Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Eve in deep Amazon

Christmas Eve in deep Amazon (August 7, 2009)


            We had an old grandfather wall clock.  Dad never understood why my mother Emilie negotiated for four months with the French owner for that clock. Emilie never needed any clock: she woke up before dawn and quit what she was doing to attend reverently to the twelve chimes at noon from the nearby church bell. The process was a series of “I give you this then you give me the clock”.  Finally the Frenchman agreed to relinquish the clock for a parrot that sang the French national anthem “The Marseillese”.

            I much later learned the story of mother’s stubbornness for owning this grandfather clock. When still a kid, my mother’s folks emigrated and left Emilie and her two brothers Emile and Emir in Tripoli (Lebanon).  Emilie ran away and joined a convent; her two brothers searched for Emilie for two weeks and finally located the convent.  Emir threatened to blow his brain out with his small revolver if the convent head nun did not release Emilie. Before leaving the convent Emilie asked to spend the morning in prayer and to ring the bell at noon twelve times. It seems that Emilie had arrived at the convent at noon and she saw for the first time a grandfather clock and stood in trance listening to the twelve chimes.  


            Hindieh arrived early afternoon on Christmas Eve to aid Emilie with the preparations. She carried a gallon of tafia (alcoholic beverage) and studiously got 12 coqs and four turkeys seriously drunk; she then attached sliding knots to each volatile and sat observing them getting hanged tightly at each jump; Hindieh roared with laughter as the volatiles breathed their last.  This practice was becoming widespread in that tiny town deep in the Amazon Forest.

            My mother Emilie woke up before dawn and gathered flowers from the garden and then she woke us kids, my sister samara and I, and rode the tram to the French quarter to purchase jasmine and bougainvillea roses. We prepared necklaces for the invitees to our “La Parisienne”, a shop and small restaurant that we owned.  Emilie had invited the neighborhood for the Eve. Emilie rained jasmine on the floor.  The women got busy preparing all kinds of Lebanese cuisine and local varieties of dishes and sweets.  Uncle Emilio took care of the shopping; he used to break the volatile necks and then slaughter them to let all the blood out.  Not this year; this wise man preferred not to participate in the festivities this year; he was apprehensive of the consequences of the new killing techniques.


            My dad got wind of what was happening and the unorthodox killing process of the fowls and entered the house dignified and grave; he immediately entered his bedroom, locked the door, and he refused to participate in the evening fiesta. Later he would mumble “This is typical of Christian tortures; if Hindieh ventured in the deep forest then the jaguar in heat would lick her thighs”. Actually, it was the acrid smell emanating of Hindieh that kept me at bay from her in my childhood; it is this smell that I vividly recall of Hindieh.

            Hendieh asked mother to rejoin her husband and calm him down. Emilie was not the type to cajole people and told Hendieh “I will not let this illiterate warrior, pretending to be a prophet, ruin my festivity”.


            By midnight we heard crashing and banging in dad’s bedroom; he then emerged carrying a large bag containing his narghileh, squash seeds, dried fruits, dried bread, and his radio Philpo that could pick up waves as far as Beirut and Egypt.  Everybody stood petrified and they didn’t breathe until dad left the house.  Emilie was clapping and making everybody merry; she invited me to dance with her and then let me take dad’s seat at the head of the table and started gorging me with food.  Mother then excused herself to change clothes and returned with a transformed face; Emilie did her best to act merry. It helped a lot when Dorner appeared suddenly and uninvited bringing his photography implements.  Dorner was a giant of a German who left 8 years ago, when Emilie was still single, he and ventured deep in the Amazon Forest and then headed south.

            As the last guest left mother whispered to the maid Anastasia and asked her to keep it a secret even after her death.  Anastasia took the sleeping kids to the neighbors to stay there for the next day.  Anastasia had a day off next morning but she went on assignment; she was to locate dad and bring him late in the afternoon.

            Hindieh came in the next morning and saw mother sitting on the bedroom carpet. Emilie didn’t sleep last night.  The carpet had the design symbolizing the Door of the Sepulcher, rosettes, squares, triangles, and circles inscribed in a large hexagon in the middle which represented creation, sun, moon, cosmic progression in time and space.  In the center of the carpet and within a demy circle was a yellow small square representing the box of the Book of Revelation. Nobody knew the meaning of the design save dad.

            Dad had broken to smithereens yesterday all the statuettes and pictures representing the saints that mother had collected and enshrined in the bedroom.  Hendieh sat with mother for ten hours repairing and repainting the Saints and replacing them to their proper locations as previously arranged.

            Anastasia has been searching for dad al day long and located him in a wood shed among a circle of indigents coming from the deep forest; they were listening and clapping to oriental songs. By late afternoon, Anastasia returned with dad.  The children were whisked to their rooms and had dinner there. Emilie had told Hendieh “Two most effective methods to tame wild husband: a delicious dinner and plenty of cajoling”.

            The shadow of dad passed our rooms without a word. I could not sleep a wink for the night: I expected any time that the wall might fall but no sounds came to my attentive ears in the next room. In the morning, while on my way to school, I saw dad surreptitiously hiding two statuettes.  We found mother in a hysteric state; she was looking all over for two statuettes; dad was in a jovial mood.  At siesta time I indicated to Emilie the secret location of the statuettes; she was overjoyed; she kissed me loudly and gave me some money.  This charade went on for an entire week.

            June 27 was the last day of fasting for dad.  Mother went early to market; she had hidden the Book of Revelation, the four angels of Glorification, and the 28 lunar houses where the alphabet and man in his plenitude reside. On our return all the five large doors and windows of the shop/house were shut close.  Mother faked to knock on the main door and then we sat under the shade of a tree. Emilie whispered to me: “Days of fasting plunge your dad in a state of aberration”.  Dad was searching in the dark all day long for the missing items because no human must see whatsoever before the Book re-appears.

            Mother scribbled three bizarre lines; going from right to left following the direction of the sun, on a paper and asked me slid it under the door.  Shortly after Anastasia opened a door and was signing to mother; her right index was going in circle around her ear and her left thumb indicating the house (it meant that dad is loosing his mind).  Emilie roared with laughter. Then dad started to psalmodize. Emilie knew that dad had discovered the book.

            Next week I started learning and writing Arabic on Saturdays.


Note: This story is extracted from “Recit d’un certain Orient” by Milton Hatoum; the book was translated from Portuguese to French in 1993 by Edition du Seuil.




February 2023

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