Before there were laptops, at least of the weight and battery life you could easily travel with. Long before smartphones. Before blogs. Before any of that, I always traveled with a little spiral notepad.
I love to write when I’m traveling. Only the tools I use have evolved. I remember during one month-long trip, I had forgotten to bring my notepad. But I was reading a paperback copy of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. And that poor paperback became my writing paper. Every blank page, every page where the text only covered half of the page, that’s where I wrote. Complete with a little arrow and the page number where the next page of my writing could be found.
By the end of the trip, that paperback was completely full. To read it later was an exercise in page jumping, forward and back to find the ever shrinking blank spaces to write.
But during a trip to Germany a year earlier, I had no such paper shortage to overcome.
I was visiting as a guest filmmaker of the Berlin Underground Film Festival in 1995. A completely optimistic time in a city that had been divided for decades. Construction everywhere along the former East and West Berlin border. The people I met there couldn’t have been more welcoming. I explored that great city, along with neighboring Potsdam and the legendary Babelsberg Film Studio where classics such as Metropolis were filmed. It was wonderful to be there in such a transformative period.
One of my favorite places to write was at Café Adler. That café has quite the history, being across the street from the old Checkpoint Charlie when the Berlin Wall still stood. I’d take a break from my chilly November strolls and have a few cups of warming coffee. And I’d write.
I always find I gain such clarity of thought when I’m traveling. Any problem I’m trying to sort has a way of jogging itself loose in unfamiliar environs. Almost as if there is so much new information coming into my head that the problem solving is moved to the back burner where it can simmer and sort itself without distraction.
Sometimes I do miss those days of paper writing. The only problem is, that I really have no idea which box of old files that particular notepad may be hiding in these days. Perhaps it’s time to go on a scavenger hunt to find it. I did find that old Hunchback paperback though. On my bookshelf where it should be.