April 8, 2007
…is one of my favorite words, and yet I can find no adequate translation for it into English:
1. unusual adj. 2. uncommon adj. 3. atypical adj., so sayeth the dictionaries.
I first came to love the word while reading the French magazine Courrier International. Claire Maupas founded a column for quirky, offbeat news, which has since become a full page spread, special edition publications and a concept: Insolites. This artist/pianist/cycler extraordinaire has made it her job for the past twenty years to scout out ‘incredible but true’ stories, that somehow illuminate an aspect of society and the world at large.
Eg: escaped US militarized dolphins on the loose in the Gulf of Mexico post-hurricane Katrina, McDonald’s being upset over the 2001 OED definition of the term “McJob”, coined by the Washington Post, the pink building exclusively reserved for women in Dubai, equipped with its own exclusively female, pink taxi service, or that at the Malpensa airport in Milan, the control tower lost communications with pilots for a while, hearing instead the local hit parade music radio station…
Insolite can also be applied to travel: seeking to avoid touristy areas in favor of something more unique, more authentic, a potentially life-altering experience… losing yourself in a new city, picking your next turn arbitrarily and exploring… I remember how happy I was to come across the Cafe-Bar Abades and the Casa de Pilatos in Seville. Or the Istituto Italo-LatinoAmericano in Venice, or that gem of a bookstore.
I like to think of “insolite” as more than just a word. I see it as an outlook, a sensibility and ultimately a pleasure-finding way of life.