I woke up at 6. Bright blue light was pouring diagonally through the window into the triangular room. The yellow checkered curtains were swaying in a light wind from the sea. Birds sang loudly. Eric was sleeping soundly.
I tip-toed out of the room and down the extremely steep stairs for three winding stories to the ground floor where the kitchen and family room were. A few hours earlier we'd all been having a conversation about metaphysics and unconscious intellectuals.
My broken, floating early morning of too little sleep for days and days laughs at the sight of middle aged men wearing medallions and beckoning young things into the vortexes of public baths while Jean Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, seventeen harlequins in blackface, six harpies in drag, one thief in a priest's robes, and Simone de Beauvoir circle in the form of vicious, fetid cats to scratch the light of cognition off of undefeated eyes.
"Michael, no one wants to read pretentiously worded hallucinations." says the editor.
"Give me all your money or die." says Michael.
Back to the story:
I perform my morning mountain monk exercises and then write in the black book about the miraculously good choices made in returning the dogs of desire into wolves apprenticed to emptiness and beholden to no one. No knives. No beautiful reflection. No lofty library of the mind with polished rails and ancient halls of varnished wood.
All the house is asleep and by the time my writing's done and I feel my left eyelid twitching. So I decide a little more rest would be wise and slip up the steep and winding stairs and then back into bed. Eric opens his right eye from the trundle on the floor and looks at me suspiciously.
"Flora is still asleep." I say.
"You need to sleep." he says.
"I will. I will. One more hour; then it's breakfast." I say.
"Oh my god." he moans with great exhaustion and surprising humor like a precocious, selfless, warrior's apprentice teenage girl.
We sleep til 9. Then both of us are up, making the beds and scurrying down the stairs. This time Flora is awake, putting croissants into the oven and cleaning strawberries. She laughs and bids us the brightest of good mornings then pulls out a topographical map of the Netherlands and shows us how the contours of the coastline have changed according to the appropriation of land by the merchants of dead kings fom the sea. Then she shows us the land later reclaimed by calamity of wind and ocean water crashing powers over people houses in the wrong time and place.
Nature is the way that moves of itself. High Five to ancient Chinese Philosopher. Smash vase in the face of editor.
After the map is thoroughly observed the croissants have risen in the oven. We help Flora carry berries, jams, coffee, butter, and a basket of croissants out to the cheery table in the center of her parent's garden under the bright blue skies of the late spring morning.
We have a delicious breakfast and the sense of our sweetly fleeting friendship serves to banish sleep deprivation and the looming unknown of the coming days to the distant periphery. It is difficult to remember that we are not children. I pace backwards from the breakfast table and aim to take Eric and Flora's picture. Eric will not remove his face from the leaf shadows cast by the overhanging limb of an apple tree. Flora is slightly less bashful than the night before. (I love how I'm supposed to be the impossible and eccentric diva of this bunch.)
After breakfast we clear the table and Flora insists on attending to the dishes as Eric and I pack our belongings and prepare to travel on. It is then that I decide to act on an impulse that has impelled me since childhood. This impulse was and is: whilst traveling far from home, find the ocean shores you have never swum in and take a swim. It will heal you. Oh yes.
Somehow, Eric, who has come into focus on this trip as a mirror of my nurtured nature of workaholism is convinced with surprising ease of the import of this seemingly extraneous side errand. Beautiful ladies make the world go around more than money, ideals, and other manifestations of the ways of the lord. Oh lord.
We must be in Brussels by 6 to meet Florin, a man who is promised to film an episode of his Stolen Concert podcast with us the following day. The show we had scheduled for the evening has been on again and off again and is presently off. So...it now being ten thirty in the morning, we decide that if we're back at Flora's by one we'll have plenty of time to make the three hour drive from Heiloo on the North Sea to Brussels in Belgium. Flora is characteristically unconcerned about all the superficial particulars and gives the simultaneously very attractive and very vexing impression that she knows the viewed from a mountaintop version of our story. Present. Past. And Future. She smiles and laughs and waits for the travelers to be ready.
We pack our instruments, swimming uniforms, and movie camera gear into the car and Flora navigates us to a National Park referred to as "the dunes" as far as I remember and can understand. The sun is bright. Flora sits in the front seat in her red checkered shirt and tightly braided blonde hair. We drive through flat expanses of rich green fields divided by hedge rows and lilly pad canals.
Arriving at the parking lot. Eric takes the guitar and I the camera. Flora leads the way under the blue sky and the warm late morning sun of northern spring time to the sea. My heart beats with anticipation. I love swimming in the ocean. The birds sing.
Eric and Flora walk ahead of me and talk as I linger a distance behind, mesmerized by the beauty of the bright sun shining down over the windswept dunes covered by an array of intrepid grasses, scrub brush and small trees all colored a color green I find perfectly beautiful in the way it inhabits the blue of the sky and the yellows of the sandy soil.
The wind blows with fantastic force. I follow Flora and Eric and enjoy the distinct sensation that my life as I knew it is being swept further and further away.
Halfway to the Sea, Flora leads us off the path and into the forest where we make a movie of two of our songs. While we play the music for the camera and tape recorder, Flora rolls in the leaf litter in a beam of sunlight ever so slightly out of sight.
After we are done filming in the quiet forest shielded from the wind, we return to the dune grass path and continue our journey to the sea. Just before arriving at the foot of the giant dune that clearly marks the impending appearance of the giant waters, Flora pauses and veers off the path towards a pond. "Here," she says, "there is something you will like."
Immediately I am pleased at the thought of making the acquaintance of foreign frogs, which similar to swimming in foreign seas has been an essential traveling ritual for me since childhood. It is confusing for a moment to try and figure out if Flora read this off my mind or if I had told her and just forgotten about it.
The wind blows and frogs chirp from the pond. I let myself be swept further away, letting go of the dissatisfying practice of understanding everything in forced order. Flora leans down over the water and extends her finger towards a funny green frog and speaks to him in frog language. The frog climbs onto her finger. Eric shakes his head in that way he does when something is too splendid to be witnessed. I make the face I have in stock in accordance with the same circumstance. Flora looks up at us, bubbling with laughter and says: "This is the time of year they look for love."
Then it is onward to the sea and all three of us grow quiet like we're entering the cathedral where no civilized people ever know to go. The true sacred place speaks to children and outlaws.
Over the top of the dune and we travel on down to the waters edge and there we place our instruments in the sand.
The water is welcoming and healing. Eric and I rush in for swim as Flora watches from the beach. I let the waves crash over me and sink quietly to the bottom separating myself from myself and becoming one with all living things. The waves pass over and the water rumbles and gently whispers. Darkness and twirling spindles of light.
After seven days in daydream years I surface and find myself alone in the cold waters of the North Sea. Eric is wrapped in a towel next to Flora on the sands of the beach. Both appear tiny and very unreal in the distance. I body surf some windy waves and surface in the shallow water watch them look like two people I used to know. The water splashes its chanting wild all around me. Then I scamper and swim back out for another wave.
Eventually I emerge and join my friends on land. Once dry we walk dreamily back the long and windswept path through the dune wilds to our Fiat Panda. Then we drive back through the farmland to Flora's parents' house in Heiloo, pack the car and bid our magical host farewell. She gives me a long embrace with a meaning that will beguile me for years to come.
As she turns to say good bye to Eric the mechanism of my emptiness saunters slyly back like the silent film star and the focus of my eyes turn from the beautiful girl standing in the early afternoon sunshine to the illusive imperative of the road ahead.
I am such a crazy animal. Looks the flowers. Is the serpent underneath. Busts out fangs and bites a philosopher who tries stepping on me and by the laws of sorcery must soon change into someone else. I am the philosopher and likewise the dragon robbed of wings and given voice by charlatans.
How can one profess to be an atheist and stand honestly in the presence of the sea?