October 17, 2017

A sample chapter

Read it and you will get a good taste of my writing style.

 It’s Chapter 24 / About the City of Asuncion. Enjoy!

Paraguay refused me but the people were nice. The harpist played “Arrivederci” for me while I was waiting for the plane that would take me me away.

I looked forward to Paraguay. Incredibly they refuse to let me in. They banish me!

My plan was to spend five days in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Paraguay is a land-locked country, one of only two in South America. That interested me.

And Asuncion is a  classic  version  of a  South American city, well, the kind we see in the movies so often. – one where all the folks take a siesta after lunch. Such a great idea!

But  I   had  been  warned. Asuncion is an oven in the summer, which is now. That’s why those smart people take a siesta. It’s so hot they have to. They sleep through it! It would be fun to experience that. I knew little about the place beyond that, though I was sure it has many allures.  So curiosity was my big motive.

I flew from Sao ,Paulo. Asuncion is just a two-hour flight. From up high Paraguay looked beautiful and peaceful. Bucolic is the right word. Reddish soil, which in my mind emphasized the idea of hot.

I expected jungle here. Strange the notions we develop. No jungle. What I could see was nearly table flat, much of it wide-open, gently rolling country. Few trees. Here and there,-sections of it fenced, some for crops, some for ranches. All nice and tidy.

The city of Asuncion loomed off to the right. Impressive with its towers and other high buildings, which all self-respecting cities must have nowadays, it seems. So many tall buildings in what I had considered one of the continent’s lesser cities – that was another surprise. A lesson I’ve learned: expect the unexpected; and arrive with an open mind.

I had a wonderful ride getting here, and that was because of my seatmate, a burly Frenchman from Alsace-Lorraine in eastern France. What a talker Paul was. So much to say. This was one flight that really flew by.

“I grew up in a small village,” he told me. “My family was very poor. At 121 got a job. I took care of the pigs in our village. A lot of people had one or two pigs in their backyard. I spent a lot of time with pigs. I began to understand them.

“Pigs are so intelligent. They develop a relationship with their caretaker. Like dogs. A good relationship, or a bad one, depending on their master. I got to know every pig, and they got to know me. Each pig has a different personality. Believe me. I could tell how each pig felt every day.

“Pigs crave affection. They crave love. They want to be patted. It makes them happy. It got so that every time I dealt with one of my pigs, I felt I was dealing with a person. I am speaking the truth, monsieur. It became very, very difficult for me. Because every pig has but one destiny. The slaughterhouse!”

Another subject: China. Paul became a salesman of locks: One thing led to another. He began to sell luggage wholesale, all over France and western Europe. He started his own wholesale luggage business. His idea was to buy good luggage where it is made cheapest, which happens to be in China, and sell it at the lowest prices possible. His idea clicked.

“I traveled to China many times. I bought luggage by the container lot – you know, those huge steel boxes they load on ships. I made a lot of money. I retired at 55. Now every six months I take a long trip. I am seeing the world also, not in one big circle like you, but in stages. I have been on every continent.

“Things are getting much better for the ordinary Chinese. But things are still very hard. Let me tell you what it is like to work in a Chinese factory. I’ll tell you about one. It’s about 100 miles from Shanghai, out in the country.

“Men and women live and work in a large tent. They move here from their farms after the harvest is over, and stay until the next planting begins. They work from morning till night, making luggage. Some sew, some handle stock, some assemble, some pack, and so on.

“They work from morning till night, seven days a week. At noontime, a bell rings. They stand in line and receive a cupful of rice.” He cupped his hands to show how small the cup was.

“There’s a bit of gravy on top with some little pieces of meat. The bell rings again and they return to work. At night they receive another meal . of rice. That’s life in a modern Chinese factory.

“But for them this is a great improvement. And that is true. They are making progress.”

It’s at the moment that the Attach Seatbelt sign came on. We were about to land.

On the ground, Paul got off first. “I will wait for you at Immigration,” he said.

Everything went smoothly, and soon I reached Immigration, my passport in hand. I spotted Paul. He had gotten through. “I’ll wait for you m the lobby,” he said, and strode off with his luggage.

The inspector thumbed through my passport. Many of its pages by now had become filled with official stamps. He thumbed through again. “You have no visa for Paraguay, senor” he said.

“I do not need one for, Paraguay.”

“You are mistaken, senor.”

“Well, let me buy one.” This happens in some countries. You just take out your wallet and fork over the money. To me, it’s like buying a ticket to the movies.

The inspector wagged his finger at me. “No, no. Here you must have a visa when you arrive.”

I was stunned. Nothing I could say helped.

He shuffled me to a higher official. I told him the same thing. “I am here as a tourist for five days. I am making a circle of the world. I want to visit and appreciate your wonderful country. I want to spend my good American dollars on lodging, and meals, and museums and entertainments, and souvenirs….”

He shook his head. “No. Sorry, senor. It is the law. The law is the law.”

The bottom line: I was refused admission for lack of a $6 visa. Someone told me that was how much it cost. He wanted to put me on the next plane back to Brazil. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to go forward. I showed him my ticket to my next stop, Santiago, Chile.

“We will permit that.” He picked up a sheet of paper. “A plane leaves for Santiago in 22 minutes. You must be on that flight.”

I was dumbfounded. Then I brightened up. Hey, Asuncion didn’t really look that interesting. And I didn’t think that I wanted to spend time in such a stern, inflexible country. And I’d probably have a lot more fun in Chile with an extra five days.

But there are nice people everywhere. An airline attendant offered me a cup of coffee. And another, a young woman named Dominique, offered to make a phone call for me iff needed one. Gosh, did I!

I gave her the number of my friend Artie in Santiago. I was on my way to meet him and his wife Margy. They are Americans who live there. They had offered to put me up.

“Tell him what happened,” I. implored her. “Tell him at what time my plane will arrive.”

“I will try, senor. Yes. Right now.”

I also asked her to please go alert my new friend, Paul, out in the lobby.

She came back and told me she made the call and had spoken to Artie’s secretary. But could not find Paul. I was disappointed. Well, I had tried.

I rushed to the plane, a guard escorting me. At the top of the ramp, right by the plane door, I saw a tall, impressive man who was smiling as people boarded. He wore a pilot’s uniform. His shirt pocket had a tag: Comandante.

“Captain?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

I unloaded on him. Told him what happened. Handed him my passport and showed him all the countries I had been admitted to.

His smile turned into a frown. He shook his head incredulously. “I cannot believe this. So unreasonable. And I am Paraguayan! So sorry, sir!”

He gave me my passport, then turned to a steward to tell him the story. It made me feel good that he, the captain, himself a Paraguayan, felt dismayed.

He took out his pen and scribbled a name on a card, Miguel Candia, and gave it to me. “He is the president of TAM, our airline. Please write him a letter and explain. You should do that. What happened was wrong. That policy should be changed. You will be helping us.”

Within minutes we were in the air, I looked down on that hot little country that had refused me. No wonder they’re so poor down there, I thought.

And I had another thought. All I would ever be able to say about visiting Paraguay is that I had enjoyed a coffee there. And a pee.

I had never heard of TAM. It stands for Transposes Aerolineas de Mercosur, Mercosur is the key word. It is a commercial association of four countries down there; Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Sounds like a small version of the European Community. I settled back. This was a good flight.

I took out my pad. It was not letter paper, but it would have to do. I wrote a letter to Senor Candia, detailing the terrible incident, and handed it to a steward, with an explanation. Maybe this was futile, but I was following through. I felt better.

TAM was trying hard, with its good service. One example: a stewardess came down the aisle with a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream and little plastic cups. She handed me one. Strange: the cup had another cup inside, a brown one. It was chocolate!

She filled it with the liqueur. I sipped it, then ate the chocolate cup. Delicious. Just a little thing, I know, but it made me appreciate TAM.

I looked at my map. Chile, what a strange-looking country, so long’ and thin. Hope Artie got the word. That same thought came to me again:, it’s smart to expect the unexpected.

~~~~

As usual, I added aphorisms:

The longest journey starts with a single footstep.

Ho Chi Minh.

P.S. But your journey may end abruptly if you haven’t planned well.

– Postscript byJGL