Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas, I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself? I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one. I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan. After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full. Elation! That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.
I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city. What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris. Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.
The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!” The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs. “Merci, Madame! Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that. Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.
After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.
Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England. I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases. Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best. He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them. It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases. Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.
On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me. I flinched. After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat. I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head. When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand. I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor. Yuck! “Sir! Excuse me! I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.” In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.” I tried not to look at the titles. That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings. Serious reading.
My generosity sparked conversation. “What do you do?” he asked. “I’m a writer.” “Really? What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog, lindamalcolm.com.” “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.” With all those books. I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”
Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write? And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board. It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.
A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."
(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry? That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read. Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")