Requiem for a Stradivarius – Part II: A Dutchman on a journey

In the December 2018 issue of PonderingTime our author Arthur Pahl tells about the murder of the famous German violinist Johny Schwarz, who lived in Bogota after the Second World War and was murdered there on the street. The murderers escaped without prey. The real treasure that the musician carried with him at his death was a valuable Stradivari violin that had been left behind, laying on the sidewalk, next to his dead body. Why this German immigrant set sail in Europe with a Mittenwald violin on his side arriving in the New World with a Stradivarius, you can read here in Part 2 of our story:

After he had lost both his parents in the night of the bombing of his hometown Halle, Johny had nothing left in Germany. Having been wounded in the war, doctors restored him to the point of breaking new ground. From now on he had no family anymore. What he needed to leave his homeland was just a passport. But the Allies refused to grant emigration permits to single German citizens in those days. During his time working as a musician with the American band, Johny was able to establish relationships that enabled him to get at least a Dutch passport. An officer who like him very much, and who had previously been stationed in Curacao in an influential position as a military attaché, obtained him a passport. Johny could now leave the country as a Dutch citizen. With a few dollars in his pocket, it should give him a fresh start in South America. There were two reasons for him to choose South America: On the one hand, as a former soldier of the Wehrmacht, he was not suitable for an entry visa to the USA despite his good relations with the Americans. On the other hand, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile were the only countries to take in former German soldiers after the Second World War. To enter one of these countries, Johny first had to apply for an entry visa at one of their consulates. Such consulates did not exist in Germany at that time. The next best choice was Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. He wanted to go there and could stay if he liked it there. If he didn’t like it there, he could move on to Colombia or another country. Officially, he was now Dutch, on call, so to speak, as long as no one learned the truth behind his Dutch passport. With this passport, he had a good chance of getting out of Germany. His journey to the Caribbean, with the destination Curacao as Dutch territory, could begin.

The journey to Le Havre was long, the streets still full of military convoys. Farmers with horse-drawn carriages and ox carts offered the opportunity to jump up and ride along in between – provided the farmer had a good heart. Not all farmers were friendly to people on their travels. Penned between straw and potato sacks on a truck driver’s loading area, Johny came closer to his goal. The driver felt sorry for the tired musician on the edge of the field. A sympathetic transporter with a worn out, rusty tricycle also showed Johny mercy by giving him a sign out of the window to get in. Johny could never forget the panting and faltering of the vehicle when starting off. With terribly crashing shots from the exhaust, this devils vehicle came only after some jumps forward and under scream howling of the engine again into drive.

The musician from Halle was very uncomfortable when he finally stood at the quay in front of the ship that was to take him away from Europe. A feeling not to belong at all to this around him overpowered him. What was a man of music and entertainment doing in the midst of the turmoil of thousands of people, mostly women, children, and older men? The Jewish origins of many men and women were clearly recognizable. Where did they come from, from whom did they flee, where from did they escape? Some small groups, presumably families, were dressed only in rags, while others were wrapped in clean, well-preserved jackets, coats and dresses. Not just the clothes, but also the faces of the people indicated the well and the not so well meant fate of each of them.

Johny was standing there like beside himself. From within, he refused to belong to all of this around him. His nose was penetrated by the strong smell of the harbor. The smell of the sea mixed with wind and the flair of algae. Sea salt and dead fish almost turned the smell into a stench. The seagulls screeched over the water, fighting together in search of food. Again and again, they fought each other over the fresh fish. The ships railing, which the sailors had freshly painted before, smelled severely of paint, tar, and petrol from the tanks just being filled. The dock workers were busy with loading. The picture was dominated by conveyor belts, cranes, technicians, customs officials, and firefighters. The first passengers went to the ship via the gangway, while the less well-to-do had to line up in a queue. They had to follow the instructions and show their passports. After fingerprints had been taken from them and the customs officers had inspected them, they were finally allowed on board. Most of the time they brought their big suitcases or even boxes with them. All Johny had with him was Sepp’s violin in a violin case and a backpack with few belongings.

Four and yet alone

Onboard Johny was accommodated in a cabin with three other men. One of them was Dutch and spoke some English in addition to Dutch. The other two did not reveal anything about their origins and showed themselves to be taciturn. Johny didn’t understand the language they were talking between them. It was probably Hungarian. Had it been a Slavic language, he would have recognized that, since he had been a soldier in the East for several years.

The Dutchman was the one who worried Johny the most because he was not supposed to know anything about Johnys Dutch passport. Johny didn’t speak any Dutch. That could’ve been a problem hard to explain. He had to keep a low profile and not get suspicious. But by the time they reached Curacao, the men in the small cabin were literally chained together. From there the ship went on to Miami and New York. Johny didn’t know where the other three would get out of the cabin. He was just thinking about his own crossing. The situation was rather bleak for Johny, crammed into a confined space, without any privacy, with three-man completely strangers to him. But he still had the violin from Sepp, with which he could conjure up a moment of joy again and again. If he played a few songs, strangers could become friends.

At first, it didn’t happen at all, because Johny had a terrible time at sea on the first two days. The Atlantic Ocean didn’t mean well with him. At the end of the English Channel, a strong wind caused high waves. In front of the bow of the ocean liner, the waves whipped over the 15-meter high mast in front of the bridge. Johny did not go on deck for two days and huddled up in his bunk instead. He pressed his weakened body behind the curtains against the steel wall of the ocean liner, keeping his eyes closed, at the edge of the bunk, holding the crusher ready. The seasickness caused him so much trouble causing a total loss of control over himself and his body. Because he couldn’t even think about eating, he had no vomit left. He drank a lot of water, but it couldn’t hold in his stomach. In the end, he vomited bile.

Only after the ship had passed Southampton and set course for the South Atlantic, he started to feel a little better. The other men in the cabin treated him with respect. In his torment, he hardly noticed them. He was now happy about the two silent strangers. The Dutchman knew Johny was German long ago. Johny didn’t care as long he didn’t find out about his Dutch passport.

Only ten more days he had to be with them. In order not to have to talk much with the Dutchman, he let his charm play and grabbed his violin as soon as everyone was in the cabin. Oh, what the music could achieve when the language was no longer sufficient. With a melancholic sound at the beginning, the small group became thoughtful. The Csárdás, giving the supposed two Hungarians a boost, was more cheerful. Johny believed that the two of them were particularly enthusiastic about the Hungarian songs. He also mastered Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller and Jim Dorsey playing his violin. In the ’40s of the 20th century, the violin was still a standard classical instrument for concert musicians. Nobody knew the word Rock’n Roll at that time, but Johny could also conjure up the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald on his violin.

Even if no real concert violinist could and wanted this, Johny didn’t care.

One evening after another the small cabin was filled with joy and words become superfluous. Time passed faster than expected. On the way to the Caribbean, the four men came to terms with each other. The evening violin concertos became the event of the day. Already on the first evening a passenger knocked from the nearby cabin and asked if he could come in. He wanted to hear the violin concerto, but he went out into the hallway again when he saw how small the cabin was. Johny and his comrades then left the door open to let the sound of the violin penetrate into the hall. Word spread quickly on the ship. “Down at the cheap cabins in the lower deck, a violinist will bring tears to your eyes with the sounds of his violin.” The door to the cabin was no longer closed in the evening. Johny had memories of his family and the hospital. People came from all floors to listen to Johny on his violin. They stayed until the lights went out. Before everyone retreated back to their cabins, thunderous applause broke out in the pitch-dark belly of the ocean liner.

Two days before her arrival in Curacao, Johny was contacted by a small, slim man wearing a kippa on his head. He spoke German, and he said, “You’re the gifted colleague, aren’t you?” His strong Mediterranean accent was unmistakable, making Johny smile. Immediately he realized that the man was Italian. The ear of a violinist can recognize nuances in the sound. It does not matter whether it is a matter of string play or voice. A good violinist does not miss a sound that deviates from the norm. Johny knew that from the conservatory. He told the man to come in and sit down. He pointed to a stool standing in the middle of the cabin. But the man didn’t want to sit down and stopped at a low angle. He reached out his hand and said: “I am Chaim Goldberg from Milan and I am going to New York. I play the violin here in the evening in the Ships Orchestra and would like to invite you to join me. There’s a little tip. What do you make of it?” Johny’s eyes beamed when he heard that. He couldn’t even say “yes” because Chaim saw in Johny’s eyes that he would play along with them.

Finally, Johny played in the salon orchestra on the upper deck during the last three days of the crossing. The instrumentation consisted of only one pianist, a small string group, brass instruments, woodwind instruments, a guitar, a harmonium, and percussion. The about 15 musicians played mainly light music of the time. None of this was a problem for Johny. Immediately on the same evening, he could integrate himself. The playing gave him so much joy that he could hardly believe that he would finally be on stage again.

On the last evening, before they reached the port of Willemstad in the Netherlands Antilles, something strange happened. The orchestra took a break. Chaim ran towards Johny with his violin in his hand and took him aside to whisper something into his ear. The two of them moved out of the salon. Johny now also had his violin in his hand. Outside in the corridor in front of the salon, there was a storage room for musical instruments. The two of them stepped inside and locked the door behind them.

“What kind of violin do you have there?” asked Chaim.

Johny replied, “It’s from Mittenwald.” He wouldn’t say he got it from Sepp as a gift. “Aha, from Mittenwald,” Chaim replied. “You know that violins were made in Mittenwald in the seventeenth century. Mittenwald violins existed at the same time as the Stradivarius came onto the market. Honestly, I almost think your violin sounds better than a Stradivarius.” Johny had to prune. “Why would you say that? Johny reached for Chaim’s violin while Chaim reached for Johny’s violin. Each had the other’s violin in his hand to inspect. Johny was amazed. “That’s a Stradivarius.” For a short moment, his breath stopped. Chaim lifted Johny’s violin to his chin and began to stroke the bow over the strings with his right hand. With his left forearm on the snail of the violin, Chaim touched the pegbox with his fingers. Under the rolled up shirt sleeve, Johny saw a tattoo with a six-digit number on the thin, parchment-like skin. Johny froze. Johny quietly thought that Chaim was not only an outstanding musician but also an extraordinary person. He had obviously experienced terrible things, as the kippa, the tattooed concentration camp number and the name “Chaim Goldberg” revealed. Johny now knew everything about this man. He is a legend, Johny thought, wondering at the great affection this man showed him. The young orchestral musician from Halle did not hesitate for a minute to give this wonderful man his Mittenwald violin. Each one tested the sound of the other’s violin. Apparently, Chaim was a very experienced violinist who was out of place in this salon orchestra. Johny didn’t know that Chaim already had an engagement with the New York Philharmonic and was expected by none other than Bruno Walter. Johny remembered his father who gave him a ticket to a concert by Bruno Walter, who introduced ten-year-old Yehudi Menuhin at his debut in Berlin.

Johny already knew that expensive violins did not always have to be the best and that the value of a violin was determined mainly by its origin and age. Most violinists oriented themselves on this concept. They paid attention to the state of preservation, to the quality of the wood and to the Pro segment. The sound was a relevant argument. With expensive, good violins, it was difficult to estimate sound differences from nuances better or worse. An important criterion was often the type of music played on it. Johny’s never been so into it before. He had a chance to find out now. However, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find a better sound with either the violin from Sepp or the Stradivarius. Chaim, on the other hand, had discovered something that would not let him go. He kept saying to Johny, “Do you hear that?” “Can you hear that?” So fascinated by the Stradivarius that he didn’t want to give her up, Johny didn’t know what Chaim meant.

“I’ll tell you what,” Chaim said to Johny. “You play my Stradivarius for the rest of the evening, and I play your Mittenwald violin:” Johny agreed. Both of them hit their hands and went back to the stage with a cheerful smile. Until midnight they played dance music for the first class passengers on the ship.

When the evening was over, and the musicians were packing their instruments, Chaim said to Johny: “Your violin has something. Tonight, our last night, I want to ask you a favor.”

Johny said, “Well, what’s that?”

“I want to borrow your violin for a few more hours. Do you know that this sound is just unusual? Never before have I heard a violin with such a stunning sound. Didn’t you notice that, mate?”

Johny stomped and replied only a “no.” He wondered what could be special and did not dare to refuse Chaim this wish. One night with the Stradivarius in the cabin and then play a Csárdás on it. Dancing again on the last evening with the other three men on the benches. In the two hours in the Salon Orchestra, he could only warm himself up once. Johny struck again into Chaim’s hand. Each went to the cabin with the other’s violin. The next morning, at breakfast, they could exchange violins and say goodbye to each other before each went his own way.

A tragic event

Johny could never forget the tragic event that overshadowed the following night. All his life he remembered this night as painful and lasting as a glowing iron on naked skin. About one o’clock in the morning, Johny had finished his concert on the Stradivarius in the cabin. When he lay down in his bunk, he could not fall asleep. Was it the sea waves that hit the bow or the thoughts of his violin that made him so restless? He wondered why Chaim wanted to keep his violin last night and gave away the expensive Stradivarius. Several times he stood up to walk through the passage of the ship to the toilet. A slight tropical wind coming from the ocean made him think that he could smell the sea. He decided to look forward to the awakening new day and go to the aft deck. They’d be arriving in Curacao soon. He could rest there.

A large, round full moon shone towards him on the aft deck. The round, yellow moon reminded him of a large Dutch cheese that had not yet been cut. Johny lit a cigarette and looked at the sea, which was illuminated by the moon. Quietly he could hear the waves ripple. Every now and then a tide turned into a foaming white roll. He was overcome with melancholy. He felt embraced by the tropics, which he did not yet know. He moved slowly from the aft deck one floor up where the swimming pool was. Johny ran past it towards the midship and then to starboard. He sucked on his cigarette with short, puffing drags when suddenly a loud scream went through the ship.

A sailor yelled, “Bravo, bravo” across the deck. Other sailors running port joined this cry and also shouted “Bravo, bravo.”

The code for “man overboard” had been heard all over the ship. The ship’s alarm sounded, and some sailors let lifeboats down. Others made big headlights shine. The sea was suddenly bathed in daylight. It took at least four hours until sunrise. Everyone had to go to the cabins. Johny had to leave the deck. He wondered what had happened.

The news spread like wildfire.

A man with a violin in his hand had jumped overboard at Bon Air, near Kralendijk Bay, 70 nautical miles from Curacao. When the alarm broke, the captain came running up to the bridge in his pajamas to give his orders. The sailors launched lifeboats. The machines ran backward at full power. When the side doors on the middle deck were opened, an indescribable noise broke out. Signal rockets and flare ammunition were fired into the sky. The sea turned into an arena illuminated in a ghostly red. Divers and lifeguards were active. The ship would have arrived in Willemstad in about two and a half hours as planned, but the tragic accident delayed everything. The sailors searched for three hours with their lifeboats for the lost man.

When the night began to give way to the day and was almost sunrise, the captain decided to stop the search. The gong for breakfast echoed through the corridors of the ship. The ocean liner was back in full swing. The breakfast room was wrapped in embarrassing silence. On the boat, the news spread of the violinist’s jump into the sea. Johny was shocked. He crowded between the individual queues in front of the dining room to get to the cabin of Chaim. Who was the violinist who jumped into the sea? Not Chaim, is it? There were other violinists on the ship, such as those from the Salon Orchestra. Johny had a terrible premonition in his stomach and hurried to the upper deck, to the cabin of Chaim, which was one of the expensive accommodations.

A sailor standing in front of the cabin denied Johny entry. The sailor asked him who he was and what he wanted. Now Johny knew what was going on. He stopped for a moment in front of Chaim’s cabin without moving. Silently, he looked the sailor straight in the eye. He kept looking and didn’t move. Didn’t say a word. His heart pounded. For Johny, the uncertainty was suddenly a sad certainty. Even more significant than his courage on the battlefield was his fear of the truth. Male voices penetrated from the inside of the cabin to the outside. All doubts were removed now since the word fragments coming from the inside of the closed cabin could not be more precise. It was Chaim who had jumped overboard. Johny thought for a moment about asking for an officer. He wanted to give the Stradivarius back and get the violin back from Sepp. Suddenly everything became clear. Chaim had jumped into the sea with Johny’s violin. It was Chaim and no one else, there was no doubt about it anymore. Johny shuddered at the thought of giving up his Stradivarius and entering Curacao without a violin. Johny was sure that he would never live a life without a violin again. He was now the owner of a valuable Stradivarius, but that didn’t fill him with joy for a second.

Arrival in Curacao

Johny’s arrival in Curacao felt like the terrible dream of a sleepwalker. Although he had landed safely in his new homeland, there was no real joy in him. He almost left the ship apathetically and was ready to endure anything. Holding his Dutch passport in his hand, he followed the sign “Dutch citizens” to queue at the passport control. A Dutch civil servant let him into the country in Willemstad without questioning him. Johny had now easily passed the acid test for the authenticity of his passport. The word “bedankt” was the only Dutch word he knew. It came convincingly honestly over his lips. In gratitude, Johny remembered the American officer who had given him the passport and whispered a quiet “Thank you Mac” into himself. At a steady pace, he could now begin a new life in Curacao, alone, without his family, whom he had lost in Halle.

Johny went through the immigration control exit into the arrival hall and met a crowd. It seemed they were expecting arriving passengers. There was also a group of Jews among them. The men with beards wore kippa on their heads, while the women wore long skirts and headscarves. They seemed to be waiting for someone in particular. Johny ran past them when suddenly a man from their ranks came towards him. Looking at the violin case, he asked in Yiddish if he knew Chaim Goldberg, the violin player. Johny stopped in amazement. In clear German, he replied: “Who are you? Family? The Chaim is dead. He fell into the sea.” The man yelled at Johny, “Is he crazy. A Mashugana?” All scared. Immediately, one of the men from the group ran to the quay to gain access to the ship. The group surrounded Johny. Each of them wanted to know something different from him. They all talked and looked at each other in disbelief of this terrible news. They gestured incomprehensibly and asked something again and again. Johny didn’t know what to say anymore.

The exotic atmosphere of the Caribbean spread all over the harbor. Each of the passengers was surprised and fascinated when they arrived, but Johny didn’t even notice anything around him anymore. He had no view of the beautiful colorful colonial houses on the other side of the harbor basin, nor of the Queen Emma Bridge with its elegant, elongated arches. What seemed so obvious, he didn’t notice. He did not see the native black women carrying banana trees on their heads. The Indians, mulattoes and Venezuelan vegetable traders interested him as little as the so-called floating market, where pineapples, papayas, mangos, and tropical vegetables were traded. Most of it comes from the neighboring islands and from the mainland, as hardly anything grows on Curacao. Milk and cereals are also imported. Johny hadn’t noticed any of this when he arrived. Chaim’s relatives surrounded him and pressed him with questions he could not answer. Exhausted and with glassy eyes he stood silently in front of them.

Johny had just decided to start a new life and turn his back on the past and the terrible event on the ship. Now he stood in the midst of the extended Jewish family mourning Chaim Goldberg. Still, on the quay, the women clearly expressed their sorrow. They cried loudly and heartbreakingly. Full of incomprehension about what had happened, the men bit their lips and knocked their fists against their heads. They were apparently relatives of Chaim’s. The man who had gone into the ship came out after an hour. Johny didn’t understand a word of what everyone was talking about in Yiddish. The man pulled Johny over and said to him, “You’re coming with me.” The men invited Johny to come home with them. Johny was allowed to move into a small room there. He had to tell again and again throughout the evening what had happened on the ship and what he knew about Chaim’s death.

Johny lived in Willemstad with the Goldbergs for a whole month. He learned that the family from Italy had settled here since the 17th century. In daily conversations, they told Johny that Chaim was considered one of the best concert violinists in the world. He wanted to travel to New York to accept an engagement as Concertino. Chaim was interned in a German concentration camp. There his whole family died in the gas chambers. When Johny heard that, he was miserable. He was glad that on paper he was no longer a German citizen. That didn’t seem to interest the Goldbergs at all. Johny got everything he needed from them. Only the criterion of her relative, who had found his last friend in the young violinist, counted for them. This was ultimately the reason for Chaim’s family to accept Johny as trusting.

It was not difficult for young Johny to settle in on the tropical island. Everything was well organized and clean. The day by day things worked perfectly. Johny was pleasantly surprised. In him, new joy and hope germinated. His future proved to be better after only one month after he had arrived.

Chaim’s family knew every corner of the island and went to a lot of trouble with Johny. They were able to familiarize their guest with the Curacao music scene in a short time. On the “Riba Dempel,” the market place of Willemstadt, Johny heard the different folk and dance music of the islanders live for the first time. The rhythm of the Caribbean sounds fascinated him. From now on this sound should always accompany him in his musical career. However, this rhythm was only put into the cradle of the natives. Studied-educated musicians of Anglo-Saxon origin could just rarely rehearse it properly. Even though Johny knew ¾ beat, 6/8 beat, rhythm, long and short duration, musical form, abstract grid, structure, metro, and tempo, it had nothing to do with what the talented local musicians present. Immediately such performances went into the blood under the open Caribbean sky. Anyone who didn’t start dancing or at least wiggled his hips a little could not have a heart in his body.

He now found himself on the Riba Temple almost daily, listening to the sounds of the sextet and trios, who gave the people on the street a lot of pleasure with their instruments. The ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao were famous for this. The unique sound was not only produced by conventional instruments such as trumpet, guitar, double bass, and trombone, but also by African drums. The conga divided into different keys as a kind of drum. Tumbadora, Tumba and Quinto were also fascinating. Clave was a wooden bowl with a unique sound. The metal bell sounded shrill. Given the musical instruments of African origin, Johny quickly realized that he could not make any progress with his concert training here. He still felt well, because the music was the most beautiful thing in the world for him.

One late afternoon on the weekend he met a Dutchman in the middle of Riba Dempel Plaza who spoke excellent German. The older gentleman was the orchestra leader at the Willemstad Casino. He was born in Scheveningen and came to the island through the turmoil of war. He had to resign his post in the Scheveningen orchestra when the Nazis invaded Holland. For him, Curacao seemed to be the best way to abseil. The two musicians got into a conversation over an Amstel beer in a café on the Plaza. Everything else was quickly settled because after all, professionals recognize each other in no time at all by the smell of their origin. Less than two hours later, Johny was signed to the Casino Orchestra of Curacao.

A better life had now begun for Johny. He was earning money again regularly in the casino, which was not little. He also felt the joy of the casino visitors through tips, he received. Already during the war, Johny had experienced the easy life in an officer casino for a while. Now it had become his everyday life again. Most of the time his work in the orchestra started at 07:00 p.m. in the evening and ended at 02:00 a.m. in the morning. He was now able to rent a whole floor of a colorful colonial house furnished for himself in the district of Punda. During the day he stayed home resting. He was single and had no obligations. The money was perfectly enough for him. At the end of the month, he was even able to save some money.

Longing for Family.

But only rarely young men from the entertainment industry are thrifty. The Shell Oil Company set up a brothel not far from the casino for the Dutch employees of the petroleum refineries. Johny found himself there more and more often. After leaving the casino tipsy at 02:00 in the morning, he took a taxi to Campo Alegre, the largest brothel in the Caribbean. Hundreds of young women from Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries sold their bodies there. The young women were mostly left behind pregnant and disappointed by the first love of their lives. For them, there was now no other way out than to prostitute themselves. Johny didn’t like that. But he was young, stormy and single. The family he so longed for didn’t exist for him. Campo Alegre was, therefore, a welcome opportunity for him to let go of his frustration. The South American prostitutes were entirely different from those in Europe. They were friendly and smiling. Money was discussed only after and not before the act. The women presented themselves as a chance acquaintance from next door, at the bar of the nearby pub, so spontaneous and sympathetic. They were always charming and gave the impression that they had fallen head over heels in love with the man who was only one of many clients. Hardly any man could resist.

The young prostitutes in Campo Alegre became aware of him through Johnys regular visits. The German was happy to leave big tips and soon became one of the most sought-after customers in the brothel. He was generous by nature and always left behind a good bill. Immediately he paid without hesitation. So everyone wanted to spend the night with Johny.

All the young women in the camp liked to throw themselves at the young violinist’s neck. But one of them ignored him. It was she, of all people, who exerted a special attraction on Johny. Her name was Fernanda, and she was from Barranquilla, Colombia. Johny had already spent the night with Fernanda several times. The next morning she poured her head every time he had to pay the bill. Then she snidely said, “Keep your money.” Her pretty head turned into an offensive gesture. With the words “I’m not a hooker” she insisted. He was only allowed to pay for the drinks. She gave him the service she was there for, for nothing. But that wasn’t the reason why Johny just ended up in bed with Fernanda when he came to the brothel. Fernanda had something irresistible that robbed his mind as soon as he saw her. He had to think long and hard about it. Why did she and no one else fascinate him so much? Fernanda had a strong zest for life, charisma, and charm. She was humane, understanding and warm-hearted. She wasn’t one of those dress-up whores who giggled about everything, joking all the time, spread a mood-make mood just laughing all the time, while in reality only wanting to gut her suitors like a Christmas goose. About thirty, Fernanda wasn’t the youngest anymore. She had black hair and gorgeous bright eyes that reminded him of shiny black marbles. Her height was medium in size. The smile not as artificial as that of the other women in the camp, but natural and charming. It had to be congenital. Behind her smooth, wrinkleless face, however, suffering was also visible. But Fernanda wouldn’t talk about such things. For Johny, she was a strong woman.

As the year drew to a close and Christmas was approaching, Johny appeared with a Christmas present at the gate of Campo Alegre a few days before Christmas Eve. He got out of the cab and ran to Fernanda’s shelter. Already from a distance, he saw another woman sitting at Fernanda’s door. In his sparse Spanish, which he had learned from Fernanda, he asked: “Donde esta Fernanda?” The woman sniffily answered, “Se fue – she’s gone.” Annoyed, she continued: “Quiere entrar o no.” Johny stopped for a moment and became speechless. He dropped the gift wrapped in Christmas paper out of his hand. The news hit him so badly, he was shocked and turned around, went straight to the bar in the center of the camp and ordered a double whiskey. Frustrated to death, he poured the whiskey into himself in a matter of seconds. He ordered the next double whiskey and sat down at a table to put his thoughts in order. What had happened?

Johny had fallen head over heels in love with Fernanda. The addiction for her overcame him like an insidious disease and consumed him where she was no longer there. Johny was not a blank page. He had left the war behind, was almost thirty, and could now lead a more privileged life than most of his contemporaries. An orchestra leader in the casino at the front line during the war once told him that in the entertainment industry people drink, dance and whore. That’s what happened. He completely lost control of himself for today and the holidays ahead. He couldn’t think clearly until January. His life consisted only of working in the orchestra, drinking and regaining strength shortly before he returned home. Play, booze, play, booze. Keep it up, no end.

How Johny finally found his path to Colombia and settled there for the rest of his life, that, dear readers, you will learn next month in the issue of PonderingTime under the focus “Paths.”