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Travelogue A1

May 5, 2014

Spirits were high as I set off this morning. Blue skies, azure pale, birdsong. Sunlight above the river’s waters to warm the heart, shade beneath the chestnut-lined alley to cool the hands. Past streamed the familiar Messin sights: a yellow limestone way, above the river’s dead arm; the Protestant temple coloured in stones of the Rhein; the sole Art Nouveau facade fronting the waterway; the fountains returned from winter slumbers; the esplanade’s leafy walk; the cascades at the main square; my feet caarying me so all the way to the gare. My morning faring was peppered with the occasional musing, breaking through the general, dull fog of the morning mind. More trivially, that good and awful arise early, awful seeking an early start to the day’s awfulness. Less trivially, or more and only to be weighed by the reader, that at the heart of all travel writing lies a paradox, in no way destructive for the genre, but better to avow self-consciously, knowingly (this having occurred to me, as near as I can tell, in crossing Place Raymond Mondon, though the connection between the two is, even to me, opaque): the travel writer is in essence an authoritative novice, an experienced firsttimer.

As known hills roll before the train’s double panes, I turn these words over in my mind. For what would be a travel writer who knew too little about the place, for instance, who saw only the facades but not the events behind the, or, in contrast, who knew too much, the fact of having lived there year in, year out? As with a great many things, the answer is to be sought in the middling of the two. Yet the two to be middled here are tranposed into an unusual milieu. Communal gardens flit, and the ticket agents continue to avoid their rounds, either from a lack of interest or of need given the few passengers or, perhaps instead, the Sunday morning hours being to blame. For the travel writer must know enough to present the place more or less completely, but with the new eye and perceptions of the firsttimer. No one at Hagondange, some ten or so at Thionville, along with the passing view of those maimed trees of which they are so fond in springtime France.

So what is to be made then of the self-reflexive travel writer, eager to confront the genre’s conventions and navigate its ambiguous headwaters? Would we still recognize as travel writer the person who brushes off the conventions of experience, reliability and authoritativeness, in order to retain a radically new eye or, even, to recount only that which diverges willfully from the place? Three smokestacks from the nuclear plant birth a cloud creature, its body no less unwieldly for having three legs and a torso thick with vapor-muscle. The sight of a passing cemetery recalls the plot of German military graves before which I passed yesterday while riding through the French countryside. Where the travel writer would tell you its tale, I can only say that I do not know. On to Luxembourg through yellow rapeseed fields and pastures of white dolmen circled up as cattle are wont to do.

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