Dusty, ink-filled pages bound together and towering upwards from the street. Shelves spilling knowledge like Waterloo Station churns out commuters at six o’clock before Saturday.
Paperbacks, like people, squeezed side by side yet utterly unique, bearing a life of their own and looking for someone to love them.
I thrilled in the erudite atmosphere of the Jinbōchō district in the capital of Japan.
Fresh from an exhibition that charted the rise of publishing and the freedom that the physical press allowed, these streets represented human endeavour, education, artistry and hope.
And of course, part of the magic, was the fact that I myself understood none of it.
I’d hardly have been romanced by “How to potty-train your toddler,” “Mould and what to do about it” or whatever the Japanese version is of “Debbie does Dallas.”
Or even “Procrasination. Stop looking in Japanese book shops and get back to work.”
I had a similar epiphany about France once (although, happily, it had nothing to do with toddlers, mould or even Dallas. It may have been related to procrastination.)
As a life-long lover of travel, my home has become a museum to travel-related paraphernalia.
Both in terms of (lightweight) souvenirs from my own travels – think ticket stubs, notebooks and tiny boxes too small to store anything other than blu-tac and a long forgotten paperclip – and “commercial” travel-related gifts.
Thus, I have a coaster with the New York skyline,a deliciously dreamy map of the world and the odd file and folder with sepia-slanted words and suitcases from a time long gone by.
Many of these words are in French and it never before bothered me that I didn’t know what they meant.
They were there to provide beauty, to allow access to a world of fantasy, to illustrate the thrill of adventure, travel, discovery and fun.
When I came back from France, the fantasy was lost; the mundane ushered in.
Glad as I was to have learnt a new language, a small part of me mourned the loss of the thrill that incomprehensible words scrawled across a notebook could bring.
And so it is with bad news. There is no doubt that we are in a better position to know that a tumour is there, that a loved one is not or that that which we once believed can no longer be true.
The wiser parts of ourselves know that ignorance changes only our dreams and not our reality.
But still. I think it’s human to long for that beauty – and the innocence that so often travels with ignorance.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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