Inspirational Traveller: On the path of literary legends
Meet Liviana Tane, a journalist turned content-agency founder who spends her spare time travelling the world on the path of literary legends. Hemingway in Paris, Anne Frank in Amsterdam, and Orhan Paumk in Istanbul are just the beginning. Liviana began her literary exploration, The Writing Journey, one year ago and plans to travel to 100 places, discovering the paths of 100 authors, and in turn to herself write, you guessed it - 100 stories. We are in awe of this incredible project so sat down with Liviana, to find out more.
What an incredible project to undertake. How was the idea conceived?
To be honest, like every good idea, this one was also more of an accident. A fortunate one, as I can say now. My friends know me as a frantic traveler, so they wanted to surprise me with a plane ticket to New York for my 40th birthday. But everything went wrong: my passport expired, my visa wasn’t long enough for my trip, my schedule was crazy, everything you can imagine going wrong was actually worst. So they needed to reconsider everything and that’s how I ended up in Amsterdam.
It was my first trip to Amsterdam, so I had no idea what to expect. It was end of June, the weather was awful, and I was alone in a hotel with no plan for the next 6 days, except for... you know, turning 40. Which could be a pretty delicate matter for some.
Not for me, though. I am quite an optimistic person, so I contemplated all the things I’ve done so far for others, trying to figure out what to do for myself from now on. Therefore I asked myself what brought me joy? The answer was pretty obvious: I love travelling, reading and writing. So I just chose my greatest passions ever and put them into a life project.
I plan to follow it for (at least) 10 years, but, you know, it’s just the beginning.
As you well know, there are literary paths to be followed all over the globe; how did you narrow down your starting point on your journey?
Before starting The Writing Journey, I had no idea that people are already doing the same thing.
It was with great surprise that I discovered there are already such tours and I am glad to share this passion with a lot of people. I have to admit, however, that I have not undertaken such an organized route yet. I prefer to choose my own landmarks and make my own itineraries.
Sometimes I choose the city first, other times the writer is the one who indicates my destination. I read a lot, but I am the kind of reader who does not draw a clear line between author and book. Whenever I read something, I want to know more about the person behind the pages. The author’s personality influences the way I see the novel, as well as my choices, when deciding to follow their steps.
How many literary trails have you been on so far? Who and where?
I can count 13 destinations so far.
I started with Hemingway in Paris, because both the city and Papa have a special significance for me, and it seemed logical to choose this combination to start a project that defines me.
I was then in Lisbon, on the footsteps of Jose Saramago. This destination was a challenge for me, for I had great expectations: a Nobel Laureate and a city which everybody spoke about beautifully.
Anne Frank followed, in Amsterdam, because I felt the need to thank the city for inspiration. This trip was a real lesson for me, because it taught me to overcome my prejudices. Of all sorts.
When in Milan, following Umberto Eco, I read a lot of history. This time, I combined the experience with another project and used my travel to complete the research for a book I was writing at that time as a ghost writer (the biography of a character who lived in Milan for a significant timespan in life).
Then I went to Athens following Nikos Kazantzakis. I left Piraeus and I stopped on Aegina Island. The writer loved the island so much that he built a home there, and he stayed there to write during the most difficult moments of his life.
I followed George Orwell to Barcelona. I had never been to Barcelona before. After the four days I spent there, I realized that I was so mesmerized by my project that I missed almost all the major tourist attractions. Nothing about Gaudi, everything about Orwell and his friends from the Lost Generation.
I looked for Federico Fellini in Rome. Yeah, I know, it's not really on the list of classic writers, but my definition of a writer is "a person who writes". And Fellini, besides his journalistic career that qualifies him anyway on my subjective list, also wrote scripts for important movies.
I followed Jane Austen in London, only to discover a bit of every English writer I've ever read. A very good reason to come back this year.
In Istanbul I went to Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence. I also discovered modern Turkey and its people at a time when history is not very friendly. This does not stop them from being wonderful people.
I had huge surprises in Dublin, where Hemingway's Parisian friend, James Joyce, left profound marks, even if he didn’t live too much in Ireland. This is one more place I want to go again.
This year starts in Germany and Belgium, where I also test some poetry for the first time: I will follow Heinrich Boll in Koln, Hugo Claus in Bruges and Heinrich Heine in Dusseldorf.
Do you have a favourite journey so far, and if so, and why was it your favourite experience?
I find it hard to make a choice, because every trip has its magic moments. It's amazing to see how cities change under your eyes and how places you've seen before or that you thought you knew well look completely different when viewed from a writer’s perspective.
Take Paris, for example, a city I used to live in, years ago, and visited several times after that. Paris seemed to me completely changed when I went there following Hemingway or Joyce. And every writer tends to get a new consistency, when you enter the homes they used to lived in, or have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the cafes they used to stop and take in the world.
An author’s trail can be substantial - how do you decide which parts to follow?
A little bit of everything. As I said, I don’t necessary have a pattern. And I think that's what makes this experience so personal. It's a kind of adventure I dive in without knowing all the details in advance. I often get into a city without a strict itinerary, intuition or inspiration guide me.
I like to discover places they have lived in or places that inspired them. However, I also like to unravel my own stories. I love to meet new people and turn them into characters.
Many of the authors write multiple books based in certain locations, do you tend to have read all of the novels before visiting?
Not all of them, but a substantial amount of the relevant ones :)
I always enjoyed reading. I’ve been reading since I was 5 years old and my mother was my inspiration. Later on, I studied literature at the Faculty of Letters in Bucharest. I have lived all my life writing, one way or another: as a journalist, an editor or a translator, but I never thought this would actually be my true vocation.
That said, reading has always been part of me, so many of the books I follow today I have already read many years ago. My favourite however are contemporary writers, so I often discover them and watch their progress while it happens.
If you haven’t always read all of an author’s novels before embarking on your journey, does visiting the locations so close to an author’s heart inspire you to read more of their work?
It took me by surprise when I ended up reading more by a certain author than I had intended, due to the fact that documentation for the trip stirred up my interest. This was the case with Hemingway and Joyce, who fascinate me. I often keep reading their books even after I get back from my journey.
Have you stayed in any hotels due to their literary history, and can you tell us your most memorable story from doing so?
In Barcelona, I stopped at Hotel Continental, the place George and Eileen Orwell stayed. The hotel is still owned by the same family who owned it in the 1930s, when the writer lived there. In the lobby, next to the Reception, they exhibited a small space for Orwell's work, including Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and 1984.
An amusing story is linked to the square bearing his name (Placa George Orwell), some hundred meters from the hotel. There was a time when this place was a well-known space for drug dealers, so local authorities decided to install the first CCTV surveillance cameras. Ironic for Big Brother's father.
You’re based in Romania, have you followed any literary trails in your own country? If not, are there any Romanian literature writers for which you’d like to do so?
Oddly enough, I’ve come to follow Romanian authors abroad. It was common for them to study or to live in big European cities like Paris or Vienna, or even the US rather than their own country. Communism was not a proper environment for intellectuals. Emil Cioran or Mircea Eliade are just two of the great names in Romanian literature and philosophy that I would love to follow.
Writers are nomad in spirit, so I always find their trails in more than one city. Romanians included.
You write up your experiences on your own personal blog; for those who don’t read Romanian, what kind of stories are you telling the world about your experiences?
Actually, it is kind of a mix. I write about writers, but also about the people I meet. I’m a fool for the power of a good character, so I try to populate my writing with real strong people. I am fascinated by life stories of all kind.
We have this really big problem with the educational system in Romania. Everything is either over-theorized or brought to such an academic level that usually inhibit the joy of learning. What I do is try to bring the joy again by making those characters vivid, cool and fun. More like normal human beings than statues...
Actually, a magical thing happened along with this project: some of my friends invited me to their children's schools to tell them about my passion. These meetings inspire them to read more as well. Sometimes, children challenge me with new books.
Do you have any plans to translate it into any other languages?
Yeah, it’s actually work in progress! My blog will soon have an English version.
Where, and who, is next on The Writing Journey?
In 2019 I’ll be in Copenhagen in February (Hans Christian Andersen is such an intriguing character), then I will follow Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Thomas Mann in Berlin, Graham Greene in London, JK Rowling in Edinburgh (I will take my son, David, with me for this one), Franz Kafka in Prague, I will spend a week under the Tuscan sun and three weeks in the United States (New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco).
Which future trip are you most excited to plan and go on, and why?
I'm fascinated by the BEAT Generation, so I'm looking forward to being in the US for three weeks during the next summer. Not just Kerouac, Burroughs, or Ginsberg are on my list, but also Truman Capote or JD Salinger.
My great dream, however, is to meet one of my favourite writers so far, JR Moehringer. I discovered him with The Tender Bar, and his collaboration with Andre Agassi for the tennis player's autobiography, Open, was an inspiration for me.
It would be great to get to meet some of the writers I admire. Jonathan Franzen was in Romania, but we did not synchronize (when he was in Iasi, I was in Bucharest and the other way round). I would like to meet Jeffrey Eugenides, or Stephen King (even though I don’t favour much the horror style, I find King's volume "On Writing" one of the most valuable books on writing).
Do you plan to write a novel yourself, inspired by your own journey?
It wasn’t my plan when I started the project, but as time went on, it became the almost logical conclusion. Yes, I'm going to get these experiences in a book. However, I see it as an autobiography rather than a novel or a travel book.
Furthermore, almost every trip inspires me to write. It's such an intense experience that I can not draw a clear line between it and what I am. The Writing Journey is not just a simple project any longer; it has become part of me, it defines me as a person, my structure.
And finally - with no barriers (time, money, visas) which author’s path, from any city or country in the world would most like to follow?
This project has seemingly acquired a life of its own. Choosing Hemingway as a starting point was no accident at all. I seem to find him everywhere I go. I think the world is a huge map of Hem's life. At the end, when I will come to a conclusion, the absolute balance will probably be this: Ernest Hemingway.
- Interview by Katie Silcox
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