I’m reading now mostly on wheels. My copy of “The Island of the Day Before” by Umberto Eco is filled with train and bus tickets. It’s a story about a 17th-century nobleman Roberto della Griva who is the sole survivor of a terrible storm. He finds himself stranded on an abandoned ship anchored not far from an island on a 180° longitude – International Date Line – between yesterday and today. Roberto can’t swim and the ship doesn’t have sails so he can’t reach the coast and has to stay there forever. Writing unsent letters to a loved one and imagining stories about an evil brother who probably never existed. There’s a garden of exotic flowers and fruit trees, a mini zoo of beautiful birds, a room full of clocks, and a piano played by the seawater. The ship is tidy and filled with food, water, and booze, but there’s not a soul on it. Why is it deserted? What happened here? And how to reach the island on the other side of the meridian? The island of the day before?
The book flooded my bag.
It was early in the morning. I boarded a bus from my coastal village at a bus stop in front of the forest with the river Lielupe behind my back. I paid for my ticket and found a seat. Took out the book, put the new ticket between the pages, opened the place where I left, and continued to explore the strange ship in the middle of the sea. Each book has an effect on me, and this was no different. After a long while I picked up my bag to find a water bottle and take a sip but the bottle was empty. My lap under the bag started to feel weirdly wet. I held the bag up and it was dripping like soaked. The bottle had a tiny hole in it and while I was reading about Roberto and the ship, the bottle was dripping straight into my bag. I reached Rīga and stepped out by the river Daugava with a wet dress and an even wetter bag. Only the book of stories was completely dry in my hand. I took everything out on the seat of a bus stop, tried as best as I can to squeeze the water out of the bag, and carried everything to the National Library of Latvia. I hid my wet stuff in my closet, filled the bag with tissues, and worked. In the late afternoon, I carried it all home on a train where I continued to read. The train crossed the river Daugava, whooshed through the city, past a pine forest, crossed the river Lielupe and carried me to a dune peninsula where I live, while Roberto immersed himself in the sea with a rope around his body and started to learn to swim.
On the porch, at the Sea Library, I took everything out to finally let it dry in the sun. The International Library Manifesto I had printed out the other day was turned into something that felt like wet sand to the touch. It’s still wet today. Some ink writings in my notebook are beautifully blurred as if read under the sea but the pages of my passport look like waves. Luckily, my phone still worked and there was a notification on the screen: (the ghost of) Umberto Eco followed me on Twitter.
“To survive, you must tell stories,” writes Eco in this book, the third of his novels. And there is no ending to this book, not a real one. What is real? A writer asks and writes a story about a strange ship anchored between yesterday and tomorrow.