Mon 30 Nov 2009
Years ago I read that more than half the citizens of Great Britain had spoken with Queen Elizabeth in their dreams. The only US leader I ever spoke with in mine was presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, and that happened exactly once more than 40 years ago.
So I was quite surprised Friday morning when I awoke from a dream in which I’d been pleasantly chatting with Vladimir Putin.
Not only that, the Russian prime minister and I were bunking together in some sort of camp where he was receiving advanced training in providing his own security.
I have no recollection as to why I was there.
Putin asked my opinion regarding what type of crime he should be concerned about in the area around the camp, and I suggested muggings and the like.
In retrospect, it was an odd question coming from from a former KGB agent.
Odder yet were some of the measures Putin took to safeguard himself.
When we first moved into our quarters, he used a disinfectant to scrub down the entire bathroom we would share.
The dream prompted me to check some biographies of Putin, and one of the more striking discoveries I made is how little his look has changed since boyhood.
He had already developed his cold, half-lidded gaze before he was out of school.
Interesting aside: Although Putin’s father was active in the Communist Party and a devout atheist, Putin’s mother had him secretly christened in the Russian Orthodox Church and regularly slipped away with him to attend services. For much of his life, Putin has worn a cross around his neck.
None of this, however, explained what was going on in my life that caused me to encounter Putin in my dream. The only nighttime occurrence out of the ordinary had been coyotes howling outside my window every single night for several days. And then it occurred to me: that might be it.
When a coyote showed up in my field Saturday afternoon, I photographed it and immediately noticed how similar its gaze was to Putin’s.
As it happened, the Nov. 16 New Yorker carried a lengthy article on dreams and how to cure recurring nightmares. In England as late as the 19th century, nightmares were often considered demonic in one way or another, correspondent Margaret Talbot writes.
Many cultures have believed (several still do) that highly attractive demons can afflict sleeping people by engaging them in sex to the point of exhaustion. In the English-speaking world, a female demon who seduced a man in his sleep was a succubus while a male demon who seduced a woman in hers was an incubus.
“The image of the nightmare as an incubus [or succubus] — a demon hovering over, or straddling, a recumbent figure — invoked both the helplessness of the sleeper and his or her vulnerability to rapacious sex,” Talbot explains.
A few months ago I heard an old recording of Dancing in the Street by the Motown group Martha and the Vandellas.
Curious as to when the song was recorded, I went online and found it was 1964. More interesting, however, was the origin of the name Vandella.
It turns out Martha Reeves took the “Van” part from Van Dyke Street, which was in her Detroit neighborhood, and “della” from singer Della Reese, whom she admired. No doubt unknown to Martha at the time, it also turns out some people in Ethiopia to this very day worry about a type of succubi called vandella.
As for me, I’d rather have some beautiful demon than Vladimir Putin show up while I’m asleep — despite the risk of exhaustion.
On the other hand, I’d rather bunk with Putin than a coyote.