Tag Archives: Travel

#TTWIB MARCH 2016 READALONG–An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie

28 Feb


Our March Readalong selection is a travel memoir, An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie. He tells an amazing tale of his youth in western Africa and his bold decision to travel on his own to the northern reaches of Greenland, a place he had only read about by happenstance.  This cold country, linked by history to Denmark, and its people, the hardy Greenlandic Inuit, fascinated the young man from Togo. Many of us have experienced such a longing and fascination, but this story is amazing for the initiative Kpomassie took, his resourcefulness in traveling north to Europe on his own and then booking passage to Greenland, and his determination to visit the main outposts on the way to Greenland’s northernmost point. Furthermore, he turned out to be a gifted journal keeper and writer, and his frank and perceptive memoir of his time among the Greenlanders is unforgettable. This book won the Prix Littéraire Francophone in 1981.

Here are pictures of Kpomassie, then (in 1959) and more recently (at a reading in 2011).


We will have three Twitter chats, tagged #TTWIB :

  • Wednesday March 9 @ 9 pm EST.  This one will probably touch on Kpomassie’s early life in Togo and his motivation for making the trip to Greenland.
  • Wednesday March 23 @ 9pm EDT. (Daylight Savings Time/US begins March 13.)
  • Sunday March 27 @ at 3 pm EDT. These last two chats (evening or afternoon) will focus on the author’s travels and his time in Greenland, and wrap up our book chat.

Questions for the Discussion Boards will be posted around the time of the first Twitter chat at our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge group page at Goodreads, and you can post your thoughts there anytime!

If you would like more information about the book, or are just curious, my detailed review appears at my other blog, Northern Lights Reading Project.  I’d love to have visitors there too, since I started that blog in conjunction with my first Travel the World in Books Readathon in 2014. Looking forward to savoring Kpomassie’s wonderfully unique travel memoir again and, especially, hearing (or reading) what you all think about it.





Review + Interview + Giveaway: “Journeys Through France and Life” by Glenda de Vaney

17 Jan

Journeys Through France and Life banner

My Review

This is an unusual memoir. It combines vivid travel writing spanning a lifetime of visits to France with an account of de Vaney’s personal journey of self-discovery in the midst of crisis. She endows her memoir with the instinctive pacing of a thriller, and I read it in just two sittings, driven by the suspense generated by the two intertwined crises she faced.

Trips to France run through the entire book, with colorful stories of meals eaten, places visited, and people encountered, but those incidents described in the second half of the book could not be more different from those in the first half, because of the shadow cast in the first half by her husband during two decades of marriage. As the author states, when living with an emotionally abusive, controlling mate, “losing my soul to someone else didn’t happen overnight, but little by little.” The cycle of his rages and withdrawal and her appeasement strategies was a pervasive feature of their relationship; month-long trips to France were also a fixture of their married life, and for a while, the shared enjoyment of experiencing new sights and tastes together or revisiting old favorites clouded the truth of their underlying disconnection and conflict. Over time, however, de Vaney realized what had been happening: “a marriage has to be made of something more than trips to France. The vacations had been a distraction, allowing us to paper over the truth of our relationship.” The breaking point came when Kyle, her son from her first marriage, suffered a severe episode of psychosis, which ultimately led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a psychiatric condition that doesn’t typically manifest until young adulthood. Her son needed her now; she would have to marshall all her strength to care for him and find the medical help he needed. A husband who thwarted these efforts was not merely a source of suffering to her, but presented an imminent danger to her son.

…now, there was much more at stake than just a dysfunctional marriage. The fate of my son hung in the balance. …The profound needs of my son overcame my fears and gave me the courage to do what I should have done years earlier.

She left with Kyle, and a new chapter of life began. Despite the urgent demands and challenges which she and her son faced, this second half of the book felt empowering because of her fierce love and determination to learn about her son’s illness and create the best life possible for both of them.

Treatment for schizophrenia combines powerful medications–which can be quite effective at relieving the most disturbing symptoms–with learning to adapt to the special stresses that can exacerbate illness. The family members must learn to adapt right along with the person coping with the illness. De Vaney tells the story of this dedicated learning process with tremendous heart and insight. Sticking with the medication, once it relieves overt symptoms, is the biggest challenge, because, as she describes, people with schizophrenia have a hard time grasping their need for medication and the dire consequences of stopping it. Nevertheless, she always respected her son’s personhood as much as she worried about him. I have never read a more sensitive account of the ups and downs of living with a beloved family member coping with mental illness. De Vaney is wonderful at showing Kyle’s experience, as she understands it; this is not a book framed solely around the trials of a caregiver–at every turn, she takes pains to describe what Kyle’s experience must be like, while at the same time respecting that no one but her son knows exactly how he feels.

Even when life is punctuated by such crises, at some point a certain degree of stability returns; when this happened for de Vaney, she began tentatively to ask herself, will I ever go to France again? Could I make the trip alone? Her account of her first trip back is not to be missed. It is more than just another travel experience but her first steps toward a new independent life and a different career. And, not to be overlooked, she had some fantastic meals!

…duck breasts with warm, sliced pears; vin moelleux, a sweet white wine; and crème brûlée. The caramelized brown sugar on top crackled as the spoon broke through it to the luscious custard beneath, made even more decadent with exquisite vanilla ice cream. …

Dinner that evening was scrumptious. The entrée was langoustine salad, then rumsteck with red onion compote for the main dish, a glass of red wine, and for dessert, brioche with apples, ice cream, and Calvados (a Normandy apple liqueur that scorches the throat taken straight, but tastes good in a sauce), then coffee with tiny pastries.

Somehow her sense of humor was given breathing room when she was traveling on her own. Flaps with people she met or faux pas of her own were funny but not demoralizing or shaming because, this time, she was the captain of her journey. Her spirit opened up and her faith in God blossomed as well, a welcome support in her life with Kyle and in her new photography business.

As she says, she doesn’t know how the story will end. I’d like to think that the garden she chose for her cover represents a place of hope and interior peace she has found.

De Vaney’s beautiful photos of châteaux and other landmarks are included throughout the book. My favorite was probably the one of the Château d’Ô reflected in its moat. You can see slide shows of her photography at her website under “Images of France.”


Interview with Glenda de Vaney

Q1. Tell me about the cover image of a beautiful enclosed garden. I would love to know where it is and how you came to photograph it.

A. The cover photograph was taken at the Jardin du Manoir d’Eyrignac in the southwest of France. It is listed as one of the most beautiful gardens in France. I am always looking for a scene that I think will make a good photograph. I love this scene because it frames the Pavillon of Peace and the stone fence within the arched greenery. To me, it symbolizes a hidden treasure or the hidden truths of my story waiting to be discovered.


Q2. After 30 trips to France, where in France do you feel most at home – your “home away from home,” so to speak? Do you have a favorite town or region?

A. I never stay in one place longer than two or three nights – I am always on the move to the next thing, so I don’t really have a “home away from home.” But I do feel at home anywhere in France. I love all the different regions of France but, for this question, I asked myself, “If I could choose only one region for my last vacation to France, what would it be?” I decided it would be the Loire valley, because I love châteaux and this is where so many of them are located. It is also a green and beautiful area with many charming villages.


Q3. Your book recounts your own journey to find courage for a new life, but clearly you are writing about Kyle’s journey too, giving it voice. Your story bears witness to Kyle’s courage day by day. Is there anything further you’d like to add about that?

A. Kyle’s journey is really my journey too – to help him have the best life possible. I want so much for him to have a fuller life and to be in a place, mentally and emotionally, that will allow him to make it on his own after I’m gone. The longer he goes without another psychotic break, the better it bodes for him long term. Sometimes I feel as though he is walking a tightrope, that he could fall off at any time, and that I am on the tightrope with him. He could easily qualify for Social Security Income because of his disability and have more money, but he doesn’t apply for it. He wants to support himself as much as he can, so he doesn’t give up – he keeps working at his small eBay business doing the best he can.


Q4. Your bio mentions your volunteer work with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and your advocacy for those suffering from mental illness. What would you most like to say to parents whose children are facing similar struggles?

A. Two things: first, learn as much as possible about the illness. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are very serious, complex, and mysterious illnesses. In order to provide the healthiest environment for their child, it is crucial that parents educate themselves about the illness. Attending Family-to-Family classes sponsored by NAMI is extremely helpful. Statistics have shown that the more knowledge and understanding the parents have, and the more support they provide, the better the outlook for their son or daughter. And, two, never give up hope.


Q5. Was the journey described in Chapter 22, “The Last Trip to France,” truly your last? Have you made any new travel plans since then? Do you have more writing projects in the works?

A. “The Last Trip to France” was not really my last. In spite of the many frustrations, I couldn’t give up something that has given me so much joy. The last words in the book, “Ce n’est pas fini” (it is not finished), were a clue. I made a trip in 2013, taking copies of my book to give as gifts to the hotels I wrote about. In 2014, for the first time in the sixteen years we’ve been together since his psychotic break, Kyle asked me not to go to France and to my family reunion because he did not feel he was well enough to be alone. I didn’t go. Depending on Kyle’s health, I am hoping to make a trip this year. As for future writing projects, I don’t have any plans at the moment but I am open to all possibilities.


My warmest thanks to Glenda de Vaney for her time in responding to my questions and for her candid, informative, and heartfelt answers. I hope she does continue to write in the future!


Journeys Through France and Life

Journeys Through France and Life



Glenda de Vaney

 Release date: March 23, 201
at Journeys Press

296 pages

ISBN: 978-0615660875

Website | Goodreads



Month-long trips to France twice a year – that was the life! Until real life intervenes and everything changes. Come on a journey through France with the author and her husband, eating delicious cuisine, seeing fabulous sights, mixing it up with the French. Stay on the journey as a crisis reveals that her son from a previous marriage has schizophrenia, and that her husband is not only unsympathetic, but something more.

Travel with the author as she faces her fears, and finds a way back to her true self. Through her experience, others may find insight regarding dark corners of their own lives. She puts a human face on the stigmatized illness of schizophrenia, while sharing her love of France, where she finds frustration, humor, and joy.  [provided by the author]


Journeys Through France and Life - De VaneySmitten with France, Glenda de Vaney has traveled there over thirty times to photograph châteaux, gardens, villages and whatever is beautiful.  She presents slide shows on France and sells framed pictures. The author is a former volunteer for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness.  She is also an avid table tennis player who strikes fear in her opponents’ hearts, or at least wishes she did.  Glenda lives in a historic home in a suburb of San Diego with the younger of her two sons.

Visit her website.

Follow Glenda de Vaney on  Facebook

Buy the book | on  Amazon   | on Goodreads



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Visit each blogger on the tour:
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Visit the other stops on this tour for more perspectives on this memoir of France and life!


*Note*: I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

Review and Giveaway: “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go” by Marcia DeSanctis #FranceBT

27 Oct

100 Places banner100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go by Marcia DeSanctis, Traveler’s Tales. Palo Alto, CA: Solas House, Inc., 2014.

As you might imagine, I have a special place in my heart for lists of 100 anything, but a list of 100 places to visit in France easily floats toward the top of my list of lists. When they are recommended by accomplished travel writer Marcia DeSanctis, I know I will have a list, and a book, bristling with post-it notes and dotted with marginal exclamation points!

This is the guide to read before you pick up that other guidebook–the one with hotels and restaurants in tiny type–and to pack in your suitcase for the pure pleasure of it. Each of its hundred succinct chapters is enhanced with a small emblematic photo or drawing, but the real star is DeSanctis’s text: her warmly personal prose unites a keen knowledge of French lore with a wealth of travel experience and anecdote. She is a confident connoisseur, but never a stuffy one; she readily shares with the reader those occasions when she changed her mind about a sight or revised a preconception.

Her introduction sets the stage with her own history of loving France. It may have been a madeleine for Proust, but for DeSanctis, it was that first bite of croissant–even the American version that came as rolled-up dough in a can–that got her curious about France. Exploration of French books and music finally culminated in her first visit to Paris as a young adult, which sparked a sense of belonging and fit a piece into life’s puzzle for her:

Not just me, but every woman belonged in Paris, and to miss out meant missing out on life itself. France was not just my idea; it was a universal one, a rite of passage, the place we were where we could both escape ourselves and find the power and grace to be ourselves. It was one piffling ocean away, and returning there as soon as possible was the best reason I could think of to squirrel away my paycheck… (p. xvii)

She did save her paycheck, and returned again and again, meeting and marrying her husband, sometimes living there, and sometimes just making another pilgrimage to fulfill a particular longing. As she writes, “In France, we find what we are missing. This book contains 100 of those missing things.” The first 25 places are in Paris, and then she breaks out of the city to explore the rest of France. I will mention a few of the highlights for me, my own brief itinerary through the book.

  • Musée Édith Piaf, Paris (chapter 3). DeSanctis writes movingly of Piaf, the tiny woman with the ringing voice and the rolling rs, “an emblem of French identity and genius.” She highlights my favorite Piaf song, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Somehow when Piaf sings it, in a key tuned to shake the soul, it affirms a human resilience beyond words, beyond the storms that tossed her.

  • The Perfect Lingerie, Paris (chapter 7). I don’t think I’ve read a review or a blurb of this book that didn’t take note of this memorable chapter! It encourages women to do something special for themselves, to visit Paris and shop–not extravagantly, but caringly–for themselves. This is only one of many chapters that are about a type of experience to be sought, with no particular address but many enticing suggestions of where to find it.
  • Church Music and Concerts, including at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (chapter 8). Hearing the music of heaven at La Sainte-Chapelle combines experience with location in a perfect marriage. The rainbow-lit environment of the stained glass feeds the eyes as the concerts performed there feed the ears, the mind, and the soul. DeSanctis says it so well: “it is the kind of experience and balance we seek when we travel to Paris, the double sweep of lightness and meaning” (p. 24). I like very much how she broadens this choice to include opportunities to hear sacred music at any of a number of churches and abbeys.

I urge the traveler to experience a celebrated religious monument as more than a museum, and when on the street, to seek out the sounds. … the strains of music can unpack our sorrows or free our joys, cause us to examine the extent of our faith if that’s what surfaces, or just transport us through the force of its simple beauty. (p. 25)

  • My Restaurants, Pâtisseries, and Tea Salons, Paris (chapter 9). One can’t imagine travel in France without food being a five-star highlight, even if it is obtained at an unassuming brasserie on a hidden side street or at a little tucked-away tea shop. DeSanctis savors her food experiences and offers luscious descriptions of them throughout the book. In this wise chapter, she urges the woman traveling to keep a food itinerary, noting down for future reference those planned and unplanned stops for food and drink that yielded memorable tastes, sights, smells, and textures. Her idea of a typical diary entry is delightful: “It was here, on the corner of such-and-such, that I lit upon this perfect spot and ordered a café crème and tartes aux cerises and had one of the purest moments in my life” (p. 27). As for myself, I still recall the lobster poached in cream at Chez Albert, and, yes, I wrote about my ecstasy in a little travel journal, thirty-five years ago.
  • Héloïse and Abélard, Paris (chapter 13). I loved this blunt opening: “Paris is for lovers. It is also for their graves.” DeSanctis highlights the three cemeteries of Paris, and their famous inhabitants, but Héloïse and Abélard, re-interred (on orders from Empress Josephine) at Père Lachaise, are her primary focus of contemplation in this chapter.
  • The Shoah memorials at Paris and Drancy (chapter 17). In this important chapter, DeSanctis describes in detail the Wall of Names and other Shoah memorials in today’s France, which aim to confront the full historical record of the French collaboration during World War II and honor the memories of those who were deported and killed in the Holocaust.
  • Highlights of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay (chapters 19 and 20). DeSanctis writes wonderfully about artworks that appreciate women as their subject or were actually created by women (such as the painters Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Berthe Morisot), and she proposes “12 + 1” highlights of painting, sculpture, and other objets d’art at each of these two legendary palaces of art. Get ready to circle and star these for your next visit, or just look for them online until you can see them in person (the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay have excellent websites to browse).
  • Lake Annecy (chapter 37). DeSanctis titles this chapter “The Turquoise Waters of the Haute-Savoie.” That really says it all. A few years ago, I had the joy of tagging along to a physics conference held at the Priory in Talloires, on the other end of the lake from the city of Annecy. I brought books with me but the impossibly beautiful view was very distracting. The lake was a boaters’ paradise, and every morning hang gliders sailed off the mountain in the background. Here are two of my photos of the place.
  • Vézelay (chapter 73). On that same trip, we rented a car and meandered through Burgundy and Champagne, making a special point to divert our route to Vézelay to see its magnificent basilica atop a hill. When I took the exterior photo, the façade was being cleaned and repaired, hence the scaffolding. Inside, the extraordinary nave with its striped Romanesque arches was flooded with light from the lovely apse, with its fascinating ambulatory chapels honoring Christ, Mary, and various saints.

    As DeSanctis describes so well in her chapter, Vézelay was a focal point in the life of 12th-century Europe. With its reputed relics of Sainte Marie-Madeleine (Magdalen) and its pivotal location, it became a gateway to the west and starting point on one of the four pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Campostela in Galicia. It was also the sight at which Bernard de Clairvaux preached one Easter (1146) to an overflow crowd, spilling out from the church onto the hillside. His words roused many in the assembly, including Louis VII and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, to take the cross for the Second Crusade, but this fruitless slaughter left an ambivalent taste on the tongues of historians, faced with evaluating this contradictory saint, the “Mellifluous Doctor” who wrote so eloquently about love of God and man.

Oh, I must stop now and leave readers to discover on their own such wonders as the Bayeux Tapestry (“the greatest storyboard ever made,” she calls it), the beaches of Normandy (to “remember the fallen”), Chamonix (which figures as one setting in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), or Aix-en-Provence (as seen through the eyes and bons mots of M. F. K. Fisher).   I will simply conclude with DeSanctis’s own statement of one of her chief aims as a traveler, from her chapter on the glorious cathedral of Amiens:

In travel, I like to seek context–fictional, real or otherwise–for my surroundings. I like to find a memory, even someone else’s, to unearth, as a focus that prevents me from being a mere outsider… (p. 375)

She succeeds admirably in this aim, conjuring for the reader a delectable wealth of associations for each landmark, or landmark experience, she describes. DeSanctis presents a way of traveling through her 100 Places in France that is comforting, enlightening, and refreshing, and I recommend most highly making the reading journey alongside her.


Author Marcia DeSanctis

on Tour

October 27-November 5, 2014


100 Places cover

100 Places in France
Every Woman Should Go

[travel essays]

Release date: October 21, 2014
at Travelers’ Tales

380 pages

ISBN: 978-1609520823



Told in a series of stylish, original essays, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is for the serious Francophile, for the woman dreaming of a trip to Paris, and for those who love crisp stories well-told. Like all great travel writing, this volume goes beyond the guidebook and offers insight not only about where to go but why to go there. Combining advice, memoir and meditations on the glories of traveling through France, this book is the must-have in your carry-on when flying to Paris.

Award-winning writer Marcia DeSanctis draws on years of travels and living in France to lead you through vineyards, architectural treasures, fabled gardens and contemplative hikes from Biarritz to Deauville, Antibes to the French Alps. These 100 entries capture art, history, food, fresh air and style and along the way, she tells the stories of fascinating women who changed the country’s destiny. Ride a white horse in the Camargue, find Paris’ hidden museums, try thalassotherapy in St. Malo, and buy raspberries at Nice’s Cour Saleya market. From sexy to literary, spiritual to simply gorgeous, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is an indispensable companion for the smart and curious traveler to France. [provided by the author]



Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Marcia DeSanctis is a former television news producer for Barbara Walters, NBC and CBS News.
She has written essays and articles for numerous publications including Vogue, Marie Claire, Town & Country, O the Oprah Magazine, Departures, and The New York Times Magazine.
Her essays have been widely anthologized and she is the recipient of three Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, as well as a Solas Award for best travel writing.
She holds a degree from Princeton University in Slavic Languages and Literature and a Masters in Foreign Policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter

Buy the book: Amazon, upcoming on Travelers’ Tales.



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*Note*: I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

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