Checking into international flights, I've often wondered what fills the suitcase of a traveler. Is the cart of over-stuffed, trunk-sized cases full of gifts for the family in Mumbai? Is that duffel carrying candy, not found on the market in someone's new home base in Hong Kong? What is it that people value enough, so much that they deem it a worthy souvenir or a flavor craved far overseas? What will they sacrifice space for another sweater for?
If the TSA folks in Amarillo wondered at all about my just-under-fifty pound bag, they soon discovered the Celestial Seasonings tea is part of my return-trip equation. Lemon Zinger isn't something I can pick off the supermarket shelf here in San Pedro, and boy, I'd be willing to pack a whole Samsonite with the stuff to grace my teapot back here at home.
But as heavily illustrated and quote-laden those colorful tea boxes are, heavy they aren't. It's another coveted something that puts the pounds into my bag: books. Sometimes illustrated, but most often not, fiction and non is what I most look forward to bringing back from the States.
Good book stores are few here, the likes of Gandhi and Porrúa offering the widest selection of available titles. But books are expensive here, often double the price that the same work will cost in the U.S.--the price one pays when demand is down. Amazon now ships, it seems, through Casa del Libro MX, but our address makes package delivery a dubious enterprise, at best, and the shipping costs almost as much as the books themselves. In Spanish or in English, the right book rarely comes cheaply.
And the right books make keep the world recognizable, familiar, and full of both story and surprise. My suitcase came back with me with books I've read, and many I haven't. Books for friends, books for Patricio, and books for myself--for my groups that I love. Books' magic is that of taking us somewhere new. I'm now taking my own to a new place, to shelves that mean an adventure for them, too. The best part, though, is the places these books have taken me, literally: to homes of generous Mexico City friends, one in a place like paradise.
Before going north to the comforts of my family in Texas last month, I packed a bag full of overnight things to join the book club group in a mid-week escape to Valle de Bravo. A dear, delight of a member, generous to the nth degree, invited us into a world like a recipe for perfect. Women, walks, buoyed by conversation--one about a book--we lightened our figurative baggage's load, leaving everyday life in suspension.
Some travels take people home, some take us to visit family. Trips might be to someplace "real," or to a fantasy created to paint the world in colors of ease. Valle de Bravo might lean toward the latter, yet it still feels like a spot that's in between; a balance of light and heavy, like a suitcase of good books and some Colorado tea.
(Take a look at the photo album--if not up now, up soon in the right-hand column)