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  • Gayle Certeza

Have Books, Will Travel

Every Saturday morning, or sometimes Friday night, I would look through my books for something to read. I have hundreds of books around the house — most of them lounging in our shelves, some are cozy in assorted boxes in various rooms. I would do a walkabout by the shelves, checking which book I would be interested to read over the weekend. The moment I settled on the book to read, that was the official start of the weekend.

Before we got married, I had four prenuptial agreements points with my then-boyfriend, now husband. At the top of the list was that I retain the right to read a book every weekend. Recently, when I told my younger kid about this prenuptial point, he said “That is crazy! It is like negotiating to play video games every weekend!” Crazy indeed.

When my kids were younger and there were more household chores to do, I managed to read on weekends by being creative about reading and chores. Meaning, I taught my children to do chores so I could read. For example, I taught them to do groceries at an early age. So while they did the grocery, I sat in a nearby cafe and read. When we were living in New Zealand and we had no household help, I taught them how to make breakfast. So on Sunday mornings, they boiled rice, fried eggs and Spam and made coffee. I watched them cook while I read a book.

I love reading because it transports me to another world. I can travel from my chair to any point in the world, imagination lang ang puhunan. Powered solely by imagination I travelled to Jerusalem when I was a kid when I read the Bible. When I was in high school, I visited Paris when I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Before starting college, I was in the southern US for weeks when I read Gone with the Wind and in Australia for around a month for The Thorn Birds. I travelled extensively in my mind.

When I was able to afford traveling, every time I reached a city I had read about, it was like meeting an old friend.

The moment I saw Notre Dame in Paris, it took my breath away. It was exactly how I imagined it when I was reading Hunchback of Notre Dame in high school. Gawking like the excited tourist that I was, I soaked in the light refracted from the stained glass windows. I looked up at the vaunted arches from where Quasimodo looked down. I touched the wooden pews and breathed in the expanse of the church. The whole experience took me back to my high school self. There was me, sitting in the small and dusty library of Mindanao State University in Gensan, reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame and dreaming of seeing Paris someday.

I was 18 when I read Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Holden Caufield’s rebellious thoughts were so liberating. And New York City, the backdrop of his defiance, seemed so sophisticated. I was already forty when I first saw New York City, more than twenty years after I read the book. When the armchair tourist turned into a real life one, the first places I visited were Holden Caulfield’s haunts - Central Park, Grand Central Station and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was such a thrill for the middle-aged me to remember my nihilist young self bristling with Caulfield’s angst and dreaming of New York City.

A few years ago, I was in Florence with a friend. One afternoon there was a fork in our travelogue. She wanted to go shopping. I wanted to go on a tour based on Dan Brown’s Inferno. When we met up in the evening she was so happy recounting to me how she spent the afternoon. She was in the Gucci Museum and she bought the signature 1953 horse-bit green loafers. “What a coincidence!” I told her. We were behind the wall of the Gucci museum. The tour took us to the secret passage that led to the Hall of 500 and all the way to the historic Vasari Corridor. We talked about our finds the whole night. We both experienced the Florence of our dreams.

Most of the time I travel with my husband. He knows what a bookworm I am. He supports my book-based approach for most of the places we travel to.


Me: We need to go to the other side of the city and look for 44 Scotland Road.

Husband: Is there a tourist attraction there?

Me: No, it’s the setting of a book I like. Then let’s go to the National Portrait Gallery and then have coffee in Valvona & Crolla.

Husband: Dahil? (Because?)

Me: Well, one of the characters in the book likes going to that museum and the other one likes hanging out in the cafe.

Husband: Wow, talagang close kayo, ha. (Wow, you seem to be very close to these people)


Husband: (in front of Harry’s Cafe) This looks expensive.

Me: Ok lang yan. Let’s go in. We can eat and drink like Hemingway.

Me: (After looking at the menu) Ooops, we can’t do a Hemingway, it’s too expensive. Let’s just order coffee.

Husband: And let’s use their toilets before we leave so we save two euros.

The more I read, the more I want to go around to see the world described in the book. So because of the book Into the Unknown, which I read when I was in grade school, I had to see Stonehenge. And when we visited Scotland, the search for the Loch Ness monster was part of the itinerary. Because of the Harry Potter books, we walked up and down the labyrinthine streets of Edinburgh to look for Greyfriars Kirkyard where JK Rowling supposedly got the name of Voldemort. I had to see Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco, Elmore Leonard’s Los Angeles and Thomas Mann’s Munich.

I also have a book-based bucket list. I would like to go to Botswana to see the setting of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. Ladies’ Detective Agency and drink bush tea. I would also like to visit Ystad in Sweden, the location of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. Next on the list is ulitsa Sadovaya in Moscow, the setting of Bulgakov’s epic novel, The Master and Margarita.

It’s not just good times, books also keep me company during difficult times. The more insidious the problem, the thicker the book I escape to. A few weeks ago my older son underwent a major surgery. My husband and I stayed outside the operating room for the duration of the surgery which was five hours. I sat still, prayed, fidgeted, looked around, walked about, sat still, prayed, fidgeted, looked around, and walked about. And since there was still four hours of waiting time left, I finally sat down and read. I brought with me The Messenger by Daniel da Silva. I purposely chose this book because of its gripping plot.

So I sat there worrying about my son while at the same time I travelled with the book’s protagonist, Gabriel Allon, an Israeli spy and a brilliant art restorer as he went around Europe uncovering counteragents, foiling terrorist attacks and busting assassination plans. My son woke up from the grueling and successful operation just as Gabriel Allon finished saving the Pope and continental Europe from a concerted terror attack. My son and I (I am including myself even if I just experienced my son’s struggles vicariously) fought dangers, stared down death and travelled to hell and back like brave protagonists in a book.

Whether it’s just a literary jaunt on a mundane weekend or a much-needed escape during a life-changing time, I have always found it so comforting to get lost in a good book.


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