I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the people who help shape us when we’re young. The things they expose you to and the way in which they expose you to those things can become so important.

I guess I’ve been thinking on the topic because I lost my grandmother on New Year’s Day. She was one of those people who helped mold me. Whether she knew it or not, I can trace my love and obsession with things like art, design and even certain types of music to her. From an early age, I remember her taking me to museums, talking me through books on impressionist painters and singing me the music of her day. And she was a beautiful singer. Even into the worst of her Alzheimer’s she remembered all of the words and the tunes to her favorite songs from the 1940s.

I have to also credit my grandmother with introducing me to my number one passion in life: travel. She bopped around the world from Egypt and Spain to France and England. Of all those places, Paris was her favorite—a city she dreamed about as a girl growing up in Depression era America. Before ever setting foot in Paris, she’d memorized its layout—all of the streets and sites. When she finally had the chance to visit Paris, she didn’t even need a map. She knew it that well.

When I was 14, my grandmother delivered on a promise to take me abroad. The location of our adventure would be Paris. It would be my first journey across the pond but certainly not my last. She showed me the city and taught me how to experience a new place with a sense of curiosity and an open mind. Visiting a new place shouldn’t be about checking an item off a list. It should be about experiencing it—learning about the people, the food, the traditions and the language. It makes you more anthropologist than tourist. Done right, it feeds the soul.

My lifetime love affair with this kind of travel began during that Paris trip. My love for Paris and my Francophile tendencies also began on that trip. A decade later, I had the great opportunity to live in Paris and feel like a local with my dog in tow. Grandma Pat would phone me regularly while I lived there. I think she enjoyed hearing the sounds of Paris and its sirens almost as much as hearing from me.

J.B. and I at a cafe in Paris.

J.B. and I at a cafe in Paris.