Thursday, July 13, 2006

Eighth Grade

OSR, Via Cassia

I was flying around in Google Earth again yesterday, looking at old haunts. The Overseas School of Rome (OSR), 811 Via Cassia, looks much as it did, from high up anyway. I thrived in that school, in that city.

I couldn't find Galeria, the hidden ghost town (emptied by the plague) I used to play in, near Lake Bracciano, where we once camped lakeside 24/7 for awhile (borrowed a sail boat), having given up the city apartment (Urners in transition).

In eighth grade, my last at OSR, two positive developments stand out: Dr. Gilespie, an MD but without a license to practice in Italy, taught our biology class instead, as if this were like medical school (way cool to learn bio from a real doctor, though hard on those prone to hypochondria); and Paul Henderson showed up (he was a part of that bio class).

Paul's dad had been managing a game park in Nigeria, and had now come to Rome, world headquarters for the FAO. Paul was this deep-voiced, muscular kid, who'd left a pet python behind, and knew how to snap his fingers real loud. He was an instant sensation, plus his family joined our Quaker meeting. His sister was likewise a bombshell.

Mom had been our cub scout den mother, though we were transitioning to Hayden Dunn's dad for weblos. I can't remember if Paul joined our company (Mahlon, Joe, Kijoon...). Joe's mom and Mr. Dunn actually ended up getting married. Joe was from Texas, Beaumont, as I recall.

That summer, my parents headed an AFSC work camp in Ramallah, a town near Jerusalem. The idea was to get an international cast (some through Beirut) mixing with local Palestinians, and having some "hard fun" together, blasting this community swimming pool out of solid rock.

Then we moved to a kibbutz near Bethlehem and listened to guest speakers from the Knesset and so on. This was 1972 (at the time of Fischer vs. Spassky) and the situation hadn't yet deteriorated to the point it has now. Even then, it was hard to get Israelis and Palestinians to do anything fun together, and only the internationals were able to immerse themselves in both camps.

For a 14 year old, this was all very educational, plus breaking those rocks with a sledge hammer, wheel-barrowing them to a discard pile, eating goat, ice cream at Rukab's, had made me more muscular, like Paul.

Another Paul story: we were walking along Viale Parioli one day, with Trisha-the-dog, when a car slammed into another one and flipped over, right near us. I stood dumbfounded, slowly processing what had just happened. Paul, on the other hand, shouted "hold this!" (the dog's leash) and immediately ran to the flipped car, to see if he might be of assistance. I was thinking "wow, and he's only in eighth grade."

I've lost touch with Paul. Mahlon phoned me some years ago, now with American Express. I flew over Ramallah this morning, looking for the swimming pool, but couldn't get my bearings. I never saw it finished. By the start of 9th grade, I was in Bradenton, Florida at Southeast High, with the Philippines soon to follow.