65. Pollock

by Peter Fraenkel

He was fun. Thirteen days at sea and nothing but the occasional flying fish to relieve our boredom. Our fellow-passengers, too, seemed dead boring – but not Pollock. He was full of life, with tales about his far flung adventures – told in an American drawl…. exotic to most of us at that time. His confident boast that he spoke fluent Spanish was soon put to test.

Las Palmas in the Canary Island was our first landfall and since we others had no Spanish we followed him confidently. He instructed a taxi driver to show us around, using temperamental gestures which, seemed to me characteristically Spanish. But perhaps American Jews gesture with similar abandon?

After a while one of us needed to piss. Pollock spoke to our taxi driver who seemed a bit bemused. Polock gestured in the direction of his crotch. The driver seemed amused and nodded knowingly….and we landed in a brothel!

The girls also seemed more bemused than amused by our shyness but the “madam” came to their aid. She spoke quite good English. When one of us congratulated her on her language she explained she had started out as language teacher in a convent school.

But being the Mother Superior here, in this place, was better paid and more fun. And she had been in trouble with the church. “A man?” one of us asked. “No,” she explained “a baby!”

We were offered, and accepted, some overpriced beer but declined in what else was on offer –all except the adventurous Pollock who withdrew into a separate room with one of the girls.

But why, the Mother Superior asked me, had we come to this place … since (she implied) we were so obviously virginal? I explained Pollock’s misunderstanding with the taxi driver.

It took her a moment to understand but then she burst into uproarious laughter and translated into Spanish. The entire assembly burst into laughter and repeated what madam had said to any who had not to have fully grasped it.

We landed in England and Pollock announced he was going straight to Paris, “That’s where the girls are.” I, however, had arranged to go and see an uncle in London – a man I had not seen in many years. I, too, wanted to go on to Paris but was a little nervous since I spoke no French. Pollock said he’d meet me there and since he could croak “like a frog” he’d take me around.

I wondered whether it was better than his Spanish but was too shy to say so. I was to go to Thomas Cooke’s.  He would leave me a note with his Parisian hotel. ”You can rely on me.”

Could I?  Yes, I did find a brief note from him. Profound apologies. He had had to rush back to California –a death in the family. But if I left my co-ordinates at Thomas Cook he would contact me as soon as he got back.

California? But he had earlier explained that he and his family were typical New Yorkers – they had never thought any other place worth a second look – except Paris, of course. But that, unfortunately, was not in the U.S.A.

By then I had a much clearer idea with whom I was dealing: Tremendous vitality. Minimal veracity.

I was alone in that wonderful city – with my French limited to “bon jour”. Those first days I did not speak to a soul – and was getting depressed. I gazed at the maps at the Metro entrances – for a long time. An elderly lady, seeing my lost look, tried to explain – but in French. I apologised – in English so she switched to English. She showed me that one identified trains by their terminus. In that first week she and the counter clerks at Thomas Cook were, I think, the only people with whom I communicated. Of course it was entirely my own fault. I had been lazy. At school in Rhodesia I had chosen Afrikaans as my first language – very easy since German was my mother-tongue. And I had never envisaged a future in Europe.

Pollock? Probably he landed up in prison … or as a multi-millionaire. He had the potential for either.

But not as US president. That job had been taken.