I'm curious if I'm just weird (yes, I am) or if others do the same thing. When I'm home this doesn't happen, but when I travel it does. I love people watching and have always (with or without a companion) imagined their lives. But sometimes ideas for beginnings of novels come to me just through very ordinary situations. (This is not intended to be well written )
Here are a couple of examples.
A few years ago, I was at the Cafe Marly at the Louvre in Palace, where no one goes to eat or for the service, but only for the view. As I looked out toward the courtyard, a sparrow perched on my table, looking directly at me. My attempts to stare him down failed, so I cocked my head side to side, trying to act like a bird. He turned sideways and looked at me with his right eye only. The waiter started shooing away the birds but sensed I didn't want my sparrow gone. The sparrow and I had made a connection, and I thought what brought me to the Louvre that day so that I would meet him. What were the stares intended to tell me? I tried ignoring him and looked at rapt couples, arm in arm, walking toward the Tuileries but he remained. I gave him the remains of my lunch. He ate warily, keeping an eye on me. What was he telling me? I learned in that moment to savor every encounter, even with a bird. As mortal beings, we need to stop, not only to smell the roses but to listen to and look at the birds. He remained till I signed the check and said a hushed au revoir.
Here in Bologna, my main meal is lunch, and I have tried out various restaurants. But before going back to the hotel, I stop at a wonderful panini shop a few doors down for the end of day. (Would you believe? Freshly made? This wouldn't happen in Paris, especially at countertop shops near the train station.) Even though he's more than 40 years younger than me, one young man who makes sandwiches has flirted since the first day (ah, the Italians!). Each time I come in, he asks, Come normale? (The usual?) And each time he adds yet another piece of turkey or some fresh vegetables to my panino and after handing it to me says "a domani" (till tomorrow). I wonder about him. For me there won't be a tomorrow here because I'm heading home, but I wonder what his life will become. WIll he always sell sandwiches? Will he become a permanent student? Will he snag some old lady like me with his shy naivete? Or will he somehow transcend the normal in Italian society and rise to a position of prominence? I hope he does whatever he wants to do.
And sometimes stories and worlds collide, as happened with my tour guide (for 3 times) in Roma several years ago, Giordano. After he ditched the tour group briefly at break at the Trevi Fountain he bought me a prosecco and said the Italian versions of three times a charm before we returned to the oohs and aahs of older women on the bus. Over the next three years we spent much time together whenever I was in Rome. Giordano was a troubled soul, and I was 19 years older than him, so we kept it platonic but romantic. But that's how I ended up in the Worker's Socialist Cultural Club that night many years ago listening to jazz before flying home. We still remain friends and correspond.
As I've said many times, I am a hermit at home. Maybe that makes me more open to at least 'seeing' stories and having minor experiences when I'm abroad. (It definitely doesn't happen at US conferences.) And in almost every case I want to write a book that starts with such an experience. Maybe if I ever get to retire I will.