- Harris Telemacher, LA Story
The bad news was that I was flying NorthWorst and my first flight (out of Atlanta) was late getting in, late getting out and when it finally took wing, after sitting on the tarmac for haunted ages, it had become mathematically impossible for me to make my connection in Detroit. (Which connection would be the overnight flight to Amsterdam where I was being met by two very important (to me) people in public places at very specific times.) I was officially McScrewed with Cheese. There would be no other red-eye departing Detroit to Amsterdam an hour or two later; it would the following night at best, that much I knew. Two other guys on this flight were booked on the Amsterdam gig as well, and the three of us went bruising and brawling our way up the walkway and onto the Detroit concourse like men with our asses on fire, hoping against hope. When we all skidded into the desk at our connecting gate, the sign indicated that this flight, also miserably delayed, would be leavingin estimated another hour and a half. "Go get a cup of tea," serenely advised the KLM employee behind the desk. "Relax. Come back when you're calm."
When I did come back I was feeling in no mood for subtlety, so I brazenly played my card: "It's my birthday. Give me a bulkhead seat." The unflappable Dutchwoman indicated that she did have one available, but it was a middle seat. "Your current seat is a window and there's no one next to you." Hmm, tough call. "I'd stay where you are," she advised. I concurred and she hadn't even mentioned that the third seat in the aisle would turn up occupied by a statuesque, attractive, charming, female 28-year old Italian fashion designer person. This was Sonya. (*). Sonya lives in Florence, studied in her field for two years in London, and most recently worked designing shoes for Prada. She left recently due to the severe psychosis of the company owner, who has a reputation in the industry for stunts like rushing into the parking lot with a hammer and inscribing his displeasure with an employee on that employee's car's bodywork. She's in the process of interviewing for a position at Gucci but is forced to wait six months, due to a non-compete clause in her Prada contract, and is using the time to travel (Crete, Spain, relatives in the U.S.). We talked into the wee hours.
Sonya was a joy to interact with on her own merits, but our conversation about travel, languages, and relationships, about Italy the States served to remind me of how much I enjoy, and how much I've missed, this being out and about in the world business. And the greatest bit of that is always the people you (when you're lucky) meet. It seemed to strike an initial spark in me that should become the great conflagration of this trip. (Okay, crappy metaphor for a trip avowedly fraught with potential risks.)
And but still, having her show up in that other seat on that flight I had no business catching in the first place surely underscored that God is on the side of this expedition.
Met Cousin Maureen at the "Meeting Point" at Amsterdam's Centraal Station. This is another highly useful concept that (as far as I know) hasn't caught on in the States. "Meet you near the entrance." "Meet you in baggage claim." "Meet you in the parking lot somewhere." No, I'll meet you precisely beneath the huge, neon "MEETING POINT" sign. (Though, amusingly, when Mo was a few minutes late, as I was casting around, I actually furrowed my brow stupidly and wondered if there could be two meeting points, and I was at the wrong one. Of course, what sort of moron would create two meeting points? which would precisely and monumentally defeat the purpose. Anyway.)
Maureen showed right then, and the two of us began wandering the wooly streets of the city, chatting up a very pleasant storm. Also, somehow, our walk chanced to turn into an all-reminiscence tour of all the spots I remembered from my long weekend there last year with Ali. We traipsed into the massive and lively Dam Square, which is glowered down upon by the Royal Palace (those are personifications of the city's three virtues up top, I think they're justice, temperance, and peace?). By the way, Maureen is pretty highly soul-theft-averse; still, you can play a bit of a Where's Waldo game with these pictures, where I snagged her into the fringes of most of my shots.
From there, we went (again) to the genuinely touching, if unfortunately named, HomoMonument Amsterdam's memorial to the untold numbers of gay men and lesbians who were murdered by the Third Reich. It consists of three distributed triangles one raised, one extending out over the water, and the third with an inscription that translates as "Such an infinite desire for friendship." Finally, as we were strolling one of the innumerable canal-sides and bridges, I spied the singular and unmistakeable sight of a houseboat the roof of which was badly in need of a lawnmowing. (You can see it in the bottom left corner of the above photo.) This could only mean . . . we were mere yards from the hotel Ali and stayed in, the Amsterdam Weichmann. I snapped a photo of the facade, and our old balcony.
Ultimately, we actually found ourselves on the square with the Irish pub where Ali and I had taken a break, and drinks. Today, Mo and I went next door and got coffee and kept happily gabbing. Since we were seated, we also made good on our taunts about throwing our passports on the slab to compare stamps. I regret to report that her ornate China, Nepal, and three Indias (it looks like India basically gives you another little passport and pastes it into your main one) handily handed my showcase Guatemala, and Turkey, stamps their asses. However, she also noted, of the pictures,
M: "Hey we look practically related."
M: "Seriously. We also both look like major terrorists."
M: "Hmm, that too."
M: "A veritable Interpol lineup, on our table."
We exchanged big hugs, and I promised to try to make it into her Three-Continent Club that select group of friends she had encountered, at one time or another, on at least three continents. Don't you find it very strange when you exchange a few bits of telemetrical data, and a time and meet up with exactly one person out of 6.2 billion in a ten square foot area on the other side of a 26,000-mile-around world? I do.
M: I want to broach this topic gingerly, and with due circumspection and I really do want to avoid hurting your feelings but, as you recently noted yourself, this is our fifth meeting in as many years. And, well . . . I think maybe we shouldn't see so much of each other for awhile.
A: Do you think? Yes, maybe we should take some time off, time to ourselves . . .
M: . . . and meet back again in maybe 2005, 2006.
A: Right. Okay.
We walked for a bit, then sat down for eccentric fruit juices where we sat rooted to the table, across from each other, for the better part of the next three hours. Not sure about her, but I laughed and smiled (and felt and thought and expressed) about as much as I had in the prior three months. I'm still smiling. It was just like always. Finally, we had to re-brave the chill outside to hook up with her school friends (with whom she takes one of these holidays each year this time, it seems now), where we were introduced and chatted they seemed a great, fun, very nice crew to me (despite everyone being a bit fagged from a whirlwind weekend) took pictures of them, and (an all-too-rare) one of the two of us. And then I had to bid Ali, and she me, all the usual heartfelts, quick-step over the damp cobblestones and funkily twinkling waterways of Amsterdam to Centraal Station, and take my train to my plane and that to my real destination, and the true starting point of the adventure.
Though, I declare, that if the trip gets a whole lot better than this very first day has been, I'm going to have to hold onto my Intrepid Explorer hat with both hands.
Tomorrow: Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain.