Okay, so everyone who knows me knows that my personal favorite tenor belongs to Mario Frangoulis. But I do occasionally wander to the altars of other operatic masters – more often Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and Rebetiko singer Giorgos Dalaras.
So what’s this about Plácido Domingo?
Once in a while I experience a curious kind of migraine with halos, hallucinations, aphasia and synethesia. It is usually painless but quite freaky because although I am generally aware of my surroundings and can even be incredibly creative at this time, I can also be a little kooky.
The halos generally mean I have to limit movement because they get worse when I am on my feet and that can mean bruises in my shins and elbows the next day. Last time I walked right smack into the fridge.
The hallucinations are complicated. They can be linked to the synethesia. Those are the times I can see sounds. My musical skills are limited so I can barely read the notes on the songbook.
My brain has decided to visually interpret sounds according to decibel range and arrangement. Music in the soothing melodious range appears as warm hued waves. My usual preferential music is country, country rock, latin rock and Coffehouse rock – that appears as graphs with dark, solid colored waves. Loud cacophony displays as hot to white flashes that make me close my eyes.
The aphasia is usually frustrating, making it hard for me to say what I mean, or even to speak at all. But it can also be hilarious when it crosses over and links with the synethesia. One of my brilliant episodes was when I furiously announced the death of Colonel Gaddafi with ‘They killed Luciano Pavarotti.’ My family looked at me and someone asked, ‘Shit, again?’
My personal favorite was related to my octogenarian friend who died five years ago. I confided in him once that when he laughed I’d see Plácido Domingo performing Cyrano. Well, Khaled did look a little (very little) like Plácido Domingo.
Today, I was looking at these old books from Khaled’s library that had finally gotten to me. An old picture fell out and a symphony of colors burst in my mind – Khaled’s baritone laughter when I shared his dark humor, when he convinced me that admitting my flaws, my embarassing moments was one way to grow.
Whenever I went to visit him, I’d wait in a weird little hallway full of books. He’d come from wherever he’d come from and each time I could always hear him responding to his old lady assistant as she briefed him about something or other. He’d always find me trying to choose as many books as I could from the book case. I was the only one allowed to take more than one book a time.
For a brief second as he came around the corner, I would imagine him wearing lush regal purple robes in layers in the style of Arabian Nights. My fantasy – he called it when I told him about it. But he was the first to realise that I might have synethesia – that although it would come with debilitating migraines it could also be a gift.
When I was 14 years old, I told Khaled that I would never get married. He asked why not.
“Because boys are stupid and men are evil.”
“Ai, habibi, I am a man. So I am evil?”
“I am not a man? I can tell you, my dear, this is a fact I am very well aware. No doubt at all. I am a man. So what? I am evil?”
“No. I didn’t mean you. I meant-”
“But I am a man, habibi. I have my flaws, yes. I get angry very quickly. I used to work too hard, neglected my family, I was working when my beautiful girl died. But can you be absolutely sure that I am evil?”
“No. You can’t be evil. I wouldn’t love you if you were evil.”
“Really, habibi? What makes you think evil people cannot be loved? Even Hitler had Eva Braun.”
“Why are you confusing me? You know what I mean!”
“No, I do not know what you mean. Only you know what you mean. Now, I would like to think I am a good man, with flaws and some strengths. I think maybe even I am attractive.”
“Yes? You think I am attractive?” His green eyes twinkled and his old face creased even more when he grinned.
I flustered. He bellowed. Plácido Domingo. And in that moment I knew I was eternally doomed. They say women look for their fathers in future mates. This is a fact we had discussed before I got lost in a strange maze of evil versus love. I couldn’t look for my father. He was absent. Khaled had warned me that it was possible that I would go looking for unavailable men to match the absence of my father.
My doom – confirmed now- I look for men with brilliant minds, with incorrigible humour, with an unparalled love for books, strong men with the ability to stop and see if and where they have gone wrong, and then find a way to make it right, strong men who would accept the same qualities in a woman.
My synethesia – my Plácido Domingo went down to She’ol awhile back. I am still awaiting for his return.
That old man, he taught me, at a time when I was unsure, that relationships did not have to be exploitative. He taught me that I could truly love someone and admire them no matter their age, gender or creed. He taught me about respect, boundaries, personal strength even when the weaknesses abounded. He taught me about giving without expecting to receive, about giving back with whatever you had and with your whole heart.
The last time I saw Khaled – he had just been diagnosed with cancer. I knew he was dying. His family was taking him back home so he could die and be buried near his ancestors. I knew I would miss him incredibly – and I was right.
I hugged him, and heard his grown son sniff away tears from where he stood at the foot of his father’s bed.
I said, ‘I love you.’
He said, ‘Like Plácido Domingo?’
‘No, like my oldest bestest friend.’
‘Bestest is not a word, habibi. You must speak properly even when it is hard. And stand tall even when your back hurts. You walk away, you hear, you walk away if someone wants to be your poison. You walk away, and find love and happiness. It is hard, you will see. But you are going to find the way.”
I didn’t cry. I would cry a year later, and then every year on the anniversary I get the painless migraine. I bought a Plácido Domingo collection from a friend the other day. It helps.
NB. If for some reason you got to this point without figuring out that this article has nothing at all to do with Plácido Domingo, I can’t help you.