On traveling when not

January 16, 2020

Always a sucker for independent bookstores

And I was overcome with sadness, the melancholy of the voyeuristic traveler, and thought: This is what happens when you stay too long in a place. You begin to understand how trapped people feel, how hopeless and beneath notice, how nothing will change for them, while you the traveler simply skip away.

— Paul Theroux

In the Valley of the Snakes

Thank goodness for this; I might’ve walked right into the river otherwise (my thumb is there to offer perspective…ahem)

A contingent of Carol’s family recently headed off to Portland, Oregon for the holidays. Since I had made a couple of train trips there, I was asked to recommend places to go and sights to see. As the experienced reader of this blog may have immediately discerned, I had precious little to offer. Outside of the famous Powell’s bookstore, there was the historic landmark of the city’s Union Station, which I was aware of only because that’s where I had disembarked from Amtrak. There was the homeless encampment surrounding the station, the motel with the iconic 1950s era sign, where I stayed quite cheaply, and a sports bar near a strip joint that had been located within walking distance from the train station.

After this, I stopped trying to ask for things in French

I managed to recommend a walk along the city’s riverfront, but since all my walks are intensely insular affairs, I could offer no “must see” monuments or vistas, save for a directional sign I came upon indicating which way to the river (right) and the city (left), both of which had already been adequately demonstrated by the tall buildings on the left and the boats scudding by on the right. (I remember thinking the sign to be “drolly pedantic,” as I passed it that day.)

Now this is what I call a man cave

In Paris I like to sit idly in a crowded cafe and watch normal, everyday people go about their daily business as they pass by me. I think two things. One is how is it the cafe is so crowded at this time of the working day? And two, how great it would be to be one of those people passing by who have something necessary to do and important places to go all the while living in Paris.

I was especially drawn by the people whose shopping bags indicated they were out and about buying components for that evening’s dinner. Charcuterie for the appetizers. Boulangerie for the bread. Boucherie for the meat. Fromagerie for the cheese. Patisserie for dessert, and of course, cave à vin for the wine. Dinner as a journey. A Canterbury Tales for dégustation. How romantic and belle epoch, I think.

I actually did that once during a stay in Paris, where the small apartment included a kitchen. What I noted about the experience was that when I returned home with all my bags from the boulangeries and fromageries, etc., was that there was precious little time left to hit a cafe before I’d have to start dinner. Then I thought about doing that seven days a week. It occurred to me I’d never have time for the cafes. I looked around my cafe where I sat, and realized my fellow boulevardiers had figured that out a long time ago. They hit the supermarche, and are done in one stop.

Just as I do back home here, where I either get everything I need at the Albertson’s in one trip, or it’s not on the menu that week.

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