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Between Strangers

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, the "Behind The Curtain" episode. My name is Glynn Washington. And Silvana de Faria - she thought she had it all, until one fateful day when a conversation with a stranger changed everything. SNAP JUDGMENT.

NANCY LOPEZ, BYLINE: It was the fall of 1990, Paris, France. A huge storm was raging, and Silvana, who lived on the outskirts of the city, rushed to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport in time. Her parents were flying in from Brazil, and she didn't want to, as usual, be late. When she finally gets there, the airport is packed with stranded people.

SILVANA DE FARIA: I look for a place to sit, and I found an empty chair. And I sat, and I saw this man. I just said, bonjour. And he smiled. And I remember, I looked to him (laughter) - to his teeth because I'm obsessed with teeth. I thought, wow, he has wonderful teeth. He has manicured nails. He must love himself, and I love people who love themselves. He looked like a gentleman - that's it. He looked like a gentleman.

LOPEZ: The man was a mature gentleman, probably in his early 60s. And he was staring at Silvana.

DE FARIA: And I looked at him, and I say, why are you staring at me? Oh, I'm not. I say, you are. And I thought, oh, Silvana, stop. And he said, no, no, I'm just - where are you from? The first thing he asked me. And I said, and, you, where are you from? And he said, I'm from Colombia. Wow, you are neighbors. I'm from Brazil. What are you doing in Paris? And he said, oh, I'm a journalist. And you? So I didn't want to tell I was an actress. So at the beginning, I started to say, oh, I'm here to wait for my parents.

I noticed he was staring at me. I didn't like it in the beginning - I just say, why he's staring at me? He was paying attention to me in a certain way I - at the first second, I didn't feel comfortable. He was looking to my shoes, my legs, my hands. I just told him, look, I'm not a prostitute. He say, why you say that? I didn't say you were. I tell something. If someone to say you're Brazilian, they think you're a travesti; they think you're a prostitute. And he said, I didn't think that at all. And I say, yeah, I think you did because I can read your thoughts. And he started to laugh. And then I felt more comfortable.

LOPEZ: The man asked Silvana if she'd seen any good films lately. Actually, she just watched one based on a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She was the only person in the movie theater.

DE FARIA: It's absolutely horrible film. And he looked at me and said, why did you not like? I said, I hate it. I didn't read the book - I said, I didn't read the novel, but, you know, it's very hard to do adaptation from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The guy must be a genius to have a film done by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And he was looking at me, you know? And I'm talking, talking, talking about the ties, about the film, about what I like, what I didn't like.

LOPEZ: She noticed the man kind of taken aback by her comments. But his interest in her only seem to grow.

DE FARIA: I open my bag, and I say, look, it's my pill time now. Do you want to take a pill (laughter)? He say, no, no, no, what is this about? And I say, look, I had a car accident long - you know, in the beginning of the year.

LOPEZ: It was a near-fatal accident, she told him. For months, she couldn't step inside a car out of fear and then ended up in a therapist's office. Turning to the stranger, she pointed to each little tablet in her pillbox.

DE FARIA: This one is to sleep. This one is to wake up. This one is to have a poo. This one is to not have a poo. This one is to make love. This one is to not make love. This one is to not miss Brazil. This one is when I want to miss Brazil. I have a pill for everything. And he was laughing. He was nearly in tears. So do you think I'm crazy? And he said, no, no, no, I don't think you're crazy. No, no. Carry on, carry on. Why do you take pills? And I said, 'cause I love them. And I told him, look, I have so many stories that you can write a book, and he laughed, too.

LOPEZ: Silvana told him that when she was 22, she bought a one-way ticket to Paris - her dream, to become a history professor, but it got too expensive to study so she took to modeling and acting.

DE FARIA: I just say the truth - I say, look, I am living a dream, a dream, a dream, but I am just the girl who came from the Amazon and I'm here. It was quite a loss of identity. He said, are you happy here? And I just know, and I say, look, the only way to stay in this country is if you are in love. And he said, with France? And I said, no, of course not only France, with a man, of course a man. I fell in love at first sight, and this is the only reason why I stay in Paris. It's the only way because sometimes it's hard.

LOPEZ: She told him about her passionate yet turbulent relationship with her fiance, this French film director. He recently gave her a parrot named Antoine, you know, so she wouldn't miss Brazil so much.

DE FARIA: (Laughter) I started to laugh, I say, Can you believe, a parrot in a cage? But, of course, I never leave the parrot in the cage. I opened the cage so he [bleep] everywhere (laughter) making my partner crazy because the parrot goes and starting to bite the furniture. And during the night, my partner arrived - he puts it in the cage.

And I have friends - I have a few friends I kept it from when I was students. And when they visit me, especially one of them, says, Silvana, you see Antoine, the parrot? It's you inside the cage. You live, like, in a golden cage. And I told him that I think I need to cry. He said, you're sad. I said, no, I'm not sad. How can I be sad? I'm very happy (laughter). I tried my best to show him I was happy, but I was not.

I was very emotional, and I was really thinking about what I was saying. And then I felt him very close to me. It's like we forgot time, we forgot the place where we were. It was very intense. But there was a moment I felt curious why he wants to know about me. So what he want from me? I'm no one. I'm nobody. But I look at him and I said, it's funny. I have a feeling I know this man - it was me now who started to stare at him (laughter). And he was embarrassed. And he say, why are you looking? And I look and say, I know you. I know you. Shhh, quiet, why are you screaming? What? What are you talking about? You are Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

And I stand up to leave. And he stopped me - he said, where you going? Where you going? I said, I'm leaving you. And he said, why? Because you lied to me. He said, no, I didn't lie. You didn't tell me who you were, and I know you are because my mom gave me "Love In The Times Of Cholera." And there's a picture of you in the back. It's you.

I felt betrayed. I felt, why didn't he tell me it was him? I spent my whole day talking to him. He asked me a hundred questions. I was angry. And it's crazy, but at that moment that happened my parents were coming. I saw my mom. And he hold me - he was literally holding my arm. And I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do. And I said, goodbye. He looked straight away in my eyes - into my eyes. He looked at me. He said, for you, I'm Gabo. And he wrote down his name, his address. You lied to me. How can I be sure this is your address? Maybe it's a fake address. Please write me. I want you to write me, please.

So I look at him and said, only if you write me a story. And then I said, no - I cannot take a piece of him like that. He's Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for God's sakes. And he told me, yes, I will. And I said, I have to go. I wanted to go. I wanted to disappear. So I walked towards my parents. And I was near at the gate, I hugged him. He came towards me again, and he said, I don't know your name. You are never going to know my name. Did you tell me yours? When I read that Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away, the first reaction I had was tears because I felt so sad.

LOPEZ: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning author, passed away recently. He was 87. Silvana, now a grandmother living in London, still holds onto the piece of paper with this address and phone number.

DE FARIA: I never called him. Why? Why I never call him? I think I wanted - I had intention, but something stopped me. I think I was scared to call him.

LOPEZ: Silvana started poking around the Internet to see if she could find a photo of him from that time long ago.

DE FARIA: And what I found was the story - the novel "Sleeping Beauty And The Airplane." I was curious, and I printed and I read in French, English, Portuguese. And I couldn't believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) She was dressed with subtle taste, a lynx jacket, a raw silk blouse with delicate flowers, natural linen trousers and shoes with a narrow stripe the color of bougainvillea.

DE FARIA: He described her wearing a silk top and a leather jacket. He described exactly the clothes I was wearing. It's too much coincidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) She placed a cosmetics case with copper corners, like a grandmother's trunk on her lap. And took two golden pills from a box that contained others of various colors.

DE FARIA: So I go further. I read, and he talks about love at first sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) By way of an excuse, I asked her if she believed in love at first sight. Of course, she said, the other kinds are impossible.

DE FARIA: It was like a flashback, and little by little, I was very moved. I just felt like he was just next to me. It's very odd. I just felt him talking.

LOPEZ: But it's fiction. Marquez changes the story. He and the beautiful woman never exchange a word. They simply sit next to each other on a red-eye to New York. She sleeps the whole way, and he sits by, willing her to wake up so they can talk. When she finally does, it's too late. The plane has landed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Then she put on her lynx jacket, almost stepped over me with a conventional excuse in pure Latin American Spanish, left without even saying goodbye. And disappeared into...

DE FARIA: (Reading) Into the sun of today in the Amazon jungle of New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) ... Of New York.

DE FARIA: I was lost. I just cried.

WASHINGTON: Thank you, Silvana, for sharing your story. For more details about that day and everything else Silvana and Marquez chatted about, check out Nicholas Shakespeare's Newsweek article from our website snapjudgment.org. That story was produced by Nancy Lopez with sound design by Pat Mesiti-Miller.

Don't be sad. Full episodes of SNAP are available for you right now. Subscribe to the podcast, snap judgment.org. Join us on Facebook, on Twitter, Stitcher, SoundCloud, iTunes, Android - get it your way.

Did you ever play that game spin the bottle with a bunch of super-attractive people? Well, not to fear. Neither did the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but much love to the CPB. PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, tried to play spin the public radio, but only the freaky people showed up - prx.org. WBEZ in Chicago, also known as the freaky people, and this is not the news. No way is this the news. In fact, you could go backstage at the Prince concert - have the purple one sing "Darling Nikki" just for you - accidentally say, thanks Rick James, and you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.