Sunday, September 04, 2005

 

Dinner At Arnaud's


A week ago tonight, I found myself in the midst of a power outage due to Hurricane Katrina. I'd lost my power on Thursday, August 25, just as Maria (Julie Andrews) was getting ready to sing "My Favorite Things" to the Von Trapp children. They were trickling into her bedroom, a few at a time, due to a fearsome storm outside. It's an interesting coincidence that I chose to while away my time with "The Sound of Music," isn't it? It's what had struck me I should do when I'd lost my cable several hours earlier, but not my power. Not quite yet, anyway.
I lived through my first hurricane that night. The eye went over my neighborhood. I wasn't quite sure what was happening. Something told me to look outside; I beheld a huge palm frond gracefully draped over my car. Rushing outside, I was relieved the windshield hadn't broken.
I looked some more. Behind my car, black olive branches--some of them huge--had been snapped off the trees, and were lying, helter-skelter, all over the place. The street was flooded. My across the street neighbors saw me; they called out to me. They invited me to come over, offered me dry clothes, food, and, most importantly, companionship. I shall be forever grateful to them. The next morning, I saw what Katrina had wrought: not only were branches down, but whole trees. What is a hurricane, after all, if not a huge, water-filled tornado?
My neighbors banded together like a family. My golf-course designer one house over pulled that palm frond off my car, as well as the black olive branch off my driveway, as if they were mere sticks. I didn't even have to ask.
Friday was assessment day. Shock, I called it. Then came the cleaning; the realization--the resignation--that we might have to be without power for awhile. We didn't know when FPL would get to us, as we were in one of the most devastated areas of the storm.
I learned to tolerate cold showers. I spent my days at my friend's store, where I kept recharging my computer's battery. Friday became Saturday; Saturday, Sunday. By then we knew Katrina was headed toward New Orleans.
I didn't really get to witness what happened on Monday until Tuesday night, when, miracle of miracles, we got our power back on my side of the street (though it had to be turned off for awhile on Wednesday so both sides could be accommodated - THANKS AGAIN to the wonderful crew from South Carolina!). However, I read the paper, saw the pictures...and cringed, and wept--both inside and out--for the beautiful city of New Orleans, for the total devastation that Katrina has wreaked, is wreaking, and will continue to wreak, on the Gulf Coast.
When I was a child, my father and I took a road trip to Galveston. I was nine years old at the time. What follows is the story that came out of me. What would I do without my mother's old pictures? I don't know. I honestly don't know.
I grieve for you, Arnaud's. For your Glass Bottom Everything.

GLASS BOTTOM EVERYTHING
BY GEORGINA MARRERO
In December of 1963, my father and I went on a road trip to visit some friends of his in Galveston, Texas.
For reasons I don’t know, my mother didn’t go with us. Perhaps she wanted a break from her increasingly difficult pre-teen daughter?
No. I don’t think that was it. It probably had more to do with the fact that we still didn’t have much money. Papi was about to finish his residency at the Jackson, and was trying to decide where he’d go, next. For whatever reasons, Miami seemed to be a dead end, at least for the time being.
He had old friends in Galveston. We were probably on our way to scout out the place.
As it was Christmas vacation, Papi and Mami decided I’d go with him. That’s it!
Although we’d been in the United States for only a little over three years at the time, I knew everything about The American Way. There was only one acceptable motel where we could stay: the Holiday Inn.
I drove my poor Papi nuts about staying at Holiday Inns that trip. He obliged me whenever he could.
We headed toward Central Florida first. Then we cut across the state, hit The Gulf of Mexico, and followed the coastline all the way to Galveston.
I was already a voracious reader, and had begun to collect those hard cardboard, glossy-covered Whitman “young lady” adventure storybooks: Annette Funicello on a ranch; and Donna Parker everywhere. Donna Parker in Hollywood had a pink cover, with Donna wearing a sarong and lei at a luau. Later on I’d discover Trixie Belden.
However, I never bought the Nancy Drew books. They were too expensive.
So I probably didn’t drive Papi nuts every second.
The Ocala area was our first stop. As it was my Christmas vacation, we had to have some fun, right?
Papi took me to Silver Springs, to ride on one of their famous glass-bottom boats. We had our souvenir picture taken, along with the other passengers on our boat.
My packrat of a mother kept the picture. Here’s what I see on Boat 27:
Front and left, you find…me. Already on the chubby side, I’m wearing a light colored sweater, a white shirt underneath, and diamond-checked green and who knows what pants. They were probably corduroy. I’m bottomed out with white socks and the Mary Janes that have continued to follow me throughout my life.
It’s the glasses that get me: I’m sporting a dark frame. They’re more rectangular than the pair I know I’d worn just a few months earlier. Definitely less pointy, they’re almost…modern.
I have my hands plastered, one on top of the other, to the side of my right thigh.
Next to me, Papi’s smiling behind his signature green-tinted half-moons. I think his corduroy shirt was blue.
A couple next to him looks almost Eastern European. The woman’s wearing a head scarf. She’s holding a cigarette in her right hand.
On the right hand side, an extremely attractive couple: a blond with a chignon; and a dead ringer for Kirk Douglas, are both smiling, a little enigmatically, at the camera.
Across from Papi and me is an older couple. The kindly-looking woman is looking at…me!
In between us is the glass bottom of a boat.
I may not remember what I saw, but I do remember wondering what it would be like if the glass bottom broke, and we fell through into the water and who knows what.
We made it to The Gulf Coast next: the West Coast of Florida; Alabama; Mississippi; Louisiana.
We spent at least one night in New Orleans, for I remember we went to Arnaud’s.
Antoine’s vs. Arnaud’s: what a dilemma. It had to be a fancy French meal, and it probably stretched our budget, but Papi made sure I ate in a grand French Quarter restaurant. After all, he’d spent many years in France, and probably wanted me to experience a little piece of his—of Mami’s and his—past.
Antoine’s was a little better known. Alas, they were full, so it was Arnaud’s.
I don’t remember what I ate. Maybe escargots, steak au poivre, and some wonderfully delicious dessert? “Sinfully rich” was not part of my vocabulary, not quite yet.
We continued on to Texas. I remember liking Galveston. Papi was glad to see his friends.
Then we drove back. I continued to eat, to read, and to insist on Holiday Inns.
Did I write a “What I Did Over Christmas Vacation” theme for Mrs. Echevarria? I don’t remember. The country was still reeling from the Kennedy assassination. The Beatles were on their way. We were living in the apartment on 14th Terrace by then.
Eight months later we moved to Georgia. The three of us made the trek down from Milledgeville to Miami at least twice a year over the next four years or so. We usually stopped in Ocala.
Not at Holiday Inns, though. Not all the time, anyway.
We never returned to Silver Springs. And I never traveled alone with my Papi, ever again.
Perhaps now I’d become his increasingly difficult pre-teen daughter?
Maybe.
No. Not really.

On August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina went over my house as a Category 1 storm. I didn’t even realize it was the eye. My Good Samaritan neighbors, Heather and Tom Jacobsen, and I kept joking to each over, “Boy, if this is a band from a 1, what must the real 1 be like?”
The morning of August 29, 2005, Category 4-5 Katrina swept in, all but destroying New Orleans.
The glass bottom broke for them. Their Glass Bottom Everything.
I sure wish it had been Katrina’s Glass Bottom Everything, instead.
Copyright, 2005 by Georgina Marrero 952 words First-time worldwide serial rights

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