Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere

The ancient mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem lamented, "Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink." I finally knew exactly how he felt, though not about water - about books.

Though I've had several opportunities to travel out of the country, I'd never been to a mostly non-English-speaking city before, so this past weekend's brief road trip to Montreal was actually more challenging than I expected. In addition to losing 3G coverage on our phones (as data roaming charges are too ridiculously high), we had forgotten to purchase a paper map and found ourselves faced with French, French every where - and not many words did we speak. There are, of course, plenty of English-speaking people around, but it was interesting to me to be so disoriented by traffic signs, business names, and even the Metro map.

Our last stop on Sunday afternoon was a new and used bookstore where our Parisian friends browsed while I kind of stumbled around feeling quite thirsty indeed. Bookstores - especially used bookstores - are some of my favorite places to kill time, especially lazily after a big brunch on a Sunday afternoon. But of course I couldn't read a thing. I found several books I recognized from cover art and some from the author's names, but otherwise it was a lesson in guessing. It made me regret, a little, not continuing on with my foreign language studies in college past what was minimally required to graduate.

The one thing I did take away from this experience was that bookstores, no matter the language of their materials, all stir the same desires in me: to read, to write, to learn. The smell of the books was the same. The enviable position of the old woman proprietor, sitting in an armchair reading and occasionally answering questions, was the same. My fingers' itch toward my wallet was the same. Even though I couldn't follow a single sentence, I still wanted to hole up somewhere soon and soak in some of my own language, just as the ancient mariner needed so desperately to find some fresh water to quench his thirst. 

In that aspect for me, perhaps, it was less of a tortuous experience but more of an eye-opening one; it was the reminder that literature is literature and a reader, like a sailor, can't so long be away from its vast ocean. I plan to go back up to Montreal soon -- after all, it's only a five-hour drive -- and though I'll be more prepared next time I am excited to again be cast out into semi-confusion. Adventure, after all, is one of the best things to keep a writer's inkwell full.