LitWings symbolizes uplifting literature and illuminated travel. Literature can elevate our existence, whether through a poem by Charles Baudelaire or an essay about ancient times, and travel can shed light on our own lives. Here is an example of how this is reflected in my body of work.
Introduction to Wings: Gifts of Art, Life, and Travel in France
Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human. —Viktor Frankl
It is early morning inside a café on rue des Canettes, a tiny side street on the Left Bank of Paris near the cathedral of Saint Sulpice. From the kitchen comes the sounds of the place being coaxed to wakefulness: the hollow clatter of spoon on saucer, the solid clump of cup on counter, a knife plunging through a crusty baguette then cracking down on a wooden block.
You are alone in the room, ensconced in a golden brown embrace. The scent of coffee nudges your blood to thrum, and you sense that something in this place is here just for you. Drowsy sunlight yawns through lace-curtained windows and gleams a soft honey onto one of the tables.
Upon the table is a box wrapped in glossy fuchsia paper with a spiral design that catches the light, and a shiny white ribbon that meets in a scalloped bow in the middle. The box is full but not bulging, its edges folded tight enough to tempt.
The stories in this book—written over the past decade as I have traveled to France several times a year—are not meant to amuse or entertain, but to call forth responses. This is how literature has worked its magic with me: I read Julian Green’s essay about the tiny church of Saint Julien le Pauvre, and when I stepped inside the ancient church, Green’s image of Dante kneeling on straw listening to his lessons swirled with my own misty mood. Lines from the poem “Autumn” by Charles Baudelaire, read on a leaf-spangled day in the Luxembourg garden, reminded me that my own summer’s stunning afternoons will be gone, plunging me into cold shadows. It was summer yesterday; now it’s autumn, I knew, and echoes of departures from my own life—my sons going off to college, my sister dying—resounded in the air.
I share with you the hungers I felt inside a Parisian café, so that perhaps you may feel pangs of your own. I pass along secrets told to me by the late French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vincent van Gogh, and the patron saint of Paris, Geneviève, wondering what they have to say to you. I write about images and scenes that caused me to feel the sensation described by the French word chantepleure: to sing and cry at the same time, in the hope that you will recognize a singing sob rising from your own depths.
I hope to inspire you to ask yourself questions about your own travels to the Andes or the Appalachians, the Alps or the Atlas Mountains.
These are stories of the gifts I’ve received from France, music from the métro stations and the streets, compassion from a woman in Normandy, wisdom from my friends Jean-Bernard and Michèle, and wings from the statue Victory in Musée du Louvre.
I was drawn to this country and returned again and again, beckoned by unlikely guides who escorted me back in time through revolutions, wars, reigns, and riots; down medieval staircases; deep into wild forests; up onto parapets with panoramic views; and around and around in concentric circles, coming closer and closer to the X on the map. I’m no expert traveler, just a person who set out thinking she had it all together, only to find pieces of her fragmented self scattered all over France. The surprise was that each time I returned home, I felt reconfigured. This is the adventure of travel: We see, we feel, we perceive, receptors reach out from our depths toward what we need, and we have the potential to integrate into ourselves the transformative treasures of the world.
Just as Julian Green and Charles Baudelaire’s meanings merged into my own, so, I hope, will a morsel of Franche-Comté cheese or a sip of Côtes du Rhone taste different to you than it did to me. My view of Notre-Dame at midnight invites your unique response. The story of a young boy in occupied Paris about which I helped create a film may spark new sentiments in you. My experiences differ from yours, as you smell the smoke of faraway fires and hear words of foreign tongues roll off your own, but we connect in our search for meaning.
The café hums into action. You hear shoes slap the wooden floor, a waterfall of conversation and laughter, “Bonjour! Ça va bien?” and the clinking of glasses and dishes. Your arm is brushed by a rush of warm air, bumped by another arm, caressed by a shiver of anticipation.
Look closer at the gift on the table. On top of the fuchsia paper is a cream-colored tag with your name written in swirling black calligraphy. Inside the glittering box on the table are the stories of your life, images and scenes and people from your travels and times that these stories can somehow mingle with. I hope they resonate with you, call up echoes of your own tales, tempt you to travel, and tap into your dreams.
Grasp a corner of the smooth white ribbon.