Frame of reference

A traveler, by definition, moves around the universe—that, at least, is the Copernican view we believe in to begin with. But as we travel around the world, we discover that just the opposite is true, that we are in fact the center of our own universe, as the ancient cosmogony would have it.

Travelers stay put, with their personal tunes, their mobile computers, their phones that store cherished data, their friends in their heads and their pianos in their bellies, as the Henri Tachan song goes. Travelers remain at the center of the world, while the whole world moves and revolves around them, as in one of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films.

Travel is not about rushing to reach some goal or refuge. It’s about stopping to take in the changing surroundings, like a stormy sky. It’s about folding up your umbrella and letting the rain fall on your soul, as on a house without a roof.

But it is also about creating situations ripe for adventure, full of shifting viewpoints, relativity-style, full of fruitful, if random, moments, as in quantum mechanics.

To read a book, listen to a concerto or decode a mathematical proof is to embark on a journey; but to undertake a journey is to write a book with one’s actions and words.

Just choose (or not) a time and a destination and you have an outline of the subject and the main sections. Next come the chapters, with their twists, anecdotes and details that make it all true to life. You are in constant dialogue with your surroundings throughout the journey, adapting the plot, improvising, eliminating a protagonist you’ve grown tired of, as in a Conan Doyle novel.

The journey that takes form through an interplay of design and random chance is the novel the writer has to write, the cri du poète, as in a verse by Louis Aragon.

You feel soothed after the journey, a few cris lighter and enriched by the stars encountered along the way, as in one of Edmond Baudoin’s graphic novels.

Cédric Villani, French Mathematician, 2010 Fields Medal laureate

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