouts) of travel in France are highly readable.
The affection Volkmar holds for France is surpassed only by that for her father. Pierre Volkmar is extolled throughout as a paragon of travel companionship, taking on most of the driving at age 85, standing stoically by while his daughter spends hours in Parisian flea markets seeking out the perfect set of wooden salt spoons and generally being game for any outing. The only thing really lacking in this book is the voice of Pierre Volkmar; he is so extolled, that one cannot help but want to know him better.
France with My Father is a love letter to France, to Pierre Volkmar and to travel in general. It is an amusing read and a fun trip, available from the usual online retailers and at fine local bookstores.