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Santa Luzia Sunday


1 October

Now that we've come as far as we can to find reliable sun, to the costly southern coast of Portugal known as the Algarve, where open camping is illegal and the commercial campgrounds are closed, we are homeless and dispirited.  We've failed so far in our attempt to locate some friends of friends back home, who have an apartment we hope to rent in the tiny seaside resort of Santa Luzia. 

On the edge of town is a likely style of apartment block, with the desired lot 8,  and even a matching name, R. Pelita...but it's the wrong street.  Asking for directions in a bar creates a dispute among those giving us advice.  We take the most promising lead to a street within the town that partially matches the street name we're looking for, Rua Joaquim.  And we find a house with the number eight, but it's too small and old-fashioned, not the modern apartment we're expecting, and anyway nobody's home. 

We go into another bar on the main street to ask for more directions, but there's a heated discussion going on among a group of local men standing inside, and the bartender's looking surly, so we simply order café meio leite and take it outside to a table by the muddy lagoon.  We sit and sip there under clouding skies, pondering our fate and hoping from inspiration from the caffeine.  Oiseau suggests that we might be better off going back to the larger town of Tavira, where we arrived by train and spent Saturday night.  I'm not so sure.  Tavira was a little too trendy for my taste.  But I have no bright ideas for what to do next. 

Finding lodging for the night is not the problem: it's finding a place we can afford for the next week or two.  After some consideration we agree that, while our overall budget might permit, at most, an outlay of 6000 escudos per night for a week, we'll try to work within the more modest range of 4000-5500.  After that, we'll hope to get by with free room and board at an organic farm in Spain, where we've arranged to come and work before heading to Formentera. 

While Oiseau and I deliberate over our coffee cups, the Portuguese men continue to squabble in the smoky open room.  The gulls on the mud flats keep silent watch as the tide comes in. 


There were four young North American tourists, who could have been from Connecticut or North Vancouver, seated in front of us on Saturday's train to Tavira.  Compared to these two couples looking clean-cut and fresh out of college, Oiseau and I felt weathered and trail-hardened.  They read books while we looked out the window; they treated each other coolly while we snuggled warmly together.  Upon arrival, they rode past us in a taxi while we stood on the sidewalk with our backpacks, negotiating with an aggressive middle-aged Portuguese woman who had pegged us immediately at the station, saying, "You want room?  You need place to stay?  I have good rooms.  Cheap.  You come with me."

And what I wanted more was to head out on foot across the tidelands, the open hills, the long beaches rain or shine, but it was evening and we were tired and we'd just arrived in this unfamiliar town.  The countryside visible from the rail line was well populated with what we took to be tourist properties, and we had a feeling that the ban on open camping was actually enforced here.  So we joined the woman and then her wryly smiling mother who'd been waiting discreetly nearby, and walked together to their house in the town.

After getting settled in the room and dining at an English pub, we took a quick tour of the town and then returned for a reasonable bedtime.  But when I attempted the simple task of updating our daily itinerary log, I became befuddled looking for a lost day.  Referring back to dated journal entries didn't help much, because I discovered that my watch calendar was twelve hours behind, and my computer calendar eight hours behind; so a given date entry might be correct or not, depending on the time of day it was made.  Oiseau helped me try to figure it out for a while, but soon gave up trying to make sense of it and went to take a shower.  After an hour's futile research I too gave up.  In the morning I awoke with the memory of the forgotten day.  

It was a forgettable day indeed: in which our idyllic beach-walking down the sunny west coast of Portugal came to an end in a chill hard Atlantic rain.  We walked all morning on the highway as our clothes gradually but inevitably soaked through to the skin.  It was hard to imagine getting hypothermia in Portugal, but by ten o'clock we were shivering and had to keep up a rapid march simply to maintain our basic body warmth.  We were counting on a village with a hotel or apartment along the coast road, but this was neither tourist season nor tourist territory.  Eventually we found a café where we warmed up with hot coffee, used the rest room to change into our last remaining dry clothes, and received directions to the larger town of Vagos, six kilometers inland.  The steady cold rain soaked us again, but now we had a sure destination, an imagined hotel as alluring as any genie's palace.


And where is our hero now, might we ask?

He's out on the cliffs playing Irish pennywhistle jazz over a dancing Spanish sea. 


You might say so. 

What is his current struggle, far or not so far from the conundrums of literature? 

We might imagine them as something like the following:

"Am I going to be any good at this thing or not?  Maybe I'm just wasting my time.  I made the right decision in seventh grade to give up the trumpet, since I couldn't get past the second chair.  But part of me feels so good when I'm playing, at least when I get it right.  Is it only like golf, where any duffer can make a great shot or two?  Even a hole-in-one doesn't necessarily make you a good golfer.  Shouldn't I have figured this out about myself a long time ago?  Isn't it about time I grew up and just accepted my limitations and moved on with what I can do well?  Whatever that might be..."

Or, maybe he's past all that midlife-adolescent soul searching, at least for now, and has moved with a greater level of acceptance and commitment into deeper considerations of music itself, and what he wants to do with it:

"It's just that I'm impatient with all these old traditional tunes.  Yeah, they're fun for a while, and good to learn from, but you gotta be willing to move on.  It's like, can't anybody think up any new tunes?  Or not even that.  Why do we have to stick to so-called tunes at all?  Why can't we just jam?  Let's just throw all the sheets of canned music away and jam all the time!  Now that would be a place I call really living--being truly alive to the present moment and everything it has to offer.  Why should I, or anybody, ever settle for less than total creative improvisation?]?]in music or for that matter, in any part of life? 

"I know, I know, not everyone wants to.  Bach was great.  Maybe he still is.  But there's another kind of classical, too: the classical music of India, which was based on a kind of spiritual improvisation, and which inspired the music of North Africa, which I'd be looking toward if I were on the other side of the island right now, instead of here looking toward France and Germany and all the rigid conventions of Europe.  And you can say the live human element, the fluid and organic impulse, can always come in through style, interpretation and so on.  But the way I see it is, the more freedom, the better.  Why not go for the whole shot?]?]at least in music, where it's supposed to be spiritual, or at least fun.  Where it doesn't matter if it happens a particular way, not like life-and-death survival.  Where for once we get a chance to hear what the universe has to say for itself."

No wonder, we might observe, this piper plays alone--his only audience, the orchestral sea.


Hapless wayfarers cast adrift, we catch a break when Oiseau asks a shopkeeper about this mysterious Rua Joaquim.  It turns out that our leads are on vacation in Switzerland through the month of October; but there is another address we can try where there's an apartment for rent.  While proceeding down the street to check it out, we pass a restaurant where a notice for yet another place catches my eye.  The restaurant itself looks pricey, but what the heck, no harm in inquiring. 

A stocky woman with a smooth pleasant face and round glasses comes out from the back of the restaurant and takes us to see the apartment.  She speaks French and keeps up a running patter the whole way, happy to find in Oiseau, particularly, an understanding listener. 

It's perfect: a house on the edge of town, right by the shoreline highway.  We'd have the whole upstairs to ourselves: kitchen, large bathroom with hot water, bedroom and dining room...a twenty-minute walk from the beach.  There are four big hungry red-eyed gray dogs pacing out back in a kennel, but that's not our problem: the landlady or her son will come to feed them nightly.  The price?  Only 6000 escudos per night.

Oiseau and I look at each other with only a little uncertainty.  Surely there's a place to be had either here or in Tavira for less than that.  It's October, after all.  I shake my head slightly, and Oiseau tells the woman that her place is very nice, we like it very much, but it's simply beyond our budget. 

Immediately the woman drops her price from 6000 to 5500. 

Now we are forced to reconsider, while the woman stands by waiting for her answer.  I pull Oiseau away with me at a few steps of discreet distance to confer.

"It's really got a lot going for it," Oiseau says to me. I can tell she's ready to get this thing settled before the day drags on too long.

"I agree.  I'm not sure about those dogs--but, it's a good location, too.  I'm just thinking, there's that one other place we could still go have a look at.  It might be cheaper."

"I suppose you're right.  Okay."

Oiseau tells the woman that we'd like to take some time and get back to her later that afternoon. 

"Wait," she says.  "5000 if you take it right now."


Breathless, Oiseau wondered, "What do we do with this ecstasy?"

The lovers wrapped themselves even tighter together, like the double snake of the healer's caduceus, or the rising helix of the life code itself, DNA.

And when at last they lay back content in the starlit dark, Now reflected: If this was true life and true love and it was as perfect as it could be just as it was, then all the rest was fiction--dramatic tension, the play of emotions in conflict. 

He said as much to his lover, whereupon she agreed with him in principle; but then, rubbing a little finger lightly around his left nipple, she asked, "Don't fictional characters ever find themselves in Paradise?"

"If so, it's rare: kind of like making love in public.  Ooh, that tickles."

"I wouldn't call that Paradise, would you?"

"Um, I'm not sure.  It would be different than life on earth."

"Not so different from the jungle we came from, though."

"Fiction calls that the Garden.  Anyway if your characters are living in perfect happiness, you'd pretty much have to call it religion, or self-help, instead of true literature.  Fiction writers tend to take the conservative view of human nature, showing why there's always someone or some part of us that just won't allow that perfect condition to exist for very long.  Characters, like most people I guess, are lucky to get a quick glimpse at the ultimate.  Maybe it's just a reflection of our own mortality."

"So we can't ever really get what we want, find love on a desert island?  I guess you'd call that a 'romance,' wouldn't you?"

"I think there's room for the romantic comedy.  It just seems a little lightweight."

"Not like your Thomas Mann and the death of European civilization." 

She was referring rather snidely to Doctor Faustus, a turgid novel I was reading for the third time and in fact had mailed to Spain so I could finish it here.  It hadn't yet arrived.

"Right.  I mean, how can you beat the Devil himself as the antagonist, with Adolf Hitler to carry the plot behind the scenes?"

"Hmm."  She shifted her gaze out the window to the flickering stars.

I feared this conversation about bliss and fiction had sucked the juice right out of the bliss, and all I had left were the words for a possible fiction.

But Oiseau was still working on the problem.  "I still think that a success story, or a positive love story, could be made interesting and worthwhile.   I don't recall old Robinson Crusoe having much conflict to work out; he just made do with what he found at hand."

"Right, the problem was survival, getting rescued.  And doing without civilization, that whole paradigm shift.  And then there was this wild card, Friday--"

"And so if it's two reasonably mature adults we're talking about, and not just a gang of rough boys running around hunting wild pigs or whatever it was in that other book?]?]"

"Lord of the Flies."

"Yup, grade nine.  Or, Lord of the Rings, for that matter.  Always guys fighting, questing, trying to make something happen other than what is."

"You're right," I told her.  "There's always this need for something other."

"Something or someone."

That reply gave me pause.  "But what were you saying, that it doesn't have to be like that?  That there can be a state of Eden after all?"

"Hmm.  I'm not so sure now.  Maybe having other needs beyond 'what is,' is part of 'what is,' for us humans."

excerpt from travel metafiction:

Red Rock Road, Light Blue Sea:

A Journey of Discovery


Nowick Gray

view more sample chapters:

* Dinner and Dancing

* Finding Water

* Tame Lizards

Red Rock Road incorporates the genres of fiction, travel literature, literary criticism, and personal growth. At its core is the story of two Canadians of the back-to-the-land generation, J. F. Now and his partner Oiseau, as they embark on a hybrid mid-life journey of creative and romantic rediscovery. Their destination is the idyllic island of Formentera, off the coast of Spain. Enroute, they backpack for two months around the remoter coasts and mountains of Spain and Portugal. Paring away everything but the most essential elements of nature and culture, the travelers seek to discover what might sustain them and give lasting impetus to their art and love. Both characters face a final crisis of love and freedom before the honeymoon is over, with deeper spiritual resolution as their reward. Coming Soon!






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