The fact that there were even interested and established publishers to partner with in itself was a big leap forward. You could almost feel the euphoria and can’t help but be carried away by the sudden snapping free of the tightly wound cords. But what you don’t see is the underlying fear and apprehension of the recent past, the anarchy of the fascism and that certain uncertain feeling that the beautiful dream could easily collapse like a house of cards. As I walked the streets of Barcelona, I could feel the big bald and angry face of Franco peering through every window, standing at every street corner. Fortunately, other than Franco’s ghost hovering over, King Juan Carlos I put the country on to the steady path of democracy.

A scant a year later, when Lee (Hall) first asked me to take a trip to Santiago, Chile, just having seen the stern faced images of then the absolute dictator of the country, Augusto Pinochet  was enough to put the fear of God in you. The House of Spirit by Jose Donoso and Pablo Neruda’s Memoires helped ease the fear, but not the assassination of Orlando Letelier, his car blown up in the broad daylight under Pinochet’s Operation Condor, while he was in exile in Washington, DC. And the ruthless coup d’état that overthrew and assassinated the first democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.

I had not yet been to the Latin American countries that formed the tail of the continent referred to as the southern cone or cono sur. Of those, Argentina and Chile. The best way to get there is via Los Angeles. I think Braniff still flies there non-stop from LA to Santiago, Lee informs me. Which seemed odd, considering that in theory, from Chicago you should be able to fly directly down south. Now they do, but then that’s how it was.

It’s an overnight flight so I don’t have much time to think about my arrival and what may await at the airport. During the flight, I can’t help but notice the stark inequality between the have and the have not’s. I am traveling in the first and seated in the eighth  row, and believe there are a couple of rows still behind me. That’s almost twice as many first class seats as on most other routes. And each one of those seats are taken. This normally is not the case. While now almost all airlines offer the seats that stretch out into flat beds in their business and the first classes, at that time the seats offered were wider and tilted farther with a foot rest. Better than in back of the plane but not as comfortable and as good as being able to stretch out across an entire row of five seats with their arm rests flipped back, in the economy. The first class is packed solid not with the businessmen, but with the families including kaccha-baccha – kids and caboodle, making big ruckus. How am I supposed to even attempt to fall asleep?

So after dinner, I peek through the curtain in the back of the plane. The larger economy cabin is practically empty with many unoccupied rows. So I downgrade myself and claim one of the rows. I happily skip the breakfast for an extra hour of sleep.

Soon we’re landing in Santiago. I am fully prepared for the poker faced passport and immigration officers. What I am worried about the most are the issues of Playboy I am carrying in my baggage.

‘Don’t worry. Things have eased. Plus we’ll have “arranged” everything.’ They tell me.

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