Monthly Archives: November 2007

While my guitar gently weeps (Part 7)

“Is this guitar yours?” asked me the flight attendant. 

“Game over…” I thought to myself. 
“Yes, it is,” I answered, with my poker face on.
“Is there any problem?”

“Can you play?”

“Yes, I can.”

“If I asked you to play something for me, would you be able to?”

For half a second I thought these questions were rather strange. But then I remembered that airport people can sometimes ask apparently innocent questions to get liars off guard.

(My friend tells me that every time she goes home to Minnesota they ask her: “Minnesota… MS, right?” A sleepy traveller can easily agree, and then a much longer list of questions follows…)

Without hesitating, I replied: “Yes, I would. Would you like me to?”

“Ah, I love to see a woman play the guitar… I wish I could play too. As we speak there´s a plane leaving for Dublin, full of musicians who are going to play at a festival. How I wish I were on that plane…”

At this moment, the captain´s voice spread throughout the speakers:
“Flight attendants, prepare for take-off.” Flirty flight attendant closes off the conversation with a wink, and proceeds to check overhead bins and seat belts at the speed of light. Only my hysterical laughter knew no restrains, nor could it be easily shut off.  

* * * * *

“Dear passangers, here´s your captain speaking!”

I woke up with a start, startled by the loud speakers and the blinding lights all turned on at once.

“In a few minutes we will start our breakfast service.”

I look through the window. It is night. I look at my watch. 4:45am. A bit too early for breakfast, in my opinion. The captain hears my thoughts, and corrects me:

“It is now 5:45 am local time. We have started our descent. To our right, we can see the city of Brasília. We estimate another two hours until São Paulo, landing at aproximately 7:50am, arriving at the gate at 8:07.”

I look at my watch. Still a lot of time left. And after the gate there´s immigration. Then there´s baggage claim. Then check-in line, followed by another possibly traumatic check-in. Then wait for hours till boarding, plus two more hours of flying, so that, with luck, I can be home by dinner. 

I look through the window. I can see my city below, still asleep, its little lights glimmering as if it were Christmas already. “Excuse me, sir, this is my stop! Can you let me off? Is there a button I can push, a string I can pull, so you´ll let me off right here?”

While my guitar gently weeps (Part 6)

On the phone

“Everything´s ok.” My eyes went from one side to the other like a nervous pendulum. 
“Yep, it´s on time.” Nobody´s intercepted me yet.  “No problem at all. ” It seems no one is observing me. 

What I really wanted to say was that I was bringing my guitar against the rules, that my knees were shaking, that I had bluffed, camouflaged, that I felt like a real smuggler. But what if someone overheard me and thought things were worse than they really were? Better be safe than sorry.  

“Everything´s fine. See you tomorrow.”

Boarding

I hung up and waited for boarding time. Sometimes it happens that the person doing the check-in also comes to help with boarding, and I was petrified. I probably waited another hour, but it felt like a hundred.

I noticed that there was another guitarist in the same waiting area. When they started boarding, I waited until he went in, to see whether they let him go or not.

Relief number one was that check-in lady did not come to help with boarding. Excellent. Relief number two was that guitar-player boarded without any hassle. Wonderful.

Even so, I picked a line on the right-hand side of the boarding counter. Why? Because this way the person taking my boarding pass would be on my left. And so what? Well, so that I carry my guitar with my right shoulder. Thus, the arm handing the boarding pass is not the arm carrying the guitar. Everything was planned so that my guitar would draw the least attention. 

The Tunnel of Truth

The guy took my ticket, gave me the stub, and wished me a good trip. Another obstacle down, one more to go. But the one coming up was an important one: when (as described in part 4, “Attachments and Detachments”) I composed in my head the “Speech of Apprehension”(please note the pun), in my mind the scenario for the whole speech was the tunnel leading to the aircraft. Right on the curve, almost by the airplane entrance. 

Well, said Tunnel of Truth extended itself before me now. I entered, with all my courage, expecting to be intercepted at any second. I went around the curve, almost sure that the worst would happen.

Nothing happened. I entered the airplane.

“It´s now or never!”, I thought to myself.

On the plane

“Your ticket, please. Aisle to your left, at the end.” The lady did not even look at Archimedes.

I found my seat, and placed my guitar in the bin right above (which was surprisingly empty). I slid sideways to the window seat, unfolding the little blanket as I did it. I covered myself, plugged my earphones, and breathed finally. 

Yet another dangerous moment

Soon there came someone to sit beside me. He opened the overhead compartment, put his briefcase there and sat down, leaving the bin open. I didn´t like that. But I didn´t complain, I didn´t want to draw attention. 

I turned up the volume of my mp3 player in a desperate attempt to escape the sound of boring conversations (“Dude, Paris is much better than Montreal, no comparison. The French are arrogant, but they´re chic.”). Absorbed in my sudokus, I didn´t even notice when they closed the doors and the crew started going through the aisles closing all the overhead compartments. 

When I realized, the flight attendant was talking to the guy beside me. I pretended I didn´t see it, and started to pray. But the guy beside me poked me and said, loud and clear to whomever might want to hear: “No, it´s not mine. It must be hers.”

I froze.

While my guitar gently weeps (Part 5)

Previously,
on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”:

Part 1: Preparations

Part 2: Pearson International Airport

Part 3: Interlude

Part 4: Poker face

Part 5:

Conscience weighs on my shoulders

I smiled gratefully, took another deep breath, and went through the security door. Showing my boarding pass, I took my guitar and backpack off my back and placed on the x-ray belt. Then I went through the metal detector, turning around all the while to wave at my friend, winking and wincing like someone who knows she’s doing something wrong, and enjoying it. That’s my poker face.

After I went thorough the metal detector, the security guard took my guitar off the x-ray machine and said loud and clear: “Ma’am, your guitar…” I stared at him, waiting for more. “Ma’am, your guitar… is not allowed” Or: “Ma’am, your guitar… has been aprehended, please come with me!” Or yet: “Ma’am, your guitar… must be checked in. You’ll have to pay a thousand-dollar fee!”

But instead, all I got was: “Ma’am, your guitar. Have a good trip!”

Duty free

How strange. The security people (who are generally the fussiest of all) did not know of the rule that you can’t take a guitar on board. I waved once again at my friend (adding this time a smiling thumbs up all’s well) e proceeded towards the boarding gate.

A bit further along on my right, I could see an Air Canada information counter. On my left, a giant Duty Free store, so filled with entrances and exits that it looked more like an open fair than with a closed store. I did not hesitate. I don’t even like Duty Frees in general, but as the Air Canada counter had three attendants and zero clients, I decided to take no risk. The labyrinth formed by the Duty Free counters served me as perfect camouflage.

The final gate

Having survived yet this danger safe and sound (actually, more safe than sound), I walked through a row of waiting areas until I got to my boarding gate. Throughout this trajectory, I saw at least three other guitar carriers. How strange. Didn’t they know that guitars are not allowed on board? Or was their poker face simply so much better than mine? I couldn’t tell.

I arrived at my gate with plenty of time to spare. So I decided to call my parents in Brasilia to say that all was well.

Imagine…

Imagine that I seriously considered staying in Sao Paulo for another couple of nights until tomorrow. I did. Seriously and exhaustively, because my imagination knows no boundaries. And I almost did decide to stay. Were it not for the fact that:

1. Imagine that the holiday next week (November 15, Proclamation of the Republic of Brazil) makes it three times cheaper to return when I did than to leave it for next week. This was before one of the airlines declared bankrupcy on Tuesday and cancelled all their flights, which probably will make the situation even more chaotic. Even so, I still might have made an effort, imagine that, so that I could stay a bit longer. Were it not for the fact that:

2. Ah, you can´t imagine how much work I have on my plate. According to my calculations, in order to do everything I´d like to get done by Christmas, November will have to last about five months, can you imagine? But I think I would have bit the bullet, choosing to work extra hard next week and the next, so that I could stay in São Paulo until tomorrow. Were it not for the fact that:

3. I wouldn´t have liked to miss yet another class. For besides going to the gym, I am currently enrolled in two classes: Krav Maga and Tai Chi Chuan (one for explosion, the other one for collecting energy). And imagine that in this hardly one month since I´ve started taking these classes, I have missed so many of them already… That´s not good. But I might have consented to missing just one more class, so that I could stay in SP until Friday. Were it not for the fact that:

4. I wouldn´t have any place to stay there. I mean, in theory I could stay for another three nights in the hotel where I was staying, which was very nice and extremely inexpensive for the comfort it provided. Were it not for the fact that:

5. I´m short on money. This visa business is costing me serious dough, especially with this unnecessary trip to SP.  I don´t even want to imagine what the credit card bill is going to be like this month. But amidst so many extravagances, one wouldn´t think much of adding just another one, were it not for the fact that:

6. If I had at least taken more clothes with me. But I had packed for only a couple of days. I even considered finding a landromat (since item number 5 restricts the possibility of purchasing new clothes, and besides, my backpack was already too full). Were it not for the fact that:

7. I had forgotten what rain felt like, and didn´t take a single closed shoe or sock, or long-sleeved shirt… And it rained non-stop for two days, imagine that.  So I would be in need not only of a landromat, but also of new shoes, jacket, just imagine… And all this would go against items 5 and 6.

But can you imagine that I thought very seriously of making all these efforts so that I could stay in São Paulo until November ninth double-o-seven?

I imagine that you´re betting the reason I wanted so badly to stay a bit longer was to spend more time at the Paulo Freire institute, right? Either that, or to be done with the whole visa story. But not so: both these goals could be achieved at another opportunity, and though I am an extremely impulsive person, I can sometimes manage to exercise the virtue of patience. 

But it wasn´t that. What I really wanted to be doing right now was to be at São Paulo´s Theatro Municipal. I have never been there, and, honestly, there is nothing that has been there for decades now that could not wait for another while.

Except for one thing that is there only tonight. Something I would never have imagined to see in Brazil, and so accessible to the public.

Well, imagine that, as I write, Ms. Yoko Ono is performing in São Paulo´s Theatro Municipal. I didn´t even know that she held public performances, or that she went on world tours. She seems to be more handsome now than 40 years ago, when she first got to be known worldwide, if you can imagine that. And the ticket cost merely R$ 60,00 (around $30).

Can you imagine me missing something like this? 

But so I did. Given motives 1-7 presented above, all I could do was to return to Brasília, and seek consolation in the good old”Imagine”:

“In the middle of a dream,
In the middle of a dream
I call your name:
Oh, Yoko…”

Experiential learning

This week I went to Sao Paulo to renew my visa. It was a good trip, and I did a ton of things, except for renewing my visa (through my own incompetence: I forgot to book an appointment, and the next one would be for mid-November).

After crying a bit over the spilled milk, I decided to do something useful with the trip. I took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Paulo Freire Institute, where his archives are (http://www.paulofreire.org/).

It is an very unpretentious building in a very unpretentious neighbourhood. The people inside the building are also very unpretentious. I asked the secretary if I could take a tour of the building even though I hadn’t booked an appointment. She called to a guy next door, and ask him if he could do it. He said sure, and asked me take a seat around a table in tiny room filled of books. Both people’s clothes and manners were very plain and simple, as was everything in and about the room.

He said that the Institute was founded in 1991 when his father came back from a lecture at UCLA. I had no idea who his father was. Then he said that in the first five years his father was very active in the life of the Institute, until he passed away in 1997. Then I started to have a strong suspicion of who his father was. Then he said that after his father passed away, all his books were taken to the room where we were. At this point I was filled with goosebumps.

Turns out he is  the youngest of Paulo Freire’s children, and the books in the room belonged to Paulo Freire’s personal collection, going back to the 40’s. I found a copy of Karl Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” from 1959, and another from Jaeger’s “Paideia” from 1963, all filled with marginal notes and a summary at the end, in Freire’s own hand! Interestingly enough, I cite both these books in my thesis, and on the back cover of Popper’s book Freire makes a reference to Jaeger, which is extra cool! In the other couple of minutes that I perused the library I also saw Russell and Freud, and many others. Definitely have to go back for more.

Lut, Freire’s son, gave me a brief tour of the archives, and introduced me to everyone he saw, telling jokes and stories along the way, as if we were childhood friends. Then he offered to give me a tour of the offices upstairs, but remembered that he had to rush to pick up his daughter from school. He asked the secretary to continue the tour, and asked me if I could go back the next day, so he could show me a school nearby where they develop some of their programs. I nodded enthusiastically.

Lizeth, the secretary, took me upstairs, where all the administrative offices are. Everywhere she’d stop (treasury, communications, publishing department, distance learning, kitchen, international relations) she’d introduce me almost solemnly, and they would welcome me again as if I were a family friend, and my interrupting them were part of the script. And it wasn´t like I had booked a time or anything, nor even said much about what I do or come from.

I was sad not to have taken a camera, but decided to go back the next day, before returning to Brasilia in the evening. Unfortunately, Lut wasn´t able to come, which frustrated me a little, because now that I was expecting to speak to someone so close to Freire, I had a lot of personal questions to ask. But this only last a couple of seconds: I already felt too lucky about how available he´d been the previous day, when I had no appointment nor the vaguest expectation to speak to anyone like him.

Besides, there was plenty to do at the Institute, and Lizeth made sure I was never bored. I was shown the school all the same, saw many interesting things (including a copy of the manuscript of the 1968 original of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”!!!) and spoke to many interesting people, from people in the board of directors to researchers from across the Atlantic.

It was one of those trips where the detour is so much more memorable than what you had bargained for!!! But I´ll still have to bargain for a visa… Such is life!

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While my guitar gently weeps (Part 4)

Poker face

Chatting about this and that, we finished our insipid snack and strolled back towards security. Amidst so much chatter, I had completely forgotten about the whole guitar story. Seriously. I’m not just saying this to sound innocent or anything.

Truth is, I can’t bluff. Can’t play poker or anything that requires bluffing. When the game is mafia, a thousand winks and nervous ticks give me away. I’m a hopeless liar.

Attachments and detachments

Just as we were saying goodbye, my friend pointed out that I was still carrying Archimedes. It was then that the whole drama dawned on me again. If it weren’t for this, there’s a chance I would have gone through security all natural and calm, completely unaware of my contravention. As it was, I was too self-conscious. I wouldn’t be able to make it. So I started to say goodbye to Archimedes for good.

As we moved through the security line-up, I read very carefully the sign listing all the items prohibited aboard: fire weapons, cutting objects, aerosols, shampoos and other liquids for personal hygiene, even water. Nowhere did I find listed “guitars and other musical instruments.”

At this moment something clicked in my spirit. I clang to my guitar and started to explain to my friend that I would rather take the risk. For I thought to myself: Archimedes, though dear to me, had not been dear in the financial sense of the word — I had bought him for less than the $120 excess fee. Given that we had already spent more than twelve wonderful years together, I think that the initial investment had already paid itself many times over. Any extra time together at this point would be over and above what was expected.

Bottom line: the headache of leaving it behind or paying extra to have it arrive in Brazil in pieces was not worth it. If I could take it with me for free, great; if not, the best thing would be to let him go alive and well.

I even started to rehearse the speech I would make when intercepted: “Ma’am” (or “sir”), please take this guitar with you, and give it to someone you love, a child, godchild, nephew or niece. This guitar is much cherished, take good care of him. His name is Archimedes.”

Fall back plan

With the speech well-rehearsed, I arranged upon my shoulders backpack, guitar and courage, took a deep breath and walked towards security. My friend called me back for a final recommendation: “Look, I’ll be watching you from here as you go through security, until you get to those escalators there at the end. I’ll wait here for another ten minutes or so after you’re out of sight. If anything goes wrong remember I’m here, and you can come back and pass Archimedes to me, ok? Your turn now, go – and good luck!”

While my guitar gently weeps (part 3)

Part 3

Travelling in Time

So we went for a snack: my friend empty handed offering to help me who, with a guitar and a backpack on my shoulders, refused his help. Reasons for said refusal: I am so used to carrying my backpack that without it I feel naked. As for guitar, customary jealousy (“nobody touches my guitar!”) was accentuated by the imminent separation (“let me just say goodbye to Archimedes…”).

Since we gave ourselves plenty of time going to the airport, there were still another couple of hours to kill before boarding time. We strolled leisurely to the other extremity of the terminal (where snacks could be found) stopping to admire the permanent exhibit on the way (I really love those floating cubes! Sooo relaxing…). We finally sat down to eat something overpriced and unsatisfactory just to kill time (the options for food at the Toronto airport are terrible. The airport in Brasilia is a thousand times better. There’s even a cinema!)

We chatted and we chatted. We compared our pasts, presents and futures as travelers. We reminisced about the days when we enjoyed bragging about “our favorite airport” and exchanging notes on how to avoid jet lag or tricks to manage to fall asleep in a transcontinental flight.

We reflected nostalgically about a time when we thought someone was just being snobbish when she said she had grown tired of flying. How can anyone grow tired of flying? We laughed thinking of those distant days when the mere thought of flying gave us goose bumps; a time when we would count the days until flying, our dreamy eyes already greedy for the little sachets and other flight goodies to be collected like a trophy.

Those days are gone. The future is now. To our surprise we find that those snobbish people whining about being tired of flying are ourselves. Our turn has arrived. I dared say to my friend something I had long felt, but had never had the courage to say out loud: that if I had to spend the next five years without flying anywhere at all, I would not complain a bit. I saw in my friend’s eyes that I had hit a nerve: I had expressed a feeling of his that he did not know he had. He smiled gratefully.

Turns out this trilogy follows Star Wars, in that it is composed of more than three parts.

Don’t miss the next episode of this fascinating journey through time, space, bureaucracy and esterical brains.