Yes, this post is three months overdue. Whoops.
As I rode the bus back after my long European vacation, I reflected on the transformed contents of my backpack. I’d traveled with a small pack, so I could carry-on with it (and thus dodge RyanAir’s travel fees), and had deliberately brought my least favorite clothes so that I could leave them behind, in trash cans and/or hostel share-boxes. I managed to drop 2 thick cotton shirts, a longjohn shirt, a pair of socks, and a bottle of shampoo.
I also swapped out an apple for 4 granola bars, and an empty memory card for a full one (despite repeated purgings).
And I filled the space left behind by the abandoned clothes with FOOD. Mmmm, food. 3 bottles of herb-saturated olive oil from Rome. A round of goat cheese from Amsterdam. A wedge of brie from the airport in Brussels (there’s a story there…). A wedge of parmesan from Rome. A wedge of redball cheese from Fez’s Marjane. A box of green tea. A bottle of syrup-infused crème. A bottle of fish sauce. A toy box with 8 Van Gogh paintings, from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum. A Starry Night mug from a tourist shop in Amsterdam. A holy shot glass from the Vatican (by special request for a friend). A rainbow pin saying “Peace” in Italian. ~15 country patches, to be sewn on to backpacks/jackets/whatever. Postcards and notecards from the Escher museum.
But my best exchange story involves books.
4 random romance novels inherited from a COSed Volunteer went into Café Clock, in Fes, where they magically transformed into 3 much better books: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (so much better than I’d expected!), Europe on a Shoestring (necessary for any cheap/broke/PCV traveler in Europe), and Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood (as hauntingly memorable as her other dystopian futures). I swapped Dracula for Isabelle Allende’s City of Beasts (nutshell: she should stick to writing for adults) on my second day in Marseilles. I swapped Year of the Flood for David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day (soooo much funnier than his depressing Christmas stories) on my first day in Rome. In Amsterdam, Shoestring and Beasts left me in exchange for James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (not my cup of tea) and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (couldn’t get into it – too much dry psychoanalysis, not enough nice people). In Brussels, a friend gave me John Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (redefining what a “novel” can be – breathtaking!), and I surrendered Joyce for Khalid Housseini’s Thousand Splendid Suns (which made me sob hysterically for about half an hour; Housseini is not for the faint of heart, and his portrait of womanhood under totalitarian regimes and totalitarian husbands…searing, to say the least).
Thus did 4 totally forgettable novels turn into some of the best books I’ve read.
Traveling is cool. :)