Chimera Song Mosaic
Sunday, July 24, 2005
I just woke up recently from a long, late nap, in which my dream was set on an island “in Venezuela,” a popular setting for my dreams. The island is looped by a long road that begins in the city by the ocean (crowded, dusty, cosmopolitan) and passes narrowly by several stands by the side of the road, some open air bars, some liquid fruit kiosks, a large museum housed in former fortress turned palace, and finally into the barren part of the island, high above the ocean, which alternatively crashes against rocks below or else stretches out silent and still and diseased.
The road here turns dirt and very high and treacherous, the kind of road that frightens me in my life, and at the end of the road (though the island clearly continues), there is a quiet and infrequently visited open air bazaar under some tents, where one can find very old things that one remembers from a former life, things like a broken bicycle or part of a rocking horse. Lots of tools and rusty metal implements.
I knew the island’s road imitately but in that superficial way of one who spends a lot of time but not a lot of interest in a place.
In this particular dream, I had separated from my family and wandered into the shopping mall streets at the heart of the town (although in other dreams the heart of the town is a defunct bullring where concert raves are held and sometimes reality TV show contests are staged, especially circus-like ones). Sometimes this place is set in “Cuba” or simply “Spain.” As I entered the posh shops, I thought about how people often praise the egalitarianism of Cuba, but how some beach resorts are open to non-Cubans only, which was a parallel to these shops since only the rich—visitors or inhabitants—were permitted to visit them. While criticizing them in my mind I also acknowledged the luxurious privilege of visiting them without being hassled by beggars or windshield washers or urchins or pimps (not that this is what the real Cuba or Spain or Venezuela is actually like—this is a dream—keep up!).
While I was wandering through one shop, I paused at a counter displaying many earrings for the would-be buyer to handle and examine. These earrings were stunning, some all black, some brightly contrasting aqua and magenta. They were all extremely large, mostly geometric shapes, and very hefty. It wouldn’t be possible for the average person to wear them in his or her pierced ears, but they had a very special design: they dangled from a leather or something strap that ended in a kind of decorative roach clip that could attached to any part of your ear, or your hair, for that matter. To wear them, you hung them off your ear, not from your ear lobe, so the strap went around the front of the ear and clipped somewhere on the back (or the other way around). It was more like hanging a Christmas tree ornament. I thought about buying a pair. They were exquisite and well priced. I had an impulse to just pull out my credit card without thinking, but I did not. I was instead distracted by two Japanese girls scooping out gummy lumps of some frosting-like candy.
I went over to the girls and asked them about the candy. We were speaking English. They got very excited and wanted to share, and they offered me a little scoop from one of their plastic spoons. It looked like very dense German chocolate cake frosting. I at first declined, but they insisted, and not wanting to offend them, or more specifically, wanting their good favor since they looked nice and were the only Japanese people I had ever seen on the island, I accepted. It was as sweet and gummy as it looked. I was a bit guilty because I was on a diet that prohibited refined sugar. However, I thought about how people say it’s okay if you only take a bite.
The girls seemed surprised that I took it off the spoon with my mouth rather than my fingers. I walked with them out of the store. At first, I had judged them to be my age, and they had the same dark hair dyed blonde, like me. But then when I asked them what they were doing in Venezuela, and they said they were teaching English, I wondered if they might be older or younger. I asked them, “For how long?” They replied, “Ten years,” so then I thought they might be a little older. What I really wanted to know is how long they had been in Venezuela, so I pushed the issue and found out they had been only there for six months, and for the nine and a half years before, they had taught English in --------.
We walked for some time, away from the shops, outside, across tan boulders with jagged edges, on the narrows of a wall that separated a busy trades street and an empty dirt lot. As we walked, I asked them what they had been translating, and they produced a book I had read before. I flipped to the first chapter and read aloud from a short, but densely and elegantly constructed paragraph. I thought maybe they might like the way I read, but they showed neither approval nor disapproval. We walked single file with the taller girl in front, then the other, then me. I said I could see why they had chosen to translate this book because it was such a great one, and they agreed with enthusiasm. Then I asked the taller girl in front to translate it for me. I had wanted her to read in Japanese, but she read the same paragraph in English, just as I had. Her English was not as fluid, perhaps, as mine, but both girls had American accents.
On the wall walk, the girls began talking to themselves about something, and they wanted the English word for collar. “What word are you looking for?” I asked. They turned as they walked and said cintura and made a motion round their necks (one of them did this, not both; they did not respond in unison). I said collar, even though I had not known the Spanish word for it, and I suspect it is not cintura, although it made sense logically at the time to me since it is similar to the word for belt. Sometimes when I dream in another language, I think of the right word, which I realize when I recall my speech later, but sometimes I realize I was probably just speaking garble. I say probably because at the time of the dream it feels like I am perfectly fluent and literate. I make up so many words in my dreams—good approximations!—but sometimes I do struggle for them, which resembles my real experiences.
We then passed through another store, also out in the open air, but this one more like a bazaar but small and crowded. I asked the girls for the Japanese word for collar, and one said what sounded like mein-lo or cru-lo, but I cannot grasp words unless I know the letter they start with. I tried to repeat the word back to them, and they corrected me and then started laughing. “What is it? Tell me, is it something bad,” I said, thinking that I had said an actual word in Japanese but one that is inappropriate. But no, they thought I had said culo in Spanish, so I told them everything I knew about culo. The Japanese word for collar was lost.
I wondered where they taught—at the museum’s college, at the school at the midpoint on the road, or at the school at the base in the city. I found out when we emerged from the museum’s parking lot and continued out into the roadway, where we had to share the narrow road with high-speed traffic going both ways. I thought then about how my summer wouldn’t be boring, as it always had been in the past, because I found these new friends, these Japanese girls to learn from. I had no illusions about learning the whole of Japanese that summer, but I could maybe pick up a little.
I was about to try my only Japanese sentence on them: Watashi-wa Deborah-des. But then we were separate when they crossed a road perpendicular to the main road, ducking between two cars. I was anxious to follow them, but wary of the man in the long, old car, painted various colors, who was looking at me and deciding how much he needed to stop his car at the stop sign. He determined that he had room to go in front of me, which he did, but he ran into the legs of a girl crossing opposite me (he hadn’t seen her since he had been focused on me). This girl was wearing a pink bridesmaid like dress with a long skirt, and she was walking with some other girls dressed the same way and a few other people who seemed unrelated. The girl seemed to be in pain, but not terribly hurt, since the man stopped his car when he hit her. Her friends milled about, gave the man some cards, and I crossed the street to follow my new friends.
But I hesitated. I thought they might want me to be the witness. Sure enough, one of the girl’s companions brought me many small yellow cards and pressed them into my hands. I agreed that I would be the testigo, and she and her friends walked away. I continued down towards the city, but there was no sign of my new friends.
Then I woke up. The dream I had before this one was scary and hectic. I was trying to convince Freddy Kruger not to kill me or my friends, and I had lots of ways of diverting him, like taking his ax and hiding it, threatening him, and taking him to eat burgers at White Castle. But it was getting really difficult to think of distractions, and the strain and responsibly of it all was really getting to me.