My dreams are always more vivid during the summer. Somehow the heat bakes more intensity to the thoughts that pass through my psyche. In a normal world, there is a slow build up to these vivid dreams. As the days become longer and warmer, your dreams gradually turn from the hibernated hyphenated dreams of winter to the Technicolor feature length dreams of the fully heated season.
That transition is not so gradual when you leave NY on a cold winters evening and wake up the next morning in the tropical summer of Rio De Janiero. It is not jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It is jumping from the freezer directly into the fire. It is nerve jangling abrupt…enough to make you pant.
When I left NY on Christmas evening, I was both exhausted and well rested. I had been sick. Somewhere along my travels from Admirals Club to Admirals Club I had managed to swallow a flu bug. The symptoms were mild with upper respiratory congestion, moderate temperature, irritability, and no appetite and I had chosen to beat it in submission using the time honored Rothkopf methodology of sleep, and more sleep and the less traditional, and I am sure frowned on by you, over the counter flu medication in the guise of Tylenol Flu and Cold. To be sure I don’t know what the later did except clear my nasal passages a little, and keep my temperature from getting out of control. But I do know that I slept a lot 12 or 13 hours a day and was just beginning to feel human again when I got on the plane to Rio.
Normally, when I get on any airplane, after I have stowed my gear and waited for the passenger sitting next to me arrive, is fall asleep. This is partially because of something that you told me long ago. I think you called it the infantryman’s credo. When you do not have to run, walk; When you do not have to walk sit; When you don’t have to sit, laydown; And whenever possible sleep. But it is also because by the time I make it on to airplane I am bone tired and need to sleep. But this Christmas eve, as I sat in my comfortable business class seat I had no desire to sleep. It was as if someone had turned on a switch and suddenly I was wide awake. I am sure part of it was because I had been sleeping so much. But it was also a case of nerves over what I would be doing the next day. The situation was made worse because my fallback position, reading, had been compromised. I had spent much of the last two weeks reading. I read so many books in the previous week that the thought of reading held zero appeal.
So as we taxied to the runway, a long process at Kennedy, I lost myself in thoughts of conversations that you and I have had in the past. The conversation I kept coming back to was the first talk you and I had when I returned from my Brazilian cruise. I don’t know if I ever told you this but one of the big reasons that I had decided on that long journey was because of you. You had always been an adventurer; I think since those days that you spent fantasizing about being an American Indian in the hills of Farafeld, and you world had shrunk so, that I wanted to go somewhere that would allow your imagination to flow. It is why I began all my notes to you with my longitude and latitude, course, and speed. And I had so many adventures that I wanted to share with you. I had also brought you presents from my journey so that I could physically give you a reminder of the journey your son had been on.
There was so much to say, literally so much ground to cover, and that I was not telling the story very well. I was, dare I say, all over the map. But you were patient with me and you asked me many questions of the trip and as you always did, you helped me find my way. Then there came a point in the conversation where I wanted to tell you about Elaine. In my whole life, I can’t remember ever wanting to tell you about a girl before. It is not that they didn’t matter in my life. They did but the thought of having a conversation with you about one just never occurred to me. I always had so many more important things to tell you about. But I wanted to tell you about Elaine. I can remember telling you how we met, how through luck and by design I had come to sit at her table after a few miserable days of eating by myself on the ship. I told you how beautiful she was and what a good listener she had been and how we spent our days talking and how she had etched herself on my heart no one else ever had. I told you about how after days of being with her that it physically hurt to say good bye to her and to continue on my journey by myself. I shared with you my fear, that the experience of being on a cruise together somehow changed my perception of reality so that what felt like real and true love was just the heart’s desire and how my plan was to fly to Rio in just a few weeks so that I could spend more time with Elaine to see if what I thought to be real was solid ground.
I will never forget the smile you gave me. And how you thought that me going to Rio was a smart thing. Not just because it would ease my worries about whether love really existed between love Elaine and myself but because you told me that love was too valuable to let slip away. But I also think your smile you knew already what I would find in Rio. You had been listening to me for too long not to know.
Normally, when I am on an overnight flight and I can’t sleep I have Stolichnaya Therapy. That is I have a double shot of vodka and it puts me right to sleep. But the medication I had prevented that therapy. I am not sure that there were any alcohol prohibitions with the anti-biotic I was taking but I did know it is not terribly wise to mix Tylenol and booze. Having my liver shut down at 40,000 feet did not appeal to me. American Airlines, in its wisdom, knows that there are many passengers who cannot sleep. So the supply an inflight entertainment system that consists of a Samsung Galaxy Tablet and set of Bose Noise Reduction headsets for which I am sure that both manufacturers pay royally or supply the products for free. In principal the idea is great a pre-loaded tablet with games, television shows and movies all of which can entertain a traveler on even the longest journey. The problem is when you are a frequent flyer like I am that limited number of movies that you want to see on the tablet rapidly diminishes. I had been on so many flights in the past months there was absolutely nothing I wanted to see.
Not being able to sleep, not being able to drink and with no other distractions, I was forced to dive into my own thoughts. I reclined my seat as far as it would go, rolled over on my side to face the aisle and turned my ipod on began listening to Aarron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the common Man.” It is such a majestic piece and always makes me think of decency and dignity of being an everyman, something that you always reminded me of as well. As the trumpets soared, I thought of the glories that are a part of a common man’s life…love, family, children….as the kettle drums pounded I thought of the dramatic moments of my life and how they have punctuated my otherwise happy life. I thought of the Elaine and the heights she had taken me too and before the fanfare was over I was asleep.
I hate to say that clearing through Rio’s immigration has become routine but it has. I know the steps so well and they have been so ingrained in me over the past year, that I barely notice the steps. Clear the planes gate walk to immigration and find the line for foreigners. Walk through the serpentine of velvet ropes that is supposed to organized travelers into a steady cue and is much longer than it needs to be. Clear immigration and walk downstairs to your luggage which is remarkably always there waiting for you and then be tempted by the large duty free shop beckoning you with neat things that you can have from less but you by pass that. I am on a higher mission. I go through the green line at Customs where I have never even seen an agent, walk pass the taxi stands make a sharp right and walk into the terminal.
Elaine is always waiting for me right there. She has a 50,000 megawatt smile that seems to light up the room, her eyes always luminous seem to glow with pleasure. From the way she is standing I can see that she wants to run and throw herself into my arms but she demonstrates restraint and stands waiting for me. I want to run to her but I try to show a little dignity and just walk a little faster. And then I am in her arms and she is kissing me and whispering “Querida” in my ear. This is the part of the customs that never grows old.
The airport was warm and muggy, the air conditioning failing to keep up with the relentless heat out of door. Walking outside reminded me of our trip to Eliat. Do you remember opening the door to our car and feeling like you had been just opened the door of an over. This wasn’t an oven, more like a steam bath, but the principal was the same you felt completely overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and I was very happy to make it to Elaine’s car and its excellent air conditioning.
The drive from the airport to Barra is very direct. In essence, you get on the “Yellow Line”, one of a number of private highways in Rio, and follow that to Barra. Normally, at this hour, the highways are crowded, with busy Carioca making their way here and there but on this boxing day the traffic was very light either because of the heat, or the holiday, or some combination of both. Elaine is a very deliberate driver, rarely speeding and always very careful so despite the lack of traffic our progress to Barra at an unhurried pace. But it gave us time to hold each other’s hand and chat and revel in each other’s company with the entire world consisting only of the contents of this car.
At the end of the Yellow Line there is a toll. It is a private road so this is where the owners make their money. As we wait in line to pay, I see something that you see the Brazilian Flag drifting lazily in the light breeze of the early afternoon. You see flags displayed far less in Brazil than you do in the United States as their pride in their country does not come from the government which most Brazilian view with distrust. Looking at the flag now I think of how Elaine once explained the flag to me. The green is for the vast forest which is Brazil. The yellow is for the sun. The stars are for each state. Looking at the heat waves raising off the concrete, and the once verdant hills in the distance now yellow from the summer heat, I wonder if the Brazilians should have a summer flag that is solid yellow with stars.
When we finally got off the highway in Barra traffic had begun to get jammed up mostly because of the shopping malls in this area. I have learned that Brazilian’s love their malls almost as much as Californians. Like their neighbors to the north they love to stroll the mall as if it is a large town square and window shop. Going by the mall now Elaine comments with a smile “What recession.” Just opposite the Barra mall I see a sign that tells me that the temperature outside the car is 45 degrees. I do the math in my head and involuntary say “Holy shit, its hot.” Elaine, turns to me and in all seriousness says to me “Yes my love it is the hottest summer on record.”
Elaine’s home is in a gated community in Barra very close to the lagoon and the golf course. It is a neighborhood built onto the side of the Galveston Mountain and much of the forest has been preserved. In many ways it reminds me of our neighborhood in Summit in the sense that the houses are built on hills and the forest preserved. The differences are that the majority of the homes here are built in a modern style with crisp lines, and lots of glass and all of them exist behind walls within the walls of the community. Many of the walls are lined with electrified wires. Brazil is a country that is looking for its economic soul and the walls of this community are just one symbol of the conflict and tensions that this growth has caused.
Oddly, I have only felt unsafe in Brazil once and at the time I didn’t even know Elaine. I had come to Rio on the Costa Pacifica and I had signed up for a “jeep tour” of the city. Remember when I was getting ready for the trip, we had talked about various excursions for me to go on and this one we both agreed would be interesting. Turns out it was not exactly a jeep tour. It was a tour on the back of a pick-up truck with wood benches and jury rigged seat belts in the back. The driver, I am convinced, had multiple tours to conduct that day, and as such was very interested in driving his pick-up truck through the streets of Rio as if he were trying out for a Grand Prix team. Thankfully even he had to stop for traffic signals. And during one of these stops, I saw a very slender young man without a shirt glaring at me in the back of the truck. He was over 25 meters away but I could clearly see the dislike and contempt he felt for me and probably any other gringo. At the time I felt had he a gun he would have opened fire. Thankfully the light was not red for long and we were soon away from him but his stare has lingered with me ever since.
Elaine’s house is, in essence, three cubes stacked on top of each other at a 45 degree angle. The bottom floor consists of a large L shaped kitchen with an adjacent dining area, a large living room surrounded by floor to ceiling glass doors including a sunken sitting area, and her study. The second floor, which you reach via an elegant and wide staircase, has another living room, a game room, two small bed rooms with a shared bath, and a master bedroom suite consisting of bedroom, master bath and walk in closet. The third floor has a small bedroom, a hiding area for kids that has door that belongs on ship and access to the roof top utilities such as the water tank. You would love the elegant, modern design of the home. You would especially love the glass that allows the outodoors in and the airshafts that are planted with tropical plants and orchids that bring another element of the natural environment into the home.
After we arrive, I carry my bag upstairs. There are no clothes in my bag. Over the last six months I have left enough clothes behind so I never need to pack to come here. Elaine has encouraged me to think of this place as our home so I keep my carioca wardrobe here. What is in my bag, are the Christmas presents that I have collected for her over the past few months. Mostly, it is stocking stuffer items erasures, candy, paper goods because she claims never to have had a stocking…..wool stockings not being a common item in a rain forest… and a couple of special items. When we get to the bedroom Elaine wants to give me my gifts right away and she has them all over our bed, but I tell her I need a few moments to get her presents ready.
When she leaves, I open my bag and pull out a stocking with Elaine’s name on it that I have had specially made for her. Then I reach into my brief case and pull out a small black box and put that in the toe of the stocking. I then begin stuffing the stocking with all the small presents that I have spent the better part of the past week wrapping. I place the stocking on her pillow and then lay down on my side of the bed and await for Elaine’s return. I am not sure if it was the lack of sleep from the night before, or whether my body was recovering from my illness, or the heat of the Rio sun had sapped my energy or whether it was lying on our bed in an air conditioned room but I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I was standing on a small bridge made of stone arched like a turtle’s back. The air was cool without being cold, the sun warm on my face, and I could smell a wood fire burning in the distance mixed with the smell of blossoming wild flowers. Beneath the bridge a small river burbled over a rocky bottom, it shore, dotted with trees, sharply angled from the constant erosion. To my left a small country road and a single story country home painted light blue with a sharply angled orange roof. To my right an open field, bright with brilliant yellow flowers and a serpentine path that split with one branch following the river and the other leading to what appeared to be a railway station.
I know this place very well although I have been there only once. I am in Farafeld.
For some reason, this revelation did not surprise me at all. In fact, I was rather nonplussed by this realization. Instead, I gripped the tubular metal post of the bridges and stared down at the water burbling down below and remembered the time you had brought me here. We had a difficult time finding the place and actually drove straight through the town and had to turn around. You kept telling me to slow down and finally yelled at me to stop right by this bridge as your Grandmother’s house was directly opposite it. You were almost out of the car before I had parked. By the time I had gotten out of the car you were standing on the far side of the bridge looking at the field beyond. I snapped a picture of you at that moment, a photograph I still keep in my house, and we spent the next couple of hours walking through the fields with you telling me stories of your summer spent here. I even wrote a story about that day in which I imagined that instead of talking to you I was talking to the ten you old version of yourself. You didn’t much like the story, I think you thought it too fanciful, but I have never forgotten that day and how I had the opportunity to see your world as a child.
I decide to walk down the path to the train station. I don’t know why I chose this route. I could have easily followed the path by the stream but it somehow seemed the right way to go. As I walked along my steps kicked up small clouds of dust that are quickly carried away in the light morning breeze. The fields around me, bright with flowers, were alive with activity. Butterflies and bumble bees dashed in and out of the blooms in their search for nectar. Dragon flies danced over the brooks that fed the Triesting and I thought of you and your fish trap as a large perch held its self-steady in the current hiding behind a large rock.
The train station is not as I remembered it. It is not decrepit and in disrepair. It had been modernized. Paint is fresh and unpeeling. Windows are no longer jagged with broken glass but are freshly glazed, the lintels clear of dust. The roof no longer sagged. The debris that had accumulated around the building had been cleared and the platform rebuilt, replete with a digital clock that also provided the temperature and a large green and white sign that announced the station “Farafeld.” In front of the terminal facing the train track were two identical benches in the same green and white of the sign. Sitting on one of them is a young man. He is slender, with short curly red/brown hair, and from the way his legs are crossed he appears taller than average. His glasses are round and look to be made of steel and his wearing a French blue shirt, with twill pants, and brown ankle boots and he looks to be patiently waiting for a train.
I stare at him for a while as emotions ripple through me. I want to run up to him and hug him and ask him questions but something holds me back. Some inner voice is telling me that it will not produce the results I want. So I continue to stare, just happy to be near him and to see him again until my thoughts coalesce into plan.
I walk over to the benches and, pointing to one he is not sitting on, ask “Is anyone sitting here?” It is a lame question and I know it but I hope that will serve my purpose of being a conversation starter with this young man. He looks over at me, and I think I can see a glint of recognition in his eyes but like me he is reluctant to acknowledge the obvious and merely looks at me and smiles a little and says “no.”
I make a bit of a show of clearing the dust off the bench before I sit down. I ask him “What brings you to this neck of the woods“in my best overly friendly American tone. He shoots me a glance that is neither friendly nor unfriendly but one that clearly signals that he is not thrilled to be answering my questions. He replies in a soft voice with a very slight Viennese accent “I used to spend my summers around here.”
I look away briefly at this acknowledgement. I don’t want him to see the emotions that are painted across my face. I pretend to sneeze to cover my red face and say “I am here for much the same reason. My great grandmother used to live opposite the bridge back there.”
He looks at me and I think I can see a glimmer of recognition in his eyes but he says nothing and I am left scrambling for a question so that we continue to speak. After an awkward minute or so I ask “Have you been traveling?”
He looks at me as I often look at airline seat partners who want to speak when I would prefer to sleep or read but he answers in a way that I know too well. It is his response when he is keeping a secret. Just enough to answer the question but not giving away too much he says “Here and there.”
I am, like I always am when he answers like this, frustrated by the lack of detail. I try not to let this show when I follow up with “Are you waiting for a train now?” He turns his head to look at me, his expression that of incredulity and just replies “Yes.”
For a moment or two silence hangs between us like a curtain. When I can bear it no longer and in an effort to continue our conversation I say “I am going on a trip as well. I am on my way to Brazil.”
This seems more interesting to him and he says “I have been to Brazil. It is a beautiful country with so many things to see. In fact, my aunt lives there.”
I stifle a “ I know” and respond instead respond by saying “A few months ago I went to Brazil for the first time. I went for an adventure and ended meeting a woman from Rio. I have been visiting her ever since.” This gets his attention and he looks at me with a renewed interest. So I add. “I was not looking to fall in love. I was just looking to have a little fun and forget my troubles for bit. But I have fallen in love with her. And, against all odds, she has fallen in love with me. I am thinking of asking her to marry me. “
He nods so I continue. “She is smart and kind, warm and beautiful. She has a wicked sense of humor and a luminous smile. She is just the type of woman my father would have chosen for me.” As this sentence drifts in the air, the sound of trains whistle blows in the distance punctuating the morning with a sense of urgency.
Instead of commenting on my statements he says “When I was a boy, every time I heard that whistle blow I would try to figure out whether my mother was on the train.”
“And” I ask. He smiles at me and says “I think she is on the train.”
I look down the single track and see an ancient steam engine plugging its way towards, us steam and coal ash being ejected into the cloudless sky. He stands up, and looks down the track, a smile brightening his face. As the train pulls into the stations its breaks screech and eject steam. He and I both look into the train’s window and we both see her at the same time. A beautiful woman, with long dark hair pulled into a bun, soft kind eyes, and a mouth that is full and you can tell smiles easily. She looks at the man with love so I ask “Your mother.” He nods his response and then the woman looks at me and a look of surprise and then delight pass her face and she blows me a kiss. A gesture I return.
The train has stopped and the man with his long stride is heading for its stairs. I run to catch up with him. There is still much I want to say to him. I place my hand on his shoulder and he turns to look at me. His smile makes me forget the questions I want to ask and instead just say “EZ travels.” He looks at me as he often did when I pun with a look of mild distaste and joy and then he hugs me and climbs the stairs to the train. But he turns around before he gets to the top and yells to me above the clamor of train noises “You will be very happy. I know.” And with that climbs the last stairs to the train and disappears into the coach.
As the train pulls out of the station I see mother and son sitting next to each other waiving good bye to me.
When I awake, Elaine is staring down at me. “My darling, you fell asleep.” I nod, still trying to process the dream and say “I have been flying all night and boy are my arms tired.” She smiles at the lame joke and tells me that it is time for me to open my presents. I tell her no it is time to open her stocking. She readily agrees.
My plan was for her to open the presents as we normally did. Pull out one at a time, cooo about it and then move onto to the next one. That is why I have placed the small black box at the toe end of the stocking so that she will open it last. But I have forgotten that Elaine has never opened a stocking before so she does the logical thing. She dumps the entire contents of the specially made stocking on the bed and begins to open the present willy nilly. When she reaches for the black box, I tell her no that is for last and she gives me a “look” and then quickly gets back to the task at hand. She loves the little presents I have gotten heard especially a book on love and a sticky pad that says “WTF” (she is a woman who knows how to swear and I appreciate her skills.”) Finally she gets to the black box and she says “My Darling can I open this now.” I am too nervous to say anything. She opens the box and sees that inside that there is yet another box inside. This one has a catch and a latch. When she opens it those beautiful eyes grow ever larger and I say “Elaine Vierra Fierra, I love you. I cannot imagine another day without you in my life. Would you please marry me.” I manage to say this all without crying but not without choking up and she is in my arms before I can even finish kissing me and say “Querido” over and over again in my ear.
I push her away and look into her eyes and ask “So you are saying yes.”
“Yes, I am saying yes. “ and she holds out her hand so I can place the finger on it. After she admires the sapphire and diamond ring I have bought for her she kisses me again and says “My love, I know we will be very happy together.”
I think of my dream, and what you said to me as you were boarding the train, and say “I know.”
EZ travels Pops.
[Authors Note: This was written a while back when I wanted to share with my father that the girl he had met just a few weeks before his passing was now going to be my wife.]