Waves bloom into white froth, then fall, thinning out onto the shore; they play hide and seek with the crabs, sprinkle salty droplets everywhere. I lean against the beige and blue cushions of a Modernist sofa; like many others, this one sits on a layered wooden platform on the sand.
This is a Porto beach and the wind whips the sea hard; the waves rise higher, roll around themselves again and again, and crash against the rocks. Glued to the surface, mollusks sparkle as the waves subside and seagulls dive for tiny fish left in the water-filled crevices. Children run to the sea, and then away from it, giving out short shrieks. It looks so much fun.
And this is all I want: to be where fun happens. I will stay the whole one day. It is Saturday, after all. And it is the month of May.
To my right a young couple lean on mossy green cushions laid against an off-white sofa. The wind blows the pages of their newspapers but the waiter brings two softly rounded stones to keep them still.
A little lower down, following the natural slope on the sand, a man sits under a white umbrella. I see his head from above: his salt and pepper hair almost touches his shoulders, but not quite. The hair falls perfectly around his skull, and I think of the high-end hairdressers along the street not too far behind us. This is Foz, after all – literally, the place where the river Douro meets the Atlantic and, also literally, the residential abode of old wealth. The world’s troubles dissolve in this cushion-filled beach.
It is but 15 minutes away, yet a world apart from my everyday life in Porto, a city of hard-working citizens whose labor drains into Portugal’s leaky vaults. There are graduates to supervise, workshops to organize, and teaching to do in the understaffed state university; there are traffic jams to sit in, suicidal drivers to keep away from, crowded hospitals to train skills in (the art of negotiation, patience, acceptance), and mirrors to avoid (yes, really; it has been a hard year)… But I have written about this before and I don’t wish to bore you.
So, come back to Foz with me, where I will stay till the sun goes down. A tanned young man just placed a glass of white wine on the wooden table by my knees. Soon he will bring a salad of goat cheese and red pepper paste, Italian-style. Not much Portuguese traditional cuisine around here. Today I’m glad I can pretend this could be anywhere else in the world. It is Saturday and the sun is shining.
Around me people read, eat, drink, and talk to each other silently because the sea roars every sound away. I see a German shepherd and a Mexican Chihuahua. There is Brazil in some bikinis and Paris in high-heeled shoes; a mix of tanned and milky skins, young and older lovers, babies in strollers, toddlers kicking the sand and trying it for taste. There are long-haired teenagers next to grandmothers quick to loosen their bikini tops; and a man in long trunks has just dived into the sea; his oiled-up bronze skin shimmered in the sun before waves rolled over him.
Pity I can read everyone’s newspapers, though. There are headlines on Portugal’s bankruptcy, EU and IMF loans, 13% unemployed, Colombian doctors replacing Portuguese doctors, who are leaving in droves (where to, I wonder), nursery school teachers applying for jobs in Madeira and Azores, Mozambique and Angola.
I wish everyone had left their newspapers home because this makes me think of my father and my loyalty struggles (to stay by him, or to go on with my life); and of my daughter S.’s recent visit. The look she gave me as her Portuguese childhood friends – well-qualified, multi-lingual young women holding a variety of MBAs, yet unemployed – mocked their maids’ uneducated accents spoke volumes.
I want to forget. I can write if I forget. So let the sea and the wind wipe all memories clean, if only for a day. I will write a new blog post, perhaps, today. There will be time to see students, hold meetings, put on black robes for Ph.D. performances, wait in hospitals, dream of normalcy, struggle with doubts, be with friends. There will be time for all of that as soon as … well, Monday.
Now, the sea; now, the sand.