From the Poobah Files: Spanish Clouds

I've been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, making it to 24 countries in all. I've covered every continent (excluding Australia and Antarctica), all 50 states, and nearly all of the Canadian provinces and I carry thousands of snapshots around in my head.

Click. My first sight of England on a foggy summer morning, greener than any green I've ever seen. So green even the fog had an emerald cast. Huge jackrabbits bound across manicured lawns surrounded by dull, red brick houses. I can smell bacon frying as I enter the green.

Click. An evening on Midway Island during goony nesting season. Millions of huge, smooth-white goonies and their puffball brown chicks nested on every available surface. Lush lawns, pristine white beaches, roadways, runways, disused houses, all covered with nests. As I pick my way around the ubiquitous nests, the clowning parents clap their bright bills while the chicks peep loudly. The ground seems alive with them as the clapping bills applaud the sunset.

Click. I'm in Montevideo, Uruguay. The streets are filled with 1950 vintage cars and the people are wearing 1950 vintage clothes. Even though it's impossible, this snapshot is in black and white. A big freeway, nearly devoid of cars, circles the harbor. In one snapshot, I stand on a harbor jetty and watch an old four-stack destroyer towed into the harbor. Sailors in brilliant whites line the rails, standing at perfect attention. A half-hour later, the same tugboat retrieves the vessel and takes it back to dock - perhaps the world's shortest cruise.

Click. I'm lying atop an airplane on a Spanish Air Force base near Madrid. It's a Sunday and the flight line is deserted and quiet. For hours, I revel in an incredible blue sky pocked with the most amazing clouds I've ever seen. As they move, I float along - one more galleon in the Armada. There is a feeling of the warmth on my face, a breeze in my hair, and the quiet rhythm of my own heartbeat to keep me company.

Click. I'm sitting inside a brown cafe in Amsterdam. Smoke fills the air with a bluish tint and glasses softly clink all around me. There's a jazz trio crammed into the corner and they croon for the patrons drinking beer and eating bites of satay. Outside, a light rain speckles the front window, turning the houses into wavy ghosts across the canal.

Click. I'm standing at the base of the obelisk in the Place de Concorde in Paris. It's night and every monument in the City of Light is living up to the name. Incredible flashes of monumental gold compete with the headlights of a whole Grand Prix full of cars racing around the circle. The Arc de Triumph squats at the far end of the Champs Elysees, bathed in dramatic light and with a mammoth French flag swaying in its portal.

Click. I'm walking through a souk in Casablanca. Fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat fill tables all around me. I sit in a cafe with the Herald Tribune and have strong black tea with plenty of sugar. Donkeys vie with small cars for space in the crowded streets and white robed men bargain over stacks of colorful cloth. They all yell to be heard over the noise.

Click. I'm strolling the street in Pusan, Korea. I'm a head taller than almost everyone there. A block away, I see red hair poking up from the throng. As it nears, I recognize it as my college roommate, in Korea on a company trip. I remember thinking the world is indeed a small place and we both stopped at a curbside stand for some delicious kim chee.

Click. I'm standing atop Corcovado on a sweaty Rio de Janeiro night. The city fans out below me, thousands of twinkling lights joining the well-off parts of the city with the horribly crowded favellas where the peasants live. The wavy brick path along Copacabana beach dramatically divides the black sea from the lights of the city and I can smell the orange blossoms that crowd the hill.

Click. I'm sitting at my computer, more than 20 years away from these sights, but remembering them as if they happened only yesterday. In a few hours, I'll finish work and go home to my wife and daughter. We'll have dinner, chat a bit, and then say good night, but not before I take a few snapshots of the evening.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, May 21, 2006

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