Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Postcard from Rouen

This is the village where Papa roamed. It's in the south of Spain, near the sea. Hemingway came here and stayed a season, and now they have his every path and stop marked out and commemorative trinkets available.

I am in an open limo, and there are others in a long string, like a beauty pageant. I am studying closely an ancient tome with a chalky yellowing fabric cover. It's Cervantes, only I cannot figure out which. It might be the one of the crazed knight, but the pictures don't tell that story, and I don't read spanish, especially 16th century spanish, well enough to know.

I turn the page and a letter falls into my lap. It's old, but I cannot tell if it's as old as the book. I can make it out mostly. It's a shopping list. Wow. A four hundred year old shopping list. I'm trying to think about saving a shopping list for that long. It must be pure chance. Who would decide, I'm gong to keep this shopping list forever, to remember the rutabegas at La Dome and the melons from Valladolid. Maybe that's how history comes to be.

A lady in our limo, unknown to me, says, oh, Rouen is closed for remodel. She says it, Ray-een. She asks to look at my book, and I give it to her. I figure someone who is confident about saying Rouen in mixed company must be trustworthy.

I have to run back to my room. I am packing a box of books to trade at the local bookshop. They give you credit. I was wondering how much credit a first-edition Cervantes might be worth.

I really should not have left the old text in the limo. It really was not a good idea, no matter the lady knew French. I don't know French either. Maybe she knew that, and just said Ray-een to impress us. Maybe she said Rouen wrong. Perhaps she's never even been there. Maybe she only wanted the Cervantes.

When I find the limo, it still is moving slowly through traffic in its stately ceremonial pace. The space I have foolishly abandoned is vacant, and when I hop up onto the running board, I see the Cervantes is square in the seat I had occupied.

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