KLM Podcasts – Episode 4 – The Muse from Buenos Aires

KLM Podcasts – Episode 4 – The Muse from Buenos Aires


The trip to Argentina
changed my life in no uncertain terms. I started in Mexico and I went to Mexico …Colombia… …Peru… …Brazil… …Chile… …Argentina… I said I fell down
in Latin America. This is Todd Leeloy. He’s 48 beefy broad-shouldered handsome and a little weathered. His story starts back
in December of 1995. He was on a business trip
through Latin America working for a Fishing
Tackle Company. I sold rods and reels in Asia,
Africa and Latin America. That was my job. I was international
business manager for American Tackle company. By the time I
reached Argentina I was really tired. You know, we’d had about
five weeks of travel and I don’t really sleep well in a strange bed and so by the time
I reached Argentina I was tired but restless right and so I would wake up
in the middle of the night and not be able to sleep and so I go take a walk. A city at night is such
a different place and it’s when a
city is sleeping there are elements of its
character that you see that you don’t see in the daylight. Argentina is beautiful Buenos Aires is
particularly beautiful. The place has this dream like quality or melancholy quality right and it’s kind of surreal and some way
my heart just opened to the beauty
of the place. We had worked all day. I was having dinner by myself in this outdoor café across from the cemetery and…. this girl walked by she was a young
woman probably 19, 20 years old and she just had this really easy smile this.. beautiful smile and long, dark brown hair and she didn’t notice me. She just walked straight past but I noticed her. There was something
about her that was just really beautiful the people in Argentina are
beautiful in general but there was something about that young woman that really just struck me. She’s wearing like
black jeans and a T-Shirt with a bag over her shoulder. She just looked happy. She just had this big smile on her face and she was just walking. And how close did
you get to her? Well, not far. I mean I there was at this
little outdoor café and she just passed
on the street. So maybe 10, 15 feet. And all in all for the entire time
that you spotted her to the time that she
was out of view how much time passed? 30 seconds 15 seconds. Yeah, she just
walked right past. That was it? That was it. Now a young man
spotting a mysterious beautiful young woman on a balmy night
in a big city should have been momentary ephemeral and over. But that is not what happened. For Todd Leeloy this moment here in Buenos Aires defined the rest
of his life. This.. was the trip that changed everything. Hi, I’m Jonathan Groubert and this is The Journey. The Journey is an original podcast from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines where we meet
extraordinary people whose lives are transformed by travel. So, after finishing his dinner Todd goes back to his hotel. The next day he needed
to travel again. More meetings more appointments. But the image of
that girl passing by didn’t let him go. I couldn’t forget her like she would show up
as I traveled around. You know, we went from
one city to another city she just showed up
in my thoughts and my thoughts just kept
coming back to her. She just seemed to fit in that place so well like to really embody sort of the beauty
and the positive nature. The place was
so beautiful and she just fit right
into that and she had this optimistic happy feeling to her. You may have noticed Todd is a thinker. Maybe it’s more
accurate to call him a poetic soul: a person with a great capacity for fantasy and a rich inner life. The singular moment Todd laid eyes on that young woman was more than magical. More than sexual. She became his imaginary muse. A muse that opened his eyes to a new world and new beauty. Todd developed a passion for Argentina’s history and literature that
became nearly… insatiable. I didn’t really know
much about Argentina but when I left I started having dreams about her and so I just
started to read. I went to the bookstore and I just bought
books on Argentina. I started reading about
the history of the place and the art of the place and I read the writers and I read Neruda, I read Borges I read a number of southern writers and writers from the Andean Cone she just came into
focus for me as this vibrant beautiful ripe womanhood in this place and it was sort of
tinged by the darkness of the dictatorship and the ugliness that had
happened before that. In the 1970s and 80s Argentina was run by
a brutal military junta in which an estimated 30,000
people were picked up tortured and killed. They call these people simply: the disappeared. Despite the violence Argentina’s artistic life still flourished particularly the writers who embodied that
most South American of literary styles magic realism. Magic realism is a mystical and somewhat enigmatic form that was
both real and surreal. The more Todd read the more obsessed he became with Argentina’s history and probably more than anything its stories. And that image of
his Argentinian muse would not let him go. He even gave her a name Miranda. Three months after
I got back from Argentina every night the dreams
were in my head and the image of her wouldn’t
leave me alone and I was working but I was reading books and my day-to-day job of trying to get numbers and contracts and computer systems and stuff working just wasn’t satisfying anymore. Something inside of me is calling me to write and so that’s why I left my job and started writing. Devoting yourself to
something to which you have no actual
connection like that other than an extremely
attractive young woman who you saw in Argentina who you saw in some
kind of a fugue state. Right. Driving you to this what what the heck is going on here? I don’t know. I had listened to my head for a lot of my life and I tried to do
the practical thing the right thing. Worked hard and all of a sudden something spoke to me from inside
of my head inside of my
mind that said this path you are on isn’t
the right path for you. There is something.. else whether it’s this story
or another story what your life is
calling to you for or about is something different. It started with
the dreams. It started with seeing
her in dreams and in reading about the place and reading the literature and falling in love with the place through words. There was a beauty about it that numbers just don’t have. Putting together a good
business plan and you know making the
numbers work and driving profit are all good practical, smart things but there was a beauty that I hadn’t really witnessed before. Todd resigned his job and left a blossoming career behind. This was a drastic decision because he was on the cusp of achieving the career he’d worked
hard for his entire life. I was born in Trinidad and when I was about 8 we moved to Singapore and then we moved to Portland, Oregon when I was about 12 and I’ve lived all over the States. Todd was always a smart kid despite moving around a lot he breezed through school eventually getting an MBA
from Arizona’s prestigious Thunderbird School of
Global Management. It was practical you come to the States you know, as an immigrant you want to work really
hard to get ahead. I’d always painted and I wrote stories but it really felt like the practical smart thing to do was go to business school. I was good at numbers good at math, you know smart and so I thought okay, I will go do that. Immigrants in America generally want to make a better life for themselves. You are going to work really hard and you are going to have a piece of the American dream. Don’t listen to your heart listen to your head and do practical things. And “practical things” he did. Todd ended up at the
fishing tackle company and traveled the world. It was a good job with a steady income that delivered the
kind of security and career path any immigrant would wish for. It was all y’know okay. Until that one moment in Buenos Aires that turned everything upside down. Todd put all practical things like a job behind him and for the first
time in his life he started to follow his heart. I took a drive to
the Harvard library through a thunderstorm. I drove 15 hours from Memphis to
the Harvard library I got the Buenos Aires Herald on microphone which was the English
language newspaper and I read ten years of daily newspaper what was happening
during that period of the dictatorship and a story just kind of started to shape in my head that sort of centered around her. And so I wrote a story it took about a
year to write it called ‘The Disappeared’. In ‘The Disappeared’ Miranda is part of
a complex narrative in which a love story is entwined with Argentina’s history. And in keeping with
that spirit of magic realism Todd says that the story isn’t his. It was gifted to him… by his muse. There are things that happened to me in Argentina that opened my
eyes to a world that I didn’t know. I didn’t see. My heart was open
to something you know through The Girl in the Cemetery that I can’t there is no logical answer to right. There is no reason why the story that I wrote The Disappeared
should have been written by me. There is no reason why the images should
become dreams should become characters should take on a form that they did I don’t know if I have a psychic ability. I wouldn’t put it in those terms. I just know that I have very vivid, very lucid dreams and… being in Argentina and seeing the girl made me start to see
them more clearly. They call that traveler’s
trance, sometimes. So maybe it’s some
combination of being in that
traveler’s trance opened my heart and my mind to something but I would never be the
same like I would never feel comfortable with a life full of numbers. And so, Todd started writing. After one year his
manuscript was ready. And the result of this was… nothing unfortunately. I wrote the story. I tried really hard to pull it all together in a
way that’s commercial. It was a novel and then it became a screenplay but it was kind of incoherent. I wasn’t developed as a writer yet. You know I was
a business guy. I’ve struggled with becoming a writer. It was a painful confrontation
with his shortcomings. But Todd was still determined to develop his
story into something… big. He wanted to learn the craft of storytelling and leave ‘his life full
of numbers’ behind. So, Todd moved from Memphis to Los Angeles to become a professional storyteller. I came out west to
go to film school. I tried to develop myself as a writer after years of
being a business guy. I took directing
classes at UCLA. I made short films. I… I became obsessed with the
idea of telling the story. And I worked it for years to try to make sense
of all of the pieces because I had these flashes, these these images in my dreams. It felt like a fool’s errand for years I’ll be honest with you. And it’s full
of doubt. Why am I writing this? Why am I – am I going crazy? Why am I so
tied to this? While Todd’s stories
may appear to him in his dreams he found he had to deal with more down-to-earth stuff like.. making a living. My thought was while I’m learning to become an artist I’m going to learn the
industry from the inside. I was hired on at
Sony Pictures and so I went to work in their digital marketing group. The Internet was brand-new
in ’97 timeframe and I was working
in technology with major entertainment brands and trying to figure out how to connect
people to media. And so, Todd went from one job to the other in the creative
and tech industry. And while his work life was way more creative than say selling fishing tackle it was still a far cry from his true ambition of becoming a writer and filmmaker. I’ve struggled with
becoming a writer while I have a professional life. And so it’s sort of
the two parts of me that have been at odds. I know I have the story that
I feel like I have a duty to get out and there are
other stories I want to tell and at the same time there are the practical parts of having
a life and having a career in a modern American city. And so life went on. Time passed. Years become decades. Like so many
people before him his creative ambitions
succumbed to the need to pay the bills. Meanwhile, Todd got married had kids… You know how things go. After Sony Pictures he had a job at MySpace. And together with a partner he started a tech company that matched people based
on their interests. Later on, his partner
would go on to found Tinder, the popular
dating app. That is a lot of years and a lot of distractions. So I asked Todd
just how much he thought about Miranda during this period. I would say almost daily. I don’t think she ever
really left my mind. Practically I have a file
that’s always open. It’s been in the
back of my head for years and years
and years and years. Just you know. What would she do? What is she doing? What is she thinking? How is she? What did she become? Why is she smiling? But what is it about
her character in her character that has a sense of joy? She was the thing
that I came back to the object, the idea the image, the person I came back to time
and time again to think about the life I wanted to lead and the story that I
thought I needed to tell and those things
felt very, very entangled. Did you ever consider going
back to Argentina to go look for Miranda? I’ve had a couple opportunities to go back and I haven’t for a range of reasons but I always felt like I would find her. You know I’ve travelled
a lot in my career and I always felt like I
was looking for her like every time I would be in a train station or a bus station or an airport I felt I would find her passing. In the back of my mind I kept my eye out for her knowing that one day I would cross
paths with her again somehow, somewhere. And then came one of
those brutal moments that life just
throws at you. Todd had an ugly
divorce, as he put it. He felt down. Lonely. Utterly disconnected
from the stories and the muse. It took him a long
time to recover. After a while, he felt that he maybe could go
on a date sometime. And so, he downloaded that well-known
dating app: Tinder. You know. Swipe left if you’re
not interested. Swipe right if you are. One of the first
dozen people that I swiped right on was this woman named
Cecilia from Argentina and there’s something
about her. She had this really easy smile and she travelled. Her photographs were
from around the world I really liked
what she wrote on her profile. And she was a
commercial producer. We went to dinner at a Peruvian restaurant and from the start I
just liked her. Sometimes you meet somebody and lightning and the thunderbolts and
the fireworks go off. Cupid hits you
in the heart with an arrow. It wasn’t like that. It was something much more meaningful much more profound. I really – I really liked her. My name is Cecilia Salguero. I am 42 years old. And I am.. from Buenos Aires Argentina and I am a producer. I do commercials. Cecilia Salguero came to LA
for work a few years ago. She was new in town and put herself on Tinder
to meet new people. She met Todd. And she was pleasantly surprised he knew so much
about Argentina. So… the first thing he told me is I love Argentina. Here not everyone knows
even what it is on a map. So.. he told me he had been
there many years ago. And he said yeah, I was there on a business trip. We had like great
conversation. We spent probably
like two hours and it was really interesting. To be honest, I was not
completely into him but I really enjoyed the time we spent together. One day, she came
over to my house and I showed her my Buenos
Aires Travel journal and on the trip I’d walked around and taken
a bunch of photographs of the city and she found the photographs and she looked at it
and she was like wait a minute this is around the
corner from my house. Where were you staying? And I said, well, I was staying at a hotel right across
from La Recoleta the cemetery at
the Etoile hotel and she looked at me like dumbfounded and she went
to Google Maps and she showed me where the hotel was and where her
mom’s house was and it was literally five minute walk up the side of – along the edge of the cemetery she showed me – she went on her phone and she showed me
a picture of herself as a young girl. And I knew it was her. I immediately knew in no uncertain terms I recognized her. And then I told
her the story of what happened that night and who I saw. She lived there at the time and she would be walking
home that way at the end of the night. She was usually happy and… I felt like this is the person who I saw
20 years ago. And so… Todd gave her the story that
he had been working on for the last 20 years since that night
in Buenos Aires. I think like maybe two
weeks into the relationship he sent me a PDF and he said, listen I want you to
have this. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to but I want you
to have this because I don’t
want you to think that I changed this
after meeting you. And what is this? And this was a PDF that had the synopsis of a
story he has written in the description
of the characters and there was Miranda and the description I really felt identified with the character. Not only physically but also in some details that he would describe as her personality and that kind of thing and I was really impressed by that. I really recognize myself in the description. That is why I was shocked. Well, what did you think
when you realized that the story about Miranda may have actually been you? Well, you know we will never know but there’s really a true possibility
that it’s true. I am a lot more
rational than Todd. But is it a possibility? Yes it is a possibility like a real possibility. It was just around the
corner from my house. I would go there all the time. So yeah you know it’s totally possible. The first time I saw her I felt I felt like my heart
was at rest. It felt like my life had been looking for her and… when I saw her, I felt for some strange reason at rest. She has this notebook and on the notebook she has the city’s like a number of cities on it, right. And so we did this exercise where I colored in the first letter of the
city with blue pen and she colored in
the last letter of the city with a pink pen and we looked at what cities where
were we at together and it’s something like 15 cities over the last 20
some odd years. We’d both been in almost at the same time. We looked at dates in our passports and other things and it looked like
we had like crossed paths sometimes within
hours of each other in the same airports missing each other by hours sometimes and it was very, very beautiful and
interesting. We have this strange overlapping crisscrossing experience. So let’s just step back
here for a moment and look at what
just happened. Todd is convinced that he
has met the very woman who determined the
direction of his life for the last two decades. This is the muse he has
been thinking about every day and every night since that evening
in Buenos Aires. She inspired him to
follow his heart to become a writer. The ‘Miranda’ around whom
he has written a novel his life’s work. The one he always
looked for in a crowd of people. Well… where do you
go from here? Did you become lovers? Yes. For a while for a time. You were dating? We dated for a while but you know, I’d just gone
through a divorce and I wasn’t really ready for – to be you know… But dude, this was Miranda. This was literally the girl of your dreams. You know not everybody you fall in love with has
to end up in your bed. Yes.. she is literally the
girl of my dreams. I love her with every part of myself. I care about her. I just had been
a little beat up. I wasn’t necessarily ready for another.. kind of long term relationship. When you revealed the fact that you had been dreaming about her for
the better part of two decades before you met in real life. How did she react to that? She would look at me and
say act accordingly. This magic has brought us together you know. We should be together act accordingly. I mean, I think that’s her tick on it. I mean we do have this connection we do have what can only be described
as love for each other. Don’t you want the
Hollywood ending? I think you could have
a really meaningful deep friendship. I love her. I would do anything for her. I just don’t want to
get married right now. Does that make sense? I think we were brought together
in service of the story. I think we were
brought together in service of
waking me up right in terms of helping me be the
person I can be. I could be where I’d reach my potential. I think it can be more nuanced and complicated than boy meets girl and they ride into
the sunset together. There is something.. deeply profound about
the way I feel about her that I’ve never felt
about anybody else. How would you describe your
relationship with him now? Oh complicated that’s definitely complicated. We will see. I don’t know. I mean I think we want
different things. So it’s very hard to – I don’t know. It’s very hard to
say right now. But what do you want? I would… I would really
like to give like a romantic relationship
a chance. I don’t think
he wants that. You are Cecilia do you think he wants Miranda? No, he is not that crazy, no. Todd and Cecilia are very close. They don’t live together but talk every day and see each other frequently. 20 years ago Miranda lit Todd’s creativity. Life extinguished it. And Cecilia is the person who reignited it. She showed me art. LA has got an
amazing street art. There are lots of murals and lots on the side
of buildings right. She made me
really see it like to stop and take a look at it take a photograph of it. We went to museums together and we spent time together and it just I really felt like this was
a different kind of relationship that was
blossoming than any relationship that
I had in the past. Miranda was your muse. What is Cecilia? Cecilia feels like… my… catalyst. You know if a muse
is something that’s kind of
like in the air. Catalyst is something that
makes something spark it changes the chemical
property of something. I think meeting her in real life has changed my life in terms of what I want to do with the next part of my life. Meeting her changed
my life again in that… this thing that I had… kind of hidden away you know in my life my creativity and my desire to tell stories. You know it sort of got buried
under product plans and fundraising and you know jobs and work and travel. I hadn’t really pulled that out in a long time. And that it’s it’s actually what my heart wants to do. Cecilia and Todd are working together on several
projects these days. Including one particular
story that has occupied Todd’s mind
for some time. We have a draft of the script for The Disappeared that we are working with another writer on to sort of polish it and then we are
working on a book based on ‘The Girl
in the Cemetery’. The Girl in the Cemetery. I sleepwalk. For years, I have lived with episodes of flying and falling hurtling east at
subsonic speed to land somewhere in the future for a few
hours or days before heading back in time on my return trip. I cannot sleep in
a strange bed. So I often walk when
my clock is off stumbling through deserted
moonlit streets with a camera. When I do drift off dipping gently into that dark stillness I drown disoriented by waves of ideas images and sensation a swirling tumble made of
dream and memory. It was called The Girl in the Cemetery The story is around
dreams and memory and sort of trying to make sense of these magical experiences I’ve had in my life. You know when I met
Cecilia the first time – she made me take
my life in a completely different direction. When I saw her there. Now that I’ve met her again together I think we’re moving in a
different direction. We are both travelers gypsies by trade we have been searching
for each other through space and time missing each other yet knowing in the
back of our minds that we would one
day meet again for the first time. What now? The dreams Miranda remains. Todd Leeloy. If you want to read
one of Todd’s stories we got it go to our website: podcast.klm.com You’ve been listening to The Journey. An original podcast
brought to you by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. To hear more stories
about the trip that changed everything go to podcast.klm.com And why not review us on iTunes. It helps other listeners
find this podcast. Thank you so
much for listening. I’m Jonathan Groubert.

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