I always remember Gabriel García Márquez when I fly. I’m usually very nervous and pessimistic before I board, so I find it helpful to think of a charming short story from Strange Pilgrims, a collection of stories. Since his passing I’ve read some essays about how the English translations are lacking. In a perfect world we would read everything in its original language and use a time machine to fully understand the historical context during which said text was written. Therefore, I don’t mind the English translations. I think Edith Grossman’s version of this passage from “Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane” is great and takes the edge off my upcoming flight.
She was beautiful and lithe, with soft skin the color of bread and eyes like green almonds, and she had straight black hair that reached to her shoulders, and an aura of antiquity that could just as well have been Indonesian as Andean. She was dressed with subtle taste: a lynx jacket, a raw silk blouse with very delicate flowers, natural linen trousers, and shoes with a narrow stripe the color of bougainvillea. “This is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” I thought when I saw her pass by with the stealthy stride of a lioness while I waited in the check-in line at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for the plane to New York. She was a supernatural apparition who existed only for a moment and disappeared into the crowd in the terminal.
It was nine in the morning. It had been snowing all night, and traffic was heavier than usual in the city streets, and even slower on the highway, where trailer trucks were lined up on the shoulder and automobiles steamed in the snow. Inside the airport terminal, however, it was still spring.
I stood behind an old Dutch woman who spent almost an hour arguing about the weight of her eleven suitcases. I was beginning to feel bored when I saw the momentary apparition who left me breathless, and so I never knew how the dispute ended. Then the ticket clerk brought me down from the clouds with a reproach for my distraction. By way of an excuse, I asked her if she believed in love at first sight. “Of course,” she said. “The other kinds are impossible.” She kept her eyes fixed on the computer screen and asked whether I preferred a seat in smoking or nonsmoking.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said with intentional malice, “as long as I’m not beside the eleven suitcases.”
She expressed her appreciation with a commercial smile but did not look away from the glowing screen.
“Choose a number,” she told me: “Three, four, or seven.”
Her smile flashed in triumph.
“In the fifteen years I’ve worked here,” she said, “you’re the first person who hasn’t chosen seven.”