LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Letter from Paris: Love on the Road
“Indonesia,” I tell the taxi driver when he asks where I’ve been.
He picks up my bag and sets it in the trunk.
“You travel light,” he says.
“It’s the only way to go.”
“Spoken like a true traveler.”
He opens the backdoor for me. He gets into the front. He turns back to me.
“Now why would a woman go to Indonesia by herself? — or at least come back alone.”
He’s got a kind, open face, and deep copper skin from the Asian subcontinent.
I answer, “Bali dancing.”
“Shouldn’t you be going to the Middle East for that?”
“Not belly dancing, traditional dancing from Bali. I should be saying Balinese dancing but I like the confusion.”
“A traveler who likes confusion — sounds dangerous to me.”
“Life springs from confusion. Not to mention danger.”
He gives a quick, deep laugh that ends with a smile of hearty teeth against dark plum lips.
He turns on the meter. He waits for a shuttle bus to move on. He says, “Now I’m really intrigued,” as he pulls away from the curb.
The mug shot on the badge on the visor could be the man’s father, so dark-eyed and grave. His name reads Shintra Jamache.
“Shintra,” I say, “that’s a nice name. Does it mean something?”
“It means I wasn’t born in Philadelphia.” He smiles into the rearview mirror, where dancing Shiva hangs from a string. “My family came when I was eleven and I haven’t traveled much since — if you don’t count a few hundred thousand miles in this cab.”
“Everything counts for something,” I say.
“I think I’m in the presence of a wise traveler — traveling light, cultivating confusion, appreciating danger, counting everything. Tell me,” he says, “what do you like most about the road?”
“Being somewhere else. What do you like most about the road?”
“Getting people home.”
He turns his head to the side, offering a soft yet sturdy profile. He asks, “How’d you ever decide to go Bali dancing?” Fine black hair sweeps across his forehead like a pleasant dream.
“I saw some traditional Balinese dancing when I was in Holland a few years ago, then met a sculptor in Arizona last winter who told me about an old woman who runs a little school by the beach in Bali. So I went.”
“Sounds like a lot of traveling.”
“It’s the only thing I save up for.”
I expect a question that doesn’t come. Instead, he nods approvingly in the mirror. Dancing Shiva seems to dangle from his neck. She twists and glitters against the city skyline as we turn onto the access road.
Traffic slows. Police lights in the distance signal an accident.
“You’re not home yet,” he says.
I notice a beautiful, colorful couple taped to the dashboard. They are how I imagine the parents of happy children to be. I ask Shintra Jamache if they are his.
“Grandparents,” he says with a laugh. “Just kidding. That’s Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. Hindu Gods.”
Vishnu’s complexion is the color of the Philadelphia sunset, purple and orange and sprayed blue and red by the police lights.
“Ever been to India?” he asks.
“Would love to.”
“So tell me about Bali.”
“Amazing. I stayed with a wonderful Balinese family living in a group of huts by the beach. Two brothers, two sisters, parents, grandparents. The grandmother runs the dancing school and everyone helps. My own family won’t even gather for a funeral.”
“So you danced all day?”
When he looks into the rearview mirror I show him a twist of the hand and a movement of the neck.
“In the evening I’d go for a walk along the beach and lines for poems would seep into my head.”
“A poet, huh?”
“Hum a few bars.”
“Don’t make me embarrass myself.”
“Oh go on,” he says, “I’m a good audience.” Stopped in traffic, he awaits my response in the mirror. Perhaps he sees Shiva dancing around my neck, too.
“Deep in my heart the ocean lies, profound and moving among the stars.”
He waits for more then says, “Nice. ”
“I never got to the next line.”
The police car speeds away. Traffic moves on. Shintra Jamache stops at the divide where the access road splits north and south.
He turns to me now. He smiles. His skin is the color of the evening sky. He looks at me long and deep and dark and inquisitive. I feel my chest rise and fall at the thought that he’s going to tell me that I’m his last fare of the day, that he’s going to invite me for coffee or a drink or for dinner in an Indian restaurant, or that he’ll simply want to sit in the cab for a while asking questions about my travels, telling about his life.
Cars stream by heading north and south while in between I sense Shintra Jamache choosing his approach. The moment tastes of forgotten time. The salt air of the beach I’ve left behind echoes in my nostrils. Deep in my heart the ocean lies, profound and moving among the stars. Another line will come, and when it does I will recite it to Shintra Jamache. I will tell him about my travels to Bali, and Kinshasa, and Zagreb, and Tunis, as I ride with him in the front seat, getting people home.
But what he says is, “I need an address, Miss,” and I’ve no choice but to let him take me there.
Gary Lee Kraut is a travel and fiction writer and travel consultant living in Paris and returning frequently to his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. His most recent book is Paris Revisited: The Guide for the Return Traveler. He is the recipient of FrancePress’s 1995 Prix d’Excellence for an earlier guide to France. He operates the website parisrevisited.com. He has taught several travel writing workshops at the Writers Room of Bucks County.