The air had a rhythm to it as I laid in the grasses of Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Gently buoyed by the earth beneath, my exposed skin was coated with grass soft as silk, and I watched trails of smoke dance, stirring sensually as they cooed from the ends of idle cigarettes, writhing ever skyward, some joining another tributary with a kiss, or else dispersing altogether with the wave of a hand.
Smoke swirled above my head and with my index finger I stirred the stream, watching it whirlpool outward before fading into nothingness. I traced the reservoir of smoke back to its source: a boy nearby, slim and fair, with fiery red curls. He was lying on his stomach in the grass with a cigarette clinging to the corner of his mouth, like it was something he was once fond of, and now she wouldn’t let go.
He’d caught my interloping, and stared at my fingers as if they had scarred something sacred, refused promise to a love eternal. Propped up on his elbows, he began to write in a Moleskine lazily reclined under him, blades of grass hugging at its sides. He looked at me again, and wrote more. And then again.
As I gathered my things to leave, he approached me. The everlasting language-barrier anxiety clinched in my chest and grew heavy on my face, but he disregarded my stiltedness, handing me his open notebook.
“Can you write me your favorite quote?”
I remember being oddly terrified by this proposal. I certainly had nothing at-the-ready and yet felt an undeniable pressure to deliver the most exceptional, brilliant contribution to his collection.
“Can it be…?”
He cut me off. “Anything.”
I looked down at the book in my hands, En El Camino, the Spanish translation of Kerouac’s namesake novel. His eyes trained on me as my finger traced the copy, lingering where I’d marked off passages. HIs patience and sincerity calmed me, and I leafed and leafed before settling with “There was nowhere to go but everywhere.” It felt wholly uninspired, but he seemed thrilled.
Later, still smelling like earth, I was wandering along in the Latin Quarter and dozed into a sleepy little bookstore. Immediately inside was a display of Moleskines. I already had one, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this boy’s apparent project. Though surviving on a shoestring diet of baguette, olive oil and oranges, I forked over the Euros for another notebook.
I carried that notebook among my most precious possessions through Europe and Central America, collecting everything from stamps and stickers to recipes and music suggestions from those whose paths I crossed. It’s not a timeline of my days spent backpacking, but more an amalgamation of the chaos and character that came with it.
I, too, asked people to contribute a favorite quote to this book, whatever resonated with them. Like me, some panicked. But others knew right away what to scrawl. Some would get back to me days later, or pull out their own notebooks to handpick an addition. Still others messaged me over Facebook or e-mail months later.
I have hundreds of these quotes, each one my keepsake of a character from some corner of the world, some corner of my experiences. These are some of my favorites:
You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from. Joan Didion
Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people. George Bernard Shaw
L’arte d’arrangiarsi – the art of making something out of nothing; the art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, a few gathered friends into a festival. A Dane
You’re not here anymore. You’ve got to leave in order to return to the present. Paulo Coelho
One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk. Charles Baudelaire
There is no one thing that’s true. It’s all true. Ernest Hemmingway
Travel is glamorous only in retrospect. Paul Theroux
Your whole life is about discovering who you already were. An Egyptian
…of all this weird creatures who lock up their spirits, drill holes in themselves and live for their secrets. Radiohead
Feel the fear and do it anyway. An Irishman
…but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt about that… There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down the 101 to Los Altos or La Honda… you could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning… Hunter S. Thompson
All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring. Chuck Palahniuk
Some of us have to be naked, so the rest can be exempted by fate. Sheila Heti
I’ve always been drawn to tormented people full of contradictions. Antonio Tabucchi
Do you feel alive? A Swede.
To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves. Federico Garcia Lorca
Life is too fucking short not to try. Californication
This was really the way my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell. Jack Kerouac
Karl Jung’s psychotherapy to tap into the sub-conscience: name a color, name three adjectives to describe that color. This is how you see yourself. Name an animal, name three adjectives to describe that animal. This is how you see others. Name a body of water. Name three adjectives to describe that body of water. This is how you see your sex life. Now, imagine yourself in a white enclosed room with no windows or doors. Name three adjectives to describe this room. That is how you see your death experience to be. A German
Ordinary life does not interest me. Anaïs Nin
But if one’s dream having to come true was the only referendum on whether they were beautiful, or worth dreaming, well then, no one would wish for anything. And that would be so much sadder. David Rakoff
Move me. A Belizean.
Live to the point of tears. Albert Camus
Life’s aim, it it has one, is simply to be always looking for temptations. There are not nearly enough. I sometimes pass a whole day without coming across a single one. It makes me so nervous about the future. Oscar Wilde
…but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three you figure you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. Joan Didion
She was habitually defiant and fearless, and when she felt controlled, as she often did, she could be irresistibly willfull. Laura Hillenbran
I missed him. Love, I realized, was something your spine memorized. There was nothing you could do about that. Lorrie Moore
There is a third dimension to traveling, the longing for what is beyond. Jan Myrdal
He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on your with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. F. Scott Fitzgerald
Deliver me from Swedish furniture. Deliver me from clever art. May I never be complete. may I never be content. May I never be perfect. Chuck Palahniuk