Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blame it on Abbey

I learned yesterday that you need to be selective with your choice of Moto-taxi drivers. I had previously tried to peg the careful drivers think that that was enough of a screening process. To check my intuition, I watch how each driver navigates a pothole on the road out of town. How they approach it, swerve and or recover let's me know how the ride is going to be from there on. And, how active a role I need to take in watching the road and bracing myself. Yet, when we hit the series of speed bumps at the edge of Mar Grande, prior to reaching the pothole, I began to gag from my driver's lack of personal hygiene. Now, daily bathing needs to be a concern too. How to assess that is kind of dicey.

As we accelerated after the speed bump the still air that took wing shot a beeline of his clammy pit odor up my nostrils, helmet notwithstanding. He did only charge me six reals, instead of the commensurate $7. Maybe he knew?
Today in my early morning broken Portuguese I related this story to Davis my regular cycle dude. It took a few moments for the effect of the story to sink in, but then he lost it, hacking up a lung in laughter. Subtly, I was complementing him on his cleanliness too. We wished each other well as I hopped off his bike, tied down my helmet, bought my ticket and headed down the dock to the Lancha.

Initially the waves, and the sea appeared placid. The boat looked quite full, so I decided to copy an executive I spied earlier that week and grab a seat at the prow. I parked myself on the coiled ropes attached to the anchor, facing the stern. The bench was already full of salty locals, hangers on and fishermen, joking and jiving.

Abbey Lincoln lowing a plaintive blues in French and English through my headphones put me in a chill mood. I resumed reading, "Secrets, Gods and Gossip" one of my research books on Candomble. The clouds parted and sunlight shimmered on rushing wave caps. Putting the book down, I fished out my camera and snapped some images of sky and sea waiting for the boat to launch.

Two men caught my eye, one toasted almond, scruffy and hazel eyed; the other dark and spritely. I alternated shooting candid's of them and nature shots as we motored off. We left the shelter of the reef, entering the open channel. Heaving seas sprayed and soaked the men on the starboard side. We all laughed as they quickly crowded onto the port-side. Roiling seas gushed water all over the deck. Happily I was now the only dry soul in the bow. The friendly banter escalated to teary guffaws as we watched each successive, "Baptism". I imagined that the seated passengers were tightly gripping the rails for stability.

Maybe it was the folksy blues she sang that drew me backwards? Or, the morning light reflecting off of the water? The hull pounding the crested waves was a trigger. All at once my back was dripping wet. I stowed my book in my bag and rapidly shot images of the turbid wates for a video concept I am working on, (elegies for the end of the Atlantic Slave Trade, U.S. & Brazil). I knew that I was working against time. A camera soaked in saltwater was useless to me.

My left side was dripping wet, my glasses needed wiper blades as I chanced a few more images occasionally shielding my camera in my sack. Piercing morning sunlight warmed my wet shoulders and for a tender, fragile moment I was probably six years old and similarly wet from sea spray. I am not sure if we were headed to Mystic, Newport or on the trip south to Cape May? We were on one of our sojourns aboard the Sea Drift, the schooner that my parents friend's the Wilcox's owned. My life preserver tightly secured and my right arm gripped the rail. In my peripheral vision I saw the soft straightened curls of my mother, blowing randomly in the wind. Her face screwed up, one hand clutched her preserver and the other a latch to a bulkhead or hatch door. She could not swim then. I believe that she had just finished a cigarette when the sea turned rough.

It was the early '60's. Sylvia had been a career smoker; Kent's. She was calling me to come away from the bow. In that moment holding fast, feet planted squarely on deck I felt fearless, vicariously living through a collage of stories of pirates and sailors. Wet and ecstatic.

My Dad, watched from the wheelhouse. He was probably standing with Roger Wilcox and Hugh_______. I imagine that he chuckled at us, being born in a seacoast town and not urban or suburban like the two of us. He might have pondered who would win the tussle; my defiance, my mother's fear and insistence or the ocean's fervor? I thought of my Dad growing up on boats, now I too was like him, growing up on boats.

The men, now laughing at me for being baptized and not moving from my perch. I am sure that they thought, "Outro homen louco, estranho e sem mentes! {Another crazy strange, senseless man-foreigner). I turned and laughed with them. Freighters passed on either side and the colonial Battery came into view. Just as quickly the waters stilled, the motor idled and in the next two minute moment I collected these thoughts I share now. The new stillness, as eerie as the recent tumult. The engine quiet, the wind still, I felt my heart pulsing and the gentle release of breathe escaping from me. Being in the bow, we were always the first on land. I jumped off of the boat and walked toward the gondola and my class at Senac.

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