Travel and Leisure
June 4, 2012
The interstices of travel, the holes in the itinerary, the time spent ordering coffee, waiting for trains, standing in line, buying postcards: these are the gaps like potholes in every trip. You hope they will soon fill up and become anecdotes.
Maybe you can even link them together into the skeleton of an experience, then flesh it out with meaningfulness. But, really, who can say what will happen next. Because this is not the time when one thinks about life and takes stock. No, that’s for later, some twilight, on a terrace, with a big red glass of wine. Right now: empty packets of crisps blow around ankles. Delays on the Tube. (Person is under the train at Angel.) People fidget. Trying to escape. Everyone wants to keep moving. And then we wait. For things to resume. To be continued.
I am sitting in St. Pancras Station in London, waiting for a train, at the longest Champagne bar in the world, which is separated from the Eurostar by a wall of plastic. I watch the clock as I eat cheese puffs and read Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco. Because I will be in Montparnasse by twilight—out on a terrace, near a boulevard—and I’m wondering if I will feel then what the author wrote: “Life seemed very pleasant to me and I began to feel that if I could only get rid of my itch for writing I might be quite happy. What, after all, was the use of tormenting oneself by putting words on paper, endlessly arranging and rearranging them?” But I don’t believe it. And while sipping (pink) champagne, reading over the rim, I see now that the author must have smudged the truth. Because surely there is some way, at least one way, to overlap art and happiness. Especially in Paris.
I am an eager tourist, traveling for fun, until someone asks me what I’ve gotten out of all this, this repeated taking of trips, back and forth, across the earth. Someone who never goes anywhere. I say: I could write a book.
Instead, I read a magazine (Travel and Leisure, if you want to know the truth) and create a poem by rearranging its phrases:
when you’re the only one
And now I am not the only one strolling around the artists’ market, late in the morning in Montparnasse, fidgeting among the stalls, looking for paintings and postcards. A small etching of a bouquet catches my eye. I buy it and stick it between the pages of the memoir I’m reading so that the edges don’t curl during my travels. The colors are lovely: pewter, sunshine yellow, fuchsia. And I wish that I could be a printmaker. Or a painter. Some sort of artist. Something other than a pedestrian.
I walk over to the rue de la Grande Chaumière, street of art academies, supply stores and the old studios of Gauguin and Modigliani. I might buy some thick paper and get started, you never know. I might be inspired by this atmosphere that would be impossible for me to recreate at home. Even the city’s apartment buildings seem eloquent when I look up. And I wish that I could quote them.
But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to disturb the thin, thin, middle-aged man in a beret, bent close to an ancient wall with his camera. He is taking pictures of the peeling paint. Several layers are coming off, and he leans in close to photograph the texture. Or is he more interested in the contrast? The shadows? He seems especially interested in the edges, where paint has evaporated. I watch him for a while, and he doesn’t give up, convinced perhaps that art is hard work and that he must keep at it. Even if the results are abstract. Even if the passing observer doesn’t really understand. The photographer sighs and keeps going, but I abandon him soon enough and walk on, across the city, on my way to the cemetery.
In the cemetery, I read the names of artists and writers carved into black marble or gray stone, sometimes pink granite. Sometimes, a brief explanation of a life, but not much, before twilight takes over. The end of the day smells like the last of the morning’s croissants, and I crave a café. Somewhere to sit with my art postcards and disposable fountain pen. I want to write things. To people.
I sit quietly at my table and drink a cup of coffee, ruining my dinner and not composing any proper postcard sentences—what would I say?—while waiting for the next train.
After I disembark at St. Pancras, I browse the menu at a restaurant that promises its oysters are from reputable suppliers. “However oysters are a raw product and.”
Or it will.
Another traveler in the station mentions that the Champagne bar here is the longest in the world. Did I know that? Or maybe it’s just Europe. That is, she can’t be sure.
Impressive, yes. In any case.
And I wait for her to tell me something else, about how maybe this is the place where her real life began, where she started her affair with the Italian, or how she lost her child forever. But she doesn’t say anything. She keeps her secrets.
I wait for a cab.
And plan my fictions.
Tara Deal is a writer and editor in New York City and the author of two books from small presses: Wander Luster is a poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press, and Palms Are Not Trees After All is the winner of the 2007 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. Her writings have appeared in magazines such as Blip, failbetter, Fogged Clarity, Sugar House Review, and West Branch, among others. And her shortest story can be found in Hint Fiction (Norton). Find her online at www.taradeal.com.