Professor Göte Nyman – Perceptions of real places and virtual characters

Many of us enjoy visiting places where famous artists, scientists or other eminent historical personalities have lived, worked and moved about. So, with my friends I began the year 2016 in Paris, and like so many tourists there, especially Americans, by visiting the place where Hemingway lived with his wife Hadley in 1920s, in their modest apartment at the Rue Cardinale Lemoine in the 5th arrondissement.

Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast is a wonderful and touching story of that time and their love, life, and tragedy and got me interested to see and feel the place and their living environment, the restaurants and other places Hemingway frequented. Indeed, it is no rare form of tourism today, which you can notice if you happen to visit those, sometimes crowded places, it is no innovation.

Einstein giving a lecture at the University of Paris in 1922. (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Then we took a slightly less popular route, and continued to the College de France where Albert Einstein gave his famous talk in 1922, in front of the leading French scientists, philosophers and even some celebrities – who probably did not understand a jot of his revolutionary ideas, on the Theory of Relativity. It is a most inspiring and immersive experience to explore such places, even for a short time, perhaps only for half an hour, and imagine what life has been then and what these places have meant to the famous persons working or visiting there.

Once my mentor, late Fergus W. Campbell, a recognized vision physiologist from Cambridge arrived in Helsinki from St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, and shared a fascinating story on how it had felt to sit at the desk, in V. I. Lenin’s chair – if the story he heard about it was true – where Lenin had his command post during the revolution. After Fergus had finished his colorful story on how he was able to enjoy that privilege, he asked me to take him to the Department of Physiology in Helsinki, where I had worked for some years and where Ragnar Granit, the Finnish-Swedish Nobel laureate in medicine had started his career. Fergus wanted to visit and feel the atmosphere of Granit’s lab. Well, the laboratory had been abolished, but a kind lady I knew there guided us to where it had been and Fergus could enjoy visiting the small room where the lab had once been and where Granit made his first discoveries.

An enchanting view to the place you are going to visit

What if you slightly transform this wonderful idea, visiting the places, where famous personas have spent their time? I’m sure many writers do something like this when preparing their novels, but this is a somewhat different idea and meant for anyone, and I believe it is worth sharing here in the FinnishNews. I assume children would love it.

So, this is based on what I have done with my coming book – a novel which I have decided to release on 9th September 2017, either with the support of a real publishing house or if that does not happen then as a private publication. The idea is the following:

  1. Next time, very early, when planning your trip to a city, in Finland, for example, write a fiction story, either about real Finnish or other celebrities and fictional characters living or visiting the city you intend to see, and whom you meet in your story.
  2. The story should be mostly fiction, where you can ‘virtually’, meet with the real people you have chosen, celebrities or other interesting characters, in interesting places and circumstances. Prepare the outline for the story, the cast and make a good plan where the main events in your story take place.
  3. Include suitable, well-motivated walks and other ways of moving from one place to another, from a shabby restaurant to the railway station or from the University Library to the Orthodox Church, for example.
  4. If it feels too hard to write the story alone then why not do it together with your family members, friends and colleagues with whom you intend to travel or who perhaps have already visited the place where you intend to go. Record the relevant addresses, the directions and tours your characters use when moving about in the story. Try to write lively descriptions of the characters, the happenings and the conversations you include in your story.
  5. It is quite inspiring to choose the (real) figures whom you will meet in your story and you can learn new things about them and the places where they have lived. Today it is easy to find historical data about the specific locations where these figures have lived and met with their friends, colleagues and experienced any possible episodes of life.
  6. Then take GoogleMaps and use its street view to take the routes – the ones your characters have used – from one interesting place to another and for visiting the places where your characters have been and done whatever it may be. What you see when doing this you can then add to the story and color the details and other aspects of the story.
  7. Finally, and the most interesting part, when you have the story written, you have already taken the tours in GoogleMaps and you arrive in your real travel destination. Just follow your characters, their life and whereabouts, visit the important places you now already know and the imaginary episodes, which have taken place there in your story. Discuss them with your travel companions. Go and visit the restaurants, museums, harbor cafes, and feel them, do what your characters have done there – if it is proper – and enjoy this wonderful re-living of your imaginary or real heroes.

If this has not yet been done I do hope one day there will be a traveler’s app that would make all this versatile and easy, inspiring to do.

If you come to Finland, I suggest a suitable city, especially in the countryside where your fictional – why not very real Finns in your story – guide you to enjoy the genuine Finnish life and its peculiar environments.  In your story, you can decide what you want to happen in these places. It will be something only you can experience.

To be true to my story here, my next plan is to visit Paris. I already know what I want to see there, where to go and what to do in these real and imaginary contexts – it is almost all in my coming book “Perceptions of the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and I can’t wait to enter the restaurant where my characters have enjoyed their first glasses of champagne in Paris – after the difficult experiences of life they had gone through. They will be wonderful imaginary company.

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