The Diarist of Iran’s Royal Court

Asadollah Alam was the H.R. Haldeman to the Shah of Iran’s Richard Nixon. Loyal and adoring (‘I would gladly lay down my life for him, even now,’ Alam wrote in the final entry of his diary), he served as Prime Minister (1962-1964), and in 1966 he was appointed Minister to the Court of His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī (HIM, in Alam’s journals). Alam remained in this position almost until his death in April of 1978. Like his friend the Shah, Alam had cancer, a diagnosis both men’s physicians hid from the patients, who were constantly visiting specialists and trying new treatments and medications. Alam’s fascinating diaries stretch from 1968-1977. Pahlavi was overthrown on February 11, 1979, an event Alam dreaded and came close to prophesying in his journal.

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‘Tuesday, June 21, 1977

Audience… Asked HIM what he made of William Sullivan, the new US ambassador. ‘No hint of the demagogue,’ he said. ‘Strikes me as having his head screwed on.’ Reported that he’s asked to call on me, but that I’ve postponed the meeting for a week so that he won’t think I’m unduly anxious to see him.

It has been hinted abroad that Senator McGovern may head some sort of enquiry into Savak’s activities in the USA. HIM told me that, when I meet the ambassador, I should remark to him pleasantly that our own Senate has likewise decided to investigate CIA activities in Iran… Submitted the Daily Telegraph‘s review of HIM’s latest book. I told him that it struck me as being favourable. ‘What on earth’s “favourable” about it?’, he snapped back, as soon as he’d read it. I told him to look again at the final paragraph. ‘What do you suppose this word, “megalomania” means?’, he said. ‘Greatness,’ I replied. ‘Greatness be damned’, he exclaimed. ‘Greatness to the point of madness.’ I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I should have read it more carefully, but by then it was too late.

The Shah and I: The Confidential Diary of Iran’s Royal Court, 1968-77, Asadollah Alam, Edited by Alinaghi Alikhani, Translated by Alinaghi Alikhani and Nicholas Vincent, I.B. Tauris, 1991.

A Lunch Date, September, 1979

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In the summer of 1979, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was threatening to challenge President Jimmy Carter for their party’s nomination in the upcoming election. Senator Kennedy’s aide Richard Burke phoned Carter’s Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan in August. He told Jordan the Senator had something personal he wished to discuss with the President. A lunch date was set for early September:

‘Upstairs in the residential quarters, on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Rose Garden, Mrs. Carter joined the President and Senator for a brief time, and the atmosphere remained cordial.

The First Lady left and, over their luncheon, the two national leaders discussed various current issues and the conversation remained civilized. The Senator spoke about his feeling that the country was adrift and needed stronger leadership. He quietly announced that for the sake of the Democratic party, and the country, he was going to make an effort to attain the presidency. Unstated was the hope that the President would gracefully bow out, leaving the Senator with an open field.

But it was not going to be that easy. President Carter demurred politely. He agreed that the country was beset by problems, but declared his belief that he was dealing with these problems effectively.

They finished their discussion over coffee, and then the President and the Senator returned to the Map Room, along with Jordan. Jordan introduced me to the President, who greeted me warmly. To my astonishment, he then left the Senator with Jordan and took me on a tour of the Map Room, taking his time, commenting, ‘This is where President Roosevelt and Churchill met.’ He pulled out various maps and showed them to me, seemingly unhurried. I said to myself, No wonder this guy won in 76. He has the ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.

Finally, the President and Jordan walked us out to the Rose Garden, to our car, where driver Jay Morgan waited. The President shook hands with us both and wished us a good day.

Afterward, as we rode back to the Senate, I commented, ‘God, the President was so nice to me. It was incredible.’

The Senator was livid. He snapped, ‘That’s just because he wanted to irritate me. He did that on purpose. He knew I was waiting. He wanted me to get the impression that he was unfazed by what I said.’

The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy, Richard E. Burke, with William and Marilyn Hoffer, St. Martin’s Press, 1992

 White House Staff Photographers. (01/20/1977 – 01/20/1981), President Carter meets with Senator Kennedy in the Oval Office, 20 October, 1977

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

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‘Having houseguests I think really requires as much help as you can possibly afford. If you plan dinner parties you have to have someone serve and clean up. A minimum of one. I’d rather save pennies and have guests only once a year, with enough staff to run everything beautifully, than to have to spend all my time in the kitchen, knowing that the ashtrays weren’t being emptied and the dirty dishes had to be dealt with surreptitiously in the middle of the night. Having houseguests should be fun, not drudgery.’

My Way of Life, Joan Crawford, Simon & Schuster, 1971.

Xavier Roberts Presents Little People Pals

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In 1983, the Baby Boomers took to rioting over Cabbage Path Kids: nylon dolls with plastic heads, yarn hair, and adoption papers with names like Norine Marietta, Chauncey Nolan, and Sheldon Rex. My 15-inch talcum powder-scented “Preemie” was named Celeste Blossom. The result of an early frost on the Cabbage Patch, Preemies were premature baby versions of the dolls, smaller and mostly bald, with tiny Manchu queue tufts of yarn.

“They’re one of a kind,” sang Coleco’s ad, “They’re Cabbage Patch Kids Preemies, you can give them all of your love!”

Old Fashioned Girl

Preemie Designer Clothes: Old-Fashioned Girl

Little People Pals:

This was all to come back in 1981, when the man whose signature would become familiar to millions of children posed with Butch, Baby Sweetie, Baby Buddy, Bunny, Tuffie, and Curly Locks. Xavier Roberts made his Little People Pals at a converted a turn-of-the-century medical clinic he called Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia.

Married advertising executives Roger Schlaifer and Suzanne Nance* wrote the toy’s creation myth. The Little People Pals became the Cabbage Patch Kids. The kids were grown in a patch of cabbage blossoms, asexually pollinated when “bunnybees” (bee-rabbit hybrids) sprinkled them with magic crystals. In 1982, Schlaifer, Nance & Co. arranged for Coleco Industries to begin mass-producing the dolls in Amsterdam, New York.

Coleco:

Random computer applications ensured that every Cabbage Patch Kid remained unique, with varied names, hair, clothes, freckles, and eye colours. Stamps of Xavier Roberts’ signature adorned the left cheek of every doll’s bottom, like Michelangelo’s signature carved into the sash across the Virgin’s chest in the Pietà.

The Cabbage Patch Kids were the most successful new doll in the history of the toy industry. Three million had been sold by 1984. Cabbage Patch Kids cost $30.00, but went for three times as much on the black market. In 1985, a Cabbage Patch Kid named Christopher Xavier travelled to outer space on NASA’s Discovery. New dolls were constantly being introduced; Show Ponies, which came in their own stables; Cabbage Patch Kids Young Astronauts in rocket-shaped boxes; Cabbage Patch Cornsilk Kids with silky Barbie hair.**

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The dolls ostensibly weren’t purchased: they were adopted. Coleco mailed a card on the doll’s first birthday. Cabbage Patch Kids travelled with their young owners in baby slings and fold-up umbrella strollers. No generation had been as exalted as the children growing up in the 1980s. Parents who had been whipped with wooden spoons and sent to bed without dinner slept on pavements and stampeded through department stores to acquire Cabbage Patch Kids in time for Christmas.

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Eventually, the fever subsided. Once carefully strapped into custom-made car seats and treated as real by entire families, Cabbage Patch Kids were left at home, discarded, defiled. Oozing cotton, they languished in cupboards and under beds, their yarn hair greying with dust. Coleco filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code in 1988.

Biodegradation occurs over the course of centuries. Landfills are not giant composters, wrote the authors of Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, “Rather, they are vast mummifiers.” Mankind has not seen the last of little Gustave Brandon, Carla Adrianna, and Ginevra Ruth.

Babyland General Hospital:

Cabbage Patch Kids were never out of production. Hasbro took over from Coleco in 1988, then Mattel (1994-2003), and, briefly, Toys ‘R’ Us Kids. Play Along Toys have had the concession since 2004.  A wholly owned division of Jakks Pacific, Inc., Play Along Toys manufactures the dolls at Foshan Nanhai Changyang Toys & Gifts Factory, in Guangdong, China.

Xavier Robert’s company Original Appalachian Artworks Inc. retained ownership of the Cabbage Patch Kids concept. Babyland General Hospital stayed open. Original Handstitched Cabbage Patch Kids are still made in Cleveland, Georgia. “Roberts has remained loyal to his hometown” wrote Sharon M. Scott in Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopaedia, “And has contributed greatly to the community where he was raised.”

In 2010, Xavier Roberts cut the ribbon at the dedication of a new Babyland General Hospital, an antebellum mansion on 650 acres in the North Georgia Mountains.

I’ve gotten to meet a lot of (the collectors) over the years, so it really is like a family when you really get to see them and catch up with them, and see what they’ve done, and see the grand-kids,” he told the Gainesville Times. 

Admission to Babyland General Hospital is free. Prototype Little People Pals are mounted in the lobby. Cabbage Patch Kids are displayed in a variety of dioramas; a schoolhouse, an elaborate pink nursery, rows of incubators and cribs stuffed with Cabbage Patch Newborn Babies.

Mother Cabbage goes into labour every hour. Cabbage Patch Kids are delivered by staff dressed in physician scrubs or nurse uniforms with starched white caps. The Licensed Patch Nurse administers “Imagicillin” and urges Mother Cabbage to push. At the conclusion of the Birthing Ceremony, the LPN shows off Xavier Robert’s signature.

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A variety of dolls are for sale. Children can place orders specifying gender, hair and eye colour, and choose the doll’s names. Exclusive Babyland General kids with vinyl heads cost $69.00 to adopt. Original kids with soft-sculpture heads go for $295.00.

Magic Crystal Valley

Pat Prosey didn’t buy her first Cabbage Patch Kid until 1985, when the fad was winding down.

“I walked into an antique store,” she told Anderson Cooper, “And there was this Cabbage Patch Kid and I thought: ‘Wow.’ It was a girl, and her name was Meg.  I thought, ‘I’d just like to get one,’ and see what the whole shebang was about. Then my girlfriend called me, and said one of the department stores had gotten a big shipment in, and did I want one. And I said: ‘You know what, get me a boy’.”

Pat and her husband Joe Prosey own over 5,000 Cabbage Patch Kids. The Proseys built a 6,000 square foot climate-controlled building to house their collection. They have also built a small amusement park called Magic Crystal Valley in their backyard.

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Private tours are available to all Cabbage Patch Kids collectors free of charge. In 2008, the Magic Crystal Valley hosted a signing party for Xavier Roberts and his Original Appalachian Artworks staff.

Kevin, the boy Pat acquired in 1985, is the Proseys’ favourite. Kevin has been personally autographed by Xavier Roberts and appeared with them on Anderson dressed in a tuxedo. The Proseys brought Kevin  when they visited their daughter Vicky in California. “He got his picture taken on the Walk of Fame. I just kept walking like I didn’t know who they were.”

“In the Cabbage Patch world, most all the collectors, the big time collectors, have a special Cabbage Patch Kid that they love, and carry with them, just like we do Kevin,” Joe said. “And they all have their own personality, and, we’ve found out over the years, they all have their own voice. It’s just a fun thing to do.”

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The Proseys and their fellow enthusiasts are gentle, whimsical people. In their Magic Crystal Valley, Cabbage Patch Kids ride on swings, a motorized train, and in a pulley-operated balloon that lifts them thirty feet above Leonardtown, Maryland.

‘This is a unique little fantasy world, that you can walk out of everyday life, and come into,’ Joe said, ‘No harm done, no foul, and have a good time.’

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Footnotes

*In 1985, the licensing company Schlaifer Nance & Co commissioned Andy Warhol to do portraits of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Two years later, the estate of Andy Warhol signed an agreement granting SNC exclusive rights to his name and works. In 1990, SNC filed suit against the Warhol Estate alleging tortious conduct and breach of licensing agreement. A concise and fascinating overview of their decade-long court battle can be found in Soup Can or Can of Worms? Legal Issues Arising from the Warhol Estate by Carol E. Heckman. It was originally published by New York State Bar Association Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal, Summer 2009, Volume 20.

http://www.martindale.com/members/Article_Atachment.aspx?od=325760&id=784858&filename=asr-784862.pdf

** “They have their own brush they can hold… And they always loved to be loved, a lot!” the Cabbage Patch Cornsilk Kids commercials enthused, as–in order to demonstrate the bounciness of their shiny ringlets– two dolls were pulled in a wagon with such force the bespectacled blond doll lost its glasses.

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Graham Greene and Kim Philby in Moscow, 1987

The writer Graham Greene was an MI6 colleague of the double agent Kim Philby. A few years after his 1963 defection, Philby started writing to Greene. ‘They exchanged views and discussed political events,’ recalled Philby’s wife Rufina, ‘Neither of them in any doubt that their letters were being read by the authorities at both ends.’ In 1986, Greene was invited to the USSR by the Soviet Union of Writers. A meeting between Greene and Philby was arranged by Genrikh Borovik, the President of the Soviet Peace Committee. Rufina said Greene greeted her with the words, ‘I am feeling so shy.’  After the first visit, Philby wrote to Greene:

Image ‘While the memory of your visit is still fresh in our minds, I am writing to tell you how much we appreciated it. Rufa said, without any prompting from me, that the three days we spent on and off together were among the happiest in her life. As for myself, I find myself suffering from an acute attack of the esprit d’escalier: so many questions I wanted to ask, but didn’t, so many things I wanted to say, but didn’t. Well, you can’t bridge a gap of thirty-five years in a few hours, Zut alors!’  9-24-1986.

Rufina Philby wrote about their reunions in her memoir:

‘Five months later, in the snows of February, Greene came back to Moscow, this time without Yvonne, to participate in a Forum styled “For a Nuclear Free World and the Survival of Mankind.”

He came to dinner. I stood waiting for him at the curb-side watching the passing cars. Greene stepped straight out of his Chaika into a pile of snow on an uncleared patch of pavement. We picked our way carefully along a narrow path which had been trampled in the snow, me in the lead, Greene following, gingerly attempting to walk right in my footsteps and gripping my hand hard as his city shoes slipped and slid. In the end, I delivered him safe and sound into Kim’s embrace.’

The Private Life of Kim Philby, Rufina Philby, with Hayden Peake, and Mikhail Lyubimov, St. Ermin’s Press, 1999.

Delos

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The air is thick at the Acropolis of Athens. Voices get trapped in the wind, and the vicissitudes of the sky are rapid and endless: seraphic blue with clouds like sliced heads of cauliflower, navy with massive grey cumulus, a coruscating bleached out white.

In 399 BCE, democracy had just been restored following the reign of the Thirty Tyrants. Phidias’ thirty-foot bronze statue of Athena rose over the city. The gilt tip of her lance was visible from the sea.

Thousands of visitors were in Athens for an annual religious festival. Sesame seed husks, fruit cores, and bones littered the burgundy stained streets. The high priest of Apollo garlanded the stern of a tribute ship bound for the island of Delos. A sacrifice was offered at Marathon. A solemn twelve year old boy carried an olive branch strung with fruit and wool in the procession for the Seasons and the Sun.

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The consolidated floor plan is located at the southwest corner of the Agora of Athens, adjacent to the street where the marble cutters had their workshops. The unremarkable stone remains of a corridor and eight cells are likely the ruins of the state jail where the philosopher Socrates was imprisoned 2,400 years ago.

According to his student Plato, Socrates’ cell had a pallet bed pushed against the wall, a night table with a small oil lamp, and footstools. A basin and a large jar are set in the floor of the northwest cell, which was probably a bathroom. Thirteen clay and lead medicine bottles about four centimetres high were discovered in the bottom of a cistern. The foundation suggests that the jail had two floors.

*

Socrates is associated with the aphorism inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Know thyself.’ He had three sons and a difficult marriage to his wife Xanthippe. He was omnipotent in the Plaka and the Agora; wrestling in the gymnasium; holding dialogues outside perfume sellers and cobbler’s workshops; standing in a trance for hours while he mulled a problem, always barefoot. When he came upon a particularly decadent display at the market he exclaimed, ‘How many things I have no need of!’ He refused to charge fees for teaching and survived on tips from wealthy patrons. He taught with relentless questioning. He warned Athenians that pleasure and pain are attached at the head and the pursuit of one leads to the other. Groups inspired by Socrates included the Sceptics, the Cynics, the Academics, the Peripatetics and the Hedonists.

*

Three men brought a public action against Socrates for being a menace to society. He was tried before a jury of 501 Athenian citizens, on charges of introducing new divinities, not believing in the gods the city believed in, and corrupting the young. His pupil Plato recorded Socrates’ defence, his proposal for the penalty, and his final address to the jury in the Apology. Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to death.

He spent one month in the state prison. His visitors recalled lenient regulations and sympathetic warders. In Plato’s account of his final days Socrates retires to an inner room to bathe. This suggests his cell was the one with access to the room with the basin set in the floor.

Executions were postponed in Athens until the return of the tribute ship from Delos. The prisoners must have been able to hear the processions up the Panathenaic Way.

*

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The sails of the tribute ship rose over the horizon at the southern tip of the Attica peninsula. The sailors on board saw the Temple of Poseidon on the cliffs at Sunium and knew they would be in Athens in a day.

In Plato’s account, Socrates was calm as he waited for the return of the ship from Delos. His friend Crito arrived at the prison to announce the boat had been spotted at Sunium. Socrates met the news with equanimity, and declined Crito’s offer to help him escape.

The plump orange moon rose behind the torch-lit Acropolis. The high priest of the Delphic Oracle took his seat in the Theatre of Dionysus. Fifty-man choirs sang odes to Apollo and actors in cork masks cast long shadows across the stage and the tribute ship raced north to Piraeus through the choppy black Aegean Sea.

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Hermes was originally the protector of commerce and the messenger of the gods. In Athens, protective aniconic marble statues called herms were placed outside houses and shops. There was more graffiti dedicated to Hermes than to any other deity. Spells and incantations were scratched on roof tiles and around the rims of lamps. Herms were carved onto door frames and walls.

In 399 BCE, Athens was in the midst of a transition from an oral to a literate culture. The inherited oral culture was stored on rolls of papyrus. Inconsistencies in knowledge were analyzed, and literacy was on the rise. Athenians scratched their names on ceramic pitchers. ‘I am rightfully (the possession) of Andriskos.’ Socrates lived through this transition. If he wrote anything it did not survive the classical age. It is not even a certainty that Socrates could read, though his pupils depicted him as a reader. Plato wrote that Socrates spent his final days composing verses based on Aesop’s fables.

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Phaedo of Elis was a handsome boy who was born in a small district on the southern tip of the mainland, two generations after Socrates. Phaedo was captured during the war between Elis and Sparta and taken to Athens by a slave trader. His release was bartered by either Socrates or a member of his circle. Phaedo’s thick hair curled at the nape of his neck, and Socrates loved teasing his protégée about his curls.

He owes his posterity to Plato’s Phaedo, which made him the conduit of Socrates’ last testament. The matryoshka dialogue is a product of the oral culture the participants were leaving behind. It is set in a small town in the Peloponnese. Phaedo describes Socrates’ final hours on earth to a group of philosophers. He asks the men if they are familiar with the circumstances of the trial and Echecrates says yes, someone told us about that. Phaedo lists the people who were in the jail with Socrates on the last day of the festival. He adds that he believes Plato was ill.

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In the Phaedo there are at least twenty men engaging in Socrates’ final dialectic. When the narrator arrived at the jail Socrates’ wife Xanthippe was leaving with their son. Phaedo said that everyone except Socrates was struggling to contain their grief. Socrates explained that someone who has really devoted their life to philosophy has no reason to be afraid of dying.

It would have been crowded in the cell where Plato says Socrates waited for the sunset and argued that the soul is immortal. Socrates was seventy years old, thickset and bald, with a long white beard and bushy eyebrows. He was reclined on the bed, with Phaedo of Elis sitting on a footstool to his right. He stroked Phaedo’s curls for the last time.

Socrates told his disciples that until philosophy takes it over, the soul is a helpless prisoner which views reality through prison bars erected by the prisoner’s own active desires. He told them when a soul feels a keen pleasure or pain, it cannot help supposing that whatever causes the most violent emotion is the truest reality, when oftentimes it is not.

*

Socrates left no burial instructions. He bathed, possibly using the basin and jar set in the floor of the northwest cell at the site of the state prison. He took his time. He was cheerful as he said goodbye to his three sons and the women of his household.

‘The Master seemed quite happy, Echecrates, both in his manner and in what he said; he met his death so fearlessly and nobly.’

The Sun edged into the horizon. The prison officer came to say goodbye with tears in his eyes. The hemlock poison was in a thimble-sized medicine bottle. Socrates was instructed to drink it and walk around the room until his legs felt heavy.

When Socrates drank the hemlock most of his companions started to cry. Crito left the cell, and Phaedo covered his face. Apollodorus’ weeping set everyone else off. Socrates told everyone to buck up. He walked slowly up and down his cell. The floors were probably newly surfaced with marble chips. Someone probably lit the oil lamp. Sobs were muffled. Socrates announced that his legs were numb. He stretched out on the bed and the man who had brought the poison pinched his foot, then his ankle, his calf, his knee.

*

The state jail where Socrates spent the last month of his life was probably built in the fifth century BCE. The building stood until the Roman general Sulla sacked Athens in 89 CE. Two grand homes were built over the site in Augustan times.

The area southwest of the Agora was excavated in the 1930s and the 1940s, with a break during World War II. In 1977 a new team removed the foundations of the Roman houses. They uncovered the pithos set in the floor of the bathing area. They filled in the gaps in the walls with dry masonry.

The archaeologists found Laconian roof tiles. Basins used by the marble workers. Thirteen thimble-sized lead and terracotta medicine bottles in the bottom of the cistern in the northwest room.

QUOTES:

‘I am rightfully (the possession) of Andriskos,’ Graffiti in the Athenian Agora, Mabel. L. Lang, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, June, 1988.

‘The Master seemed quite happy, Echecrates,’ The Last Days of Socrates: Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Plato, (Phaedo), Translated by Hugh Tredennick, Penguin Books, 1954.

EXISTEN LOS PLATILLOS VOLADORES

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Even though the hot sun was beating down, the men wore wool sweaters and wool skull caps as though their basic association with the mountains was cold. All day they gazed at the snowcapped mountains above.

We looked below us at the winding mountain road. And above us at about 20,000 feet on a mountain top waved the Peruvian flag.

The temperature was cooler now. The sunshine brilliant, the air pure and rarefied. Then at 15,806 feet above sea level we came to a sign.

A sign beside a railway crossing called Abra Anticona. It said: ‘PUNTO FERROVIARO MAS ALTO DEL MUNDO’ In English: ‘Highest Railway Point in the World.’ Just adjacent to that sign was another one. It said: ‘EXISTEN LOS PLATILLOS VOLADORES CONTACTO CON OVNIS.’ In English: ‘Flying Saucers Do Exist. UFO Contact Point.’

I looked over at David with raised eyebrows. He smiled ‘Well,’ he said. ‘I’m not the only crazy one, am I?’

‘What does that mean?’ I asked.

‘It means that people see lots of UFOs around here and it’s common knowledge and no one is particularly disturbed by it.’

I took a deep breath.

‘Did we come her to see UFOs? Is that why I’m here?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Oh. My. God.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Exactly.’

Out on a Limb, Shirley MacLaine, Bantam Books Inc., 1983

Out on a Limb, starring Shirley MacLaine, ABC Circle Films, 1987: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2j2XFY6ZZs