"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, July 1, 2024

When The Truth Never Matters - Love With A Dramatic, Fabulist Woman

Mary Lou Barilla was a beautiful mestizo Ecuadorian woman, half white thanks to her cornflower blue eyed American farmgirl mother, and half Indian thanks to her father, prince of the Napo Jivaros, last remaining indigenous tribe of the western Amazon, hunter-gatherers, jungle warriors, and heirs to thousands of acres of prime jungle highlands.  


The two had met a missionary camp in Misaualli, a port and trading post on the Napo River, tributary of the Amazon where goods of the altiplano were transshipped and sent eastward to Brazil and Uruguay.  He in all his tribal finery, feathers of macaw and jungle parrot, skins of anaconda and crocodile, and tattoos of native root and berries, was taken with the young blonde woman who had come to the Amazon to preach the word of the Lord, and made his overtures - a bowl of turtle broth, lizard and tapir, and a bouquet of tropical flowers. 

She, taken with this brazen, bronzed, impossibly handsome jungle warrior, married him in Iquitos by the missionary pastors who had educated him, returned with him to Puyo where he left her pregnant and alone. 

Mary Lou grew up in Quito, initially outcast because of her mixed race and the persistent European elite arrogance concerning the tribes of the Amazon and the black slave-descendant Garaffas of the coast, but prized for her unique beauty, charm, and natural elegance. 

I met her on a United Nations mission to Ecuador, one of many thanks to the generosity of European donors who saw Ecuador as a major player in both democratic reform and environmental protection. The entire South American continent, it seemed, had never shaken the caudillo militarism of Bolivar, and after elections were won by a moderate, secular, and progressive candidate from Guayaquil, Ecuador became a country to watch and to support. 

Mary Lou was an impresario of some note. Having expanded her media empire to cover the country, she turned to mega-events, the icons of the Sixties and Seventies from Woodstock to Altamont, and brought them to Ecuador. 

I met her at an international gathering at the Hotel Bolivar, a canape and champagne event honoring Paulo Miranda, human rights activist turned conservative maven, leader of the opposition but feted for his charitable work with Indian orphans 

She was stunning in a sequined black sheath, cultured pearls, and hand-carved bone earrings.  She was exquisite; and despite her entourage and obvious social cachet, I approached her.  I will never know why this princess agreed to my offer for dinner. It was perhaps because of my own parentage - a Turkish pasha Ottoman side, and a dim, Kazakh, demi-oriental heritage, both of which showed up in my eyes and coloring - or because of some distant memories of an Armenian count she had known.  I never bothered to calculate the odds or parse the antecedents. 

Thanks to some felicitous combination of genes, environment, and circumstance she was attracted to me and I to her, and an improbable love affair began - not an ordinary one, if there ever was an international, ethnically confused relationship that had the promise that this one had - but a unique one.  Mary Lou had no use for what is or what was, and preferred what could have been and what could be.  That is, she was a fabulist, an eye-painter, a woman unconcerned about verifiable fact who preferred to live in a world of her own invention, 

I listened to the most improbable tales of knighthood, reception by the Queen, a Rolling Stones extravaganza, and a 100,000 seat stadium in Vienna filled to overflowing - all thanks to her enterprise, allure, and presence.  

At first I questioned her - where exactly, when, and under what circumstances - but then I realized that by interrupting her magnificently embroidered, superbly adorned, sequined, spotlighted version of the truth, I would lose her. 

Soon it didn't matter if she had ever been at the Court of St. James or at a private seance with the Pope, whether she had homes in Rimini, St. Tropez, and Miami, or whether she was worth millions or was simply a penurious divorcee. 

I knew that such an affair could not last - that the Great Gatsby-esque fictional arcade would have to be dismantled, that she would have to be called on her most fantastical and exaggerated claims - but in the meantime, what better journey could there possibly be?  

Lovers always misrepresent themselves in the dating game; but we were doing away with the here and now altogether.  Not only was our affair out of bounds - it had nothing to do with currently 'other' responsibilities - it was based on air. 

We never talked about our lives, our engagements, our entanglements, just our interests; and what better way to know someone than in, as Ondaatje wrote in The English Patient, a world without maps.  

The stories we told each other needed no grounding, nor was any sought. Our life together, as transitory as we both knew it would be, was better without bricks and mortar, tethers, traces, and bridles. 

This was just a sample of the virtual world to come, a cybernetic fugue into imagined reality, personalized, crafted events, mediated love affairs with the most beautiful, enticing, desirable women of the world.  Who would ever choose 'the real thing'?

We both, of course, went back to bricks and mortar - she to her impresarial empire, I to the very prosaic world of mortality, morbidity, and fertility - but that was no denying the brief encounter in some other place.

Neither one of us had to acknowledge the permanent goodbye.  Once one had lived in this other place and gone back to the first place there was no returning. Fantasy at best is airy and insubstantial; but neither one of us, I am sure, ever regretted spending time there. 

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