It was April in Paris. Mike Mellor and I were on a junket—a mission, really—to secure permission to translate and publish the extant letters of Louis Braille. Mike had discovered them sitting in an archival box at the school in Paris, where Louis had been a student and later a teacher. We had both worked in the field for decades and neither of us had heard of these letters! To imagine that we could read Louis’s own words, hear his voice, send his thoughts out into the world…
We caught a train to Coupvray, Louis’s birthplace, to visit the Braille family home, now a museum. I allowed myself no expectations that we could break through the resistance that Mike had weathered during a half-dozen earlier trips. Margaret Calvarin, the gracious, very-French curator of the museum gave us a thorough tour of the house—from the attic to the wine cellar. The Braille family owned a vineyard and had bottled their own wine for generations. Just as we were finishing the tour, I heard a clanking sound and turned around to see Madame Calvarin leaning over a dusty bin, her hands scrounging about. I was thinking, “Oh, that lovely French suit!” when she lifted out a pair of green, hand-blown glass wine bottles several centuries old, and handed one to each of us as a keepsake.
Outside, I held mine up to the sun. It seemed a blessing directly from Louis to us, to bring his story out of the dustbin and into the light.
Writing this post on his birthday, I feel the urge to refill his bottle with wine and drink a toast. But surely Louis, a devout Catholic, knew this parable from Luke: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles… new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.” I search the Internet to understand its meaning. The answer I prefer is that we must keep growing and changing… like the “new” wine of refreshable braille, I suppose… how old things can become new.
Happy Twenty-Thirteen, Louis.
Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius by Mike Mellor has been published in seven languages.