By Thomas Swick
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Washington, D.C., 1974. Summer of the Watergate hearings. Cameras and cables clutter Lafayette Park across from the White House; hot white stage lights burn the night air and embalm the smooth reporter face of Dan Rather. I am fresh out of college, spending these pre-Internet days pounding the sidewalks, walking past outdoor cafes where prosperous men in Haspel cord sip from humidifying glasses of wine.
Holidays are a joy to the unemployed too, for they make you feel less alone. In the morning, I play tennis at the public courts north of the Cathedral (still unfinished, the neighborhood not yet exclusive) where an international array of potential partners somehow always awaits.
In the evening, I go with my roommate and some friends to the Reflecting Pool for fireworks. It is, we have been told, a must in Washington. And they are impressive, not just the scope but the setting: evanescent arcs of giddy colors dribbled above stolid columns of ghostly marble. And, for all that is happening in the country, they are oddly reassuring. We know the loud blasts have nothing to do with a coup or putsch or junta - all words, as has been pointed out, for which there is no exact English-language equivalent.
Fort Lauderdale, 2000. A party in Victoria Park, at the home of Kaizer and Bettina. The grill is going, a boat putt-putting down the canal, when my wife's voice comes barreling across the lawn: "Tom, come over here! This woman is from the country you're going to next!"
I walk over and Hania introduces me to Maja, then, like a good detective who has finished a job, slips away quietly. Maja is Croatian, from the island of Hvar. I am planning to go to Hvar. What are the odds? She is an artist; she has spent the last year in Miami but is heading home in a few weeks. She writes down her address, and then gives me the name of the bar in which I can always find her. A few months later, I appear at her door; she and her friends give me the grand tour. When I write my story, I put them all in it. Ten months later, somebody puts the story into an anthology.
Strasbourg, 1976. The bicentennial year. My parents are in Philadelphia, I know, watching the tall ships; I am in the middle of a normal workweek in France. The result is homesickness coupled with historic pageantry deprivation. I eat a solitary onion tarte and wash it down with a bottle of Kronenbourg. But I am compensated a few days later when I land in the floriferous village of Kutzenhausen and start my summer as a farm hand with the gracious Mall family and their gentle cows. And then, stopping in London on my way home, I meet a Polish woman named Hania.
Riga, 2001. U.S. Embassy party in Mezaparks, a wooded expanse outside the city. I am the guest of Ray and Nancy, relatives of a co-worker, who returned to Latvia after independence in 1991. Huge crowd, light security, national staples: fried chicken, hot dogs, pizza, Pringles. Two cakes: one shaped like the Capitol, one decorated like the flag, with strawberries for stripes and blueberries framing the stars.
Between them, old-timers in straw boaters play Dixieland. Nearby, Marines cheerfully pose for pictures with delighted young Latvian women. America the Good.
Cape Cod, 1989. On the beach. Hania and I, with her cousin's family, have come up from Rhode Island, where I have been a miserable editorial writer for the last two years. The water is freezing. A large group has staked out a space back by the dunes, two of the men sitting in lawn chairs, arms crossed emphatically, staring out at the ocean. In front of them is strung a banner, giving two families' names and the proud fact that they have been meeting at this spot every Fourth of July for the last 25 years. Yea, I think, and for 25 years none of them has ever made it into the water. I can afford to be a little smug. In a week and a half - on Bastille Day - I will quit my job and move to Florida to become a travel editor.
© 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.