Morgan in Europe, in his own words
I’d like it here if I could leave and see it from a long way away.
– Michael Stipe
The brick is broken
rails long since rusted
and my face is flushed
from that which I cannot grasp,
I was still tired as the train pulled into the station. And I’d just about finished Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man. As close as I could figure I had as many as twenty-thousand days ahead of me, so I couldn’t do wrong with a few days of convalescing on the balmy beaches of Southern Portugal’s Algarve, taking the break that Kafka never allowed for. Convalescing. I felt old. I emerged from the ancient steel train under scattered gray skies and was immediately confronted by a somewhat weathered fisherman’s wife. She bore down on me with broken English and an offer of eight hundred escudos per night for a bed in her (pointing toward the top of the hill) “look como beehive” apartment overlooking Lagos which overlooks the Atlantic.
“ Sleep aqui esta noycha!” (My interpretation of Portuguese)
I accepted with a common nod, then followed the furrowed and faded, sundressed woman toward the top of her hill, counting cobblestones along the way and trying not to think. And as her mission had been accomplished, we made no further attempts at conversation for the next seven days.
Heart lifted in eyes, lightening rucksack burden.
The failing sun fell into the gray over this sundried village of tourists and fisherman. The cobblestones felt hard under my feet, like my shoes had just aged and thinned. I was bitten by regret for not having at least exchanged names with a pretty English girl on the train. She was beautiful and I’ve never believed in love at first sight but…
I looked over my shoulder at her, she looked at me, we both looked away. Started reading again. It was just like you’ve seen. She was reading Keats. Then I didn’t look. I felt overcome and not in a good way or a way that felt like it was something positive but I felt sort of magnetized like wanting to reach out to that glowing hot coal that a child will touch before they know why it’s glowing.
“Your book’s a bit heavy for being on holiday.” she guessed.
She was so fucking real at that moment I wanted to jump out the window of the train. Auburn hair, even skin, a nose for flowers, sea-dark eyes, a low-slung halter top and a voice that could breathe life into a reading of the ingredients on the side of a cereal box.
“You all right?”
“Heavy… yeah… but it’s important.”
“I read important books in winter,” she purred in her soft London accent.
She was excruciatingly delightful. She could’ve told me I was the ugliest goddamn troll she’d ever seen and I would’ve thanked her. But I couldn’t move, went blank, mercury went into retrograde. Silence, long silence. The sound of the trains’ wheels became raw like a dentist’s drill on my teeth. I grasped at something to say.
“I want to write.”
“Like Joyce?” she said disapprovingly, “He’s a dark sort. Stuck in his head. Catholic to the core. Sad really.”
She’d summed him up. The goddamn goddess spoke in pearls. I was getting smaller.
“Well no, but he’s important if you want to write.”
“I write bits for the New Yorker. Just short bits really, ‘Talk of the Town’.”
The fucking New Yorker.
“Right on,” I said almost under my breath.
She was looking at me, I could feel her waiting. The train brakes engaged and we started to slow down. Women made me dumb and she well, she was the one to end all…
I got up to grab my pack. She was still looking. Why hadn’t we talked two hours ago?
“I’m getting off here,” I said.
“Lagos is nice… I’m going to the south of Spain, Ibiza.”
I could see her, tan, walking toward the water like the Girl from Ipanema. If I’d asked her to get off with me, she might’ve. But I was dumb and almost mute, stuck.
“Drive safe,” I said, what a complete dickhead.
She furrowed her brow and smiled at the same time.
“I mean… have a safe trip.”
“Nice chatting with you.”
“Yeah, take care.”
She reached toward me and her hand brushed mine. The current sprinted through the circuit board and all I could do was turn away from her and hope my face would cool off. I rolled my eyes at myself, my forehead sweating, and walked off the train like an embarassed child with a load of shit in his pants. The train started to move again. I looked up at the window where she should be and there she was with the sunset in her face, an auburn, blue-eyed sunset. And then she was gone.
I couldn’t speak to the Portuguese woman so I found consolation in having distanced myself from images of the B-movie unreality of Old Lisbon. The Old World. Old World Charm.
I’d stayed there in a mausolean pensione, in a sort of cloistered isolation. Shadowed by the Castelo de Sao Jorge and overlooking the smoke-stained square of “the Baixa,” I thought of Dali:
Dark, Daliesque days,
“Persistence of Memory” in black and white
timepieces melt under sun-stripped skies
as time ticks away ,
the pestilent fly…
From my third story window I saw makeshift cafes with plastic chairs where nobodies (cartoon caricatures of living beings which might once have been human) were seen by no one. The square was full of them, set in some maniacal cycle, forcing an air of affluence while others, not knowing the game, wandered aimlessly.
Busses came and went and young boys puzzled by cafe counters, then struck out for the open, but choking, fresh air of the bay, to be confronted by peddlers of hash.
The problem with watching is that you invariably become uncomfortable, stiff, and stagnant. Movement requires a commitment.
There’d been a great earthquake in Voltaire’s time and it seemed as if the city hadn’t yet recovered.
I stepped back from the window and spoke out loud to this Portuguese prostitute who’d come on to me outside the train station.
“Is it just me?… where’s my passion… “
She shrugged. Didn’t speak a word of English.
“Am I just going through the motions… When will life feel alive again? Where’s the light.. the clarity, that sweet lucidity that saw it all for what it was? Fuck this ark. I want out.”
“Fuck?” she said, she understood fuck, “mosh dinero.” (my perception of Portuguese)
She got dressed, walked over to me, and put her hand out. I gave her money. She turned away to leave.
She turned back around. I gave her a hug, squeezed her like it was last time I’d see her and we’d had a long passionate love affair. She looked like the English girl I saw on the train, a prelim, a hollow soul-less duplicate, and I wanted to feel love. Now, not later, and even later would I be able to grasp it?