Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Impressions Part 3

Welcome in mid-stream here, parts 1 and 2 are below on the Blog. I realize now that this is about a new beginning which seems fitting on this New Year's Day 2011. These events took place in late August of 1971, 40 years ago this year! I have never regretted coming to this wonderful land of liberty, it has truly been my Promised Land. Happy New Year everyone.

...My mother and I made it over to the domestic terminal, where we proceeded to buy to tickets for San Francisco but we found out we needed to put my little dog in a big one-size-fits-most kennel and pay $75.

She was an abandoned mutt I had found in Italy when I was a child. She had tugged impossibly at my heart and I had sent my mother what she later described as a tear jerker letter that no one with a beating heart could have refused. She didn't refuse, in fact, and for that I have always been grateful.

At the American Embassy in Paris, where I lived with my grandmother that last year in Europe, they had informed me of what would be required to bring my dog into the US. Leaving her behind was out of the question. So we got all her shots and a little yellow certificate and off we went. At the travel agency where I reserved my seat on a fully booked chartered flight (much cheaper than a regular flight apparently) they told me she could stay with me provided she sit on my lap. I anticipated no problems. As I walked through the gate at the airport, the customs official looked down questioningly at my dog. "I was told I could just bring her on a leash and here are her papers" with a shrug of the shoulder, he let me pass.

The flight was at least 10 hours from Amsterdam to our refueling stop in Winnipeg, Canada. The other passengers got used to us both walking back and forth in the aisle. After some hours, I could just pass the leash on down and she would get her walk courtesy of my flight mates. However when I realized we would not disembark, I began to fret about my dog. No, I was told, no one gets off the plane. Do you really want doggie do in the aircraft I challenged, as any real mother would? No, in fact, they did not. So they let us off the plane directly onto the seemingly endless tarmac. We circled the wheels of the gigantic plane in the hope these would somehow inspire her. But the roar of the idling engines and the lack of anything even remotely associated with grass or a tree must have all been too much for her. Nothing doing, back inside we went. She made it all the way to LA though. Good doggie.

As soon as we touched down in L.A. the whole plane load erupted in spontaneous clapping and cheers. These people obviously don't think that this exhuberant outburst will make them look terribly immature, I thought to myself; then it immediately occurred to me that better yet,  they don't care if it does! This is good, I reflected, this is really good.

Later, there we were getting tickets on what they called a commuter flight. I was told people went to work this way, leaving in the morning and returning at night. Unbelievable I thought. Meanwhile, we had to get a kennel. Pooling our resources (there went my $50) we came up 25 cents short. What now. My mother tends to panic and she taught me well. So here we are at the counter, fretting and not knowing what to do. A superior who happened to walk by stopped to find out what the problem was; he then decisively reached in his pocket and slapped a couple of quarters down on the counter with a hairy eyeball in the direction of the desk clerk. There you go, he said, problem solved. So just like that, we got our tickets and our kennel.  These Americans were amazing.

I don't remember the short flight to SanFrancisco except for the arrival, this time it did look like we would land on a lake. What an approach grazing the San Francisco Bay: it was a grand! After having retrieved my poor dog out of the kennel and my two suitcases from the carrousel, we headed for the curb. There was mom's friend, an American beauty of Swedish origin. She had come to get us and smiled broadly in welcome, she was so happy to finally meet me she said. Really? Why on earth? She didn't even know me but she certainly seemed to mean it and I melted a little more inside. As if that weren't enough, she then loaned my mother her car for a time to show me around. I was flabbergasted, these people were just popping all my circuits. It was a nice car too, one of those English Rovers with leather seats but I did notice that it has an automatic transmission, cars clearly meant something else here. I liked it in my Promised Land.

I remember waking up the next morning in my mother's Bernal Heights House and staring out the back window at this world renowned city: San Francisco! There it was on this cloudless morning, warming up in the late summer sun. Could this be real? After the increasingly difficult years in Europe, I felt an unforgettable lightness. I realized some time later that the moment I landed on American soil, it seemed as though 1000 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. The past now seemed to have been wiped away. The present was delightfully different and I did looked with anticipation to the future: I was here, I was really here, it was before my very eyes and it was my new home.

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