“Can we buy a bottle of champagne and drink it under the Eiffel Tower?” I’m back in my apartment in Paris, and the dreaded, yet ever popular question has just been asked by one of my guests. “Yeah, sure, we’ll do it tomorrow” I lie, hoping the rain will somehow ruin those plans.
For whatever reason, Americans seem to believe that beret clad Parisians regularly gather around the Eiffel Tower with baguettes and champagne and gaze romantically into one another’s eyes as the sun sets behind the Trocadero. Though it sounds blissful, this scene is about as accurate as your average New Yorker waking up each morning to eat his everything bagel in front of the Statue of Liberty while sipping his coffee and pondering the magnificence at the New York skyline...it might happen, but it’s highly unlikely. In his novel, On The Road, Jack Kerouac emphasizes the mundane beauty of travel. His protagonist, Sal Paradise, doesn’t visit every city’s most important monuments or landmarks, nor does he take part in local customs or fare. Sal does what he wants. And with this type of travel comes an inherent, most uninhibited kind of beauty.
During my first week in Paris, I have to admit, I acted like every other American tourist. Okay, maybe I didn’t wear a Hawaiian print shirt and white sneakers, but I wanted to drink under the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa, and climb my way to the top of Montmartre. And I did those things, and they were great. But by the end of that first week, it seemed as though I had conquered Paris, I had done it all. I had checked everything off my list; what was I supposed to do now? And as the question loomed, and the weeks passed, I came to realize that Paris was so much more than some list of sights to see. It was Monoprix, and Line 8, and the boulangerie across the street. It was the rue Cler markets, and the bikes, and the poissonniere that you could smell from a mile away, even on the days it was closed. When I think of Paris, these are the images that come to mind. After the monuments, and the museums, and the paintings, the real Paris was left for me to discover. As Sal suggests, “there was nowhere to go but everywhere” (26). And it’s this nowhere and everywhere that I remember, it’s what I dream of, it’s what I want to return to some day. It’s not the Eiffel Tower, or the Mona Lisa, or the Steps of Montmartre. It’s the grocery store, the metro, the smells on the street.
As Sal traverses from New Jersey, to Chicago, to Denver, and beyond, he is already endowed with a certain knowledge that I had yet to find in those first few weeks in Paris. He hitchhikes, he drinks, he finds some girls, he meets new friends and then leaves them behind. Sal has no ultimate goal. His travel is constant, but he likes it that way. He values his travel, and never turns down the chance for a new opportunity. As he says, “I was a writer and needed new experiences” (7). This freedom of spirit is one of Sal’s most admirable qualities. He is just along for the ride, and is grateful for the stuff that happens on the way. As we travel with Sal, we inherit his liberated sense of self and his passion for new experience. In sharing Sal’s perspective, we are invited to appreciate the beauty of the everyday, to travel anywhere as long as it’s somewhere.