Every time I leave my neighborhood of Belleville here in Paris, I get lost.
It is always the same. Take, for example, my quest for Shakespeare and Co last week. First, I should give a little background on this temple of awesomeness. The independent bookstore, located in the 5th Arrondissment/Left-Bank/Latin-Quarter, has quite the detailed history, both classic and romantic. Founded by an American expatriate in the beginning of the 20th century, it was a place of inspiration for both the "Lost Generation" and the "Beat Generation", and was once stated to be "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore." It's aim now is basically to maintain the culture that is so specific to the Left Bank, and to act as a home-away-from-home for thousands of artists from all over the globe.
Anyway, back to me and my wandering.
I generally look at my destination on a map before I leave my flat, get a vague idea of where I'm headed, and proceed to not write down directions or even the address of where I'm going (always my biggest regret, "what street was it on again?"). Once I walk up the stairs from the metro and surface on the rue, I'm always surprised to find that I have no real clue as to what direction to go.
Aside from when I first set out on my adventures, I try to not even look at a map. Pride issue--I don't want to seem like a stupid tourist, even though I am.
I tend to walk in circles, though unlike most people, I find this to be productive. Gradually, I start to recognize cheap crêpe-stands and street-vendors that sell seemingly pointless knickknacks and that neat little crack in those stairs over there and those hobos that seem sort of happy...It's only natural that I would recognize these landmarks, considering after roughly an hour of strolling along I will have walked by each spot anywhere from 3-6 times.
**This would be a good time to mention I had been to this bookstore before with my brother Barnabas. That made my trek even more interesting, as I was recognizing things my brain had processed years before! I really did have a "déjà-vu" experience, when I found myself drawn to the same corner cafe that I had bought an overpriced sandwich at almost exactly three years ago. It was really strange to stand in the same spot on the sidewalk, feeling like a totally different woman...in a good way.**
Oh, also, on this particular day it had started raining, and I of course was unprepared and without any kind of protection. Side note :)
After a good hour and a half of walking in a purposeful zig-zag fashion, I found a trail that I felt right about, and BOOM!, stood in front of the most beautiful site I had ever found, simply gazing in awe...ok, not entirely true. I wish I could say it was that grandiose when I finally reached my destination, but it wasn't. I wasn't even thinking about the depth of my voyage, how I got there and the symbology (yes, it's a word) of my choices. Nope. In real-life, I frantically pushed my way through some people jabbering in German (blocking the door, I might add) because I was SO cold and ready to get in and maybe find that book I was looking for...
Most people reading this probably think I really am an ass, considering the entire route itself is 20minutes total, not two hours. BUT, in recognizing and registering the arbitrary things that I passed by numerous times that afternoon, I began to familiarize myself with that specific set of streets, which enlarged my understanding of that specific arrondissement,
which has thusly brought me one small step (or one "afternoon's worth of walking") closer to understanding this enormous and mysterious city.
Now during afternoons like the aforementioned, I think about what it would be like to start writing down bloody directions; to somehow start mapping out my plans. I could get a lot more done, appear more productive on paper--and, to use a cliche, "keep my eyes on the prize."
I'm sure anyone who knows me can see where I'm going with this.
In speaking to something larger than simply my quirks in exploring a city, in my own way of doing life,
I don't tend to make big plans,
or map out where I'm going,
or follow a set of directions.
Sometimes I listen to what others tell me. Sometimes I trust my instincts. Sometimes I use reason...
each situation is different from the next.
The one thing I rarely do, however, is to follow a way of life that keeps me so narrowly focused on one destination that I don't notice the guy who works at the cafe on the corner from open until close, or the Chinese prostitutes that are out on the street every hour of every day that I walk down the hill to get Lilia, or the homeless man that had his entire life on that sidewalk before they ordered him to move, or the lady that gives me a discount on my baguette every morning, or the sidewalk that I stood on three years ago, having no idea what life was yet to come. What is the purpose of getting to all the "places" I'm looking for, if I miss all that I pass by?
Even though I don't know what city I'm going to be living in six months from now, what job I'll have, what school I'll study at, or what people I will sip my morning coffee with, I choose not to lose sight of the LIFE that is going on around me constantly. I choose to say "yes" to really seeing people everyday, and to truly loving what I get to see. Even if that means I get to the bookstore a little late.
(This ^^ is the cafe I had re-found. Recognize it Barnabas?)
This is Shakespeare and Co.
(photo by Jake Heinitz)