I’m in New York at JFK and I’ve just boarded the plane that will take me back to Chicago. It’s a small plane, but very roomy. Plus I was able to choose an aisle seat, my first one of this journey.
Too, I am still in a romantic hazy daze. I’m tangled up in this net with so many memories it’s difficult – if not impossible, to sort through them all. Factories, cigars, people – the old man, thin as a rail and skin like leather, who kindly asked for some pesos, and once I gave him a few, he stuck around and smiled for more.
Or the groups of children all marching down the street with their spiffy uniforms, laughing and dancing probably because it is Friday . . .
Or the concrete buildings in every stage of construction, still incomplete, but steadily being worked on as money slowly becomes available . . .
The gleaming white walls of the modern malls with stores inside that we see here in the states every day, but with an extra dimension of energy as throngs of people buzz up and down the air conditioned spaces.
The constant pestering of men and boys trying to sell over-ripened avocados, bags of limes, and huge coconuts; and windshield washers appearing from all directions splashing water on the glass too late for me to say “No!” So more pesos trade hands as I wait for traffic to move again.
Or the constant presence of chickens, stray dogs, and vendors selling everything from gym shoes, to cell phones . . .
Or seeing the majesty of Santiago’s monument “Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración” (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration) commissioned by the dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. . .
Or walking through the oldest Catholic church in the Americas with reverence and awe delighting in the mastery of the devotion these people have for the saints and God . . .
The insane traffic jams that coagulate every day throughout the city by drivers who seemingly have no sense of direction or fear of death, mixed with scooters of all varieties that zip in and out of congested cars as if they are exempt from the laws (of which there seem to be none) sluicing by everyone like running water off jagged rocks . . .
Or finally trying Mofongo, a dish made from mashed green plantains with garlic, olive oil and pork rinds (or bacon) with a taste so unique that it is reminiscent of a kiss of love . . .
The warning from a native Dominican that she will make the guacamole of my preference from avocados the size of footballs with no onions – but that it “Will not be very tasty that way.”
Or the cheerful trills of “¡Hola!” in the morning at the hotel that I am staying as I step on marble stairs from the fourth floor to partake in the morning’s buffet of fruit, bread, pork, and a pea-green mixture of something that is being consumed by the others with gusto from huge mounds off their plates, but I decide to take the conservative approach and try just a tablespoon or two . . .
The donut at the bakery in downtown Santiago that has some sugar pressed into the dough that resembles dry bread with sweetness, washed down with a morning Sprite because it was suggested that I stay away from the water.
Or the kindness of a woman on the side streets who let a buyer go without paying for her fruit because she was short on pesos – but not hunger, who said she would bring the money later, or the next day . . .
Or feeling like a member of the family as I ate lunch at a resident’s home not far from my hotel which consisted of sausages, chicken, potato salad and cracker-like bread, a cold Coke, and cooked plantains with brown sugar and cinnamon.
The renewed respect I have for the process of making cigars in a hands-on industry that has been around for generations and will continue to thrive regardless of governmental ignorance and the insouciance from the public-at-large.
This sorting process of impressions caught in this mental meshed fabric will never be complete as the color and size of tobacco leaves are in the factory.
No. I will forever be draped by this sparkling, silken net chock-full of reminiscences. And I will return to cast yet another one into the bright sun, blue skies, and chaotic traffic jams soon again to catch what riches I can that will live within me forever.