Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, of all the billions of beings that have roamed the earth, of all billions of towering trees, the homes and mountain peaks and tiny streets and dusty books, each one has his own story, stories of successes and disappointments, love affairs and heartbreaks, joy and violence, ignorance and enlightenment. Most of us pass through our lives with blinders on our eyes, unaware of the microscopic worlds that are hidden just below the surface. There’s a world inside every book, every movie, every painting, every photograph. There’s a world in every building, even the ones that were destroyed hundreds of years ago. There are worlds that have been long forgotten; according to Banksy (supposedly), “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” Then there are those worlds that each of us carries inside, which we never share with another soul. It’s as if the world is a photograph and all these smaller worlds are the microscopic pixels that make up the larger image. And sometimes, if we are just lucky enough, we catch a glimpse into one of these tiny worlds.
That is my favorite part of traveling. Whether it means stumbling upon an antique bookstore or meeting a person who shares a bit of his story with me so that ours are now rewritten to include each other, discovering these worlds is enchanting and mystifying. Arbitrarily turning down one street can lead you to uncover a world that you easily could have missed. Doesn’t that make you wonder how many worlds exist and how many you pass by each day without ever noticing? I try to find these little worlds, but often it is the ones we happen upon accidentally that are the most breathtaking.
Last week in Lyon, I went to the Musée de l’Institut Lumière, a museum chronicling the lives of the Lumière brothers and their influence on photography and cinema at the turn of the 20th century. Reading one of the explanation cards, I came across the address in Paris of Le Salon Indien du Grand Café where les frères Lumière held a private screening of the first motion pictures, each less than a minute long. So back in Paris with my family on Friday, we took a detour from marveling at the Palais Garnier to find this historic landmark. As I watched the numbers on each passing store, I realized we had walked right past where it should have been. Instead of a monument, there was a small plaque on the wall right in between entrances of Hotel Scribe and the Gap. To think that cinema is such a prominent part of the world today, and here where the first ever film played was just a plaque! What’s even crazier is how people were walking right by without a clue of the significance of that spot.
Saturday evening, after eating delicious crepes on Île Saint-Louis, we came across another plaque on a wall, this one marking the tragedy of the building’s 112 inhabitants, 40 of which were children, who were deported to concentration camps during World War II. It was so easy to miss, and we very well could have walked right by, continuing on our pleasant stroll through a Parisian autumn evening, but instead we found a world in this inconspicuous building. I stood wondering how something so awful could have occurred there and trying to picture what that day looked like 72 years ago when these innocent people were taken from their homes, and I couldn’t begin to imagine. As I was standing there, thinking these thoughts, dozens of people passed by completely unaware of this awful little world stitched into the history of the building.
But there are also worlds that exist in the present, not just on plaques on walls in memory or respect of what once was. For example, just because we happened to walk down a certain bridge off Île Saint-Louis last night, we found a crowd surrounding a man playing piano in the middle of the street. He was one of those natural born musicians who can create something beautiful just from improvising – and of whom I will forever be jealous. People all over the city and the world were going about their daily business, and here we were treated to a concert for the ears and a post-card like view of the City of Lights for the eyes. A little girl no more than 4 years old was dancing with her arms spread out, spinning in circles. It’s a true gift that this man was able to bring together a group of random strangers to stop their lives for a moment and enjoy some music in the cool breeze of the Seine. These little worlds make every day life just a bit more interesting and meaningful, so take off your blinders and look around…you never know what you may find.