Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 15: The Best Stories Are About People

Wherever you go, it’s the people that matter most. I was reminded of that in several ways today.

This morning we met up with a young writer I knew only through the literary journal I co-published until last year. I’d published a short story of hers, and knew that she lived in Paris, and suggested a coffee when we arrived. When writers—even those who’ve never met—get together, there’s always the common bond of our art from which to launch a discussion. We had a fascinating talk about the rewards and frustrations of the writing life that later included the tale of her “escape” from Lebanon in 2006 during an Israeli bombardment. In that incident the driver of the bus she and her father (a French diplomat) were riding in panicked and ran off, and her father had to take over and drive the bus the rest of the way out of the country.

Later on we met up with another writer friend and her husband, who are also from the Seattle area and are in Paris for their anniversary. In the years I’ve known her we’d never really had a chance to chat in much depth, so it was great to be able to do that, as well as for our spouses to be part of the conversation.

In between we took a bus tour of the city. I have always been somewhat philosophically opposed to general, touristy type tours. I’d much rather get into the neighborhoods and see how the local people live. But Dona likes to have an overview of where she’s visiting, so there we were on a double decker tour bus crammed in with eighty other tourists, including about a dozen Germans and their fidgety, seat-kicking children. We saw the sights: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, etc. etc., but what surprised me was that I was more interested in watching the people along the route, sitting at cafés, walking by the river, the bands of immigrants selling Eiffel Tower replicas. Some of them stood out, and for them I began to create stories to explain what made them different. Guess that’s the writer’s way of looking at the world. As storytellers we know that people make better stories than buildings. Even the masterworks in the Louvre yesterday paled in comparison to the stories behind the works—of the artists who created them and subjects that inspired them.

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