Monday, March 23, 2009

A Fabulous Flight

Let me tell you about Peter and Gus.

Peter loved the New York Yankees and he loved his father, a man who made miniatures in his workshop when not otherwise employed at the State Department. Peter P. Pepperell III, unlike his other friends, grew smaller day-by-day. By the time he was 10--which was exactly the age I was when I read A Fabulous Flight--Peter was consigned to sitting in small chairs crafted by his father, or sleeping in a tiny bed that his father carved in the woodshop.

Rather than bemoan his strange fate, Peter loved his new world. He rode safely on the back of a jackrabbit named Buck, seated comfortably in the saddle his father had made for him.

While sailing the Long Island Sound in a diminutive sailboat that his father had carved, Peter coasted alongside a bobbing seagull named Gus. For a moment, he thought he'd surely be eaten, but Gus was a profoundly chipper bird with an appetite for sardines---not small children. The two struck up an uncanny fellowship.

Mr. Pepperell creates a mobile home with a Plexiglas dome that he straps to Gus' back and, together, the seagull and Peter take off. Off they go, skywards, towering over New York, swooping down to Yankee Stadium, where Gus lands beside Joe DiMaggio; then across the Atlantic they fly, perching for a while on a gargoyle on the buttress of Notre Dame, off again along the Rhine, down to the crumbling Coliseum of Rome, Peter safe and warm in his little dome until they return to New York.

But all is not well. It's a dangerous world. From his State Department office, Mr. Pepperell learns of a dastardly plot in a small Eastern European nation to create an explosive far more powerful than a nuclear bomb, the size of a single grain of sand. He entrusts his news to Peter and charges him with the awful responsibility of saving the world. Gus flaps his wings, and off they go on their terrible errand...

But before I can finish the story, I come down with a terrible fever and throat infection, and the doctor is summoned to our house on Longridge Avenue to remove my tonsils and adenoids. The promise of unrestricted servings of ice cream is a false one: I cannot even swallow the chicken soup my mother brings to my bedside. The room spins...

And I put off my wanderlust for more than a decade, when finally I walk away from my desk at the Fremont Argus, my bags packed for Tokyo and, later, Athens and the Acropolis and the monolith on the Isle of Rhodes, the throngs of beggars in the airport at Islamabad, the broken pottery still in the surf at Caesaria on the Israeli coast, the honey swirled into the thick yogurt on Cypress, the small room that Anne Frank called home above the canal in Amsterdam, the glowing turquoise windows of Ste. Chappell by the Seine, the beggar with red dreadlocks by the seawall in Negril, the field where deer came to beg on bent knees for rice crackers outside the giant Buddha in Nara, the marbled ribs of the David that looked as if they breathed air in the Galleria dell'Accademia, in Harry's Bar in Venice where Hemingway drank down peach bellinis, on the Yukon River blood-red from bank to bank with teeming salmon, the little girl that sat on my lap at the cafe in the square in Merida spooning ice cream from my bowl, and the seat I paid way too much to borrow behind the plate in Yankee Stadium that summer's day, the clouds banked high in the blue above the Hudson, the seagulls wheeling across the sky, caterwauling in all that openness.


Yoli said...

You have been to many of the places I have. I love how you filter it all.

Javier said...

is "music from a farther room" from "the love song of j. a. pruffrock?

Gabby said...

Yes, absolutely Javier!

For I have known them all already, known them all:—

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

tangobaby said...

I guess I keep my passport in my wallet just in case I can do what you did, someday.

A perfect case of wanderlust in just a few paragraphs. I will have to deal with that today and try not to look out the window too many times.