I keep journals, because my memory is terribly faulty, and I like to have a record of things as they happen, to audit my less than accurate recollections months or years later. Today’s one of those days when I’m thinking back about a time, and the details and facts are foggy. I know I wrote it down, but I don’t remember which year it happened, which makes flipping through my old journals a time-consuming affair. For the sake of getting the story right, I tried; but for the sake of telling the story today, I’m going to work off of my memory. Someday, I’ll come across those pages in my journal and compare the two, and see just how far off my non-fiction can be.
I’d been divorced a year when I started traveling for a living. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds: my destinations were one retail store footwear department after another; one corporate meeting room after another; punctuated by one weekend spend working an event somewhere I’d rather be playing after another. Nights were spent staying with friends, or in (mostly) budget hotels (with the occasional luxurious night or weekend, depending on the purpose of the travel, and other nights spent sleeping in my car, a rental car, or camping out … not because my employer set a budget for accommodations (they didn’t) but because I liked it that way. Waking in the fresh air, combing my hair and applying my mascara in my rearview mirror, brewing coffee with my camp stove, then tucking my bedding into the roof box on my Jetta and strolling into work, wherever in the (usually) West work was, that day.
The time I spent on the road had its ups and downs — it wasn’t all idyllic, and the challenges of the work were types I’d prefer to avoid, not the challenges I embrace and enjoy — but what that time did for me was teach me how to move through the world by myself. After a twelve and a half year relationship, which included a ten year marriage that ended in divorce, with me packing a laundry basket full of legal files, my climbing and camping gear, and a bag of clothes and my toothbrush, I had a lot to learn about moving through the world solo.
After a month traveling through Nepal (solo, or with only a sherpa guide for company, during much of my trekking time because I walked more slowly than the men I traveled with) I settled into the routine of a few days or weeks in the office and then a few days or weeks on the road (depending on the season). And I learned to navigate new-to-me cities alone, how to choose where to sleep and eat, how to observe the thoughts of friends and family as I traveled and reach out to people when they came to me in my own thoughts, to learn to build and preserve relationships other than with just one spouse, like I’d done for so many years. And somewhere along that road, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop chatting with an old man. I don’t recall what year, what city, or what book, but I do recall one detail of the conversation.
“In Catalonia, we celebrate Rose and Book Day,” he said. That’s the only part I can quote, from memory. I might have said something about my distaste for Valentines Day — perhaps it was on Valentines Day, who knows. He might have given me a flower; I can’t recall. I think I’d been reading a book, but I can’t remember for sure. But I do remember the grey-haired, wrinkled, stooped old man wearing dark colors — black and grey. And I remember writing down “Catalonia Rose and Book Day,” then googling the phrase later, reading the Wikipedia article and then adding April 23rd to my calendar, recurring annually.
How better to let someone know you love them, by giving them a rose and a book? Happy Rose and Book Day, to you. What are your plans, to celebrate this auspicious holiday?