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ROHN AND RUDI OFF TO AFRICA
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OUR NEW MOVIE CAMERA
only as good as your word.”
I think that’s how the saying goes.
The CEO over at the Vespa place said he’d “take care of us”
if we got the motor scooter on to the Lisbon TV show. Mission accomplished.
Now I wanted to see if he would live up to what he told us.
Before we left Lisbon, we decided to drop in there. Lavinia promised she’d
have lunch for us when we returned.
The receptionist asked, “Do you have an appointment?” And
then she looked again, “Oh, you’re the two who were on television
Saturday night. Just a minute.” She disappeared into the CEO’s
office, “You both can come right in.” She smiled.
“Let me do the
talking,” I whispered to Rudi. I repeated it. ‘I’ll
do the talking.’
The director was waiting for us. He had his arms all folded and sitting
back in his fat office chair.
“And how did you like our program Saturday night ?” I asked
the director as he pulled out another cigar and lighted it.
“Sorry, I didn’t get to catch it, but my assistant told me
it was good.”
“Fine,” I said, and shut up. We both shifted on our feet and
looked for a response.
He paused a while, probably trying to think of something diplomatic to
say, and then came out with, “Well, how much would you like for
I had already prepared an answer. I shot out, “14,000
escudos, sir.” (That’s about five hundred dollars.)
“What!” he said, nearly flying out of his seat, “14,000
I figured if he didn’t like it, he could always come down. If I
told him something modest, businessmen like this guy are never charitable
and never ask you if you want more. He stared at me and then got on the
phone. He talked with someone in Portuguese for a few minutes.
When someone speaks in a language you don’t understand, and it’s
about you, I find that very uncomfortable. But I guess that was his strategy.
He wanted to make me uncomfortable. When he put down the phone he gruffly
said, “There’s a check for 7,000 escudos waiting for you down
at the cashier’s office. That’s the best I can do.”
We tried to look a little hurt, but we nearly did a jig all the way down
to the cashier’s window.
“There you are boys, a check for 7,000 escudos. Good work!”
The bespectacled man behind the bars gave us a rubber band smile.
“Let’s buy Carlos and Lavinia a present,” Rudi
said as we got out into the street.
“I was just thinking of that!” I answered, and we buzzed off
to a department store downtown.
Just like in Germany and the
USA, Lisbon had these big ‘ol department stores with creaky floors
and a variety of sales gals ranging from super good-looking chics to librarian-looking
grandmothers. We wandered around the huge place trying to figure out what
to buy as we marched through floor after floor. Rudi was more interested
in consulting with the sales girl at the lingerie counter than looking
for a present. Then he shouted to me and pointed with his thumb, “Hey,
Engh, how ‘bout that?” He pointed to a lady that could have
been his Aunt Hildegard. It dawned on me he was talking about what she
was carrying, not the woman herself. It was a framed picture.
it !” I shouted, causing some of the sales girls to stare
at us. “Let’s get them two reproductions of paintings, one
of America and one of Germany.” The lingerie gal told us where we
could find all kinds of pictures framed ready for hanging.
“Yeah! That’s a good one!” Rudi approved a middle-sized
watercolor of the Bavarian Alps, and I found an oil reproduction of a
Chesapeake Bay fisherman and his boat. “Wrap ‘em up real pretty!”
Rudi smiled to the sales girl and got her to put a fancy ribbon on each
As we were about to leave the department store, Rudi spotted something
that made him stop suddenly. “Here it is!”
He said pointing to a counter, and motioning to me as though he had previously
talked with me about the movie camera he was pointing to. “Here
it is, the 8 millimeter!” and he held it up examining it. “It’s
on sale, too!” What’d ya say, shall we buy it ?
“Get what ?”
“Get this movie camera. I thought I talked with you about it!”
“ You didn’t say a thing to me .”
Whenever Rudi had an idea, he was usually a long time in bringing it out.
I guess because he wanted it to be a good one. He would sometimes spend
days in refining his plan or his idea, in typical European fashion, and
then later let me know about it. This time he had thought much about it,
but never expressed it to me.
“I’ve been thinking
about this for days, Rudi said. I thought if we were able to earn any
money here in Lisbon, we should buy a movie camera and some film, and
start filming our trip.”
That surprised me.
Rudi was a real skinflint. He never wanted to buy anything. He was the
most miserly guy I had never known. If he could get something for free,
or some other way, short of stealing, he would do it.
And that was a really good thing about Rudi, I never saw him once steal
something. If he couldn’t get it some other way, he did without.
It sounded pretty good to me. If we hadn’t had
the nerve to appear on television in the first place, we never would have
had the money. And filming our travels seemed like a good idea. We’d
always have something to remember it by.
“It’s a great idea, Rudi! Let’s get it. How much does
“It’s on sale, and only 2,000 escudos. That’ll leave
us money to buy film.” And he signaled for a salesman to come over
to us. In a half hour, we left the store with a Keystone 8mm movie camera,
fifteen rolls of Kodak film, and a fifteen-minute course in cinemaphotography
from the sales guy, who by the way, spoke very good English.
“So, do you think you can take pictures with that thing? I asked
“Sure!” he answered. “Besides, you’re always taking
photographs with your Rolleicord camera, and this will give me something
And thus began the
accumulation of our worldly things.
This trip was making me realize what a drag it was to have worldly possessions.
I figured once a person reaches a point that his possessions get the better
of him, then other things begin to go bad –like his mission or his
art or whatever. I heard that when Pope Pius XII died they put all of
his possessions in one suitcase. He’s always been an example for
me when it comes to owning things. But it’s a fight. I find it hard
to throw anything away. And when you live in a society like ours, the
hucksters are always encouraging you to own more. Garages are so full
of junk you can’t drive your car in. I guess in the future when
people build a house, they’ll build a garage for their car and another
garage for their junk.
That’s one of the things I remember well from this trip. We were
able to get along on just a minimum of things.
“Farewell! Lavinia and Carlos!” we said, each of us handing
them a painting.
“What’s this all about ?” Carlos said, tearing the fancy
“So you’ll remember us.” Rudi smiled, hoping Carlos
would approve of our choices.
“They’re beautiful!” Lavinia said, all attired in her
kitchen apron. She excitedly ran around the table and gave us each a kiss.
“How does this look?” Carlos asked us. Stretching up against
the wall to hold the painting in a good position.
“Oh! its going to look wonderful,” Lavinia smiled
“You really shouldn’t have done that,” Carlos said,
“Now you’ll always remember us,” I said.
“Oh, how could we ever forget you?” Lavinia sighed, as if
ready to cry.
A knock on the door and several friends from the Vespa club burst it.
“We came to bid you farewell!” They greeted us.
Lavinia had prepared an immense buffet lunch and had invited most everyone
we knew in Lisbon. Rudi and I tried to prolong our stay by eating slowly.
“Eat a big meal” Carols laughed. “You might
have to eat monkeys and lions in Africa!”
Lavinia didn’t say much during the meal. She hurried around her
guests making sure they were served, and paid particular attention to
Rudi and me, glancing sadly at us now and then. Near the end of the lunch
she and Carlos were nowhere to be found; we hesitated a few a moments,
wondering if we should begin saying goodbye to our friends. Then Carlos
emerged from the bedroom, looking a little amused, and yet a little sad.
He said in a low voice to us, “ It’s Lavinia, she
doesn’t want you to go.”
Rudi and I looked at each other.
“But we have to leave,” said Rudi
“I know”, Carlos said, “But you know how women are,
sentimental and all that. She’s in there crying.”
“Crying?” I asked.
“She just doesn’t want you to go.”
”Believe me, Carlos, we’d love to stay, and you and Lavinia
have been wonderful to us. We’re indebted to you. It’s really
hard for us to leave.” I said.
“I know, Rohn” he said. “We won’t really say goodbye.
I know we’ll see each other again.”
And then Lavinia came out of the bedroom, her eyes red, and a dainty handkerchief
in her hand, pretending only to herself that she hadn’t been crying.
“Rohn and Rudi,” she stammered, trying to keep from sobbing,
“Please come back and visit us,” and then she let
loose with a tiny hiccup, that caused Rudi and I, and Carlos,
and all the others, and finally herself, to burst out laughing. This was
our opportunity to say our goodbyes to Lavinia as she was smiling. We
each gave her a tender kiss, and headed downstairs to our packed Vespa..
As we went out into the street, Carlos handed me an envelope and said,
“I almost forgot.
I started to open the envelope and Carlos halted me, “Why don’t
you wait until you leave Portugal? It’ll be another nice
surprise for you.”
I agreed with him, and tucked it in my coat pocket.
I looked up once more to the apartment. Lavinia was watching from
her flower box window. I threw her a kiss, shook hands with Carlos
who threw his arms around each of us, wishing us God-speed, and then Rudi
started up the scooter. Amidst a shower of farewells, kisses, small presents
and tears, we left Lisbon with the sadness that true friendship often
On the southern outskirts we stopped for gasoline at a service station
on the outskirts of Lisbon. “ Lavinia and Carlos are wonderful people,
aren’t they?” I said to Rudi
He just nodded, feeling as melancholy as me.
I had completely forgotten the envelope tucked away in my coat
pocket, and I reached in and tore it open. There were two small
I opened the larger one, and read a note from Carlos and Lavinia.
“They shouldn’t have done that.” I said.
“What?” Rudi asked as I was opening the smaller envelope,
which contained money. “Carlos and Lavinia gave us two hundred escudos.
You know they can’t afford that!”
“They sure are nice people,” Rudi commented, examining a spark
plug and wiping it off.
“O.K., then,” Rudi said, “I’m going in the shop
to wash up, I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
We left Lisbon, sad yet happy, satisfied and yet not.
Lisbon had been good to us. One day we’ll return. As of this writing,
(June 1960) I’ve learned that Carlos and Lavinia now have a three-month
old baby daughter, and they’ve named her Paula Christina.
NEXT: The British Protectorate Called Gibraltar