We are all outsiders

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 6. Book #1, Paris by Howard2 Comments

“We are all outsiders when we travel. Whether we go abroad or roam about our own city or country, we often enter territory so unfamiliar that our frames of reference become inadequate. We need advice not just to avoid offense and danger, but to make our experiences richer, deeper, and more fun.” (James O’Reilly et Larry Habegger)

While I opened the first page of Travelers’ Tales Paris, a sunny afternoon outside the Shakespeare bookstore, the lines above hit me hard. It hit me hard because It is one of the cause why I love travelling—not that I love being an outsider, but that every single time one travels, one has to face the challenge of rebuilding his or her own conceptual maps in mind. We might have read books about the place we are about travel to but being there will encounter much more than usual travel guides will tell us. Traditional travel guides answer basic questions: What, When, Where, How, and How much. To O’Reilly, a good guidebook is indispensable for all the practical matters that demand attention. However, “guidebooks don’t really prepare you, the individual with feelings and fears, hopes and dreams, goals.”

For me, I have always feared the intercultural friction in an alien place. The one thing that Traveler’s guides never prepared me for is the real cultural experience. This missing plot, however, is now found in Traveler’s Tales Paris. It truly prepares me to embrace Paris culture since the whole book is a selection of different true stories of people from all different walks of life. It shows some of the “spectrum of experiences” to be had or avoided in each country.

Read how he describes Paris:

Paris is the center of the civilized universe, the capital of the Western world, a city of transcendent beauty which belongs to everyone. It is one of a handful of cities on earth one should endeavor to know over the course of a lifetime, not just in one or two or even a half-dozen visits. Paris—or Parisians—may rebuff you from time to time, but then, that is one of its duties, one of its perverse pleasures. Paris is not lightly seduced, not to be trifled with.

While reading this, the images keep coming up in my head: The Eiffel towers in the foreground of the afterglow; the Arc de Triomphe surrounded by endless traffic, and honking too; the Cathedral of Notre Dame under the shadow of the sun; the pyramids before the Louvre glowing at night; the lovers wander along the Seine. Paris, the city of the light, is the best place to “explore the dimensions of oneself or those of someone you love—to walk and talk, to argue about life, to sit and contemplate the events of human history which have played themselves out here on these streets, on the banks of this river.” Just as if the movie Before Sunset, the two soulmates wander around the city with no purposes and they talked and talked and left out all the other external things.

In the chapter Vive l’Argument, it says: “Men and Women love with their intellect as much as their emotions. This is in face a deeply romantic approach to love, one that sees the lover as the most worthy adversary in the world, worthy even of trying to persuade.” Drawing back to Before Sunset again, it is the perfect definition of “love with intellect”. Imagine walking and exchanging ideas inside this city with abundant history of arts and romanticism, it involves plenty of attitude.

“You don’t have to be Parisian to appreciate this kind of romance, or to participate in it either.”

This romance is not just about romantic relationship with a person, but also a romantic relationship of me appreciating staying in Paris right at this moment.


  1. Hi Howard! I really liked the way both you and the author of Travelers’ Tales Paris represented Paris literally. There is definitely a feeling that permeates the city and I especially liked the way you described the two soulmates wandering around the city. That’s something that comes to my mind when I think of Paris as well. I love that romance, or at least the idea of romance, has influenced the way Paris is portrayed to you.

  2. HI Howard! The Travelers’ Tales Paris sounds like a very interesting, beautifully written book. I love how you mention that the author says how Paris is a city that you need to get to know over the course of a lifetime and how you also say you feel like you have a romance with the city of Paris itself. Because, in a way, true romance consumes the course of a life, when you’re really in love with someone, you don’t just want to see them a dozen times, you want to see them every chance you get. I think this can also be said about a city, especially one like Paris.

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