2011-10-19 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Hello, Murse!

An old boyfriend had a stringent rule.

“I don’t carry purses,” he said.

He was big and strapping, and he could kill people with his bare hands. I liked that about him. He was kind and generous too, a good listener and friend. He helped me move apartments and put together my furniture. But if the occasion arose where he might have to hold my bag, even for a second, he would shake his head and step away.

I grudgingly admired him for this, even as I had to set my purse on the ground to put on my coat.

What a surprise then on a recent trip to Europe when I discovered that many men there not only carry purses but have enthusiastically adopted the trend of the man bag, also known as the murse.

I sat with my friend Jane in an outdoor cafe sipping strong coffee and watching the men pass. We evaluated the bags they carried, most slung on straps over one shoulder. Some were made from black nylon, others were canvas material. Nearly every man we saw carried one. Men in tight, darkwashed jeans. Men in baggie denim wearing backwards baseball caps. Tall men. Muscular men. Manly men.

“Is that man carrying —” Jane paused, evaluating. “A clutch?”

I followed her eyes to the man crossing the street. He was in fact toting a small bag tucked under his arm. A mutch, if you will.

I wasn’t thinking about man-purses when I met the baker in our little village. “Met” is maybe an exaggeration. The extent of our exchange stretched to, “One baguette, please” from me and “Here’s your change” from him. But it felt like a portentous moment. He was young and very handsome and he said bonjour with a slight narrowing of the eyes that I took for an almost-wink. When he passed me my change our fingers met, and I could still feel the warmth of his skin on the coins in my hand.

Later, Jane and I walked down the mountain path that ran alongside the village. “I’m going to marry the baker,” I gushed.

She raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“No, listen,” I said. “I’ll live in the village and eat baguettes every day.”

“I don’t know if you’d like to be the wife of a baker,” she said.

I put my hands on my hips. “Of course I would. He’ll make me tarts, and I’ll grow fat and happy. It will be perfect.”

Jane stopped walking, suddenly serious. “I mean a French baker,” she said. “I think there would be a lot of cultural differences to overcome.”

I started to protest, to cite the tarts again, but then I stopped myself. I thought about the man-bags we’d seen on the street outside the café. I imagined the baker had one tucked away somewhere. Of course Jane was talking about bigger cultural issues, about the way we define masculinity and how different societies structure the relationship between men and women. The man-bags are just a manifestation of all that.

But she was right. Could I really love a man who carried a murse? ¦

Return to top