Seine River in Paris

Crossing the Seine on a winter day

I wrapped my scarf around my neck an extra time against the cold wind as we crossed the Pont d’Arcole toward the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The weather in Paris had been mild compared to our previous January visits, but along the Seine I could feel that the temperature had dropped according to the predictions. In the distance, I spotted the dark spire of Notre-Dame shooting up between two buildings along the Quai aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité. A great Gothic cathedral on an island. This is the magic of Paris – that magic is real.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Viollet-le-Duc's spire on Notre-Dame

Walking along the cobblestone streets that have inspired so many writers is a quietly moving experience. As I stood in front of the towering facade of Notre-Dame, I felt humbled and small thinking of great writers, such as Victor Hugo, who have captured something of the beauty of this building in the art of their written words. It’s not a question of comparison that intrigues me, but a current that runs deeper – that fascinating way travel and writing overlap and interact, swirling together like the water of the Seine at the tip of the Ile de la Cité. Traveling to Paris over the past week brought up this question every time I pulled out my camera or notebook to try to fix an emotion or memory.

Detail from the Facade of Notre-Dame

Stone detail on the facade of Notre-Dame

Today I happened across Matador’s 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time, and not one to ever pass up a qood quotation, I read through the list from beginning to end. One by British travel writer Freya Stark caught my attention and begged to be read over and over again.

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.”

It made me realize that there is no point in trying to straighten out the currents of a river as they blend together. Travel and writing both bring the art of life into sharper focus, by making us look at the new or the familiar with different eyes. The point is simply to travel, to question and to write.

Laura Thayer in Paris

In front of Notre-Dame in Paris

  • Thanks for these lovely memories of Paris.

    January 29, 2012
  • Sandra

    What a beautifully written and meaningful article. Brava, Laura. Thanks for sharing the memories!

    January 30, 2012
  • The photos convey the cold.

    I remember being in Paris a thousand years ago when I was still in college. I remember some humorous graffiti that was scrawled on a bridge on the Left Bank.

    God is Dead. Nietzsche

    underneath it was the following response:

    Nietzsche is dead. God

    January 30, 2012
  • Mike

    Thank you Laura! Paris is truly amazing as is Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle is also amazing and not nearly as well known.

    We loved Paris and hope to go back soon! I bought my wife a scarf in a little shop on Ile de la Cité, the owner took his time giving us scarf tying lessons. The smell of the bread in the morning, the lights, the boulevards, Momartre, the Eiffel tower at night and so many other things flood my memory whenever Paris comes up.

    Good travel is like a good novel as it helps frame your perspective for the rest of your days!

    February 10, 2012

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