I saw one of those kitschy quotes once that said something to the effect of "do you remember what the world looked like before movies taught us how to see." *Note to uptight, cite-checking lawyer types…I shouldn’t have put quotes around that because I don’t really remember what the quote was, but you get the idea…now stop blogging and get back to work.
I thought it was nonsense. I love movies. I don’t hide my love for movies. But then, in the depths of the amazon jungle last week I had an epiphany: the movies have ruined me. To protest, I’m blogging about it, then going to see a movie tonight.
I was staying in a little town on the Amazon river, visiting a friend of mine who works down there. We rented a boat for the day, and chugged up the river. It was magical. It wasn’t as hot as normal, the sky was blue, a breeze was blowing, the scenery was AMAZING! Then we anchored near a mangrove and climbed into a little rowboat. Our guide was at the front of a four seater, with a machete, hacking a path for us. My friend was next, then me, then the guide’s helper. We entered the flooded forest, and rowed around for about an hour. We saw a couple of sloths, amazing birds, butterflies, yes spiders, and just soaked up the silence of slipping through a huge forest in a canoe! We did not, however, see any monkeys. The Portuguese speakers all decided that the gringa (a freakishly blond me) needed to see a monkey, so after a lunch of fresh fish and a nap swaying on the deck in a hammock, we pulled up the anchor and headed back up the river.
As we stopped again, our guide told my friend, in Portuguese, that this was a really great place to see monkeys and ah-gee-boy-a. She translated the part about the monkeys. I asked what ah-gee-boy-a were, and she kind of shrugged and said….snakes. She knows me pretty well. I’m a total wuss. I try not to be, but it’s hard to fake bravery when such cowardice lurks so closely by. She quickly added, "they’re not poisonous." Well, that was the wrong thing to say, because having watched a lot of movies, I know a thing or two, and one thing I know is that if they don’t bite you, they squeeze you to death, and they have to be pretty big to squeeze you to death. However, afraid to admit my cowardice, I stepped in the boat with a smile on my face, and we paddled toward the dark and forboding mangrove.
Right about now, you should be thinking, hey, dark and forboding, interesting choice of words. Because wasn’t the morning mangrove "soaking up the silence" and wasn’t the scenery "amazing" before? Yes, but! I have seen a lot of movies–with things that eat you. As we slipped towards the dark and forboding mangrove, I could hear the scary violins swelling, the distant drum beat of angry jungle animals–animals smart enough to play drums. That is fear my friends.
We could hear the monkeys chattering, so our guide was pretty excited. The gringa was going to be pleased. And then I heard the apprentice guide behind me whisper excitedly "ah-gee-boy-a." Gulp. Right ahead of me was the cutest little gray snake all wrapped in a knot around a tree. I relaxed. I can handle cute and little and not poisonous. The mangrove brightened up and the monkeys’ chattering became happier and more playful. Then the guide said something and my friend translated. "Very very small baby." The light dimmed, and the monkeys began screeching in fear…and oh, distant drums and violins. We moved on. We saw monkeys. We took pictures. I was lulled into a sense of safety. Which I knew was an effective plot device–the ancillary character is lulled into a sense of safety right before a violent death. Clearly my friend was the heroine who would survive our journey, possibly kiss a devilishly handsome, yet poor man, and clearly I was an appetizer.
After looking at the cavorting monkeys for a while I heard the apprentice behind me say, in a menacing giggle "ah-gee-boy-a." And there it was. A huge gray snake lazily perched on a branch in the tree in front of us. Foolishly, the guides paddled towards it. The monkeys saw it too, because they began screaming. It occurred to me that the monkey screaming was not part of my movie-induced haze when the guide said, "ah-gee-boy-a eats monkeys." The monkeys were scared–not a good sign, unless they are animated, and while these were ANIMATED monkeys, they weren’t cartoon monkeys. Scary violins swelled to match the monkey screeching.
We got closer, and then the theater of the absurd began. The guide started talking to me with my friend translating. "Can you see it?" "Yes." "Let’s get closer." "Um, okay." "Can you get a picture?" "Yeah, um, sure." "Stand up." Huh? Wha? Stand freaking up? Let me explain the part about the ROWBOAT again. Little little four seater rowboat. Let me tell you something else about me, while I like to think that I’m reasonably graceful (again, perhaps a movie-induced delusion) I do not have lithe, yoga-like balance. No way was I going to stand up, so I did what any reasonably self-preserving ancillary character would do, I handed the camera to the heroine and said, "you stand up." Being not a wuss, and not (adorably?) cowardly, she stood up and got some pretty great pictures of the very lazy and non-threatening snake.
But here’s the part where I knew the movies had ruined me. (Something you all figured out a few paragraphs ago.) I was seized with the overwhelming fear that our slow-moving ah-gee-boy-a was actually just part of a hunting duo. A velociraptor with no legs–and no studio generated sound effects. He was clearly, I started breathing faster, just a decoy. The second snake was soon going to come and bump the boat from beneath, at which point my brave friend would lose her balance, tip us all over, and I would either be eaten by the snake in the water or climb up a tree where, we have already established, there were snakes. Don’t panic, I said to myself, don’t cuss, don’t whimper, don’t let it know you’re scared!
Then my friend sat (gracefully) down, and we paddled away, and it was beautiful, and we were fine, and I was kicking myself for ruining my back-to-nature moment with my irrational movie induced fears. But, I swear, as we were paddling away, I heard somewhere deep in the flooded forest, the scary violins resolving in a major cadence as the sun got just a little brighter.