A Word In Edgewise: Settling For Second Needn’t Be Second-Rate

Photo courtesy of Bigstock/nala
Photo courtesy of Bigstock/nala

I’m fond of a Fall Get-Away. In more flush times, I take my getaways in the autumn. It’s still warm (with prospects of ever-warmer) the light is still languid and lengthy, the air, depending on your destination, still crisp and the leaves luxurious. Even short trips offer all these with-benefits of Mother Nature.

Between COVID and current prices and rents, my personal getaways have been less bold, confining a day’s ambling to laps around the bookshelves lining my walls, trips to ALDI’s specialty shelves, and e-mails to traveler acquaintances in far-flung Kentucky who jaunt about the globe and send photos.

While I admire their energy and zeal for exploration, I have to acknowledge I just no longer have the zip, even had I the funds, to keep up that pace. Years back, I could drive from Boston to Philadelphia, do an interview, stay overnight, then drive back. For a number of years, I’d drive down to Galax, Virginia, for the weekend Old Time Music Convention. What to do?

Today, with the get-up-and-go of a mollusk at low tide, I’ve shifted my getaway strategies. I cede to Ms. Dickenson’s “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us lands away.” I’ve spent some time now pursuing some of my travel objectives via abebooks.com and accumulating words on the places I’d be bodily if that goal were attainable. First, is Paris.

My Paris frigate most recently docked in the seventeenth century. “Paris” conjures “flaneur,” leisurely strolls through a magical city, but How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City is an eye-opener. Who knew that it was Henri IV, first Bourbon king, who began the invention of Paris with a bridge? Built to impress his new citizens, the Pont Neuf was built of stone, not wood, supported no houses either side obstructing one’s view of the Seine; it was wider, longer than any other bridge, gave the left bank free access to the right without requiring ferry tariff.

And sidewalks: the first in any city, where citizens could stand above traffic with an unhindered, panoramic view of Seine and City. Pont Neuf became an instant wonder and gathering place for citizens–both men and women– of all ranks; unexpected social and political reshufflings produced a vigorous, constant street life–a seventeenth-century social-networking where news became immediately known, birthing press and printing industries.

Urban planning, shops, advertising, Parisian fashion, all had their inception on that bridge, according to author Joan DeJean, and by 1700, Paris had become the first modern tourist attraction, cynosure of the eyes of all western countries and beyond. In 1717, Peter the Great came to Paris to learn first-hand how to build his own great city: Pont Neuf was high on his list.

In the ‘80s I had booked the Hotel Henri IV, directly off Pont Neuf, down from Henri IV’s bronze equestrian statue. I’d known nothing of his part in the bridge’s unique construction or its part in the social and cultural revolution–how citizens would gather there, how many common expressions revolved around it: “Crier (or Chanter) sur le Pont Neuf” means “Tell the whole town about it.” I didn’t know of the impact of the other factors that forged Paris under the Sun King and others. While my ignorance can never dim the firsts, my knowledge will enhance returns.

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