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Saturday, September 19, 2009

TRULY EXCELLENT WRITING VIRGINIA GUNN DIEHL WRITES ABOUT HURRICANES AND LOST PLACES

The internet is a wonderful tool for research or to find places from my past.


Parioli International Day School was where I went to school when I lived with my mother in Rome, Italy. I googled it the other day. I found one woman who went to school there. She remembered the pears that we were served at lunch and how good they were. I don't remember the pears. I remember three things about that school. I received my first kiss there. I would hardly call it a kiss, more like an innocent gang bang. Elizabeth Taylor's two boys went to the same school while she was filming Cleopatra. One day they and a few of their friends chased me into the girl's locker room. They held my arms down and kissed me all over my head. I broke away and ran out yelling, "Cooties!"


The second thing I remember was I was given a job with responsibility connected to it.


We were having a fair and I was in charge of getting the horses. They probably were really ponies, but they seemed pretty big to me. We had to bring the horses across town to the school. Now you would think that they would have loaded up on a trailer for transport, but nope. A man and I transported them by leading them to the school. Through the streets of Rome. Have you ever seen the traffic in Rome?! Roman traffic is scary enough if you are in a car. Walking with horses is a death wish. Somehow we did it. I was so proud of myself. So proud in fact, I jumped up on one and started riding him around the school grounds. It had been raining. I rode him onto some asphalt court. He slipped and fell full force on top of me. It knocked the wind out of me. Stupid thing to do. The horse could have broken a leg. I could have been killed. Only by the grace of God we both lived. It was at that point in my life that I started losing interest in horses.


When I came back to the states my father allowed me to enter a horse show. I placed third, out of three. My love of horses was gone. I like to look at them, but I'll leave the riding up to others.


The last thing I remember about Parioli International Day School is the day we graduated.


I guess we were graduating from middle school. We were all dressed in our uniforms, listening to whatever you listen to at such an event when a bird shit on my head and shoulders. This was so damn funny to everyone in attendance except me. Some nice teacher said it was a sign of good luck. Who thought that up? To me it was a sign that a bird had shit all over my head, and I can't remember any good luck coming out of that situation.


All in all, I had a wonderful time at that school. Now it is gone. According to the internet, it moved to Milan. I don't know why someone would move a school from Rome to Milan, but it's gone. It made me sad. I don't really know why. It's not like I have some great desire to visit it. It just made me sad. I wonder what stands there now? Losing people and places from my past is just a reminder that nothing last forever. I guess that's the sad part of life.


Today I was informed by the television that hurricane Bill has formed. I wish Bill, my husband was alive. He would be pleased that there is a hurricane out there named after him.


The number of vacations that Bill and I took together can be counted on one hand. We never went anywhere much unless it was for business. There was no one to take care of all of our animals and I've been just about everywhere already, so it was never really important that we go places. We lived on an island, on the most beautiful piece of property, with amazing sunsets, and dolphins playing off our deck. Who needs to leave that?


Before we married, we did take a vacation. The year was 1979. We started off by going to Montego Bay in Jamaica. We had a pretty, little bungalow that was almost right on the water's edge. We had our own pool out the back door of our room. When we arrived the weather was perfect. I remember him on that first day rolling around in the sand, laughing and splashing in the water. We got sunburned and had room service bring our dinner to a table that sat outside the room. It was lovely and it seemed as though we were the only people there. Later that night, the rains came. They came and never left. Day in, day out, it rained and it was very windy. We would order room service and the waiter would try to bring food, but by the time he got there, half of it had blown away. This was no longer fun. One night I got up to go to the bathroom. The water was up to my ankles. I opened the back door and I could no longer see the pool. Just water, everywhere. A mongoose was trying his best to swim out of town. I opened the front door and the ocean was at the front door. We were surrounded by water, front and back. I tried to wake Bill and he said, " If the water gets to the top of the bed, wake me." I guess he figured since we had no radio, no T.V., no phone, what's the point of getting up? I figured if he didn't care, why should I? The next morning I got up and there was no electricity. No water. No nothing except lots of wind and rain. At this point, we both decided we needed to get out of dodge. We dragged our bags to the reception area and checked out. The guy behind the desk actually says, " Was there a problem?" We told him to find us a car. We needed to get to the airport. After what seemed like hours, a car is located. The man actually spoke English. He proceeded to tell us that hurricane David had come through. Many people were dead. The courthouse had lost all their records as the water rushed through it. Trees were down everywhere. You couldn't even see a street. We were making our own streets. It was a most horrible sight.


We finally made our way to the airport. It was packed with people trying to get out. So many unhappy people just standing around. The airport was closed. More hours passed.


Finally Bill took control. He left and came back later with a big grin on his face. When in doubt, throw money at the problem. He had found a drunk pilot in the bar. For a large amount of money he agreed to fly us out of there, if we could find someone to remove the palm trees from the runways. He paid people to go out and remove the debris. Then we rounded up some other people who were just as desperate as we were to get out of there.


We split the cost. We didn't bother to tell them that the pilot was drunk.


We finally ended up in Haiti. A place called Habitation LeClerc. A fifty acre, walled luxury resort. They say it once was the home to Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister. I have never stayed in such a beautiful place. There were thirty six guest villas. Nineteen swimming pools. Each one of the eighteen swimming pools were shared by two villas. The nineteenth one was the main pool. Once again, we were alone in our own villa, with our own pool. I imagine now, the reason we were alone was because it was hurricane season.


I didn't care why. I was in heaven. Each villa had a large bell that you rang when you wanted anything. Food, drink, a massage. It would be delivered immediately by someone who must have been living under the villa. They would just appear. I would swim naked in our pool. There was no one to see me, and at that time in my life, I looked pretty good, so why bother with a suit? The villas were almost like living outdoors. No doors on interior rooms. No glass anywhere. Shuttered windows that stayed opened most of the time. It was simply magical for many days, and then THEY came.


The family arrived in the villa next to ours. They were fat and loud and very unhappy. I didn't care that they were fat. I've been fat at times, myself. I did mind that they were loud and pissed off. You could hear them screaming at each other. Especially the wife. She hated the place. No phone. No T.V. No air conditioning. She was one miserable person.


I was just as miserable thinking of spending time with them in "my" pool. So, she storms out on the balcony, still yelling at her poor husband. I did the only thing I could think to do to irritate her even more. I went down to the pool, stripped down to nothing and dove into the water. The woman looked like she was going to have a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, they checked out and life went back to pure bliss. It was a most wonderful time with the man I loved for so many years. So, I decided the other day to google it. Not that I would ever want to go back without Bill, but just for a trip down memory lane. This is what I found out about Habitation LeClerc.


At one time in the seventies it was the place to go. Jackqueline Bouvier Kennedy stayed there . Mick and Bianca Jagger did too. It shut down in the eighties. This is the description of it now: " The ancient stone wall surrounding the fifty acre forest has collapsed into heaps of rubble. Squatters and thugs have invaded the once-pristine grounds, moving into its bungalows, cutting down trees, destroying plants and dealing drugs. It is now a metaphor for the environmental problems facing Haiti.


Territorial bandits, mountains of trash, and pigs have eased their way up to and over the walls of the buildings and Botanical Gardens, causing most of the plants to be near extinction or die. Makeshift machine-gun slots now block the windows of the hotel reception area, and the marble fountains have long since run dry. A notorious drug gang called the Red Army has overrun the place, terrorizing and extorting "rent" from hundreds of squatters who have occupied the estate's thirty five mildewed villas. Nighttime gunfights are common, with corpses left on display in the morning."


How could something like this happen? Sixty percent of Haiti's seven million people live on less than one dollar a day. With poverty at this level, I guess it's not so hard to understand.


So, Parioli International Day School and Habitation LeClerc are gone, and I'm just sitting here wishing I still had the body and the confidence to swim naked in a pool, without a care in the world. Wishing my husband was still here to rent a drunk pilot.


Hurricane David killed thousands of people before he made landfall in the United States. He came in south of Savannah, close to where we ended up living most of our married lives. It was a tragedy for so many people. We could have been killed, but we weren't, and it will always stand out in my mind as one of our most excellent adventures.


Nothing last forever, not even the Bonaparte's villa. Not my school, and not my husband.


Cherish the memories of your life. Cherish the golden moments, and try to make some more.


And then there was hurricane Hugo, but that's for another day.

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