I know, I know, I’ve been very quiet. It’s not for lack of inspiration, however. In fact, it seems everyday I discover a new treasure here, whether it’s a word (me copa, which aptly is slang for “adore it,”) a perfectly intact sea turtle’s egg found amid the seaweed on the beach, or the rush of a wave, pushing me toward the shore as I contemplate standing up on a surfboard.
I’ve realized I cannot share any story until I explain a bit about where I’ve been thriving.
Those days around the holidays I lived as if in a dream. From the maid’s room in the rented house, when I fell asleep at night the full moon perched, enormous, in my window frame. Often I thought, how can this be real–this joy, this beauty, this experience I wrought for myself from a casual conversation?
A windstorm near New Year’s gave me a gift: an afternoon, albeit a breezy one, off from La Susana with my new bicycle on which to explore and look for a post-maid’s room home.
I canvased the streets of town, zigzagging to make sure I saw what was on each. I browsed in shops I had no interest in. I paid the cashier at Almacen el Palmar the money I owed her for my coffee and croissant three days before. I decided to hunt for Hugo González, the man who hand knits the sweaters that my American friends had bought in bulk like any self-respecting New Yorkers, and on my way there, passed Alto Ver, a casa near el faro with a one-room tower. I could see into the small single room—see the edge of a bed with a white spread and a small table with afternoon detritus: an ashtray, a book, a teacup. I could see through the tower room, in fact, as it had windows on three sides. I allowed myself to dream: oh, what I wouldn’t do to live in a tiny tower room with views where I could be alone and write and dream. I looped around to the front of the building to see if it might be a posada, but the gate was tall, solid wood and firmly shut against inquisitive wanderers such as me. I took a picture of the house’s name, framed by the old ivy, so that I could try to find out more.
As I pedaled away, I thought wistfully of life in that tower and the fast-moving clouds mirrored my mood. I found the knitter just where my pals had said, in a makeshift shop by the lighthouse, selling his wares. Hugo promised he’d knit me the sweater I hoped for in three weeks and we said our goodbyes. On a whim, I returned to him: “Do you know the house near here with a tower–Alto Ver?” I showed him the photos I’d snapped. “No, no lo conozco,” he told me.
“I’m here for a few months and looking for somewhere small and clean to stay,” I explained. He pointed to the tacky house across the street, in which we could see people moving around through the floor to ceiling triangular windows. “That’s sometimes for rent,” he said. “Es muy rica.”
“Yes, I said, it’s very nice. But I am looking for a place very small just for me. I am a writer and I need a quiet place to lay my head.”
“You need a posadita,” he said.
“Wonderful,” I said, sensing I might have found a lead. “Where might I find one?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “But there’s a posada near the entrance to town. Instead of going left as you come in, go right.”
I thanked him heartily, and as as I biked off my thoughts turned to the film Sex and Lucia, a favorite for its heart-wrenching romance: the mysterious connections between apparently disparate people. In the film, Lucia runs away from a tragedy to recuperate alone on an island and a woman who also is broken takes her in, asking no questions. I thought of how much I wanted to meet that person, the woman who would see just what I needed and somehow manifest it for me. As I left town, I swung off the main drag toward where Hugo had suggested I might find a hotel. Continuing my canvasing, I turned suddenly onto a road I’d not yet followed and pedaled on. To my right, a red cement wall with iron bars above woven with ivy sprung up, and beyond was a rambling deep red structure with white windows, reminding me of a stable back home. Ivy and fruit trees made the entranceway folkloric, and a child’s laughter as she ran gaily through the courtyard, beckoned me magnetically in, as did the sign: Posada Paradiso.
Inside the bohemian foyer were walls covered in oil paintings and framed drawings. A white bar was to the right and a desk to the left, where a woman sat, writing in the hotel log.
A handsome young man appeared on the other side of the attendant’s nook. “Hello, I can speak English,” he said as he made his way around to me. I explained to him that I was looking for a small place to live, just for one; somewhere quiet and clean, and of course, not too expensive.
“Nice and clean and cheap,” he said. “Of course. You should meet our chef. She always seems to know of a place. Can you wait here?”
I said yes and sunk into the deep white sofa. From there I was able to properly take in the place, the scents and sounds that moved through the modest lobby. There wasn’t music, but there was the sound of quiet conversations coming presumably from the room beyond the entranceway, and the air carried the irresistible odors of spices toasting and garlic. A few minutes later, I watched as Juan stopped a woman wearing an apron who was walking briskly through the dining room, motioning toward me and speaking to her quickly in a hushed voice, and then the woman walked over and embraced me.
“I’m Clo,” she said. “You are looking for a place to stay?”
“Yes, I am looking for somewhere quiet and clean just for me…somewhere simple.”
“May I ask, why are you here in Uruguay?”
“I turned my life upside-down, left New York and am working at La Susana,” I explained, “Making ceviche there for the season. A place came with the job, but it’s buggy, filthy and all the kids who live in it are sleeping together. I am not in that moment in my life. I need a place quiet and clean—perhaps you have a friend who has a small room I could rent?”
“I understand,” she said with a laugh. “I have lived in houses like that. I think I may be able to help you.”
Part of me couldn’t believe her immediate generosity of spirit and part of me wasn’t surprised at all. From the moment I had encountered the tower in town, and had told myself first that I ought not dream of such things and then that I absolutely must dream of such things—that there was no place for negativity in my mind or on this adventure, I felt as though I had been making my way here to this woman, her warm eyes, her joyful smile, her strong chin. From that moment, and perhaps in my thinking of the inn-keeper in Sex and Lucia, I’d actually conjured Clo up!
“But have you even been here before?” Clo asked me, steering me out past the desk and bar, through the dining room with an old upright piano and a print of Warhol’s Mick Jagger, a fireplace, a delapidated Old Master painting of a matador and out onto a porch with tables protected by the thatched roof hanging over it all. The sound of birds chirping was constant as she showed me the interior courtyard between the two rows of rooms, the center of which was a small tiled pool. Breakfasters spoke in whispers, and in the gentle hum of voices that accompanied the parakeets’ chirping, there was nary an American accent, or even an English speaker.
“This place is extraordinary,” I told her. The simple beatnik beauty—the quiet—flabbergasted me.
“Perhaps we can even find space for you here,” Clo said.
Again, a tingle of hope thrust through my body like a chill. “I most certainly cannot afford this,” I told her with a regretful smile.
“Of course not,” she said. “Not on a cook’s salary. But maybe we can find something that works for both of us.”
I told her I dared not hope for that but was eternally grateful for her thinking of any ideas regardless, exchanged emails with her and said my goodbyes. As I biked away, I realized I hadn’t said goodbye or thank you to Juan, but then I thought of how silly that was, as I knew in the same instant that I would surely see the yellow-eyed boy again.
Next morning—our last in the beach house—I heard from Clo. She’d talked it over with her partner and they offered me a single room for a monthly rate which was more than I hoped to spend, but it meant that everyday I would go home from work to paradise: a room of my own in the coziest, prettiest, most positive place I had encountered. Resisting the urge to immediately accept, at the advice of my friends, I asked to come see the room first. I biked over to Posada Paradiso, but was approaching from a different direction than I’d come before. As I drew neared to the posada, I saw a deep red tower that had not been visible on my previous feverish visit, and it dawned on me that in fact this tower was within the walls of Paradiso. Once again, I told myself not to get my hopes up—that I’d most likely be tucked away in a dim room without views, parked my bike and went inside.
Eugenia, the daytime desk clerk greeted me with a toothy smile behind braces, and I explained that Clo had offered me a room and I’d come to see it. “Of course,” she said. “Follow me.” As we left the foyer, she led me up a flight of stairs to the second story of the hotel. As I took the first step, again hope surged through me that she was leading me to the tower, and again I pushed it down, admonishing my childlike desire. I was reminded of the axiom that beggars can’t be choosers. As she stayed her course up the stairs and made a right, past the row of doors toward the exterior steps that must lead up to the tower, I told myself with each step to accept and be glad of whichever sweet room I wound up in, but at the end of the walkway, past the last door as she took the first rickety, ladder-like step up to the tower, my heart swelled with unstoppable jubilation—we were going to the tower! My tower!
There she opened the door to a simple square white room with windows on all four sides: one to watch the sunrise, the other opposite to watch it set over the water. “Me encanta,” I told her, and almost kissed her. As we walked downstairs I was giddy with excitement. How had it happened that my idyllic dream of living in a tower had manifested itself? How could things be so simple, so perfect here, and continually give me just want I wanted and needed and asked for?
We said our goodbyes and just as I was walking out of Paradiso to head to work, Eugenia’s voice rang out behind me: “Ah, wait, you are the girl who wants a room for a month. I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize. That’s actually not your room.”
Of course my silly, sentimental little heart sank at these words, but I still knew I’d found my home here, and I tried not to let myself be disappointed. So far everything was moving in the right direction and perhaps things might shift at the hotel and I might spend a night or two at some point in the tower. I returned that night to check in with just the clothes on my back—to whichever room they offered me. Clo greeted me and I told her of my visit and how much I had fallen in love with the tower.
“But it’s yours,” she said. “You can have that room if you want it.”
I was practically speechless and embraced her to try to convey my appreciation. She laughed in response. “You must be hungry. Stay here.”
I did as I was told. I sat there as Clo got me a bowl of rich, tender tagine and minty couscous with raisins and almonds. I took in every detail of the lobby: the 1930s portrait of a woman propped low on the wall; the many framed drawings hung salon-style from floor to ceiling, the piles of books. It was decorated not unlike my studio apartment back home….home! I was home in the second highest point in José Ignacio to it winking lighthouse and I’ve been here ever since.
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Tags: Ceviche Girl, Hotel, José Ignacio, Posada Paradiso, Travel, Uruguay