“…my sketchbooks are very precious to me, and I can’t imagine losing one. It would be like losing a part of my memory.” Lapin, French Illustrator/Artist
We were about to leave Spain after two romantic weeks sketching and painting in the white villages of Andalusia. I checked my computer one last time before shoving it into the backpack I’d brought along to hold art supplies. Among my Facebook messages, there was one from a friend announcing, “Boy, is someone going to be surprised.”
Generally, I adore surprises, especially when they happen to other people. But when they derail an otherwise stellar vacation, it can be scary. Take the time R and I, sketchbooks in hand, were basking on a rock at Tulum like two fat Yucatánian lizards. There was a thing called “sun” warming our chronically cold Pacific Northwest fingers. We gazed at the turquoise Caribbean rippling by and we exhaled. We watched a pelican dive for a dorado…and we exhaled.
“What time do we need to leave for the airport tomorrow?” I sighed.
“Let me check,” R sighed back, reaching into each of the dozens of pockets in his cargo pants until he found our flight itinerary. He studied the paper silently for a long time, so long that the clouds grayed up and the sea began to churn violently. I started to feel queasy.
“Way beyond crap.”
Turned out our plane had left without us that morning, just about the time we’d finished our third cup of coffee and casually set off to see the great Mayan ruins of Tulum. In addition to what we’d already spent on our plane tickets, the condo, car rental, gas, food and an abundant amount of cervezas, we ended up having to scrape together 12,740 pesos, or about a thousand U.S. dollars, just to get our pompis home. Never again, we promised each other..
Back in Spain, things seemed to go well. We stuffed sketchbooks, Lamy pens, and watercolor kits into our silver blue Peugeot and slid back to Málaga without a hitch. When the guy at the car rental counter told us we’d already paid, we shouted, “Bravisimo!”
True, we had to wait a few hours for one of Lufthansa’s finest to jet us to Frankfurt, but so what? That gave us time to do a final sketch of the airport’s offerings, including a wonderfully protracted sign in German that read “Mehrwertsteuerrückerstattung.” I painted it in brilliant amber on the last page of my sketchbook.
And then we were off, gliding over the toothy white Alps, landing on German soil in no time, meandering through the maze of the Frankfurt terminal until, by accident, we stumbled upon our hotel. Soon after, unpacking up in our room I discovered my sketchbook was nowhere to be found.
R and I rifled through everything like two thieves looking for an original Picasso. We gutted our backpacks, found a few missing euros and an old olive wood Rosary from Rome, but not my precious sketchbook. We jammed a couple of zippers tunneling through our suitcases and, in our panic, skipped over the early stages of grief until there was nothing left but acceptance.
R teared up first. “I feel like I’ve lost my own sketchbook. You did all that work right beside me, and now it’s gone. I’m so terribly sorry.”
I was too numb to speak or even move. My head had left the building and was flying non-stop through each of the nearly forty pages of my missing sketchbook, trying desperately to commit each visual image, each fragment of text to memory. Those pages had been my life for two weeks.
There was my title page with “España” painted in smoke-like strokes of Payne’s gray and indigo, and under that a wild-eyed woman arched her back mid-flamenco. I saw the village of Casares whose houses I’d painted white enough to steal blue from the sky. The wine goblet of green sea glass that we’d spent a day collecting and sketching in Bahía Dorada was there, followed by the terracotta beach brick with deep holes bored into it where I’d stored my paint brushes and ink pens for easy use, and the mosaic of cockle shells painted hot in red and tangerine. The Roman bridge at Ronda (shown above…I’d photographed those two pages, thank goodness), the composition of three oranges next to the cobalt bottle of mineral water from the mercado. I could still taste the croissant with ham and cheese on a white plate at the sweet café in Mijas, where we could see the lilac outline of Morocco as we sipped hot coffee.
I remembered the images I’d sketched and painted as R worked in his own book and we shared the time, the place, and our passion for making art together. But I knew that without my sketchbook they would soon be forgotten.
The next morning, before we left on our nine-hour flight to Seattle, R raced through the airport while I hung out with our luggage. He asked questions of every Lufthansa agent who would talk to him, and one finally contacted the department where anything found on a plane after the passengers exit is supposed to end up. R was given an email address on a tiny business card and told to check back.
I sobbed a bit after that…not so much over my lost sketchbook or the slim chance of it being returned to me over 8,000 miles away. I sobbed because I realized that my husband felt the loss of my sketchbook as much as I did, and that I would have felt the same way if his book had been lost.
“Well, we still have your sketchbook, R,” I told him as we walked hand-in-hand down the ramp to our plane, knowing that what we have could never fit on the pages of one sketchbook, anyhow.
Below is a page from R’s book, the Puente Nuevo, at Ronda.