Tavira Day 2

Sometimes I wonder if much of what we see before us is often a measure of our insecurities, a function if you will, of the worst that can be imagined, a mirage that fulfills, in fact, a largely tragic view of life.

I wonder, also, if we are responsible for creating that which in the end comes to destroy us.

I went to the Islamic fort in Tavira today, after having a mediocre, overpriced greasy lunch of gristly lamb chops at Artefact.

But the walk to this small restaurant on R. dos Mouros (ie, the street of the Moors) gave me the opportunity to walk by houses which abut the fort the Arabs built here in the 7th century.

Others were here long before the Arabs.  In effect, I was walking in an area that was settled by human beings some 2,500 years BCE.

I wonder what they saw, all those who came before me, when they found this place.

It now looked as I had often pictured the streets of the small towns and villages in Mexico that a drunken Malcolm Lowry staggered about in prior to writing Under the Volcano:  the same uneven cobbles, the same low stooped white washed houses, the same winding streets, the same cantinas, the same errant dogs wandering around on their own with no owner, the same long shadow of a long dead civilization that somehow had remained alive in the faces of those who had survived the follies of ancient conquests.

The cultured Moors who settled in Tavira lived and worked and had children and built a civilization that defined this place and its Iberian surroundings in the large for centuries before it was all snuffed out by those who conveniently believed in what they claimed was a different sort of God, a better God, one whose benevolent son had blue eyes, light skin and lovely blondish-brown hair.

I walked without hurry through the gate into the fort itself, noticing the half hidden bars of a dungeon at the base of the main wall that faced the plain below, stopping to admire a beautiful Syrian hibiscus tree, and climbed up to the turrets where I studied at some length the embrasures that I noticed were trapezoidal.  What manner of weapons fit into these oblong peep holes of resistance, I wondered?

The turrets provide an excellent vantage point to gaze at the famous roofs of Tavaria, and take in the nearby salt ponds and the more distant Altantic ocean, which was hazy under a hard sun.

For a moment, I imagined myself a Moorish guard, perhaps one whose family had lived in Tavira for 400 years, and accustomed to looking down at the dominions of his ruling but now forgotten emir, waiting for the avenging knights of Santiago to appear.

What must he have thought about the prospect of suddenly becoming an alien in a vast place where generations of Moors had lived and prospered, but had now been reduced to defending a shrinking patch of land that he already knew was hopeless to defend?

Truly he must have thought that there is no such thing as a country, only a provisional resting place, despite the castles and forts, until their once-mighty ramparts were softened by the caprice of time and crumbled, this fort he was defending now destined to one day turn into a bunch of old ruins, ruined by fat tourists with enormous cameras who would one day come to visit for a few moments before moving on to casually bucket list some other locale that was cheap to visit on Ryanair.

I tried hard to imagine this Moor and for one passing moment at least this fort was everything to me; it was I who was standing post, and willing to die for in the service of defending my civilization, and it was 1242, and the pitiless forces of the Order of Santiago loomed in the marshy distance and my world was about to forever change.

What did you really think about, at this moment, Moorish soldier?

Did you wonder what Tangiers, the refuge of idle traitors and brigands, would be like compared to what you once had?

Or did you instead worry only about your wife and children being enslaved, and not give a thought not even for one teary instant to how you were not likely to survive this day?

The Germans and Italian tourists huffed and puffed as they climbed down the turret stairs.  I stood in the garden and watched as a dark-skinned Portuguese gardener who spoke no English tended to the trees around us.

But the tourists did not seem to notice him, or if they did, dismissed him, most probably, as some inconsequential local, for after all, now, it was time to go, and he was not someone that important.

But as they left, I wondered if the silent gardener was in reality a soldier who had once stood post on the turrets above, never leaving, even in death, a facsimile of Paradise that so many since then have found so compelling?

leaving america

Gas, grass or ass

In America, a spate of mostly illiberal rulings by The Supremes has been capped by the retirement of Justice Kennedy.

Kennedy was a frenemy. His was the deciding conservative voice on a slew of unjust 5-4 decisions which have largely gutted the Liberal cause in the United States, to the lasting joy of Senator Turtle Neck.

Kennedy the Vacillator shall not be missed, even though he’s likely to be replaced by a sinister die-hard right wing creep who will cement the slide into illegitimacy of the nation’s highest courts, particularly if the 85-year-old Ginsberg suddenly keels over while reading a brief, and is replaced by another Tea Party dork.

I’ll spare you the speechifying.

Suffice it to say, if you are a Liberal living in America, you are either (a) planning on actively “joining the resistance” and voting the Dem ticket on Nov 6th, or (b) keeping your head down, because you’re in no position to make waves, or (c) seriously thinking of getting the hell out while you are still young enough to do so.

If you fall into the last category, and are not a young tech whiz who can get a high paying job in Paris, London, or Amsterdam faster than you can say collusion, then you are probably asking yourself the following questions:

  • I don’t have enough money off Social Security and my pension and savings to live comfortably on the Riviera, so what are my options?
  • Where is English widely spoken, but Trumpsters few and far between?
  • Where is it that I can kick back and enjoy the good life in a safe, warm (but not too warm!) place, in a country that offers the advantages of proximity?
  • Where is it that I can sit on a pleasant beach and not constantly be hassled by pimps and touts?
  • Where is it that I can walk securely at night, possibly alone, without having to always be “situationally aware,” as the travel industry euphemism goes?
  • Where is it that I can watch TV but not have to endure endless reruns of Viva Zapata dubbed in Spanish?

Now anyone who follows this blog knows that I just spent 7 months on the Red Sea in Gouna, Egypt.

Gouna is wonderful, but I am not sure it is ideal as a winter haven, particularly for Americans; yet from a (would be) writer’s viewpoint, it supplies endless material to inspire one to write a novel along the lines of Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog, which is about desert golf veterans (actually it’s not, but I like the bad pun anyway) flailing away in a wickedly amusing version of Dubai.

So where to go?  What to do?

How to deal with this latest assault on all that is decent?

My wife just told me that one of her customers is considering Belize.

Belize?

Hmmm.

Isn’t it dangerous there?  I mean aren’t all these problems at the US southern border due largely to the lack of safety in Latin America?

Aren’t places like CIA-sundered Guatemala, which shares a border with tiny Belize, and Belize City itself very dangerous places?

Hurricanes aside (which I am used to, living in FLA), is an apparent YouTube paradise, such as Ambergris Caye, affordable to a writerly (would be, I must emphasize, again, would be) Liberal of modest means?

So I looked into it and found this, and this. And this too. Dang! And what about the prevalence of the Sargasso situation?  Are the beaches and waterways clogged?

Has anyone even thought of writing a book about it? Anyone at all?

(With my apologies to Jean Rhys on that one.)

They say the tragedy of being late to your own funeral is almost too much to bear. Actually, I’ve never heard anyone say that, but it sounds profound.

Ever the modest one, I used to think I only had to worry about Naipul.  This was many years ago. Too many to count, really. Then along came books like Netherland and writers like Teju Cole and I became infinitely more depressed.

I once visited Anguilla with my wife, well before the casinos and money launderers showed up.  We stayed at friend of a friend’s place called the Seahorse Inn.  It was owned and run by a young Canadian woman who liked to bathe topless in her private spot along Rendezvous bay.

But Ronny was tired of island life.

Her boyfriend had recently been arrested for drug smuggling, and was languishing in the slammer at St Kitt’s. There were rumors that the Seahorse had been purchased with square grouper profits, and there was an aura throughout the small island of the rum soaked life of infidelity and shady strangers.  I loved it.  But Ronnie wanted 400K for the place.

anguilla
In Anguilla

I was 45, and had a good job in Manhattan.  So did my wife.  Should we chuck it all, and move there?

Would we, too, eventually contract island fever? The boredom of endless sunsets and becoming an innkeeper to a stream of witless tourists.  I thought about it, while smoking a Cuban cigar one evening, because that is what Che did.  I considered all the possibilities.  I could write, here, on Ronnie’s beautiful wooden verandah overlooking the sea, with the island of Saba in the distance rising.

At last, I would pen a fine novel, my first, at last, the meaning and purpose of my loathsome life finally discovered. Perhaps it would turn out to be a scintillating comic masterpiece based on the English Invasion of Anguilla in ’69.

It would be satirically droll, yet ever so deep, an indelible cross between Amis the Elder and Naipul himself, with a wee dram of Lowryesque Captain Morgan episodes thrown in for good measure — to show that this was a literary work of substance, and not a mere comedy of errors lifted from old newspaper clippings.

I would become famous, and one day return as a conqueror to my native Stafford and give amusingly erudite talks throughout England about amoral British expats living aimlessly under the Caribbean sun. This just before I was eligible to win, and in point of fact did scoop up both the Man Book and the NBA in the same calendar year — the only writer to ever accomplish this, years before the Booker succumbed to the capitalist literary hegemony of those bloody Yanks.

None of this happened.

Instead, a dentist from Vermont bought the place, and we returned to our house in Connecticut.  The following year, a massive hurricane descended upon Anguilla, and destroyed much of the Seahorse.  After that, the Anguilla we knew was no more.

Now where were we…?

Oh yes: Justice Kennedy.

All I can say is that you can’t hitch through life, without being expected to pay some kind of price along the way.

It’s only justice.

leaving america