Saturday, December 29, 2012

And a special tribute to my other roots also...

The end of the year and the winter solstice are usually a time of reflection on what came before and of regrouping for what comes next. A month ago I wrote about my roots in French Catalonia, in the village of Vinça. With the recent passing of the last of my grand parents, it seems also timely to write about my roots in Alsace, where I was born almost exactly 50 years after my grand father Fernand –or Fern, as he liked to be called.

A rare shot with my four grand parents, dating back to 1993 (when I still had hair): Fern (2nd from left; he's probably the reason I lost my hair...) and his wife Marcelle (far right) were from Alsace; Edmond (far left) and Paulette were from Vinça
Fern and I had always been quite close, and got even closer somehow even though I have been living abroad for 10 years. We saw each other on Skype almost every week, as Chrysa or also my former lab-mate Dave Zappulla could attest from our regular French chatter!

Fern and I in the early 1980s
Fern had always been somewhat of a "computer geek" and I remember we have had in our family all models of computers and computing systems, from one of the first ping-pong computer games in the 1970s, to the latest PC, through an Amiga and an MO5, among others. Fern loved to use them to make what he called "numerical art". A website with a gallery of his work can still be found online.

Artwork by Fernand Gebhardt (1926-2012)
Fern was my grand father on my mother's side. He was from Rosheim, but soon after I was born he and my grand mother inherited from a 15-bedroom house in the North Vosges mountains, in the village of Niederbronn-les-bains. The house had been built by the grand father of my grand mother in 1900.
Old postcard of Rosheim

Christmas market in downtown Niederbronn-les-bains

Family house in Niederbronn-les-bains, November 2012 – fun fact: about 12 years ago, I planted the tree you see on the left side...
Like his father before him, Fern was a dentist. He left his father's practice in Rosheim to his brother Jean-Paul, also a dentist, and opened his own practice in Strasbourg, where he bought the apartment in which my parents are currently living.

My grand parents Fern and Marcelle in the 1950s, when my mom was about 2 years old

View from Fern's apartment –which now belongs to my parents– in Strasbourg
My mum grew up in Alsace, and that's where she tied the knot with my Catalan father who had studied at the Ecole de Chimie in Strasbourg. After I was born, Niederbronn became a regular weekend home, and I've had a bedroom in that house pretty much since that time, not always the same bedroom, but always on the top floor.

Sandstone cathedral in Strasbourg

Panoramic view from the top floor over the village and the Vosges mountains
If I have always been so fond of forests and mountains, I think it is because whether I would be in Alsace or in the Pyrénées down in the South of France, that's the environment I would be surrounded by. I have always loved its quietness and peacefulness!

I recently hiked in the area again, and I paste some of the pictures taken from that hike below.

Niederbronn sits at the heart of the Parc Naturel Regional des Vosges du Nord
Forest near Niederbronn - check out the soft bright green moss on the ground, isn't that just awesome? Straight out of the Shire...
Further down the same hiking trail
A lake ("etang de Hanau") at the end of the trail. My parents actually got hitched there back in 1975!
As I hope these photos and previous blog posts can attest (e.g., 23 Dec., 2009 and 30 Sept, 2012), Alsace is a very picturesque area which has been drawing tourists for a long time. In my humbly biased opinion ;) it's spectacular in all seasons, much like Colorado!

Stories I also like to tell and that you may thus have heard —in spite of Chrysa protesting with a "oh no, not again!"— are that Alsace is the home of the Statue of Liberty, and of the glass ornaments we are so used to hang on Christmas trees :)

South of France and Alsace are as far away as Latin America and Scandinavia, in many ways: culture, mentalities, pace of life, etc. So it's been quite difficult to find my own identity. Over those years of living abroad, particularly in the US melting pot, I think I realized that I am a blend of both places! I am in particular grateful to my grand parents for having planted seeds of our traditions in me and for having watered them over the years.

Fern passed away on November 27th. Like that of Edmond, Paulette and Marcelle before him, his spirit goes on, with me and the new generation it is now my turn to help raise. Such is my promise to them!

A week after Vinça, another pilgrimage to a cemetery where my ancestors are buried
Rose on my grand father's grave
C and Q with Fern in Niederbronn in April 2010