31.12.16

The Annual Recap.


1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

- Drank wine in Portugal with Mawii which I am putting here because it was always on my bucket list. Portugal, especially.
- Had my first film shoot, aaaand as a by-product, padded around my own suite in a white towelling robe before having a cold beer while soaking in a bubble bath in very expensive hotel. (Another bucket list dream ticked off.)
- Got addicted to something I am never ever (it doesn't even need a resolution) going back to.
- Bought myself a very expensive present.
Cannot talk about the other stuff, which include good things and not-so-good things and things I cannot remember.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No. But I did roll cigarettes some of the time. Next year.
1. Write more and, specifically, update this blog regularly. 
2. Control my temper. (Something I failed miserably at this past year.)
3. Stop being lazy.
4. I will not say yes to things I ought to say no to. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.


4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes and yes.

5. What countries did you visit?

England and Portugal. :)

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

A better temper.
A better immune system.
More action. (I am not talking about sex, I am talking about doing things I keep saying I'll do.)

7. What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory and why?

It's been an intense year, I'll remember much of it. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Not crawling under my bed and staying there. 
Not that I currently have a bed. 

Oh yes, and taking a risk. I'm usually averse to risks. 



Oh, and giving up marijuana and vodka. 

[Added later]: FORGET ALL OF THE ABOVE, I CAN'T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO ADD THIS. IT PUTS EVERY OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENT TO SHAME. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED:

Me and a friend I call Shitface decided to go drinking. Plan B, Happy hours, weekday afternoon. We reach there around 2. 

We start drinking beer. 

At 7 pm, our waiter comes up to us and says: I don't do this, but I have to tell both of you that I have never, in my career, seen two people put away so much beer in one sitting and still seem so sober.

*Pause*

And neither of you have beer bellies. 

9. What was your biggest failure?

Making plans, and not following through.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Oh yes. 

11. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

No one's really. 

12. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The majority of the human population.

13. Where did most of your money go?

Food. 

14. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The summer holiday.
And the risk mentioned earlier that I don't want to go into. 

15. What song will always remind you of 2016?

Nothing in particular. 

16. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

I don't know. I think whatever happiness I currently have is optimism for next year.

17. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Not sitting around doing nothing. 

18. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Sitting around doing nothing.

19. How will you be spending Christmas?

Christmas has come and gone. I was in Calcutta and it was the usual Christmas but it was okay, this time, not fabulous. 

20. Did you fall in love in 2015?

No.

21. How many one night stands?

None. 


22. What was your favourite TV programme?

Suits, until it became crap. 

23. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot about contemporary India this year for a project I was working on - definitely a few of those. 

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Nothing. 

25. What did you want and get?

Freelance work. 

26. What did you want and not get?

Stuff that would make this post seem fairly interesting.
(To be fair, this has been one of those years I'll remember, for better or for worse, but I can't actually talk about it.) 

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

A bunch of thrillers. 

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 25 and had the most epic party I have ever had which is saying something. 

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Being able to start over from the beginning. 

30. What kept you sane?
My medication.
Haha. Ha. 

31. Who was the worst new person you met?

No one!

32. Who was the best new person you met?

Ditto.

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learnt in 2016.

Do NOT go with the flow.

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

As usual - no.

2.11.16

Interlude.

It was like seeing wild flowers, the untamed and unabashed ones. The ones with vivid and riotous colour and a form that is dance. The ones that are at their best, just after a storm. Richer, deeper, unbearably beautiful, after having feasted on rain and wet earth.

So you gathered them, wanting to carry not just their beauty, but that elusive something you couldn't, and can't, define. You brought them home, and arranged them, carelessly or carefully, and then, just as they seemed right, you realised they were wrong. And no, it was nothing to do with their having lost their wildness, nothing to do with them being tamed, none of the usual fallacies. It was something more unexpected: the realisation that they invaded your private, secret space. Flowers that couldn't be lived with. Familiarity breeds contempt, and you should never let it cross the threshold.


23.10.16

Summer 2016: Part 4

The first inkling I got that Livraria Lello wasn’t so much a bookshop as a tourist attraction was when I found myself standing in line to buy a ticket to enter. 

As we crossed the threshold, my heart sank. There were hordes, hosts, and herds of humans. If it weren't for the fact that they were mostly Caucasian, it could have easily been any given place in India.

I kept - through no fault of my own - bumping elbows with Europeans who all seemed to have a propensity for hissing at me. But the bookshop itself was very lovely - what I could see of it, over people's heads. I browsed round the ground floor for a bit, and then climbed the grand staircase to the first floor - narrowly avoiding a middle-aged couple and their selfie stick. Upstairs was as crowded. I looked at a few books: all too expensive for me to buy. Real bookshops let you pick books off the shelves and sit there and read for a bit, and then choose another book, and do some more reading. But both space and atmosphere were not conducive to that essential activity and so, after ten minutes, Mawii and I left. It was all so disappointing. 

“Let’s forget about it,” said Mawii. “We’ll walk to the river and have a drink somewhere and then cross over to visit the vineyards,”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said. 

We walked and walked (and believe me, my appreciation for my new sandals grew with each painless step I took), and we soon ended up by the railway station (probably one of the most beautiful station I’ve ever seen, from the outside at least). 

“If we keep walking straight,” said Mawii, consulting her map, “we’ll hit the river. But we can take that little street as well and it should get us there,”

I looked towards the street she was talking about - it was the sort of street you just have to walk down. We could just see its beginnings from where we stood, but that was enough to gauge the flower baskets and little shops and its general air of liveliness. 

“Let’s take it,” I said. 

Sometimes, the most ordinary things - in this case, strolling down a street - make you realise that you really are in a foreign land, because the ordinary is so different from what you’re used to. The street was decked with paper lanterns - they hung like little balloons over our heads. I regretted the fact that it wasn’t dark and that they weren’t lit; it would have been a fantastic sight. We had time and we meandered. I moved ahead of Mawii at some point, and I was gazing at a shop selling crystals when I heard her call my name. 

“What is it?” I asked turning. 

Her eyes were very wide. 

“A man just randomly came up to me and asked if I wanted weed.”

“Did you take it?” I said eagerly (and stupidly). 

“It was probably oregano or something so no I didn’t.”

“No one’s offered me weed yet,” I said in an injured tone. 

“I’m sure your time will come,” said Mawii, rolling her eyes. 

(It did.) 

We took a left up an intriguing looking lane. It was very steep, bordered by tall houses with minuscule doors. There was also a cycle workshop that we passed: the sign outside was made of a real cycle. That’s what I mean when I say people there take pains to make even the most banal things attractive or interesting. 

We eventually reached a sort of hill which was evidently a viewing point since there was a small tour group there as well. There, before us, lay the red roofs of Portugal, under an intensely blue sky. Beyond them was the river, with the bridge to the left. 

“It was built by the same guy who built the Eiffel Tower,” Mawii told me. And there was a faint resemblance to the old Eiffel in the way that bridge was wrought. 

We could see that once we left the viewing point, we needed to walk straight to reach the river and from there, turn left to get to the bridge. This is what we preceded to do. 

Although, by the time we crawled towards the river, looking for the bridge didn’t seem as appealing as looking for a glass of crisp wine. I vaguely remember attempting to search for the bridge nonetheless, but it seemed to have disappeared. 

“I don’t understand,” said Mawii in despair, “it was right there. Wasn’t it right there?”

“It was right there,” I agreed. “But look, there’s a little restaurant right here which is more important.” 

Mawii conceded that it was indeed more important and we started walking towards it. A moment later, I was to have a near death experience. Mawii is the reason I am alive today. 

I have this tendency to blank out occasionally, to become completely oblivious to what’s going around me. It’s actually quite incredible. Here’s an example. It’s only happened to me thrice, the last time was about four years ago, when I was in college. I was standing in the garden of my PG and looking at a tree. I have no clue why, maybe it was flowering or something. And my brain stopped registering that I was standing, so my legs just crumpled under me, and I fell over. It wasn’t cramp or anything. I simply forgot I was standing and when you forget you’re standing, you fall, as it turns out. It’s very strange. For a long time, I hoped that it was a sign that the flame of genius burned within me, but I am twenty-five now, and I have finally accepted that it has nothing to do with genius and everything to do with being weird. 

I was walking on a tramline, and I suppose I was thinking about something or the other, because a tram was heading straight for me and though I was facing it, I didn’t see it, not even when it was a few feet away. The fact that something unusual had happened only dawned on me when Mawii shrieked, leaped towards me, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me away, just as it sped by. My mouth fell open. The tram’s occupants had their faces pressed against the windows, their mouths were hanging open too, some of them were pointing at me and saying things - presumably nothing flattering.

“How did you not see that?” Asked Mawii incredulously. 

“I don’t know,” I said, awed by my idiocy. 

“There are like fifty people in this city who think I’m a complete moron,” I added, after a reflective pause. 

“Well, they’re right,” snorted Mawii.

I nodded amiably. 

We’d sat ourselves down at a table outside the restaurant we’d seen. It overlooked the river. A waiter hurried up to us and suggested the Sangria. Mawii said she’d try it, I said I’d prefer a glass of white wine. 

“It’s very good Sangria,” he said persuasively. 

“I’m not a huge fan of Sangria,” I said. “All that fruit makes me nervous.” 

“I’ll put less fruit in for you, I’ll put just the right amount of fruit. It truly is excellent Sangria.” His earnestness was overwhelming but I refused to be overwhelmed. 

“No,” I said, smiling as charmingly as I could to offset the crime of refusing his Sangria. “I’ll stick to the wine.”

“Are you sure?” He said, sounding heartbroken. 

“I’m sure.”

His eyes glistened with what I suspect were tears so I kindly told him that maybe I’d order one after my glass of wine. It seemed to cheer him slightly: he blinked several times and managed a watery smile and when he walked away, he did not look like he was going to jump into the river after going off duty. So that was okay then. 

Our drinks arrived and I didn’t regret my decision: the wine was delicious. I took a sip of Mawii’s Sangria, it was pretty good, but nothing to get weepy over. 

We sat there for more than two hours, but I don’t think we had more than two drinks. And that is something that is remarkable about Europe’s drinking culture. You can sit in one place for hours, and whereas in Bangalore or Calcutta or even London, you’d get totally hammered, there, somehow, you find yourself drinking very slowly, making conversation, enjoying your surroundings: sophisticated drinking, as Mawii correctly pointed out. And there is alcohol everywhere, even more than London. The coffee shops serve alcohol. You can walk into a coffee shop at nine in the morning and order a beer instead of a coffee or tea. And yet, though I saw plenty of people sitting around, enjoying their drinks and making merry, I didn’t see any crude raucousness, or drunken stumbling. The drinking there is slow, it is peaceful, it is easygoing. It is delightful. 

A very good looking man was sitting on his own at a table near us. He didn’t have a laptop, or a book, or a phone out: just a beer that he was drinking contemplatively. Actually, good looking doesn’t cut it. He was more than that. He was superb. 

I put on my sunglasses (three hours old and already showing scratches) and, along with Mawii, indulged in some shady, shameless staring, worthy of my Indian brothers. 

After we were done, we went for a walk alongside the river. There were plenty of wine bars with tables and chairs spilling outdoors, and different kinds of music, intermingling and mellow, and quaint little shops selling cork magnets and bags and belts and hats. Portugal is the world’s biggest exporter of cork. I found a beautiful cork belt, and the minute I saw it, I knew Amar would love it. But it was so expensive, so expensive. I stood there for about ten minutes debating whether to buy it or not, and then recklessly put the money down and went off with it. 

We continued walking along the river bank, and by sheer accident, found that goddamn bridge. But we decided not to cross it, mainly because there was a very pretty looking wine bar that looked infinitely more interesting. We went in, and I’m glad we did, because I discovered white wine port. I didn’t even know white port existed. It was extremely expensive, but Mawii, already sympathetic to my recent purchase, bought me a drink as well as herself. That port was so good. It was like dessert wine, really, but less heavy. 

We had a second glass and I was feeling slightly light-headed. I was also very worried about the belt. I took out my wallet and did some calculations.

“Mawii,” I said, after a pause. “If I skip dinner tonight, and breakfast and lunch tomorrow, I’ll still be short of a couple of Euros.”

“Couple of Euros for what?”

“To get to Lisbon tomorrow,”

We looked at each other in silence. 

“I could always just stay here,” I said, breaking it. “Throw away my passport. Become an illegal refugee.”

“What’s the point of buying the belt for Amar then?” Said Mawii. “It’s not like you’ll be able to give it to him, and the belt is the reason you’ll have to be a refugee in the first place.”

“Good point,” I conceded.

Another pause. 

“You know what you have to do, right?” Said Mawii. 

“No, no, no,” I said desperately. “I’m useless at buying presents. This is something he’s going to love.”

“Either way he’s not going to see it because you won’t be able to afford to get back home,”

I sighed and told her to wait there for me, and then I darted out of the bar. I sprinted down the bank, desperately hoping I’d recognise the shop I’d bought the belt from (there were many and they all looked similar). I did. 

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I said to the proprietress. “I bought this belt from you half an hour ago, do you remember?”

“Yes,” She said suspiciously. Experience had obviously taught her this was not going to be a welcome conversation. 

“The thing is,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I can’t afford it. I thought I could, but I can’t. And I’m a tourist here and I have to go to Lisbon tomorrow, but unless you take this and give me my money back, I won’t be able to go to Lisbon.”

She looked very disapproving. 

“Please, Ma’am. I’m so so sorry.” 

Thank god I’d drunk the wine because without it, I’d never have been able to squeeze a couple of tears out. Those tears are what saved me. She melted visibly and told me it was alright (“be careful next time though”) and she took the belt and gave me my money back. 

As I sprinted back to Mawii, I shed a few more tears. This was for three reasons. The first was because a part of me really did feel terrible that I couldn’t give Amar a present he would have really loved. The second was because of sheer relief. And the third was because of the sharp cold wind that was blowing in from the river and stinging my eyes. 

I was glad to get back to the warmth of the bar. 

We wisely decided not to have a third glass of wine and decided to go and get dinner. It was about nine by then, and the sky was getting ready for nightfall. There was a particular restaurant that we wanted to go to, Mawii had marked it out on the map, so naturally we walked around for about an hour attempting to find it. When we did find it, it was very crowded, and there was another restaurant next to it that looked quieter and more appealing. So we went in for some hot soup. We were both exhausted by then. The thought of a long walk home was daunting, but it’s not like we had a choice. 

We followed Mawii’s map home, which basically meant we spent forty minutes walking around in circles before finally asking a police-officer how to get back. It turned out we were just a ten minute walk away from where we were staying. 

I wisely refrained from referring to the map which had proven to be more unhelpful than otherwise. I had already learnt that Mawii is a map nazi. She refuses to ask for directions (I am amazed that she condescended to ask the policeman; she must have been seriously exhausted), she throws a tantrum if you tentatively suggest asking for directions, and then she throws the map at you and tells you to read it. (This didn’t happen that day, but it would happen soon.) 

Anyway, we finally managed getting back, and we crawled thankfully into bed. 


A single day in Porto and it felt like three days rolled into one. I’d experienced physical agony, moderate disappointment, intense peace and contentment, riotous happiness, and a sense of wonder. All these experiences were very tiring - experiences usually are - and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Also, the next day was going to take me to Lisbon, so I suppose my subconscious realised I needed all the rest I could get. 

Summer 2016: Part 3

After leaving the food market, we decided to walk to Livraria Lello, and from there, to the river. The plan was to cross the river and go across to some vineyards before going back home. 

“It’s a good plan because it’ll take us pretty much all over Porto. We’ll probably be able to make an entire day out of it.” 

“Yay,” I replied dutifully, and we set off.

After about half-an-hour, Mawii realised I was hobbling. 

She stopped. She sighed. She said: “Trish, maybe you should go back to the guesthouse and change your shoes.”

“I’ll get lost,” I said helplessly. 

Mawii couldn’t argue with that one. 

“And I won’t have time to cross the river if I do that, it’ll probably take me an hour or more to join you wherever you’ll be, and our mobiles aren’t working anyway.”

“We could do it the old-fashioned way and meet somewhere at a specific time,” Mawii said, slightly doubtfully. 

“What are the chances I’ll find my way there?” I said scornfully. “I’ll probably end up having to go back to the guesthouse and spending the day there. Or I’ll never get back at all. I’ll end up a beggar on the streets or something.”

Mawii sighed once more, this time in agreement. 

“I’ll manage,” I said confidently. “I’m breaking them in. Therefore, they’ll soon be broken, and everything’s going to be just dandy.”

“All right,” said Mawii. 

And so she continued walking and I continued hobbling. 

After ten minutes - 

“MAWII! WAIT!” I shrieked. 

“WHAT?” 

“There’s a lizard here eating another lizard!” 

“Why would you want to see that?” said Mawii curiously, walking back towards me. 

I wasn’t sure, except I’ve never seen a lizard eat another lizard. I think they were lizards, but they didn’t look like Indian lizards. They were much smaller, and a very bright green. Half of one of the lizards was inside the mouth of the other and they were both very still. Only their tails beat occasionally. It was like the lizard-being-eaten was waiting to see what would happen next, trying to formulate a plan, or maybe it was exhausted, or maybe it was even headless by now, come to think of it, and the moving tail was just dead lizard talking. The second lizard looked like it was biding its time. Or maybe it was just lazy. 

I kneeled down and took a photograph (which I promise to put up here). Mawii’d walked away.

“Don’t you want to take a photo?” I asked since she’d been taking photos of pretty much everything. 

She shuddered. 

Porto is such a pretty city. Lisbon was going to be like that too, except I didn’t know it yet. The houses there bear a startling resemblance to the old houses of Goa - not surprising, I suppose - except, obviously, the ones in Portugal are better maintained. It’s still very much part of the contemporary local architecture. The houses are a riot of colour, each unconcerned about matching its neighbour, but it just works somehow. They are pink and yellow and blue and red, and some of them are tiled. Most of them have red roofs, but not all. And nearly all of them have flowers at the window-sills, or plants on the balconies, so each street is framed by them. One house, I remember, had flowers that hung over the sills, so when I stood below and looked up, I saw a canopy of riotous red and purple, with bits of sky peering through. The main roads are like any other, but the smaller streets are cobbled. There are trees everywhere, many of them are flowering trees, a few others grow fruit like clementines. The public buildings - the railway station for instance, or a church, or a museum - are reminiscent of an age gone by. I didn’t see any square, geometric, impersonal buildings. I saw towers and arches and columns. Just walking around is a pleasure. 

I felt a pang when I saw what I did, because it brought home to me the ugliness of home. I don’t mean the squalor or the poverty or even the dust. I mean the buildings we see, the old ones that are decrepit, and the new ones which are impersonal boxes, often with some sort of ostentatious feature thrown in that makes them even uglier than they otherwise would be. The dearth of trees and flowers in many places. The cars that crowd absolutely everything. In Portugal, attempts have been made to make even the most banal things pretty. The dustbins, for instance, are painted in startling patterns. The lamp posts on the streets have flower baskets. And I felt slightly depressed, comparing the ugliness I see everyday with what Portugal had to offer. 

What was causing me more depression, though, was the fact that I was nowhere close to conquering the shoes. On the contrary, they seemed to be conquering me. We had to keep stopping every twenty minutes so I could rest. I toyed with the idea of taking them off and walking barefoot, but I decided against it. Porto seemed clean, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t that clean. I was also pretty sure that if there was a single piece of glass, or something similarly sharp, lying anywhere in the city, I’d find a way to step on it. And so the agony continued. 

During one of the stops, we saw a very pretty street with a church at the end. 

“Do you think you’ll manage to walk there?” Asked Mawii. 

“No,” I said firmly. 

And then I saw a patch of grass with trees and I told her to carry on, and that I’d sit there with my book and wait for her. I took off my shoes and breathed a sigh of relief. I took out my book but I didn’t read it. I just sort of revelled in the feeling of being in a strange city, watching it go by, sitting on damp grass under a tree that gave me protection from a sun that was so gentle, protection wasn’t really required. But a stronger reason for my, er, revelling was, of course, the fact that I had an excuse to take off the damn shoes for a short while. I looked at them with distaste. 

“I will conquer you,” I said to them. “I spent money on you, and you’re not all that bad to look at, I’ll give you that, and I will wear you and you will do what I say, and aid me in my movements, not hinder me.” 

The shoes looked back at me, distressingly unconcerned. 

“Just you wait,” I said. 

They looked content to wait. 

Mawii came back after fifteen minutes, carrying two of those custard tarts that we’d heard were a Portuguese specialty. Porto and Lisbon both have cafes all over the place (and all of them, interestingly enough, serve alcoholic beverages - but more on the drinking culture later) and each and every single one sells those tarts. I bit into mine. It was piping hot, and very sweet, and the crust was golden, and it was very delicious. We’d moved to a bench and we sat there for a while, eating the tarts, and talking about how far the bookshop was. 

“I think the most sensible thing to do,” I said to Mawii, “is to just buy a pair of new shoes.”

“Because buying new shoes has worked for you so far?” She said. 

“That was below the belt,” I replied sternly. “No, I’ll get sandals that won’t cut into my feet.”

She agreed that it wasn’t a terrible idea and we started off again. We passed all sorts of shops but not a single damn shoe shop. Oh, except one. I darted in, and so did Mawii, and we looked at the shoes, and Mawii looked like she was having an orgasm, because the shoes were so pretty. I picked one up and looked at the price tag. More than a 100 euros. I sighed and picked up another one. More than 200 euros. Mawii and I looked at each other regretfully and exited. 

“We need to come back one day when we’re the sort of people who can buy expensive shoes the way we buy, like, an ice-cream now.” 

“Do you think we’ll ever be those sort of people?”

“There are two of us,” I said encouragingly. “Even if one of us turns out to be wealthy, the other can sponge off. I promise to always let you sponge off me, Mawii.”

I didn’t bring up the fact that, taking probabilities into account, I will probably end up being the sponger: the eccentric spinster who lives in Mawii’s attic in her charming little house, smoking out the window, watching her play with her seven children wearing aprons in the garden, not even allowed to babysit them in case I set one of them (or all of them) on fire or something. 

After a very painful forty-five minutes though, we reached an area that were full of inexpensive looking shops. I darted - well, okay, limped - into the first shoe store I saw. I tried on the cheapest pair of sandals I saw (15 euros, enough for two meals, but worth the sacrifice) and they didn’t cut into my feet, they were soft, and I promptly plonked the money down and walked out wearing them. 

My god, the relief. 

And then we came across a vintage store selling clothes. (Which really means secondhand.) I really needed - okay, wanted - some new (figuratively speaking) clothes, and Mawii is always happy to shop, so we went in. I bought two dresses, and insisted on walking out wearing one of them, much to Mawii’s horror. 

“It probably hasn’t been washed since it was last worn.”

“Of course it’s been washed,” I said, “no shop would sell unwashed clothes.”

“These shops do! You have to soak them overnight! You’re probably wearing all sorts of germs and disease.”

“Rubbish,” I said gaily, suppressing a small qualm that had arisen within me. 

I have since regretted buying those damn dresses. I have worn the one that I was wearing that day just twice since, and I have worn the other one not at all. This always happens to me. I go to a shop and I try on the clothes and I’m like, whoa Trisha, you look so good, and they genuinely do look nice on me in the store. But then I get home, and I try them on, and I end up looking terrible, and they join a pile of clothes that I have bought and will never wear, and it makes me very sad. 

But oh well. 

We found our way to a cafe, and we ordered a sandwich and a pastry and some coffee, and we sat outside in the sun. There was a beautiful clock tower to the right. There were quite a few people sitting outside, all taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, and it struck me that everyone looked very happy. 

For a moment I wondered whether it was because they were all tourists and on holiday, but the people at the next table were speaking in Portuguese, and they looked happy, so I convinced myself that in a place like this, even the locals were happy, and it gave validity to my own happiness. 

After that, we followed Mawii’s map to Livraria Lello - which is something I’d been looking forward to for the past six weeks, ever since I saw photos of the bookshop online. There is no point describing how beautiful it looked, I will not be able to do justice to it. So once again, watch this space for photographs. 


But real life often falls short of the expected (unless you train yourself to expect misery and disappointment which is my expertise; unfortunately I had not indulged in it in this time). And that is what was going to happen with Livraria Lello: a place of astounding beauty, one of the most magnificent bookshops in the world, ruined, as are many things, by People. 

18.10.16

Summer 2016: Part 2

I might as well start off by saying that there was no goddamn smoking room in the Porto airport either.  (I know I am sounding like a desperate chain-smoker, but I'm not, well, not really. I'm just choosing to Observe the Little Things.)

"This is Europe, for crying out loud," I grumbled o Mawii, who was busily and unsubtly looking the other way. "Aren't cigarettes supposed to be an integral part of the local culture or something?"

Another frustrating moment occurred when I tried getting my travel card from the ticket machine. I hate ticket machines. They're so stressful. First of all, there are usually three or four people behind you, sighing and tapping their feet and definitely Judging your complete ineptness. Then there's the machine itself, with all its buttons and signs and press-this-for-that and press-that-for-this, and a limited time you can do it in. And to top it all off, all my coins fell out of my wallet. But while I was was scrabbling around on the floor trying to collect them, red-faced and squirming under the cold glances I sensed from the people around me, Mawii wordlessly stepped in front of the machine and got my card for me.

I may be hopeless at many things, but not when it comes to choosing my friends.

We took an escalator up, out of the airport, and reached the platform where the train that would take us into town was due to pull up.

As we came up the escalator, I saw a middle-aged man in a tweed cap leaning over the rails, watching everyone, smoking a cigarette furiously.

So when I reached the platform, I lit one.

The man - who'd finished his cigarette by then - came up to me and said, very earnestly, "No, no, don't smoke here. They'll catch you." And he pointed to a no smoking sign that I hadn't seen.

I looked at the sign, and then looked at the ground which was littered with cigarette stubs, and then looked at the man who'd been blatantly poisoning all the escalator passengers with second-hand cigarette smoke.

But since I am an easy going person, I said, oh thank you very much, and when he started walking a few steps away, surreptitiously gesturing for me to follow him, I obliged. It wasn't to a dark and shady passageway, obviously, it was just a few steps, but those steps took us behind a big signboard so only our legs were visible to other people on the platform.

Mawii was with me, of course, and he turned to her and said: "You're from Germany, yes?"

We looked at each other and I imagined Hitler indignantly choking on hell-fire.

Mawii is from Mizoram. People might think she's Japanese, or Vietnamese, or Thai, or - you get the picture - but German definitely doesn't come to mind.

"No," said Mawii. "I'm from India."

"Oh. You look German."

God knows what sort Germans this man had seen or interacted with, but our train arrived at that point, so we abandoned contemplation, bid him a hasty goodbye, and got on it. Our last glimpse was of him slinking off to an old man who'd just lit up a cigarette; presumably our friend's intention was to guide the geriatric gentleman to the spot behind the sign and ask him whether he was from Japan since he was blue-eyed and Caucasian. 

Mawii had organised a B&B for us, of course, and our landlady asked us to meet her at a cafe. We found our way there. It was airy and sunlit with white iron-wrought furniture. We decided to order something to eat while we waited for her. The menu was in Portuguese. 

"Why is the menu in Portuguese?" I hissed.

"Because we're in Portugal," said Mawii, rather unkindly.

"Yeah, but why don't they have English translations? Don't all places all over the world have menus with an English translation?"

"No," said Mawii, probably wondering why she was friends with me.

I went to the counter and I saw someone being handed a bowl of soup so I wisely pointed at the soup and said, "I'll have that."

It turned out to be green pea soup. Divine.

Our landlady turned up then, and we realised that the Air B&B was right above the cafe. 

The layout is something like this: you enter the building and as you step through the door, a corridor stretches out ahead of you. To your right, is the cafe. Next to it are a pair of French doors, with a broad wooden staircase behind them. The corridor continues towards another room - part of the cafe - which in turn leads to a narrow and charming garden. 

The lodgings are at the top of the staircase, behind those French doors. You reach a landing which has, to one side, a dim room, with a desk and some chairs - a study, really. And that opens out on to a sunny little kitchen, which in turn, leads to a room that's been partitioned into neat little bathrooms for guests. That is the first floor. The second is reached through steep and cramped winding stairs - so steep that your knees reach your stomach as you climb up. There are two small rooms at the top. One of the rooms was ours. I am going to put up photos of everything (watch this space) which has just led me to the realisation that this entire paragraph has been unnecessary, but since I've written it, I'll be damned if I'm going to delete it now. Tough luck, but anyway. Moving on. 

The landlady had maps - as would the landlady in Lisbon. These maps, in Mawii's hands, were going to be the bane of my existence, but I didn't know it then. Since we had the evening ahead of us, we decided to walk to the sea. 

The landlady told us it was a short walk, and bid us farewell. She was wrong, it was not a short walk, on the contrary, it was extremely long, but halfway there, we found - okay, Mawii found - a park we could walk through to reach the seaside. My god, it was so beautiful. Winding paths framed by trees, stretches of flat green grass, and mini-hills, and lakes, and wild flowers. Again, I will put up some of the photos I took. 

And finally we reached the sea. There was no beach, really, just rock, and it was grey and wild with white-tipped waves, and rolling grey-white clouds overhead. After some trouble, we found our way to a bar that had an outdoor seating area, and despite the cold wind shooting its way from the water, we sat outside and ordered chilled beer and toasted the beginning of our holiday.

Half an hour later, I managed doing something that unleashed a hidden pissed-offness in Mawii, and she started shouting at me. I know how to handle her though, so I listened meekly, and agreed that she was justified, and I really had been impossible in the months leading up to the holiday, leaving her to do all the organising while I just passively floated along, and I apologised sincerely, and so, it ended with her feeling terribly guilty and trying to get me to wear her sunglasses (which were the source of her diatribe) to protect my eyes from the sun (which had come out by now). And then she bought me a beer.

We sat there for hours. It's strange, we really shouldn't have had much to catch up on, because we talk so often, but we did have a lot to catch up on. We blabbered away until dark and then realised we needed to get back. 

"I can't walk back," I said to Mawii. "I'll die."

She nodded in agreement. 

So we went inside and asked the people there how to get back to where we lived. They told us we could catch a bus and gave us the number. I vaguely remember standing at the wrong bus stop, and then nearly crossing over to another bus stop that was also the wrong bus stop, and then finally asking a parked taxi (the man inside it, not the taxi itself obviously) where we could find the right bus stop. He pointed the way and we trudged its path wearily. It had started raining. 

"We could always take the taxi," I said to Mawii.

"NO!"

"But -" 

"WE ARE NOT SPENDING MONEY ON TAXIS," Mawii said firmly.

A pause and then, "At least not on our first day," 

I subsided meekly. 

We stood under the bus shelter and the rain came pouring down and after a few moments, we looked at each other and started howling with laughter because it seemed so typical, somehow, that we were stranded under a bus stop, lost and cold and slightly drunk, on our first night in Portugal. 

But luckily the bus arrived before our laughter became tinged with hysterics and despair, and we got on it. We went past our B&B, but we realised our mistake before we got too far so it was just a ten minute walk back towards it in the rain. 

The cafe was open. We had hot soup and hot bread and dragged our weary bodies off to bed.

And so endeth the first day. 

*

The kitchen had a balcony adjacent to it. A small one, with a round table and two chairs and a potted plant on the table, overlooking the garden. I woke up early the next morning and took myself off there, with a mug of hot water (I couldn’t figure out how to work the coffee machine, but I figured that Mawii would be able to work it once she was up) and a cigarette and a book that I didn’t read because thinking High Thoughts (“I can’t believe I’m here. Oh gosh, everything’s so pretty. Oh jeez, I wish I lived here. Oh man, how can I live here, is there someone I can con into marrying?) and watching the sunlight dancing on the damp garden, and the breeze ruffling the leafy trees, seemed infinitely more preferable just then. 

It’s funny how it’s always the most insignificant moments you carry with you. I remember the half-hour on the balcony so well. The fresh scent of the air - and you never really realise how painfully absent it is from daily life until you breathe it in somewhere else - and the glistening wet grass, and above all, a sense of peace, and of contentment. Kind of like the air I was talking about, come to think of it. It had been a turbulent few months, sadness alternating with boredom, and it was only at that moment, that I realised what I’d been missing, and I was grateful that, temporarily at least, I’d found it.

And then obviously I spilled the mug of hot water on myself because that is what I do, and life returned to normal. 

Mawii joined me, and the genius figured out how to work the coffee machine as well. 

Although - 

“You realise that any duffer can do this, right?” She said to me, as one of the mugs filled. 

I made no protest. I have long ago made peace with the fact that regarding some things I am somewhat less than a duffer and duffers are no great shakes obviously. 

The plan was to start the day with breakfast at a well-known food market our landlady had told us about, to visit the famous Livraria Lello library that is featured on Buzzed as one of the world’s most beautiful, and to explore Porto in general. 

We got dressed and I put on my new red sneakers and admired myself in the mirror. Months have passed since that moment, and I still heartily regret it. I wake up sometimes at night, in a cold sweat, re-living the experience of those shoes. Many things, during the course of my life, have caused me to suffer. Death, injury (such as the time I fell off a wall and broke my teeth), evil persons determined to ruin my reputation, heartbreak, and other miscellaneous life-altering incidents that would have put a lesser human being in a mental hospital have all played a role in these sufferings. But none of them have come close to inflicting upon me what those shoes did. More on that later however. 

We set out, bright and early: Mawii, myself, and Mawii’s Map which was to play almost as big a role as the shoes in contributing towards the tally of my life’s suffering. 

“This is the way we need to go,” said Mawii, turning right, soon after we’d turned left. 

I dutifully followed her. 

“No, wait, it’s this way,” she said, and turned tail. 

I timidly made the suggestion that we ought to ask someone else for directions, but she ignored me. So we doubled back, took a right, then turned around again, and walked straight, and then we took a left, and then I looked at the map and said, oh, maybe we should go this way, but Mawii dismissed me with one of the coldest looks I have ever been given, and so we went a different way, and then when that way turned out to be wrong, we tried a few other ways, before heading back in the direction I originally suggested. 

I wanted to crow with glee, I really did, but something in Mawii’s face made me stay silent. I am very glad I did. 

We went past some fruit and vegetable stalls. They looked colourful and beautiful, artistically arranged. Mawii stopped to take photographs with her camera. I didn’t have a camera, just an old and cracked iPhone that has seen better days many days ago, but I wasn’t going to be left behind so I took a photograph too. The photo, strangely enough, didn’t show fruit and vegetables; it just showed a blur of colour. I sighed and tried once more. The result was the same, except this time, the photo was even blurrier than before. I studied it and wondered whether I could pass it off as something artsy and new-age, or if not, something reminiscent of the Impressionist era. I decided that it wouldn’t be possible. There was no possible way the photograph could be passed off as a deliberate artistic impression of anything. So I sighed once more and deleted it. 

We reached the food market forty minutes after we’d left the cafe. It was actually ten minutes away, but these things happen on holiday and there is no point regretting them. At least we’d seen more of Porto. 

The food market wasn’t so much a market as a mall dedicated to food. And oh, the food. Some stalls were devoted to special sandwiches, others to pastries. Mawii pointed out a small yellow tart, a custard tart, and told me that it was a Portuguese specialty. We were to see it practically everywhere we went. There were stalls devoted to cured meats, and traditional Portuguese food, and non-traditional Portuguese food (“deconstructed fusion”), and traditional non-Portuguese food, and…you get the picture. 

I regret to say that I don’t remember what I ate. It just had lots of meat in it - lots and lots and lots of meat. Mawii was eating something else at another stall. I joined her. My feet had started to hurt - New Shoe Syndrome. 

“These shoes are killing me,” I said to her. 

I surreptitiously took them off under the table and was alarmed to see red welts at the back of both my heels. 

“Look at this,” I hissed. 

Mawii looked. 

“Are those brand new shoes?” She asked. 

“Yup,”

“You haven’t worn them before?”

“Nope,” I said, missing the incredulity in her voice. 

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, TRISHA?” 

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to wear new shoes for hours on end when you’re walking? You need to break them in first,”

“How do you break them in if you don’t wear them?” I said. 

She rolled her eyes and took out a couple of band-aids from her bag. 

I put them on. And then I put my socks on. And then I put my shoes on.

“Better?” She asked. 

“Yes, yes,” I said. 

“Do you want to go back quickly before we set off and change them?”

“No, of course not,” I said airily. “It’s fine now. No problem.”

“Are you sure?”

Blissfully unaware of the agony that was to dog my heels (haha, get it?) for the rest of the day, I said that I was quite sure.

Oh, how I was to regret and berate my surety in the hours to come.