Marcel Proust, Travel Writer

On Italy

I read a book about Rome once. I was a child of seven, and I was looking through my grandmother’s bookcase. Well do I remember the smell of Grandmother’s house: talcum powder and slightly moldering carpets. Grandmother had a vast collection of books about far-away and wonderful places. Rome attracted my attention because of its connotation in my mind with gladiators and emperors and columns, all strapping and assertive things. I remember the photos of the Trevi fountain, photos of busy sidewalk cafes, photos of ruins under a setting sun…

On America

When I read Alexis de Tocqueville, I imagine the America that de Tocqueville experienced. Wide, wonderful, its woods and its peoples exactly as de Tocqueville describes them. Perhaps one day, I too will travel there. I hope not.

On China

Ah, the Orient! There is a Chinaman lives down the street from me. Four years ago, I went for a walk around the block and caught a glimpse of him. I assume he lives there still. Paris is probably very different from China and indeed, everything that I have read on the subject confirms my opinions on the matter.

On The Arctic Circle

In my younger days, I traveled freely. All around the neighborhood and even somewhat into France – Illiers, Orleans. …I guess that’s about it. At any rate, winter (as remembered from back in the years when I used to go out in it) approximates, it seems to me, the far, icy Northern regions of the Arctic. Undoubtedly, the Arctic is colder still, but I think France in February is sufficiently bitter for my purposes; I can surmise the rest.

On Africa

Africa. The dark continent.  Drums beating in the bushes, women beating cassava into flat pancakes for their suppers, the cruel sun beating down over the desert. The Brits beating everyone in sight. Africa! The cradle of civilization! All men trace themselves back to you, motherland – your blood beats through all our veins! If I think back, back into my ancestry, can I perhaps remember your vast savannas, your jungles, your lions roaming across the plains?

…Certainly not.

On A Cafe

In my younger, hedonistic days, there was a bar I went to twice. The barman was an older Parisian fellow, who served me well and with a certain degree of familiarity, despite the fact that he knew me not. Both times, I felt ill at ease, and did not finish my libation, but there was a sort of feeling I experienced immediately upon entering the bar of being somehow freed of all cares. This feeling dissipated as quickly as ever it had descended, and I returned to feeling generally ashamed, frightened and overwhelmed with my adventure. But if I meditate intensely on that first, fleeting sense of peace, I can rather imagine what it must be like to frequent taverns and restaurants and opera houses and other people’s salons… Yes.

I imagine it feels similar to the comfort I experience here at home in my bed, knowing that I need never leave it, and that I will not leave it.

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