I am a big fan of J.R.R. Toielken.His works, especially the Lord of the Rings Series, have the ability to transport you to a different realm- Middle Earth, as you dive into the books. To me, the best part of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” was the journey that the protagonists undertook- going out of their comfort zone into vastly unknown and inhospitable worlds, and coming back a lot more “hobbitses” than they were at the beginning.
Perhaps this is what travel and journeys in large, do to a person. Traveling makes you a better person- a more “human” person. On all our travels, we have made new friends, eaten new foods, slept like a log at the end of a long day spent walking through unfamiliar streets, and most importantly- on all our travels, we have found a little bit more about ourselves. That is why we travel- to see how “other” people live, to gawk at the beauty and bounty of nature with open jaws, to see humanity in unremarkable places, to appreciate human ingenuity- in all the things man can make, and humbleness in all that he cannot.
Last year, we were in Paris- the undisputed City of Love (or is it the City of Lights?)Whatever she threw at us, we revelled in the City’s charm. Palaces, Cathedrals,Museums,City Squares & parks that can hold thousands of people at once- we were mesmerized and awed by it all. Then there was the River – the life-giver and harbinger of joy, the Seine. I thought to myself, “This is the lifeline of this city” as the batobus rolled and yawed on the tumultuous little waves.
One night, we took the metro to watch the Eiffle Tower at night. A street musician stood in one corner of the square and played soulful music, singing along. The strains of music weaved a magic into the night. There was a crowd of hundreds of people at that time, but everyone was alone and at peace- everyone was at one with the music in the background, and the sparkling lights of the Eiffle Tower ahead.
When my friends ask “Why do you go to cities for a vacation? A beach or the hills are so much better to relax”; my mind goes back to this night- and to many quiet days and nights like this where you find solitude and harmony in the centre of everyday hustle. Every city has this oasis of peace- you ‘ve only got to find it.
Later that night, we took the RER metro line to return to base- and behold, I made another discovery! There exists a city beneath the City of Paris. It does not have cathedrals and parks, but makes up for those in having miles upon miles of steel tracks. As we went lower into the abdomen of the city, the air grew warmer, but the crowds did not thin. Strains of music played by street musicians filled the air inside making the deep tunnels seem almost romantic and melancholic at the same time. By the time we were at least four storeys below the street surface, the stairs and tunnels opened up onto a large hall with a high ceiling that was supported by many tall columns. As people continue about their daily business, we realized that the population under the earth was more that above it! The station had been made to be able to accomodate the entire city’s population, if necessary. There were food stalls, and souviner shops, even fashion stores – all inside the belly of the giant that was Paris. An epiphany struck- this giant system, and not the Seine, was the lifeline of modern Paris. This treasure of steel and concrete and humanity is what drives the pulse of the city. The Paris we discovered that night- is a sleeping giant, built for life entirely underneath the surface of the earth. It seemed to me like the Dwarfs of Toilken’s works, are real and live among us- making their fascinating little cities underneath our mundane lives!