The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Seduction and Meaningless Details

A green house
The first house
I awoke to a metal chair rattling over cobblestones. When I raised my head I was facing Ali sitting across the café table motionless with an intent look of hurt.

I licked a spot of dry spittle from the corner of my mouth feeling hot, lightheaded and thirsty. My sensation of disconnectedness was intensified by the oppressive rumbling of waves pounding into the surf and children screaming on the beach.

"I fell asleep," I said hoarsely, my mouth dry as ash.

For the first time since we had met, her face remained expressionless and still.

I felt an urge to explain why I hadn't gone home all night, but then let if fade away. Ali had taught me that explanations are meaningless, that only intent and actions really matter.

Until yesterday afternoon, I was convinced that she was mute. She had never spoken a word to me during the six months I had known her and yet I felt closer to her than to any other woman before. Her obstinate refusal to write messages should have made me suspect something, anything, but it didn't. I quickly became spellbound by her purposeful face and all its subtle expressions that said everything I needed to know. Then there was her living, breathing body, her meaningful touches and the soft moans that I lived for.

"Ali," I said, "I saw you talking on the phone yesterday, in the booth under the pine tree."

She swallowed and blinked rapidly. Her face distorted in a way I don’t care to describe or remember.

"I saw your lips moving,” I continued, surprised by the unfamiliar hollow tone of my voice, “you were speaking with someone."

The mid-morning sun lit up the moisture welling in her eyes, which whe quickly wiped away with her index fingers and, in the same motion, brushed her loose hair back over her shoulders. She smiled faintly and regained her composure.

I met Ali earlier in the year when she came to the big house in the early afternoon looking for a room. I opened the door to a young woman with the lean body of a long-distance traveler, long sun-bleached hair and an endearing freckled face.

"Hi," I said politely and waited for the inevitable question. Instead, she pointed to the "ROOMS" sign, and then softly touched her chest.

"You don't speak English," I said perplexed.

She smiled, nodded and, by signs, let me know that she was mute.

"I see, you don't speak," I replied uncomfortably, not knowing what else to say, "but you speak English," I said and felt foolish for saying it.

She smiled understandingly, nodded again and eyed me expectantly.

I rented four rooms and they were all full. That's what I meant to say. Instead, I recited my usual lowdown on prices and conditions. When I finished, she gave me the thumbs up sign.

"I just got home," I lied. "I'll check if the room is vacant and I'll be back in a few minutes." 

I asked her to sit under the palm tree that was taller than the two-storey house built on a clifftop plateau overlooking clusters of red-tiled roofs, the long beach and ocean.

I rushed to my room. In several trips, I carried all my clothes, books, the small safe and personal belongings into the storage room next to the kitchen and then lugged the heavy Underwood typewriter into the dining room. I did a quick sweep job, opened the window and then fetched a fresh set of sheets and towels from the laundry droom.

I was about to change the bed but changed my mind. Instead I crossed the hall into the bathroom, washed the thin film of sweat off my face, combed my hair, relaxed for a minute and then walked back outside. The whole ordeal had taken little more than ten minutes.

The pebbled yard crunched under my feet as I walk toward the palm tree. "You can see it now, if you like."

She nodded pleased, and I took her bag.

"The sheets haven't been changed yet, " I said as she waltzed into the large room, twirled merrily like a ballerina, leaned out the window, gazed at the ocean view and took a exaggeratedly deep breath. Then she turned to me and gave me a little oriental bow.

Next, I showed her my bathroom across the hall, which we would be sharing. The four guest rooms I rented were upstairs and had their own bathroom.

Then I gave her a tour of the kitchen and dining room and walked her back to "my" room.

"This key is for the room and this larger one if for the front door," I said.

As I handed her the keys, she cupped my hand in hers and looked at me so pleased I could hardly hold myself back from leaning over and kissing her.

"I almost forgot," I said, "I'll need your passport or ID card. Sorry, but it's the rule." I was going to make an exception for her, if I wasn't so curious about her identity.

She unzipped her shoulder bag and cheerfully handed me her passport. I wished her a good stay and walked off to my new quarters.

Inside the crammed storage room, I looked at the passport. She was South African, her name was Allison Maguire and she was twenty-three years old. I then put the passport in the combination safe, which I chained with a padlock to the cot's metal frame. If it weren't for this cot, she'd be looking for another room somewhere else.

As I stood in the storage room crammed with excess furniture, pails, brooms and plenty of useless junk, a thought brought a grin to my face. What happened?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Farm Boy in the City

It all began once upon a generation when I was young and not merely youthful, before I embarked on what Jordan and I referred to as "The One Way Ticket into the Unknown."

At the time, I was a 19-year-old farm boy attending York University in Toronto and discovering books, ideas, freedom, short, everything a young man can inhale in one deep breath, at every breath, all the time and without a care.

Playing the role of a serious philosophy student, with a new haircut

In my second year, I switched from Sociology to Philosophy. I also moved into a third-floor studio apartment on Bathurst Street with Yui, a Japanese foreign student.

The apartment had a porch facing the backyard and was furnished with a mattress on the floor, a small desk, three chairs and a kitchen table where I kept my fabulously heavy Underwood typewriter and a cassette player. I couldn't be bothered with the complications of furniture and Yui was delighted with the contrast with her parents' lavish home in Japan. Yui also rented a dorm room on campus in case her family decided to visit and where we stayed occasionally.

I first saw Yui one afternoon at the Absinthe Pub where I was having a draft and reading "A Moveable Feast." It was a good place to read in the afternoon, especially when the sun shone through the large glass windows. I had gotten into the habit of stopping in for a beer on my way to the Winters College dorm. Normally, nobody I knew came here at this time, and I could sit alone enjoying the pub atmosphere all to myself.

As I read, a burst of laughter from a nearby table broke my concentration. I glanced over and I caught the eye of an Asian girl. Her pearl-shaped face was framed in jet black hair that reminded me of Cleopatra. We held each other’s eyes for a moment until she looked away and turned her attention to her friends.

The pub atmosphere melted into a mute backdrop for me as we stole looks at one another.

Then, she stood up from the crowded table, walked past me and out the door without so much as a glance in my direction. I continued reading, but Hemingway's words had lost their magic. I swallowed my loss, downed the beer and was about to leave when she came through the door and nearly brushed my table.

For a brief moment I studied her graceful body dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, short black leather jacket and a thin red scarf. As she pulled her chair, she shot me a meaningful look, quickly dropped her eyes to the table and raised them again. I looked down and saw the small folded note she had discreetly dropped on my table.

I unfolded it and read, "You can look at me as much as you like, but please smile." The next day she was there at the same time, alone.


"We - my mother and two older brothers - soon found ourselves in a strange and isolated new world. In less than one day, we were catapulted from a sunny beach town to a 100-acre farm with a dilapidated house, a rustic cattle barn and neglected fields dotted with brush and small trees. We were stranded on a mosquito infested island surrounded by swamp, without a neighbor in sight.

My father claimed that it had cost nearly nothing, which was probably all he could afford. Best of all, he went on, the dark sandy soil was highly fertile and had an inexhaustible supply of irrigation water.

“It’s full of potential,” he declared to my mother, who seemed not to be there yet.

My father was not a man to waste time doubting himself or to sweat over pessimistic scenarios. He was a firm believer that perseverance and hard work would take you places fast.

We had heard his rags-to-riches story many a time, especially when his business began to falter, at about the time he bought the new Mercedes-Benz and began taking mysterious business trips. He also had an inclination for making short rallying speeches, and we could already feel one coming.

"I was born a farmer, maybe not a poor farmer, but a farmer nonetheless, and I prospered by my own initiative," he said in a voice imbued with conviction. "I know how you must feel now in this," he hesitated," in this wilderness." His formal tone reminded me of his speeches at town council meetings back in Portugal." 

He explained, at length, that we'd be living here for five, perhaps six, years, until we made this farm a success. At that time we'd sell it and move to Toronto where he'd start a proper business.

My father was what you'd call a man of non-stop action. In one year he'd bought the farm, an old Pontiac Laurentian, an even older John Deere tractor, an assortment of rusty farm implements and a jumble of mismatched furniture for the house at auction sales. He was also working the night shift at the Massey Ferguson factory in town so he could dedicate daylight hours to the farm.

During any free time, such as on weekend evenings or when it rained, he studied English language books and a dictionary. Surprisingly, he could already hold a decent conversation in English. Apparently, he had been speaking English out loud all the time he was living here alone regardless of what he was doing. We'd laugh at his hillarious conversations with imaginary persons. "How much does it cost? I offer you twenty dollars. OK, telephone me tomorrow. My telephone number is 449 2904. It's a deal. When can I get it?" and on and on.

And so this is how I, too, became a farm boy, a farm slave out in the middle of nowhere.

We endured winters colder than we could have ever imaged, followed by humid hot summers when our sweat mixed with the blood of swatted mosquitoes.

Then there was the work of clearing the fields. We would dig with shovels and pickaxes to expose and weaken the roots, to which we would loop a chain shackled off to the old gutsy John Deer. The tractor growled and coughed plumes of black smoke as we cheered its measuring of forces with those devilishly stubborn roots.

The first year we cultivated what father called experimental crops for our own consumption. In the second year, it was time to sow, plant, cultivate and harvest with a frenzy my instilled by my father in his relentless struggle to redeem himself, to make up for his first failure.

We didn't dare speak about the good old days back home.

I could have grown into an introverted and maladjusted Portuguese teenager living in deep rural Ontario. But I adapted almost a little too well. And that's no mean feat with a name like Horatio. My original name was Horácio, but a distracted - or perhaps sympathetic - Canadian official spelled it Horatio on my first document in the new country, and that's how it stayed from then on.

As I grew older, not only did I adapt, I became popular with all the high school cliques: the jocks, the studious types, the bad asses and pretty much everyone else in between. This meant that I was on the basketball team, spent time in the library, got drunk on weekends and groped as many girls as I could.

In my later teens, I began wearing a maxi coat, scarfs and funky boots during winter and silk shirts and wood clogs in summer. I grew a long and voluminous head of hair and, if that weren't enough, I drove around town in my orange Volkswagen Beetle to the music of Alice Cooper and Doctor Hook in a world populated by rural folk in pickups and Chevrolets.

A teenage farmboy with a lot of hair

The years passed and, despite my slightly eccentric ways, I was a good student and a dutiful son working long summer hours in dusty vegetable fields.

One day during my last year of high school, I took my mother shopping to a mall in the city. As I waited and wandered through the corridors, I was drawn into a bookstore. I was browsing the pulp fiction shelves when a book caught my eye. It was called "The Drifters" by James Michener, a novel about the lives of six young bohemians of various nationalities who crossed paths in Southern Spain.

I bought it and excitedly wolfed it down in a few long sittings into the early morning. The book literally blew my mind wide open and awakened me to a whole new stream of ideas not found in the bland crap English teachers had been feeding me. I had discovered my gospel and experienced my second fateful event