January 27, 2009
January 20, 2009
Denys Finch Hatton had the idea of using an airplane to hunt elephants; for him, it was a fatal notion, but Beryl Markham made a living at it and it makes sense to me. In fact, better than flying for hunters, I like the idea of airplanes for African sightseers. Get up there, not to high, say two, maybe three thousand feet or so. See everything from there.
would provide an abundance of practical experience. He flew in Laos and Cambodia for Continental Air Transport-one of Air America’s CIA affiliates-until he was shot down on the China border. By the end of the ‘70’s, he flew out of Cairo in one of Pyramid Aviation’s DC-3’s to oil-exploration camps near the Libyan border.
So, Donald Douglas’ greatest hits of the ‘30’s (the DC-3), the ‘40’s (the DC-4), the ‘50’s (the DC-6 and -7) and the ‘60’s (the DC-8), (there was a DC-5, a high-wing job. Douglas made five of them and sold them to the Dutch air force, which crashed them all) along with stray Britannias, Electras, Constellations and the odd 707, support entire economies, keep industries, government and guerrilla movements alive, provide logistical support for a welter of development projects and supply gainful employment for a group of high-risk entrepreneurs who, back home, would be stuck in the suburbs teaching the finer points of aviation to the Beechcraft kamikazes.
Or how to negotiate the deviously circuitous flights (a favorite route: Tel Aviv to Cyprus, then Cyprus to Mombasa. In Mombasa, file a flight plan to Mumbai, but then turn left just past the gulf. Iranian air force jets meet you at the border and escort you in; they’ve been alerted by the Israelis, and they’re expecting you. In view of Iran’s resemblance to the Hotel California, they suggest that you use no American crew members.) that will take former Soviet Union hardware or Israeli rockets from Warsaw to Tel Aviv to Teheran. Commiserate with a broker who can’t find anybody to tote military cargo from Havana to Lima or from New England to Johannesburg via Kinshasa. Or sign on as loadmaster and transport weapons on relief flights from Khartoum to Juba, or watch American taxpayers feed the Cuban army in Angola.
Flying antique cargo planes offers Branko room to improvise. Flying expensive jets cramps his style. ‘Look,’ he says. ‘I have told you this before. And I will tell you again, stick around.’ He pointed out the window of the airport toward the runway. The cracked and patched surface vibrated in the heat. ‘This is where it all happens.’
Yes, but I have always remained a white knuckled pilot.
January 17, 2009
"Easy for you to say," I would snarl from deep within my swirling aura, hands flailing angrily at the air.
I followed all the precautions. I dutifully popped my meds and covered up in the evenings, wearing long-sleeved blouses and lightweight pants, applying repellent, carefully checking my mosquito net for holes. But as time went by, I became increasingly careless. The repellent was the first thing to go, mainly because I hated the hot, sticky feeling of it, like an airtight layer of latex paint on my skin, not to mention the smell! The long sleeves went next.
I would sit on deck of our Felucca floating down the Nile enjoying the delicious whisper of the night air on my bare skin.
The beast had the best of me at last.
I lay on a bed in a hospital room, blurredly watching a fan turn above my head. The air was hot and still. As I stared at the fan's hypnotic spiral, an extraordinary languor seeped into my limbs. I went through the feverish dance I'd come to know so well.
Sister said that if it were malaria tropica, the most dangerous strain, and they did not treat it, I could conceivably die from it, whereas taking unnecessary medication might screw with my system, but would not kill me.
The fevers were in full swing. My body behaved like a furnace gone haywire, my temperature modulating up and up until it broke in a dramatic display of sweat and shivers, only to begin the process all over again. Every hair on my body stood bolt upright on its follicle in protest. Although I was ravenously hungry, when I finally got access to food, I was unable to keep it down. Even with something as innocuous as rice, I would eat one spoonful, and my throat would close on the second bite. Still my mind remained detached, even slightly intrigued.
"Malaria's not so bad," I said to myself.
Little did I know the fun had just begun.
My first medication-altered night was spent in a surreal state, somewhere between painfully acute wakefulness and grotesquely etched, brilliantly colored dreams. Everyone I had met in my short life paraded through my head like a Super 8 movie shot with a hand-held camera. All my loved ones came forward in random order to take their shaky bows -my loving grandparents, my adoring father, remote mother, my curiously detached brother, school friends- I shouted their names and sat up again and again.
I started to get up and was stunned to discover that I could not stand and cross the room. I stood up and sat down again three times in rapid succession, my legs folding beneath me like a marionette's. The dizziness in my head was so severe that the walls zoomed by me as if on a high-speed carousel.
"What are you doing?" Dad called out from across the room.
"We've got to get going," I said.
"You've got malaria. You're not going anywhere."
"But we should," I told him, my voice rising and then I passed out.
When I woke, my head ached like the worst kind of hangover. All the colors of the world were piercingly bright.
In my dreams, I rose and fell and rose and fell like a crazy jack-in-the-box before I dived headfirst into a lake, unable to move a limb, I started to drown. I began to scream in absolute terror; arms flailing, shaken by violent sobs that gradually gave way to a bottomless river of grief. Life was fragile. Things could be broken. Loss was real.
I lay on my bed, staring up at the white ceiling, a 12-year-old girl, privileged and reckless, sporadically courageous and wildly arrogant, selfish and loving, thoughtless and tender -sick now and growing up.
January 13, 2009
The area has largely been given over to commerce, still memories persist of its aristocratic and artistic past. Josephine de Beauharnais lived in the Rue de la Victoire. ‘Yes, Madame, the stables were on this very spot’, the hairdresser round the corner told me, sighing at the weight of history thus imposed on her. In a corner of the garden Bonaparte plotted the coup d’état of 1799. A slightly reverend look came over her face. Napoleon slept here.
Nowadays the quarter is weighted with the glass and stone of insurance buildings and banks, and has the Opera, the churches of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and the Trinite, and department stores for landmarks. Grey crowds fill the lunchtime streets.
But on Sundays when traffic thins, it gives itself up to almost provincial peace.
Delacroix moved here in 1844 and wrote his impressions to George Sand. ‘On my arrival here the first object that struck the eyes of my virtue was a magnificent lorette dressed in black satin and velvet who, getting out of a cabriolet with the unconcern’s of a goddess, let me see her leg up to her navel.’ The particular splendors of the neighborhood were, he freely admitted, enough to make an ardent man quite dizzy.
Berlioz, Offenbach, Gustav Moreau, Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcel Proust went to school at the Lycee Condorcet, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Liszt, Chopin, Renoir all spent time here – the quarter if full of ghosts.
Victor Hugo, attempting to divide his affection into four workable parts, used to devote the mornings to his work, the late afternoons to Juliette Drouet, whom he met each day by the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, dinnertime to his family, and the evenings to Juliette’s rival, Leonie d’Aunet.
Alexander Dumas the elder lived here. In the summer of 1849 his son wrote La Dame aux Camelias. Midway through reading the play to his father, he had to leave for an appointment. Upon returning, he found his father bathed in tears. His father rose and embraced his son. The great success of the piece never gave him as much pleasure as that moment.
Rue de la Victoire was known during the Second Empire for its numerous maisons de rendezvous, known also as five to seven houses. This is where Mme Gautier run her establishment. According to Peter de Polnay, in his book Aspects of Paris, she had the enterprising idea of writing to every American whose name appeared in The American Register’s list of visitors, inviting him to her house because she has something important to tell him. Occasionally an entire, innocent, transatlantic family would turn up, whereupon she would explain that she was running a theatrical agency, hence the assembly of attractive young women, and had mistaken the man’s name for that of a celebrated actor. Touché.
In Paris, even in the ‘new’ district of the 9th, history lies layers deep. Modernization has eroded, but not destroyed its charm.
January 12, 2009
You are in a foreign country, one of those countries just recently released from the damp basement of a dank past. Your hotel room has no view. The phone does not work, and speaking into the light bulb, which used to be the way to communicate, no longer pertains. The men who once sat patiently in a cement cubicle below your room listening breathlessly to your every word have emigrated to a technologically advanced country, ours let us say, in order to employ their gift for patient snooping in more rewarding ways. You are alone in a small room at the far edge of nowhere and there is no place to plug in the computer. There will be no phone calls, no e-mails, and certainly, no snail mail for the duration of your stay, which, originally slated for one month, now looks more like an eternity.
After the first wave of tech-withdrawal anxiety has subsided, you ask yourself, and why should I, off all people, be so connected to other people that I must suffer withdrawal anxiety? The obvious answer is that you are neither important nor irreplaceable. If you disconnect from all the plugged-in people you used to be connected to, the network will make only an infinitesimal adjustment. Your former plug-in mates will go on connecting with each other, barely noticing your absence. You realize then that the network is the important thing. Anyone outside of it ceases to exist. You also remember now, with some remorse, losing all your old epistolary friends for the simple reason that they wrote snail-mail letters. You dropped them into nonexistence because they were not plugged in.
When you realize this, you stick your head out the window and shout: ‘Anybody home?’ and suddenly heads appear in the windows looking at you and speaking in some non-electronic language. The whole world is at home! Which is quite reassuring and you are comforted by their physical proximity.
See, your computer plug does not love you enough to answer your shout.
January 10, 2009
Interesting to note, that I have not remembered anything about this trip, except my malaria dreams in the Congo, and every minute detail of Kenya. I still can recall the smells, sounds, and varied landscapes.
When I ask him, if it was not a bit dangerous to travel into these contested areas at this time he said, ‘Aw, no big loss.’ Typical Charles.