We’re back on the right side of the road. Honestly! Between this walking fiasco and multiple powerpoint conundrums, The Homogenous Kingdom of Europe I’d imagined has been shattered. This is exactly how I felt when I found out my favourite Yo La Tengo song is a goddamn cover. Betrayed by my own ignorance.
Today I’m hiking in Cinque Terre, in the company of an Argentinian whose tattoo reads “la vida es una fiesta.” He’s a good companion, besides begging for a beer at every town. I get to practise the few Spanish phrases I’ve learned such as “muchissimo tráfico” and “estoy cansada.” We have to stop every now and then so that he can vlog. I take in the sparkly view while he spins around with arms wide, proclaiming the same phrases to his reflection every time. See below: evidence of my sun-safe attire and jubilant mood.
After my first prickly pear experience my mouth resembles a Venus flytrap. Delicious, but wouldn’t do it again. A billion stairs lead down to glassy lapis lazuli waters that dissolve our aching calf muscles. It’s a morsel of savoury relief before we head back up the two billion stairs to finish the hike. Pinching myself isn’t enough—I’ve resorted to leg-slapping and head-hitting. We’re visited by some angels in dog form that traverse the narrow cliff walkways with ease. I’m sticky with grape juice, covered in blackberry scars and still picking spikes out of my lips.
We end the evening on a pebble beach in front of a screaming passionfruit sunset. There are flying fish and swimming humans, potato crisps and Birra Moretti. Two men are performing a very important rock-carrying dance across the uneven ground. In between breaths of fried food and air we make the last hike up the hill to the shuttle stop and I turn in early.
On Thursday I journey to Porto Venere with three lovely girls from Montana, who soon become two as one takes the wrong path in a wood that isn’t yellow. There’s a view through olive tree foliage and an open gate so we peer in. A passionate “NO! Stay out!” is followed by a middle-aged woman jaded by the selfishness of travellers. We shuffle the hell outta there, vamos, and continue downhill. A few metres later I collect a beautiful knee scratch as a souvenir of my stumble. It’s not as beautiful as the view but it’s close. I wish I had more words because even the pictures don’t do it justice.
Inside the town, my second ever online dating adventure commences, involving (surprise!) more grapes, snorkelling and some relatives in seaside bone boxes. Anonymous Boy spends six weeks here in Italy every year with his grandparents, whom (yes, whom) I meet briefly, or rather smile at and mumble ciao, buongiorno.
We visit the church and take the ferry out to the island and speak of cormorants and boats with wings and plenty of other things that are none of your business. I had to borrow a piccy or two from Anonymous Boy because evidently I was having too much fun to take any. Our brief farewell occurs on a jetty in La Spezia, as he has an important statue-sacrificing ritual to attend. Later we summarise the day as, “met internet stranger, didn’t die,” which is huuuge! Two ordinary attendees with no homicidal intentions. More than I could ask for.
Back at the ostello, I’m feeling social. Salt-caked and shiny, my tired legs carry me to the garden. A Melbournian is intent on ironing out the correct slang term for chicken parmigiana and comparing beer glass sizes. I insist on my indifference and lose an argument to the Londoner on how many mls are in a pint. We ridicule each other’s blogs and compare amount of days spent wearing the same pair of shorts. He wins by two.
We are silenced for a prolonged moment because the aspiring singer is more than eager to perform. I cross and uncross my legs and cross them again waiting for it to finish. A pair of bloodshot eyeballs beg for an instagram follow, nearly swimming in their glass of red at this point.
The moon is so huge I confuse it with a street lamp. “It’s quiet time in the hostel,” says the host, but he’s easily bought out by my cheerful chocolate offering. Tables are knocked over in a flurry of awful salsa dancing and my book suffers a fatal wine stain. Fumbling hands apologise, and I’m sure the protagonist, Eleanor Oliphant, is scolding us from inside the pages. After a few more plastic vessels of local wine, it’s “business doing pleasure with you,” and goodnight. I’m calling it. This has been the best day so far.
Frase de giorno: I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller. An ADVENTURER
Musica del posto: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell
What if I’m actually anchored in a cave, delirious and scheming, with a messenger dove that flies out to do my dirty work? You’d never know. I recently enjoyed a lovely festival called End of the Road in South Wiltshire, UK. Hope you enjoy the D-rated music journalism.
So begin the chronicles of making my phone battery last four days. Episode 1: Protagonist asks stranger for the time in peripheral effort to make friends. Episode 2: Protagonist asks ‘Who’s playing now?’ in successful attempt to communicate with common interests. And yes I regret buying black and white film, leave your snarky comments to yourself.
Amongst many highlights is Wand, who are absolutely magical and paint this intriguing, mysterious atonal narrative before resolving to familiar riffs and powerful rhythms. Big props for experimentation with a violin bow on guitar. Kikagaku Moyo are as psychedelically mental as I’d hoped, combining rock with traditional Japanese sounds and blasting our ears off with bass guitar which was so flawless it didn’t matter. Deerhunter and Courtney Barnett are definitely better performers than any of the teletubbies, and Crack Cloud and Squid hit it so hard I think a few balls dropped in the audience.
I’ve written an open letter to a man sitting behind me during Stella Donnelly.
Whilst I appreciate your loud opinion on the premium position for optimum auditory enjoyment, I must offer a rebuttal. Sitting at the back in the centre surely gives you some worldly perspective. However, I’m not here to engage in intercourse with eight-legged crawlers or discuss the size of my big toes, like you are.
I want to see pores open and allow salty droplets to fly loose on the crowd, see triumph or alarm or awe animate their faces, feel the pumping jumping energy and be part of the off-kilter cacophony of white people dancing. Did you notice that the percussionist snuck a photo of me and the rest of us when he thought no one was looking?
I realise the irony of this as I’m sitting, reflecting, in the exact position I’m throwing under the bus. And that’s perfectly fine with me, I’m about to move. One day I may even share your opinions and enjoy unpacking complex concepts like toe fluff. But for now, squeeze me against the barrier so the crowd evaporates. I’ll stay here until a careless push or heel-crushing stumble pops me out of that helium balloon. Enjoy the acoustics from thirty rows back, my fedora-clad friend.
Someone who hates toes.
One of my favourite festival activities is the internal Royal Mail service. Messengers deliver notes or fan mail. Wicked! I think. Time to get my poetry read by a stranger. Off I go writing an angry, whiny stream-of-consciousness alphabet soup addressed to “a thoughtful-looking young fellow milling about the literature tent.” I’m at peace with my anonymity and the prospect that an unsuspecting lad will unfold a piece of my batshit brain. This is all well and good until a live podcast at the literature tent is interrupted by a postwoman.
There’s a kerfuffle as my poem is delivered to not only the hosts at the literature tent but THE ENTIRE INTERNET. I don’t stay to find out if they read it out loud because my throat heartbeats and beet-red face would give me away. Maybe they do read it. You’re welcome to listen to the episode if you don’t believe me. It’s called Backlisted.
Later, in the company of ‘Chardolini’ (my best friend and also the cheapest goon sack I’ve ever purchased), I’m ridiculously early to see Sleaford Mods. Surely it says something about the British that hundreds of them will queue up an hour in advance to see someone who cares so little about being seen.
‘Jason! Do B.H.S.!!’ yells a feathered hat during the sound check, ‘Remember that gig in Hamburg?!’ I want to kick his beefy shins. Have some patience. I’m already a SuperFan after listening to his talk earlier in the day about anger, alcohol and pretentiousness. I hear it from him: the Tourette’s-style head-hitting during performances is to remember the words.
I meet a nice lady who says she’s taken half a pill and left her three kids over the hill with her husband who was less than thrilled. We mosh against sweaty bodies and join in head nods. She tells me I’m bold to come alone and that her friends were old but I could come and dance if I wanted to. Age doesn’t bother me, I say, and beneath rays of green and pink we pay no respect to Prince.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before and maybe tried it too but there isn’t anything rawer than throwing yourself alone and half-sober into the middle of a dance floor. The karaoke bar is one step too far because there’s a middle-aged turtle man chewing his face off and gyrating like a gear stick. If anyone has resources on the psychology of mosh pits, please get in touch.
My early morning snooze goes smoother than expected sans sleeping mat. The grass is squishy and the ground is flat, no mosquitos or bugs or bats. The drawstring is so tight there’s only an Eskimo mouth hole of body bag. I pop my noggin out the taught nylon prism and see other prisms in ranging colours coated in morning fog.
I leave with an overwhelming feeling of being given a gift—some precious intangible phenomenon that makes itself known as a bready grin and effervescent limb-twitching sensation. I wander towards the beckoning call of Agatha Christie and three hours of bus travel carrying embers of delight. There’s some roadkill on the way back. I don’t think it’s a dove.
Phrase of the day: Are you here by yourself?
Music of the place: Flying Golem - Wand
This is a nice story. It gets a bit growly in the middle but bear with me. It begins in Janas, in a small eco-village outside Sintra, and ends in Central Lisbon.
Branches are heavy with apples and peaches and pears. This is the kind of place where Google maps can’t find a way there. A jolly chap gives me directions in Portuguese and tolerates my English reply. He slaps me on the back with a toothy grin as I mumble thanks and probably walk in the wrong direction.
Trace my path around the supermercado, I don’t want 5 avocados, just one. I’m a bustling bag lady knocking mixed nuts off the shelves. Está solo para mi, NO! It’s obrigado didn’t you know? We’ve crossed the border and the words are in a different order.
My accommodation is a sustainable and self-sufficient farm that’s a tranquil retreat from the fast-paced cities. Below is a photo to prove I’m eating my vegetables, Dad. Organic, locally grown, seasonal ones.
A lovely and confusing walk isn’t the norm here but I attempt it anyway. It must be daytime—the sun is a dim lamp and cars are parked waiting for their drivers to soak up the invisible view. There are no laws here in Fog Country, it’s a craggy cloud of doubt where you can talk as loudly as you please. This must be the border separating Portugal from the sea monsters. The mist is so thick the horizon has lost the only thing going for it. I wonder if the oceans are on speaking terms. The Atlantic doesn’t seem so friendly.
I stroll past a lady shielding the sunshine from her eyes. She swivels and yells at her husband in Portuguese or German. He’s a few metres behind her in a yellow polo shirt, squatting over an imaginary toilet in open-aired glory. My head jerks away in embarrassment, but why the fuck does he have a newspaper in his hands? His face is flushed and straining to drop what looks like a very painful shit.
I dip in the potion of ocean and take the tightrope sidewalk home. Thank you to the three vehicles that offered me a lift up the vertical road. ‘No thank you,’ I say, ‘I am stubborn and enjoy finishing podcasts and endangering my left arm.’ I can see the newspaper headline now: White Girl Loses Horizon & Sanity Whilst Hiking, Lives off Roadside Blackberries. Prayers are welcomed.
Good morning, good mourning, there’s a black cat in my bed and he’s snoring. Out in the yard, panicked snorts fill the silence. A conga line of humping ensues as all four of the big pigs mount each other. The first one starts to walk and the rest of them perform a wonky 2-footed hop to stay attached. See below illustration.
I take travel tips from three Germans, an American and a Portuguese man before leaving for Lisbon. I had such high hopes. It’s day one and I’ve been whistled at twice, stared at more times than I’d like to count and followed by a strange white man in white tennis gear and black sunglasses. I scurry back to the hostel and lie in bed trying to think about nothing.
My backpack is always clutched to my chest and my phone is slippery with sweat in white-knuckled hands. I’m wearing a skirt down to my knees and my hair is chopped like a little boy. Not that it matters. My upper lip is twitching whilst my mind screams mercilessly at the cat-callers for abusing their privilege. “Yes, I’m here on vacation with all my boyfriends,” I say to the African man who has no business asking. “My family is back at the hotel.” I decide not to mention that it is a family of digestive biscuit crumbs. A few deep breaths and a disappointing croissant in a humid cafe do little to help.
The whistle count has tallied at 5 and part of me wishes I was still lost in that vague oceanic mist. During a clear sunset by the sea, I lend 50 cents via street sweets and make a new friend. So marks the end of my lonely pilgrimage. A meal, two drinks and a refreshingly honest chat lead to open-armed life advice and festival tips. Rachel is understanding and kind and speaks my language in an accent from Newcastle. God or Destiny or the puppet master surely have something at work here.
A certain Pat I know put it nicely: girls = good, boys = eat it. Lisbon’s culture is as vibrant as the coloured buildings and the history is rich and far-reaching. Maybe it is for me, but it’s not for just me, at least not right now. I bought vintage postcards at the market so expect to receive one between now and next century.
Frase do dia: Obrigado because it’s the only Portuguese I know and I am a trashy tourist
Música do lugar: Nameless, Faceless - Courtney Barnett