Portugal. The Woman

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

Call Me Ursula

Buenos días, it’s me again, Mia. This adventure involves a watermelon Fiat, a little baby nugget of Self Discovery and some of the most unsafe driving practices I’ve ever been exposed to in all of my years serving the Fun Police.

Here’s a short history of Seville, according to the encyclopedia of me. The original founders of Seville dug into the earth like carving Parmesan cheese to accommodate the growing population of mice and search for a cooler climate away from the sun. This was a wholly unsuccessful venture but they uncovered a nice river and built some fairly good cathedrals to cover up their embarrassment. That’s why the buildings are so tall. So that the mice don’t get sunburnt.

Around day 2 in Seville I bond with some hostel friends over a classic game of kings cup. We decide to pull a fat carpe diem and spend the following day together. It wasn’t my favourite experience but I did meet a cute little crab that unfortunately did not have a French accent or a friend called Flounder. With sealed lips I’ll leave you with relics of our spontaneous road trip:

  • 14 hours spent with Canadian allies
  • 13 self-timer photos with the Fiat
  • 12 times the speed limit was exceeded by more than 10km/h
  • 11 euros for three hours of parking
  • 10 is a cool number and I don’t have anything for this one
  • 9 too many stories about one particular trip to Vietnam
  • 8 cars tailgated on narrow curved roads
  • 7 tapas plates ordered
  • 6 songs played before the aux cord was confiscated
  • 5 times grateful to be alive
  • 4 explanations as to why I don’t want any supermarket Sangria
  • 3 languages spoken
  • 2 complaints about the music in the car (how is Fleetwood Mac not road trip appropriate?!)
  • 1 very tired human woman disillusioned with youth, astonished by stupidity but nevertheless in awe of Andalucía

I’ll let the photos paint a nicer picture because Ronda & Marbella really do make a nice picture.

Day four allows me a tasty few hours of solitary exploration and more rumination. I’m caught up in the search for the ones who stop every three minutes to spin around like Ariel and soak it all in like a sea sponge. The people who insist on analysing every colour palette and pattern and oddity. And I find them, not at the hostel or a kitschy bar but preserved in the architecture of the city. In the contemporary art museum, where three idiots hyper aware of their idiocy make art for the sake of fun. I find them in the all-female section of the same museum that’s full of shrewd storytellers and radicals. White rooms are exploding with upside-down perspectives and multi-coloured perceptions.

I see them in stone graves, fallen asleep while reading far too early in the evening. They’re in the half-finished ornamental decor of that building I forgot to grab the name of. They smirk at my art projects surrendered to the weeds of procrastination. My kind have left their ancient stain of anarchy in bull’s blood on the walls of a cathedral.

Calvin Harris knows this is what I came for. The gelato is goddamn good, sangria is plentiful and I did enjoy my time with the Canadians. But I’m more Ursula than Ariel, jaded by the smallest of mishaps and confined to my cave. I like my cave. I get to play whatever music I want and the acoustics are great, plus I get to write bullshit like this. Until next time, Seville-ians.

Frase del día: Este tamaño de orificio nasal no es que habitualmente tengo - The Richard Channin Foundation

Música del lugar: The Barber of Seville, Act I: Overture - Rossini (how could I not)

Goldfish and Doner Kebabs

Looks like it might be a slightly longer day. My backpack straps are wound tightly and that 5am wake up means I’m not so brightly lit for the nightly activities. A month of Duolingo against a family of native speakers; will she crumble?

My Airbnb host’s family is taking me to see the fireworks on the beach, the night before the Feria de Málaga. Valentina is teaching me Spanish words in the car. She’s six, her favourite colour is red and she doesn’t have school tomorrow. We drive forwards and backwards amongst the narrow maze of vehicles double- and triple-parked. Through a car window, I peep at a thankful embrace amidst crumpled metal and sirens. Delirium turns the bustling crowd and smell of sewage into ants making tracks on a forgotten sandwich. People are alive with anticipation and just barely policed by common sense.

Cynthia embraces Valentina as they watch the fireworks start, one of those hugs where cheeks collide and bodies sway side to side. The subtle orange glow of street lamps is sliced by squeals of young children wide awake in the early hours of the morning. Silhouettes gather at the water’s edge for a better glimpse of the artificial fire. Braver souls frolic in lukewarm waves. I’m glad to have company even though communication is limited to exaggerated facial expressions, gestures and “está bien.”

Vicky is a better grandmother than Mrs Doubtfire. A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice is waiting for me in the morning, so sweet it makes my jaw unclench and my ears rise up. Lunch is the usual bread, salad and hummus supermarket delicacy. I promenade through the streets tackling the prospect of wearing a dress to the fair tonight. I decide against it. 

We reach throngs of youths and families alike entering Málaga’s biggest event of the year. Temporary streets are infested with intoxication. Behind each cardboard wall is a different sound; a mangled reverie of portals more and more enchanting. 

I’m a goldfish rotating like the doner kebabs. Sounds attack like lasers and build a helmet of rhythm. In between glimpses of flamenco and techno clubs and blinking rainbow lights, Vicky will stop me to point out chicos guapos. She can tell I’m husband-hunting. 

Near the concrete land of consumption we witness two men in a fierce headlock. They resolve to messy pashing and passionate face smashing. At 1am, “it’s just getting started” says Vicky in very slow Spanish as I listen blankly. A blonde mascara-stained face with a scrunched up nose screams at a smartphone in the taxi line. 

Things are going oddly smoothly. Apart from a couple of supermarket mishaps and the general state of confusion, nothing dramatic has happened. Saturday morning answers my prayers, and brings with it my first brush with death. 

I always thought death by lamb might be less dramatic, perhaps mouldy chops left in the fridge for too long or being flattened by a supermarket Christmas roast. The small regional town of Humilladero seems the perfect setting for some early-morning white-girl meditation in the forest. Waterless waterfalls sung by cicadas are interrupted by a flurry of cowbells. I open my eyes and see lambs running helter-skelter across the mountain towards me. Deep in a state of coffee-free confusion and half-baked mindfulness, I run away like a 4 year old runs from the tide.

Speaking of lambs, can this country maybe chill on the meat?  What a feat, try skipping a beat these horses are overheating and I wouldn’t want to offend but it’s a bitter end and the pigs are our friends! Refuse a hand to the demise of all things nice and Choose! Hommus! Thismessagehasbeenauthorizedbytheaustraliangovernmentmalaga.

Frase del día: Necesito una siesta

Musica del lugar: Death in Midsummer - Deerhunter 

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