Reading on the Road: Texaco

Waiting is probably one of the less enjoyable things about travel. From delays at the airport to being cooped up inside a jeepney while the relentless “barker” (someone with a really loud voice whose job is to call out passengers) tries to fill it to overcapacity, waiting is an unavoidable inconvenience. Patience is not one of my virtues; I get antsy and agitated when I’m being made to wait.

One effective way to keep my sanity is to bring a book. So while everyone else is getting ready to lynch the airline crew during delayed flights, I can manage to keep my cool and settle down in a corner with a good read (although on really bad ones like that frickin’ eight-hour ordeal, no book has any hope of reining in my nasty temper).

I have the grand ambition of stretching this topic into a series, featuring one book that I brought on a trip per blog post. I don’t know if I can actually keep this up but here goes the first one.

Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau

I heard about Texaco when Junot Diaz, the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which I thoroughly enjoyed, announced that people should literally run to the bookstore and buy this book. It’s supposedly that good. Being highly susceptible to suggestions (I’m probably one of those people who can be easily hypnotized), that’s exactly what I did.

Unfortunately, my neighborhood bookstore has never heard of Patrick Chamoiseau. Can’t blame them. He’s not exactly of Twilight or Harry Potter proportions in terms of rabid following. Good thing I have an awesome friend who sent it to me from the States as a Christmas present.

Texaco tells the story of a slum community in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, as narrated by its founder, a spirited woman named Marie-Sophie who reminds me a lot of Ursula in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Marie-Sophie has her own scraggly charm though, always keeping a storehouse of vicious expletives and a bottomless well of reckless humor. She’s funny, crazy, gutsy and a wacky kind of cool.

If you want to be profound about it, we can talk about how the book examines the development of Creole identity in Martinique, the conflict and contrast of rural versus urban, and the muddled conception of communities among just a few of the intense issues that it explores. But I’ll probably suck at it so let’s just leave that to the big guns like the New York Review of Books to worry about.

Texaco was originally written in Martinican French creole and the translators opted to preserve some colloquial words which would otherwise lose their full meaning if translated into English. This made it a struggle to read at first; I had to keep on flipping to the back for the glossary. It was distracting and the raucous noises in waiting areas and terminals didn’t do well for my concentration. But I eventually got the hang of it and was soon engrossed with the strangely endearing voice of Marie-Sophie.

I brought this book when I went to Dumaguete earlier this year and crashed at my friend’s apartment. We went to Siquijor later that weekend, bummed around in an insanely beautiful beach, watched Black Swan and an entire season of Big Bang Theory on stormy nights, and belted out iconic songs of Backstreet Boys and Justin Beiber while walking in the middle of a deserted highway. I know, musical artistry at its finest, we were so damned proud of ourselves thank you very much. Chamoiseau and Marie-Sophie would have approved.

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