Before I left for Lima, a colleague informed us that those returning from Peru needed to be immunised for Yellow Fever. It was a busy period – which period isn’t? – and I put off taking the shot until the day on which I was to fly to Lima. (Also, I had heard that the injection would be done with a damned big needle.)
And so I found myself in the doctor’s office at lunchtime, 12 or so hours before my flight, a little apprehensive and put-upon. The doctor – a professional-mannered woman – started by asking why I was taking the shot, and when I told her it was for a work trip, she looked through some documents to confirm that yes, the Singapore customs does require people returning from Peru to take the shot. She then explained that she wanted to confirm that I needed to take the shot, because the vaccine was “live” and I had a (cheery) 1-in-200,000 chance of suffering serious side-effects – essentially contracting Yellow Fever.
Up to that point, I had not thought that my mortality might be affected by the injection, and I got more than a teensy bit worried. It must be showing, I thought, sitting beside the doctor’s desk – but the doctor’s expression remained bland as she pulled the content of the vaccine bottle into the syringe. (The needle did not look overly big, but I haven’t had an injection in a while.) She said I had folded back my sleeve enough, and asked if it would be my first time in Peru or something like that and then pushed the needle and then the vaccine into the flesh of my left upper arm and then put a plaster over the mark after she pulled out the needle.
The injection did not hurt.
I had planned to listen to podcasts on the flight to Lima – 12-plus hours to Amsterdam, 5-plus hours of layover, 12 hours to Lima, one way – but browsed at a bookstore on the long way to the gate and got tempted by a Donna Leon book. This was a heftily satisfying read.
The book was about the death of someone whom the protagonist’s wife had seen in the neighbourhood for many years, and there were descriptions in the book about how those in the neighbourhood had seen the person grow up and age.
I’ve lived in my neighbourhood for about 18 years, and most of the shops around our little estate have changed many times. Maybe some of the neighbours would know what I looked like 18 years ago, but even those would be few.
Donna Leon writes about Venice. I wonder if people live differently in Venice, if I would also be part of the neighbourhood scene if I live there – familiar and remembered.
One of the podcasts I listened to eventually, in my hotel room (small and functional, with pillows that make my neck ache), was episode 230 of Books on the Nightstand (a book-lover’s joy). This episode featured two author talks from Booktopia Vermont. The first talk was about a topic I know so little about that I was surprised at how interested I was in the talk; the second talk moved me, especially this part:
What was different for me and what proved to be the bigger challenge was separating the act of creation, creating fiction, something make-believe, from the thing that had inspired it, which was the loss of a friend in the September 11 attacks. And she was a young mother, a new mother, she was on the first plane that hit the twin towers, and it was her first business trip following her maternity leave. And she wasn’t my closest friend, she was the wife of my husband’s best friend, and I knew her moderately well, but not intensely well. But because I was a journalist her husband asked me if I would field the media phone-calls for him, so he wouldn’t have to explain over and over again who she had been, how they had been college sweethearts, and now how he was going to be the single father of a six-month-old daughter. And I spent about a week answering these phone-calls and creating the sound-bites that would go into these newspapers and magazines about my friend. And every time I said something, which was always with the blessing of the family, I couldn’t help but be the devil on my own shoulder yelling at me for reducing her life in that way, distilling someone down to sound-bites, which was a very unnerving thing. And then when I read her obituary, which I helped to work on, it occurred to me how little of a life actually appears in an obituary, cos it’s a compilation of what we are to other people and the things that we’ve accomplished, but it doesn’t have anything inside the words and the lines of what we ever hoped to accomplish, and what we tried to accomplish but didn’t, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that we have, and those were the thoughts that haunted me for about five years.