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.
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.
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.