I´m sunrising on my second day, and I just grabbed the free breakfast downstairs. A roll of bread with jam, granola and milk, a cup of coffee and some creamy cheese. The morning table is occupied by eight chairs and entertained by one youth. Conversations over breakfast with strangers at hostals always manifest into strange histories for me. This would be no different.
“Hey, how´s it going?” setting my plates on the table.
“Good day!” she smiled back. She had her backpack all ready to go, and rain jacket zipped up – she was absolutely ready to get going. I would later find out that she was about to catch a bus to Evora.
“How´s your trip been?”
“Fantastic. How bout yours”
“Well, Friday I got here at sunrise and found myself climbing all around Sintra at sundown.”
“AAAhhh, I was thinking about going to Sintra, but decided to go somewhere else. I love visiting small towns – much more interesting than big cities for me.” She spread jam and butter on a split roll, looking down at her painting while speaking up at me. “Just mas much as I love breakfast, it´s my favorite meal of the day.” she added with a touch.
“And you, what are you off to do today?” She tossed a positive outlook my way once her work and words were done.
“Well, today I´m going to hang around the city here, and tomorrow I´ll do my damndest to get to the ocean. What brings you to Portugal?”
“Cheap flights. It was here or Denmark so I thought – Hey, I´ll go where it´s warmer, for now – so I did. Though, I really would have liked to go somewhere I could have brought my bike”
Without possible justification of the assumption, I was beginning to assume that she had no idea that I was beginning to believe we were on the same wavelength: I too, came here on a measureably “cheaper” vacation and also wished I could ride a bike, right about now, for some unknown reason. I waited to find out more. I did not, however, believe it time to assume it twas the beginning of anything, necessarily.
She tossed the ball back, “and you, what brings you to Lisbon?”
“Lisbon´s really close to where I live in Spain, teachin´ English.”
“Where´s that, then?”
“Cáceres, know where that is?” Generally a good questionn to ask, because knowing where Cáceres-Extremadura is is akin to knowing where Muwkonago, Wisconsin is. Joyous knowledge of the lucky few.
“Yeah! One of my friend´s last names is Cáceres, and he showed it to us on the map once.”
“Last name? Where are you from, about?”
“A town near Puebla, Mexico.”
Finally, I met someone super friendly who wasn´t somehow related to southern France. I was beginning to show fate who´s boss.
“So, how did that come out to be a cheap flight?”
“Oh no, no. Right now I´m living in France while studying abroad. I live in a town that´s close to the border of Switzerland”
Naturally, of course. The Fates laugh in chorus echoing in my taunted eardrums. -fine- i thought, – i give in, next stop: France-
We leisurely chatted quite a bit into her seemingy eagerly packed morning, until it was the natural time for departure. Meanwhile the whole table had filled up as the troops rose from the soft hostal cradles. Cleaning dishes and saying adiositos, we all got packed up and checked out. The funny thing about people: sometimes you mutually read that your not going to see each other again, and therefore don´t get into too much detail. Other times you get into excessive, generous amounts of detail for precisely the same reason. And, sometimes you part knowing that you´ll never see them again and that´s that. Othertimes, there´s some strange future that chimes inside you echoing to the present and you simply know it won´t be the last, so what´s be point of getting worried about the details?
On my way to know where 10 minutes later, I hear footsteps coming up behind me and, somehow knowing it´s that nice girl I met this morning, I turn around to greet her.
“Taking your time, I see” She says in felicitous hurry, “and I´m still in a rush to get to the metro station so I can catch that bus”
“Then how on earth did I get ahead of you?” I teasingly smiled, and then made my way to ask the nearest person how to get to the nearest metro station —
“no! no! I can ask myself” she laughed and we parted ways again. This time the thought crossed my mind, why didn´t I ask this person´s name? I´ve had such a friendly life-detailed conversation with her this morning, and it´s kindof embarassing to think that we don´t even know each other´s names.
And thus, Diane, started my second day in Portugal. I roamed all around. Quite literally everywhere. My goal was to cover as much of Lisbon´s ground my feet could offer before crashing and then, only then, would I concede to check out the Barrio Alto during the night when all the hip folk go out to the bars. Not a stretch of Lisbon went unseen Saturday. Diane, someday I hope you get the pleasure of seeing it with your own eyes. Also, Diane, remind me to send these postcards off as soon as possible when I get back to Spain.”
It´s Sunday morning, and I´ve just made up my mind. Someday, I really want to return to Sintra, but at the same time I want to leave the mystery be for a while, to sit tight for a sunnier day. Much more weight pulled me to Cascais. When I checked out of the hostal this morning, I asked the lad working the front desk what he thought about daytrips to Cascais. He told me there was nothing there to see. The chef that recommended I go to Sintra told me so precisely becuase Cascais came up in conversation (where she actually lived, commuting everyday to whip up wonders in the kitchen downtown Lisboa) and she told me there was really no reason to see Cascais.
I knew exactly what this all meant. My Future Past was just screaming “get to Cascais”. So I am. As soon as I turned around from the platform of the train heading to Sintra everything in my body vibrated with existential delight. Some unnatural things happen if you fail to read what´s written, and my lord was it written: the sun came out, the air embraced my ears with welcoming echo washes from the sea, and now in the train line overlooking the river Tagus as it gently becomes estuary Tagus I´m reading my authentically un-autographed copy of Francisco Pessoa´s work, “The Book of Disquiet”. I kid you not, the LED readout screen that normally tells the next destination and the temperature outside the train reads, ” ??:??, ??/??/????.” My exterior was syncronizing with my interior. As the train stops to pick up passengers headed to Belem, home of the sinfully consciousness eclipsing custard cream tarts, I look up to my right to see the face and hear the serendipitous hello of the mexican gal I thought had already taken a train and a bus and possibly a flight back to France.
“Hey! Good day!” the situation of stepping on to this train at this hour in this car was apparently not affording either of us a proper surprised reaction. Really, it wasn´t that surprising, so we didn´t pretend.
“Can I sit here?”
“Of course.” My hands kept the open book throned on the daybroken carpet like ledge contouring the seat in front of me. Good music stand. As she plopped down I asked her, “thought you went back to Francy-pants.”
“No, I headed out to Evora – I think it´s my favorite place in Portugal I´ve seen so far. By the way, what´s up with the LED screen?”
“Not sure, but it makes me happy. Where are you off to now?”
“I´ll check out the tower of Saint Jorge, the neighborhood of Belem. Tonight I won´t be staying at the same hostal so I don´t think I´ll see you later. You know, try different places.”
“Me neither, actually I´m catching an overnight bus back to Cáceres tonight and right now I´m on a mission to see the sea. I promised myself. By the way, what´s your name?”
“Graciela. How bout you?”
“But, it´s andrew, right?”
“Yep. Andrew Grimm. Well this is your stop, yeah?”
“Yes, it was nice meeting you! Bye!”
“A pleasure. Safe journeys!”
With that Diane, Graciela and I parted ways for what will probably be forever. Well, for a long time, at least. I would like to say who knows, but…you know.”
I´ve gotten to the coastline of Cascais and it´s been a thrilling ride not so much in its movement but in its views. Between the hilariously tragic memoirs of a ficticious bank clerk and the riverscape of the Tagus, I was merry as can be getting to Cascais. I left the station and immersed myself in the sunshine and color of the cute little seaside port-town. I saw some youths fabricating destiny on steady red steeds, “Where did you find such noble beasts?” I inquired and they thusly instructed me how, with a passport and a promise to bring her back on a full tank, one might acquire a free tourist bike. I got “Bi-Cas” bicycle number 193. I took a good look at her as I arrived at the seafoamgreen glittering salt bath between sailboat docks, and came to the unequivocal realization that her name was indeed, “Betty” Ms. Betty, at that. A prestigious steed. “Betty,” I sayed in my most pitiful attempt at charming, “Take me to the ocean from here, and don´t stop till we get there. Make it your obession.” And so, Diane, we one speed two wheeled it through the road-edge-cliff-crashing water path. Ms. Betty was truly persistent in her vicarious obsession. Every moment I was closer, and closer to the ocean. Every moment was a multisensory masterpiece one day to enter the virtual existence museums as an account for the future generations to know just what it´s like to be a happy jackass smiling down an ocean bike path at January´s end on a one speed bicycle. Ms. Betty was the liberation of my promise, and our hasty obsession. We were there.”
“Dear Diane, I´m up the hill from Cabo de la Roca, Portugal facing the great Atlantic sky and a legion of dark monotony hangs tight over the coast coming from the depths of humanless domains to the shoreline of the comfy. With its curiously beautifully balancing gloom, the storm clouds highlighted the nearby mountain towns with brilliant exuberance. I have not the photos to describe the scene properly so I´ll just lend you the lens of my words, Diane, but savor them, for I haven´t much more within reach.”
“Hiking down non-existent stairwells into the rocky forray between me and the spraying ocean foliage, visiting volcanic rock perched fisherman, and devouring landscapes wore me down, Diane. So I needed food. Therefore I did what every good traveller does. Go and Go until you find yourself in normal-ville wherever-town and look in various restaurants until you find where all the locals are stuffed at.
Something smelled carnivorously ambrosius and smote all sense of inhibition with primal integrity: Here there was some damn good chicken, and I was about to honour it by showing it that, <I love you so much I could eat you>, and dining on its divinity. The gift from god was a spicy spiced chicken. I sopped up its fatty, saucy, oily platter with delicious bread rolls and had the first rice of my venture acompanied by two fizzy cool blonde beers. There are times when one must forego giving two shits about respecting the “life sucks, yours sucks too, don´t shine on my rainy parade” society you find everywhere, at large-obese in the global bourgeois that burns optimism at the stake of its anti-luminous droll. This was one of those times to be not so socially acceptable. For here, Diane, they´ve got a chicken that´ll kill ya. Now to find a suitable creamy, cafeinated epilogue (click here) – or maybe some citrus spiked gelato.”
“Dear Diane, I´m at the end of my time in Portugal, and it has been sweet. I´m on the subway´s Blue Line from Baixa-Chiado to Jardim to catch a bus a Sete Rios to Cáceres at 9pm. When I´ll arrive, I wonder if I´ll notice the time difference, again – and I don´t mean cutlurally, I mean it simply. When I waited for the Lisbon headed bus which abnormally arrived on time (this is Spain, afterall), It was 2:04 in the morning. I noticed the second hand moving extremely fast. Too fast, it seemed. Perhaps it was making headway to get a jump on things, giving the spaniards just a bit more day and a bit more leniency to get around to living their lives. Or maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, seconds passed by by the bundles and bunches. Not so much gone as contracted, perhaps like a bow and arrow. Or a spring. Or the clothesline of my wild and capricious laundry on a breeze gabby day.”
I went to sleep at 4, and woke at 8. I feel entirely rested. Maybe it was me saving time at the bus station 2a.m. Friday morning, I seem to have made use of it regardless. Anyhow, I hope this recording gets to you in one piece. I´m off to grab a refreshingly normal, everyday experience to start my week off placidly content: a bit of toast covered in tomato sauce, olive oil, and iberian ham – the last pages of an enjoyable delirium called 1Q84 – and a damn good cup of coffee. Until we see each other again, Diane. Take Care,