Getting back on the horse of lifeGWYNETH HYNDMAN
So I'm taking the long road back to California.
That's the context for why I'm writing much of this in a bar in Portugal, on a serviette, scribbling as four jazz masters lose themselves in their craft on a dark, cavernous stage in the Baixa-Chiado neighbourhood of Lisbon as the rain gushes down the pink-painted cobblestone street outside.
I have a glass of wine and a plate of Portuguese cheese on a plate with bread on the table in front of me.
Behind me is a woman leaning against the open doorway in wickedly tight pants, holding a cigarette out into the night, so the smoke disappears into the rain.
She nods and says ''verdad, verdad'' when the trumpet player - a dead ringer for Javier Bardem - leans into the mike and gives a long explanation about this next song, one hand placed tenderly on his chest.
I am so happy I could die, right here, eating goat cheese.
And I'm stricken with joy that I can step outside this moment and look down on myself, and catch my heart in the sudden and unexpected act of swelling with love for this place because about 10 days ago it seemed impossible for that particular part of me, to feel much of anything, any time soon.
Next to me is a girl from Georgia (the country, not the state) who has been living in Paris for six years trying to make it as a musician; her bracelets and rings sparkle in the candlelight as she talks about staying in the drummer's basement for the week and hands me a business card with her name so I can look her up on Youtube.
She is here in Portugal for the week simply to be inspired, she says, and her sweetness and youth when she talks just about kills me.
And you? she asks. Why are you in Portugal?
Good question. I feel tired and old all of the sudden.
I mutter something vague and rather douchey about coming here to be inspired also, as a writer and so forth, and then trail off and shrug and tear at the napkin I am scribbling on and move my wine glass to a few different places around the table.
I've tried different evasive answers for the last week (I have mastered a prim ''my event got cancelled'' in perfect Portuguese) but really it comes down to a bit of a cautionary tale about going to England for a guy and realising our lives had taken different turns in the eight months since he left New Zealand, and then also realising that to stay in England, alone, with Bon Iver on repeat, watching raindrops slowly slide down the window pane for the remaining ten days would probably do me in.
Cheapest last minute flight out of London:Lisbon.
Portugal was not a detour I pictured myself taking when I left Southland in June to touch base with family and friends in California before striking out on my own with no real business plan for writing, but plenty of Carpe Diem-ish inspirational drill sergeant orders in my head (Follow your bliss! Less thought, more action! Live your dream!), all precariously financed with my rusty waitressing skills.
Yet here I am, because life is odd like that.
Earlier this morning, just outside the resort town of Caiscais, while being pounded by waves, coming up sputtering, and being dragged back into the Atlantic with a rented surf board for another beating, I thought about how little control I have over all this hard stuff that comes at me with serious power.
And how much I would like to skedaddle out of here and go up to the cafe on the top of the cliff and have a coffee and just enjoy the sun and waves by taking pictures of it all, or maybe just by writing a haiku.
Because quite frankly it's rough down here. And it hurts. And I'm not tough enough and I'm scared and I want to find the current that will take me back to the soft sands of the shore.
The tiny triumphs in the past week that have kept me biking back to this surf school on Guincho Beach every morning - catching a wave as the beautiful morning sun shone in my eyes and looking away to see a glimpse of the crumbling fortress on the cliffs above; catching my next wave in a hailstorm and laughing as I fell and hit the water, as that country song It's a Great Day to Be Alive played in my head - all faded as I scrambled to find footing in the sand, but there was nothing to stop me from being driven straight into the rocks.
Tonight, in the bar, I can't help but keep reaching back to feel the tender slit along my back and the growing bruise around it from the impact.
It did hurt, and it looked spectacularly injurious to the two guys who were out in the water with me and could really only watch and cringe as it happened. But it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
More like a grazing, before I was spit back onto the beach, my board crashing in behind me.
Out of breath, I dragged the board up out of reach of the waves and took a seat in the sand.
I gave a weak thumbs up to the guys and one of them indicated with lots of arm motions that I should just hang out there for a bit. It was up to me if I wanted to go back out there with them.
At that moment, I was thinking yeah, no thanks. I'm going to stay planted right here on the shore.
And 13 hours later as I touch the spot below my shoulder blade I'm kind of disappointed that the bruise isn't that big; I was hoping for more of a war wound. A battle scar to commemorate this time in Portugal.
Two tables over the jazz musicians have taken a break for dinner and a big steaming plates of food have been brought out for them as a soccer game is turned on behind them.
They heap pasta onto plates, pour wine, and tear bread apart.
The woman smoking in the doorway has gone and fetched a big broom to sweep the rainwater from the entry and back out into the street. The Georgian folk singer has gone to catch her train.
I listen to a girl the saxophone player has met on the train that morning, describe how she wants to learn how to surf.
When I hear her mention Caiscais and Guincho Beach I almost call over the table to her - ''I've been there, it's beautiful, go.''
But the saxophone player squeezed in next to her that she didn't want to go there. It's too rough, too windy, too big, and the biggest wave ever surfed was right near there, back in January.
There were better, easier places to learn for sure, he told her. Which was true.
But when the musicians returned to the stage, I wanted to tell the girl, who sat by herself with her glass of wine, that she should go anyway, and show her my bruise (with a little bit of pride) because it was a beach that was gorgeous and powerful and there were people who could take her out in the safer, gentler spots.
But I didn't. I left it to her to figure it all out, like I did.
I ended up sitting in the sand for awhile that morning, just watching and waiting.
And then, suddenly, I didn't want to be on the beach anymore. I stood up and strapped the board leash to my ankle.
''Are you coming back out?'' one of the guys called.
''Yes,'' I called back, as the waves rushed at my ankles and then my knees. I jumped on the board and started paddling.
''I just needed to catch my breath first.''
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