Pedro Ávila


… nah, that’s not a good way to start from such a long absence.


That’s better.

Yes, I’m back, and just in time too, from the looks of things. For nearly 10 weeks now I’ve been gone, lost, trapped, held against my will. I throw these terms around loosely, but you can read into it to your heart’s content. The fact is that for most of this time I was in what could be described as “the wilderness,” depending on how you define “wilderness”, or “the”. Defining your terms is important.

The animals kept me there, you see, huddled in the dark, reciting English terms and asking of Brazilian futbol and the EuroCup 2008, forced to read scripture and learn the ways of their people without proper food or drink.

And don’t bother asking for things like REASONS. I don’t know WHY they didn’t like me, or WHAT they wanted me to do. They were animals, beings led by instinct and the metaphorical equivalent of a falafel, a system of beliefs held together, seemingly by nothing.

I was alone there too, as no other humans were kept anywhere near me, and my interactions were limited to the occasional cell phone signal and the shuffling of creatures past me in polished white granite hall ways and new office carpet. You know, the kind that makes you realize that those patterns had to be designed by someone. It was all I could do to mind my breathing, enter a trance and survive the ordeal using the ancient Yoga techniques that I managed to catch from working at the Rec Center back in university. The loneliness was overwhelming, but the BO of my captors was worse, and I’d often recoil into the toilet area for refuge from their stench.

Leaving was risky, and mostly not an option. I had to negotiate, whinge, cry and blasphemy in three different religions – which took effort, seeing as that I never really studied any of them – and that was just to get their attention. When I finally ditched them, though, it was based on sheer will, on desire, reasonless purpose. And it’s all thanks to the genius that you would probably refer to as “temporary” while I refer to it as “mine”.

Pot-Ay-to, Pot-Ah-to.

The details of my escape are irrelevant for now, and have to do mostly with the fact that it turns out I have WAY more frequent flier miles than I thought.

But nevermind that. We have bigger issues to wonder about. Like media. I learned, through some of the processes involved in my escape that a thing as small as my return here might be called news in some circles. Unless CNN gets wind of it, in which case, WATCH OUT! Suddenly they’ll have a story. That’s what they do over there. When that happens, remember: there’s no story to my escape, just like there’s no real story behind any of their headlines. It’s all mostly theatrics, and if you’re interested in something they’re saying, it’s probably a lie.

But I left, and that’s enough, for now. I recounted to my boss the tale of grim treatment in the hands of my captors in faraway lands with no whiskey or bourbon. When I requested something a little less medieval than my last assignment they gave me a client in Holland for which I must travel locally. Yes. I’ve been given the privilege of driving dozens of kilometers for hours in each direction in organized Dutch traffic, forced to stare at the bare and pointless scenery that is the horizon in the Netherlands as a result of my summer of sacrifice.


My employer simply doesn’t get it.

Nevertheless, I am free for now, and therefore I come to you with an explanation of what is going on, and more importantly, how it’s been affected by the US Presidential race going on across the Atlantic, since that’s all you people will pay attention to on the news…

Amsterdam Centraal was crowded and the people there seemed particularly touristy last Saturday. It had already been a sad morning, having had a particularly fun-filled week with friends, family and general social productivity, which is a luxury of the natives in this place. Then, that morning, I’d taken my best friend to the airport, the last of the group of visitors I’d had recently. And just like that I was alone again.

Returning from the airport, everything seemed smaller; the buildings looked shorter and the seats on that very yellow train felt more cramped. I struggled to get out of the station through the confounded crowd that walked steadily in my way and would suddenly stop to look up at a sign or down at a map, tripping over their shoelaces and rolly-wheel suitcases. It was like returning a punt against a football field of idiot linebackers that outnumber you 50 to 1.

The air was thick with humidity and the temperature mimicked that of southern Spain in August. It was strange to see no clouds in the sky over Holland, people at the beach and a sense of merriment about the town that probably sprang from something akin to denial. But then, it was a strange day.

The sky had become slightly hazy over the course of the day, and now looked almost overcast, with patches of blue sky here and there. The rumble had been happening for some time apparently, but suddenly I became very much aware of it.

“What’s that noise” I asked Maryla. “It sounds like either a hundred 747s criss-crossing directly above Amsterdam, or else a mad thunder indicating the approach of something horrible!”

“Well, yeah, Pedro – it’s thunder,” she said, matter of factly. “Don’t you feel the humidity? It’s going to pour any minute now.”

“But I can see the blue in the sky,” I told her. “… I think.”

But when I looked up and strained a bit, I saw a quick whisp of light arc across a cloud that was so deep grey that it looked blue against the dark backdrop of the darkening day. The rumbling continued, and then there was a large crack of lightning to prove Maryla’s point.

“See?” She said.

I saw.

What I couldn’t understand was the speed with which the storm had approached. I never saw it coming. I was so pleased with the clear sky of the previous day that I had made all kinds of fun assumptions and what I thought were safe bets of what my plans should be come the next few weeks with regard to sailing, bike riding, mushrooms and other fun things that you can do when the weather is good. It never occurred to me that a goddamn lightning storm could overtake the day in the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. And we don’t even have large mugs.

The rumbling never really stopped, and only grew louder. It was a magnificent rolling noise like large aluminum trash cans constantly smashing into each other as they fell over a giant flights of stairs, and it pretty much finished the summer that I never got to have, all because of the goddamn animals that kept me captive during May and June in their desert.

…so much for a summer in Amsterdam.

In the late afternoon, moaping and morose from the departure of so much good company, I sat at my window overlooking the Kloveniers canal next to the red light district and sipped my coffee.

The Kloveniersburgwal is a canal in Amsterdam that runs parallel to the center, just a block east of the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, better known as the red light district. The interesting thing about the Kloveniers is that it dead ends at the Nieuwmarkt, a public square surrounded by Dutch cafes, cheese shops and soft-core junkies. At the center of the square is a castle, the Waag, which today is a restaurant. I’m told it was a church at one point in time.

I live right on the canal, just north of the last bridge before the Nieuwmarkt. Consequently, my bedroom window, which I stare out of a lot, sits in a great position to watch anything that passes by on the water. What this means is that right way, I know a lot about the boats that I see out my window. Pretty much any boat that goes by my window once, will either permanently moor itself at the Nieuwmarkt, or else it will pass by my window again.

It feels like control, but I know it isn’t.

And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing since I was here last, readers. I’ve been working on a story, a manuscript that feels like it will be forever an infant, screeching and wailing and begging to be changed.

Relax, they tell me. Even Ernest Hemingway wrote for 8 years without any recognition. Hunter Thompson was broke for a decade, brewing his own beer and living like an out-of-control rodent with the pygmies of the Amazon before he did anything of note. The Rum Diary wasn’t published for well over 20 years after it was written. F. Scott Fitzgerald died soon after some kid sweeping the floors a bookstore told him he’d never heard the name…

Well – Who cares? I ask. Fuck those guys. They never had to deal with the Dutch. And besides, who said anything about writing?

Look, it’s one thing to fall horribly flat when you throw yourself at a pursuit and persist at any cost, ending up in places undreamed of, heaving overboard things you always expected would be yours forever just to stay afloat amidst the game in which you’ve managed to mix yourself up. It’s one thing to let that last for months, years, dourly insisting with an iron fist that if you fail it will not be for lack of trying. It’s one thing to never even really understand what you’re missing, so long as you know what you’re chasing.

It’s another to not have a clue where you’re going, what your immediate goals are. It’s another to know nothing for sure except that you’re tired of what you’re doing, even though every one else thinks it’s sensible, labels it fortuitous, says they’re jealous and calls it lucky. Call it the curse of someone else’s success, I suppose, but this is not a good place to be. Better than some? Perhaps, but not good enough for me.

Alone and full of whiskey is not a good time to be philosophical or deep. Especially not in public. You’re liable to notice things and write words that on any other day would make you cringe at the prospect of who you might actually be under the skin you hide behind. So you have to be extra careful. Who KNOWS who that guy is or what he’s thinking?

This may be the onset of despair. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Pedro Ávila Pedro Ávila

For a reasonably sane & productive member of society (arguable, but let’s not complicate things), I’m far too mobile and unrooted. I travel quite a bit for a job that is simultaneously my greatest privilege and my worst burden.

So I write. And I write. Travel pieces, political journalism (a stretch from ranting but, still), short stories, poetry and other such riff-raff. I contribute to a handful of publications and will probably just keep going until something gives out, or someone gives in.


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