“Small and beautiful” is the description people use when they speak of Luxembourg. This little country, tucked between Belgium, Germany and France, has for centuries been a meeting place of Germanic and Latin cultures. It is known for being open to the movement of people and the different influences they carry with them. Proud of Luxembourg in its smallness and beauty, the people say, “We want to stay who we are.”
Sylvie Gramegna, wife of the ambassador to Japan of the grand duchy of Luxembourg, personifies the qualities of the country she has made her own. By birth and upbringing she is French, from the Champagne area. “Marrying my husband opened my eyes to the world,” she said. “Living always in one country is wonderful, but then you have only one view of the world. Once you move, you see things differently.”
A theme of opening of eyes and feelings runs through her conversation. San Francisco for her is “an open city with an open mind.” Coming to Japan meant “the discovery of a new world. I was always very interested in Greek and Roman culture. Here I have learned so much that is very different. I am so happy.”
When she was 21, Gramegna graduated from a school for dietitians in Paris. “I was very interested in nutrition,” she said. “I love to cook. I have a lot of respect for cooks. They work hard, they love what they are doing, enjoying each moment and each detail.” She took a science degree in Paris, and decided to teach. She instructed trainee nurses in diet, then took a side step.
She enrolled in the Louvre school of art in Paris. This must have been a compelling move for her, keen on archaeology and ancient Egypt, and surrounding herself as she does with art and antique pieces, flowers, original design, books and music. She could not give herself entirely to art study, though, as she was working at the same time. For eight years she was occupied with the very demanding teaching of high-school slow learners. She had already met her husband when he was a student in Paris. They went to Italy to be married. Gramegna continued her work in Paris, and for a while undertook commuting to Luxembourg.
Husband and wife, both multilingual, and a first small daughter went to San Francisco, where their second daughter was born. “It was big news when we were asked to come to Japan,” Gramegna said. “It was a big surprise, as my husband was very young to be named ambassador.” They have been here more than four years now. Within the constraints of time, both have studied the Japanese language. She has followed her artistic bent, concentrating on ink painting, flowers and literature.
This year she is acting as chairwoman of the Cherry Blossom Charity Ball, sponsored by the International Ladies Benevolent Society. “It’s for charity,” she said. “But I was worried to do it.” Once she began the work, she was reassured. Year after year, the steadfast ladies who staff the volunteer committees pull together to ensure that the ball is not only the social highlight of Tokyo’s spring season, but also a resounding financial triumph that repays their devotion.
After the end of the war, ILBS was founded on the initiative of an American, Mrs. Glenn Shaw, with a group of 18 ladies. The first Cherry Blossom Ball, held in Korin Mansion in 1953, began a tradition of a spring social event. The aims of ILBS were to benefit many struggling institutions and people in need. ILBS has always donated money directly to approved institutions in Japan and overseas, and to non-Japanese nationals. It raises its money through different activities, and is grateful to the generosity and support of donors. All ILBS workers are volunteers.
This year’s ball is scheduled for April 20 in the Hotel Okura. “It has two new features,” Gramegna said. “One is a dance orchestra, with some non-Japanese instrumentalists. The other is a casino.” The casino is an innovation especially for ball-goers who do not dance.
Gramegna puts a touch of Luxembourg in roses on the tables, and in table favors of bonbon bowls. Lids to the bowls bear a reproduction of an old engraving of the ancient city of Luxembourg. Program covers match the table favors with the same reproductions of the cityscape of “Little Fortress,” which is 1,300 years old. The menu, featuring French cuisine, has been chosen by ILBS food committee ladies and Gramegna herself.