I am making my way through the hauntingly familiar streets of a South American city. There are landmarks I remember: street corners, alleys, shortcuts I know I have taken before, though perhaps I can’t recall in what order they ought to come or where they lead. But I have been here before. It isn’t just a feeling. I know I’ve been here.
A broad, crowded city square. Spices on the air, the smells of barbecue. Fried plantains served in the peel from a vendor’s cart. Uneven cobblestones. There is a breeze, a sense of open water nearby, a cool palate of greys and blues punctuated by the bright colors of people’s clothes. I feel no sense of claustrophobia, yet the buildings and awnings crowd in so close I can’t see the sky.
At the west end of the square is the opera house, a breathtaking, intricate marriage of baroque and neoclassical styles. Staggered clusters of pillars, three-tiered and set with alcoves where larger-than-life marble figures in robes lounge together discussing philosophy and art like the figures of Raphael’s _School of Athens_. I lean over the rail at the edge of the curb and stare at them for a long time, astonished, more moved than I have every been by anything in the Old World. What a pompous idiot you’d have to be to criticize this place as the product of crass colonial aspirations. There is more earnestness in this facade than in that of the Coliseum.
But I stir. My attention wanders, and I follow it. There is so much more here, all so different, new. I am so glad to be back.
My cousin Luke lives in this city. His apartment is only a few blocks away, on the tenth floor of a high-rise overlooking a strangely monastic tropical garden. Moss everywhere. Weeping willows. A plaque, bearing a dedication describing the rigors undergone and good works achieved by students attending a convent school in Peru. A peaceful place, especially at dusk, with the warm light from the windows of Luke’s building trickling from above. He lives alone, in a narrow, ascetic room with his bed built into the wall behind a lightweight cotton curtain. I was there last night; I slept on his floor. Now I am trying to find my way back.
Instead I take a right, a left and a right and find myself in a cul-de-sac among the back streets of the city’s Little Tokyo. An asian dude in a black running suit gives me a suspicious look as I make my way past his posse towards a spiral staircase, vaguely recalling a shortcut somewhere above opening onto Luke’s street. But as I lose myself among the cloudy veils of laundry lines and sharp looks from old ladies on balconies, I begin to have my doubts.
Suddenly I hear my sisters calling from below. “Hey, Boon! What are you doing up there? How did you get all the way over here in Little Tokyo? We’ve been waiting for you!”
Sheepishly, I begin to make my way down again.
I never make it, but awake instead.