An Argonaut in the boulevard

Article published on Aug. 3, 2004
community published
Article published on Aug. 3, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

We Europeans will have to travel this summer. It’s modern life’s eternal reward: a false break from everyday routine.

Travel always hides a desire or fleeting aspiration. It is the displacement of dreams (although in my opinion dreams have always been displaced - otherwise they would be mere repetitions of our lives) that makes being away from our street, our city, even our country seem more beneficial to our mental well-being. But these desires have been commercialised. They are acquired pre-packaged: at the local travel agencies or on Internet sites. Nonconformism has been installed in the agencies’ databases. A far cry from the epic and immortal world, we go to Ithaca and back in a fortnight in our perfectly sensible and cultured European groups.

Summer in the city

I am not going to discuss whether or not travelling is synonymous with living and then say that Europe and travel have been synonymous ever since the forgotten times of the Argonaut and Ulysses. Nor am I going to say that with the exploits of Columbus or Elcano, or with the English Romantics who invented Andalusia and part of Greece, we discover the world beyond the myth. Notice the paradox - in declaring that I was not going to talk about these things, I did. What this article to be is a statement in support of staying in the cities which we, inevitably, be it with resignation or joy, inhabit. Every European city is valuable: they are all museums of time and increasingly preserved realities, and we need to revitalise them. Live them.

I live in Madrid, where the summer heat is exhausting, the streets are pulled up and reconstructed with malice by the city council, in an incredible orgy of cement mixers and pneumatic drills. And above all this, with the exception of 4 tourists and 5 or 6 drunkards, everyone literally flees the city in the quest for sand and sea. That’s how we are, but I suppose there is a similar situation in Berlin, Paris and London.

Why should we stay in summer, then?

Urban renewal

A while ago I saw a French film, “The Green Ray”, by Eric Rohmer. The protagonist, a young man, has no summer plans (that is he has no plans to go to the beach), so he has to spend the holiday season in Paris. At first it seems horrible, but walking through the streets of Paris, fate leads him from one character to the next, from one street to the next, fading in and out of each other like the sirens’ voices in Ulysses.

We Europeans have repelled the unpredictable and risky, and have embraced the predictable scheme of a programmed life, the precise management of leisure and the multinational professionalisation of adventure. The summer, that rural place where the lack of destiny magically conspires with our dreams, is now in our streets: beyond the mirage of heat and ditches; in its lost and misplaced persons; in the cafeteria which, for some mysterious reason that never fails to interest us, never closes. In the lifts, where those arriving and those leaving with their bulging suitcases exchange the questioning glances that capture the essence of winter. We have made adventure something to purchase, and they serve it to us ready-made. It is for this reason that I refuse to ‘check-in’ my desires at Iberia or Air France. I will stay put in Madrid and leave it at that. I will make small urban conquests and reinvent the romantic corners of the city and regain fate (and therefore my own destiny), which winter, work, the café and monotony prevent me from doing. I also hope that fate will direct me to something or someone. To a glance, a caress or a kiss. Because, as a Meccano song goes, “if the winter brings cold, I want to be next to you.”