by Mark Albert
Every traveler has a ritual: pack the socks on a particular side of the suitcase; always find locally-made chocolate at their destination; send old-fashioned postcards home to loved ones.
For me, one ritual I try to keep no matter where I go is to visit a bookstore.
Oh, I don’t buy anything inside; whether I’m in Turkey or South Korea or Morocco, I can’t read the text anyway. I wish I could read every foreign language on the planet, but, alas, I cannot.
Instead, I go to smell the distinct perfume of a place with old wooden shelves, ink, newly-printed paper, and the hushed sounds you hear in a library; a place that holds reverence for the printed word.
It’s remarkable that no matter the country I’m visiting, when I walk inside, my nose knows I’m in a bookstore.
The front of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, France
Quirky Bookstore in Paris
There’s the quirky Shakespeare and Company on Left Bank in Paris, where I stopped in during my trip to France in 2016 after reading this article in The Washington Post.
And it did not disappoint.
It’s run by the daughter of the American expat, who welcomes writers and the wonderers with the promise of books and a bed to sleep on in exchange for working shifts in the shop.
When you wander through the cramped, tiny rooms (one is called the “Old Smoky Reading Room) lined to the ceiling with books old and new, you wonder how this place with bent, twisted, and misshapen wooden beams is still standing. The writers/employees/free labor leave notes on the walls.
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Books high up on a shelf next to bent and misformed wooded beams inside Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France
One read: “Feed the Starving Writers.”
Another, titled “Writing Advice from Raymond Chandler,” contains seven numbered points. Among my favorites:
“1. A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.”
“4. The challenge is to write about real things magically.”
“5. The more you reason the less you create.”
Those are the gems I pick up in foreign bookstores. You don’t see THAT by staying on a tour bus.
An outdoor book stall in Rabat, Morocco
Morocco Sidewalk Bookstores
In Morocco, I noticed many of the bookstores were really outdoor stalls. I picked up a book or two at a book stall in Rabat, the capital, just to stare at the incomprehensible type and to imagine what magic the writer, following the advice of the scribe in Paris, had left tucked inside.
A photo of the cover of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in Hungarian
Hungary’s ‘Gyilkoss_ág az Orient Expresszen’
In Budapest, near the east bank of the Danube River, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express read as “Gyilkoss_ág az Orient Expresszen.” I’ve heard you’ve not experienced Christie until you have read her in the original Hungarian.
So the next time you find yourself in a foreign land, struggling to read the street signs, and without the benefit of a fluent mastery of the language, wander into a bookseller and pick up a tome or two.
It may even become, like it has for me, one of your travel rituals.
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What are your travel rituals or habits? Share with your fellow travelers in the comments section below!
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