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Purpose of Traveling

Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore along the Seine, has become Angie and I’s refuge for the past two days. It’s comforting to enter after a long day of walking and seeing, to grab a book and curl up in one of the seats upstairs. The creator, George Whitman, saw his bookstore as a near-fictitious environment where only words matter. Whitman describes it as "The Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart." This phrase “represented Shakespeare and Company in its bohemian ideal–not precious or sophisticated, but instead a trove of humankind’s primal desires, emotions, and ambitions, all manifested together and at once by the books on the shelves and the souls walking through the door.”*

*quoted from Krista Halverson’s Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart

View of Paris from Sacré-Cœur

Earlier, Angie and I had a small argument about Dash and Lily, a young adult romantic Netflix series. She joked that I was immature and the show must be incredibly cheesy and full of cliches, and I got angry because she made snap judgements and insulted something I enjoyed. Perhaps it is childish, and cheesy, but the main plot of the series is beautiful–two teens that are weird in their own ways bond over a shared love for words. It opens with Dash finding a notebook in the Strand marked with "Do you dare?" which leads to a scavenger hunt in the bookstore, and eventually, an exchange of clues about themselves through the notebook. Dash and Lily began the exchange without knowing much about each other, not even each other’s name. I adore their story for it is a romance that emerged not from physical attraction, but from a sharing of minds, of stories.

I've been thinking about what the purpose of travel is, and so far, I think it's about stories. Life is made up of stories, and in a way, we are always trying to add to and improve upon those we have. We chase stories of others–great figures', our friends and families’, those we read in books, find online. I think it is almost impossible to separate interest in a thing itself and interest in being able to say one has done it. I could argue that I am traveling Europe because I think it’s a great experience, but I only think so because of people who have done it before. I am chasing after their stories.

Convent of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, designed by Le Corbusier

To reproduce others' experiences is not a negative thing, however, for one will always have their own interpretations. And over time, these will become opinions, and eventually, style. As I sit in the Jardin des Plantes and write under the whimsical shadows of a Lebanese oak, I recall my footsteps in the past week. Angie joined me in Rome and we headed north–Florence, Milan, Lyon and now Paris. We drafted our itinerary based on friends’ recommendations, blogs, google reviews, guide books and social media posts. We visited the main cathedrals and museums, strolled in public parks and well-manicured gardens and hidden traboules, ate focaccia sandwiches and pink praline and at a Parisian bouillon, slept in hostels and Airbnbs and a Le Corbusier-designed convent…

Verdict? I prefer the less traveled path.

My time in the Louvre was overwhelming. There were so many people, so many floors, so many pieces of art. Every piece had a story and they were all screaming “Look at me!!!!!” It seemed impossible to retain much of their contents, the titles and artists even less so. 3 hours later, I left with a migraine and a photo in front of the Mona Lisa. No actually, a bit more! I wandered the remaining medieval structure below and joked with Angie that we were goldfish swimming in a mini castle.

Lyon: hills, stairs and pink praline

Instead, my favorites were places deemed "less important." I remember fondly our hike between Varenna and Bellano with views of Lake Como, explorations of the different spaces at the Convent of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, the Musée de la Vie Romantique, the Zadkine Museum, the Norman Foster exhibition at Centre Pompidou with the urban skyline as backdrop... It's nice to be able to hear birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves, and even better to see the complete narrative of a building or a person.

The Convent de La Tourette is still in use today, and allows visitors to inhabit Le Corbusier's last completed building in Europe with its intended clientele–Dominican monks who practice silence. I think church spaces are the most powerful when a prayer is said or a hymn is sung. Simple Gregorian hymn echoing through the chapel, colored glass apertures against a setting sun, walking in the narrow passageways with slit-like windows, peacefulness washing over. Thanks Garnet for the recommendation!

Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris

And similarly, I enjoyed the Musée de la Vie Romantique. It is housed inside the residence of Ary Scheffer, a painter active during the Romantic movement. He often received friends in his salon, and the museum collection reflects his intimate social circle: there are Scheffer’s and Eugene Delacroix’s paintings, a plaster model of Chopin’s hand (in the 19th century it was popular to create life casts!), and watercolors by George Sand. Works are in dialogue with each other and create a compelling narrative of the first half of the nineteenth century. Make sure to sit and enjoy the garden, too!

To me, traveling is not only an exploration of other places, people and cultures, but also an exploration of myself. If I were a bookstore, then travel is an impetus to examine the books that are already on my shelves. What books do I value–best-selling, precious, sophisticated, philosophical? For now, I think the best are those with a tight, compelling narrative, those personal and closest to the heart.

Scenes from Paris

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2 comentarios

15 sept 2023

I need more of these!

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29 may 2023

The world is a book and traveling is the way to read this book! Enjoy your traveling!😀

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Desai Wang

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