Not long after take-off, the stewardess handed out the latest edition of L’Echo des Caps. I had planned to spend my weekend in quiet, self-imposed “solitary confinement” (or almost). I didn’t intend to make the proverbial rounds; seeing the sights or visiting friends, old or new. I needed to reflect; needed to clear my head and process.
“Process what?” you ask.
“Just about everything” I reply. “Nothing was off the table.”
As I perused the pages, I noticed that there was a bouquinade* planned for the following day at l’école du feu rouge**. “We’ll see.” I said to myself and tucked the notice back into my mind.
A quiet evening, a bite to eat at I don’t remember where, a good night’s sleep, a wonderful breakfast, some reading, journaling… a need to stretch my legs. I bundle up and head to the bouquinade.
Pick up this book, another, yet another, set this one back down, pick up two, set down three, think I needed this one, would love to read that one, don’t have time for either, can’t leave with nothing, go browse some more. I’ve been at this table before, in fact I’ve been to all the tables at least three times…
Could it be? Perhaps. Without question. I haven’t seen her for over twenty years and she was middle-aged then. I dare ask, “Do you remember?” and as I try to explain as concisely as possible while at the same time giving enough detail, she lands on my name and asks if I was the one that did the hand-made dentelle. Yes.
Now a senior citizen herself, as were most of the others with whom we had travelled, she asks if I’d heard about pauvre Madame une telle? She had just passed and visitation began this morning.
We said a cordial good-bye, having expressed the surprise and pleasure at having met so hap-hazardly, and having exchanged the numerous polite formalities that are so very French… (being both an outsider and an insider at the same time is a wonderfully intoxicating mix. An outsider due to uncommon geography and culture but an insider by virtue of language and one or two shared experiences years distant).
Oh yes. I did leave with a few books that day: a series of 4 harcover, miniature books of Poèmes amoureux et galants*** (pictured above). This was a practical choice as they wouldn’t weigh down my carry-on baggage as the four-volume-memoir by a former King of France, would have. It was also a romantic choice. I figured I could pull one or two selections out, periodically, for my wife. Yet it was even more romantic than I might have guessed.
As I leafed through the pages… I found evidence of someone else’s galantry… rose petals. Tucked away in this book of love poetry were rose petals. My mind began to wander… and wonder. Whose story is tucked away in these yellowed pages? Who was the giver? Who received? Was is a special occasion or everyday romance? Were they young? Old? Are they still alive?
Oh how I’d love to sit down with the person who, while cleaning out their bookshelf, never thought to check for rose petals, and listen to them tell their story. Perhaps with a gleam in their eye, or perhaps a tear. Tell me a story.
Ahhh… the richness of an hour spent at a bouquinade.
* bouquinade: “used book sale” in the local vernacular
** école du feu rouge: not “the red light school” per sé… but indicates, rather, the school built on the site of the old red lighthouse.
*** poèmes amoureux et galants: Poems of love and galantry