Topologies 2.0 – Knowing by narrative returns

I promised back in my last post on Wallonia to tell you more about the Maigret novel that I finished reading in January 2020. Georges Simenon grew up in Wallonia, and worked in Liège, so his detective fiction which strays north of Paris into this space offered me a chance for detailed literary geography, and even literary topology of our area of interest.

The first important landmark mentioned is the gare des Guillemins; the railway station of returns which folds the narrative of the story around Western Europe of the late 1920s and around the author’s own life story.  

It was thanks to Willem that I discovered that Guillemins is a neighbourhood of the city of Liège, named after the hermits of Saint-Williams. It was the portal into the urban space of Liège in Simenon’s day, the 1920s, and a century later, in 2020 the station was still where commuters would set foot in Wallonia from other parts of Belgium. Commuters heading for work do not have time to gather souvenirs from railway bookstalls in the same way that the returning traveller does when waiting for the early evening departure.

The souvenirs that I have brought back from travels, when I look back at them, usually relate to the streets and the locations mentioned in literary fiction. I like to buy novels set in the town I am visiting. My most recent one was a copy of a Modiano and, what made the moment complete, was that the shop also supplied bookmarks as a souvenir of your visit there. I have seen bookmark souvenirs in many French-speaking bookshops but never in second-hand bookshops in Britain.  Have you kept any yourself? I keep mine in the book even after I’ve finished reading. This means the bookmarks become lost on my bookshelves until I lend the book. The lost souvenir, like the lost quartier of Modiano.

Julie Masset and Alain Decrop asked tourists where they put their souvenirs when they return home (Masset & Decrop 2020, 2) and then reported their findings to show that many items brought back from holiday found their way upstairs to bedrooms, to wardrobes and even to the attic. This journey through vertical space of the objects into the intimate recesses of holidaymakers’ lives is another topographical fold. 

Masset, J. & Decrop, A. (2020) ‘Meanings of Tourist Souvenirs: From the Holiday Experience to Everyday Life’ Journal of Travel Research doi.org/10.1177/0047287520915284