The Pessimist in the Pool
A screech of, “GET ME IN THAT FUCKEN POOL!” rattles the oven air. Through the haze of red wine fumes baking off my body and the pain of sticky thongs rubbing on sweating, fluid-filled feet, I see the heavenly azure expanse that is the pool and quicken my hobble towards it.
My friend Ebony and I have just endured a 10km walk in near 40-degree heat across sun-blasted vineyards with nothing but a t-shirt and a visor of a straw hat on our heads as protection. We strip off our crusty, stained clothes and flop into the pool.
Our crustiness can be attributed to our early-morning participation in a mass wine war in the small town of Haro in Spain’s prized northern regions of La Rioja — another one of the country’s eccentric fiestas. Megatonnes of vino tinto were poured, sprayed and ditched onto local grandmas, kids and festival-obsessed tourists clambering up a mountain at 8am, just for the sake of a good time.
Yes, one week of Spain and we girls are simply bedazzled with the frivolity.
The delight of the chlorine on our skin is shared with the 100 other half-cut Spanish townspeople and Aussie bogans in the water. Riddled throughout our journey across the Iberian Peninsula, we keep meeting up and partying with the infamous Stoke Travel hurricanes – causing the same amount of devastation as Katrina (scenes include floundering around the campsite, getting electrocuted, whipping their dicks out, orgying outside tents and vomiting and shitting in public). On the other hand, our group consists of 30 young women frolicking about the arid plains of Spain, writing, learning, and behaving. Ha.
A Belgian dude – I can’t tell if he’s fucked or just wacky – saunters over as best you can saunter while swimming. We exchange over exclaimed words about how good the water is. Then things escalate quickly.
“Alright, that’s it. Let’s fight.”
“Fight?” Belgian guy yells.
“Yep. Quick smart. Get on Eb.”
Ebony gets on my shoulders, and Belgium pulls a sad-faced lurker into the confrontation.
After a few weak tackles, we surrender.
Feeling as though I shared an intimate space with the bottom-dwelling man, I strike up a conversation with him in the aftermath. Maybe I just want to see if I can make his forlorn self brighten up, as I did not see even a hint of a smirk as he helped Belgium showcase Ebony and my pathetic core strength.
“So did you go to the wine fight?” I say.
“Yeah. Was alright.”
“I think it was a fucken hoot.”
But this guy seems pretty depressed about it, and that amuses me.
“Yeah, I’m tired though,” he drawls. His grey eyes devoid of life and matted hair confirm this.
I just laugh. Everyone here is tired. The previous night, we partied in the town square to a band that played till 5am, slept in stanky humid tents with the insulation of a single stretch of clingwrap, and then hitchhiked to the mountain in the back of a local’s ute with 11 other people at 7am.
Considering that everybody here is Australian, I ask where he’s from back home.
“I’m not fucking Australian!”
Yikes. He’s bemused, this pensive, defensive Kiwi. How dare I mistake him for being from the other side of the Tasman.
With the box of pleasantries sufficiently ticked, “What are you doing here?” is asked by he.
“I’m with a group of around 30 gals cruising ’round Spain for a month, doing a writing and journalism course kinda thing. Then I reckon I’m just gonna go around Europe for a coupla months after… not sure just yet. We’ll see, you know.”
“So you’re interested in journalism? You’re going to do that? That’s your career path?”
He rattles off questions, but still manages to sound disinterested.
“Well I’m not really sure. I love writing and words. Words are beautiful when you use them properly. I’m just exploring my options before I make any big decisions. I’m only 19.”
He looks at me incredulously. You know that face you get when you tell friends or family that you’re going to Europe? Their eyes light up like you produced gold and they reply, “That’s amazing! That will be so good for you!” and you nod and chortle right back.
The opposite reaction is not so anticipated, but that’s what I got.
“So you’re not at university! I definitely think you should go. That’s what I did. Accounting degree. What are your parents saying to you?”
He is not impressed.
I’m bouncing up and down in the water, astounded at the wit of this man. I am in the presence of an actual pessimist, who stands lifelessly in a pool of liveliness.
I am already having the time of my life. Learning shouldn’t be confined to bloody university. I am thinking new thoughts. The people I’ve met are giving me fresh perspectives on everything – femininity, family, what it means to be Australian… even the wart on my thumb that I had linked to a symptom of intrigue deprivation has fallen off.
“So enough of me! How old are you? Must be a successful accountant by now,” I say, still completely baffled.
“Nah I’m 27. I work for Stoke.”
A week later and I’m at another all-inclusive campsite attached to another Spanish fiesta. I encounter my unasked-for life-coach/careers counsellor in his place of employment, robotically and broodingly manning the sangria tap. Putting his accounting degree and 27 planetary years of experience to good use. Probably conjuring up more wonderful criticisms and witticisms about the futility of my gap years.
I ask for a comment and receive some sort of gutful of mediocrity that my brain can’t or probably doesn’t want to remember.
The girls and I have a good cackle at him and go back to wasting our lives, getting absolutely fuck-eyed in the spinning Spanish summer.
The author of this piece, Marli, did a writing workshop with us in Spain. If spending European summer frolicking around Barcelona while you learn the ropes of freelance journalism sounds up your alley, come join us for the next round!