Thursday, February 14, 2013

more like a tame-goose chase


There was a lull in the busy rush of pots and pans and plates running in and out of the kitchen. During this lull, Maria took the opportunity to tell us story upon story of how many times during her work at the sister's convent in Spain the sisters had run out of coffee, or they had no rooms left for the stray man who arrived on the doorstep, or they were out of money, and could not afford the sister's doctor's appointment.
But somehow, money was always found in the St. Anthony collection box, or a rich couple arrived with money for breakfast, or the super market down the road had an overload of coffee this shipment.
"God always provides," Maria said with repetition like rosary beads. "God always provides."

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday of all days, I entered into the valley of temptation. In fact, I flirted shamelessly with temptation.
For I walked not into one bookstore, nor two. But four.
I visited four bookstores.
And, in each one, I was tempted by the siren song of books to buy.

Two of them were new bookstores, filled with the silky smooth smell and feel and taste of new books. All the shelves appealingly arranged perfectly in rows of alphabetized volumes, arranged by authors and subjects. The bindings of the book creating an ordered rainbow of colors that delights and seduces, just begging you to pull one off the shelf; to open to a page at random; bury your nose in the crisp black  print on the neat white page; fill your nose with the warm smell of printing press; and find yourself lost in a brave new world.

I ventured into them, because I was on a desperate mission.
My mission: to find the Penguin edition of Blaise Pascal's Pensées (this is what PLS does to you, my friends. This is why friends don't let friends be PLS. It does something to your heart and soul. Where you find yourself seeking the name "A. J. Krailsheimer, translator and editor" on the back of out-dated philosophical texts that no one should care about. And yet we do anyways. And I find that rather beautifully miraculous. The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, and all that jazz.)

In case you were wondering, the Penguin edition of Blaise Pascal's Pensées is, like the publishing company's namesake itself, a rare bird to find in London.
I found that these two giant emporiums of beauty did not have a single Penguin Pascal edition. Oxford's Classic of the World series reigned supreme.

So, I entered into the dens of pleasure known as Used Book Stores.
Used book stores envelop you with their sweet smell of musty old pages, faded to a drab beige; the feel of old leather covers, the gilding falling off; and the sense of story attached to each book heightened to an overwhelming magnitude.
I walked into the first store, walked down rickety, curved stairs, and found that, again, Pascal was there, but not in all his Penguin-edition glory.

I behooved myself next door, and there I glanced around the one-room shop, sure that I would not find the Holy Grail I sought.
After circling the room several times, like a shark, I found Pascal's Provincial Letters. But no Pensées. I mentally shook my fist at the sky. As I looked up to send my bootless wails to the heavens, I saw a small volume lying horizontally at the top of the shelf, casually perched above his compadres.
Holding my breath, I reached up, and my fingers grazed reverently over the crisp paper-back edition of Pascal's Pensées.
Hardly believing my luck, I looked at the binding.
And there, in all its glorious radiance, was the small outline of a penguin.
It was the Penguin edition.
My heart happy-danced with joy, and uttered prayers of praise to all angels, martyrs, prophets, and used-book-store-owners-yet-to-be-canonized.
As I handed over several small pound coins, I marveled at how small a price could buy such a precious gift. The lady at the register smiled at my enthusiasm. Little did she know what a great treasure her little shop held.
With a victorious anthem of the Chariots of Fire theme, Lord of the Rings soundtrack, and the William Tell Overture all playing together in my heard, I left the shop with triumph in my step, and my little lost sheep in my hands.
And my heart called out to the clouds and said, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my Penguin Edition Pascal.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one rogue Penguin Edition who was provided by providence than over ninety-nine other books easily obtained at Blackwells.

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