Snapshots from a little volcanic island off the west coast of Africa
The town and to its south are blessed with wonderful sandy beaches but north of it offers only rocks and lava. The other morning we walked that way and found a spot for some open-eye meditation. The big rolling white surf foams high over the unforgiving terrain. There was only one figure in view … a fisherman right beside the sea, forward some way and to our left. Suddenly a seagull appeared in front of us flying from left to right with a large fish in its mouth. It was just too big for the seagull who reluctantly landed nearby and stood protectively over its booty. At that moment the fisherman left his rod and began striding purposefully towards the bird. It became clear that the seagull had nicked one of the fisherman’s haul. It rose and made aggressive noises and, as the fisherman bent to retrieve his fish, it flew back to where the fisherman had been no doubt in search of a slightly smaller fish. Eventually it gave up and flew away. But I took my hat off to the seagull for its admirable enterprise: cut out the middleman.
My term for them is optimiser: I spotted my first some thirty-odd years ago at the famous Bingley Five Rise on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. The young man in charge of the locks and of allowing longboats through was skinny-fit with long black hair, t-shirt, and jeans, and his tools slung from his belt like a cowboy with his holstered six-shooter. He ran flat out between the five locks with an urgent but elegant athleticism that drew the admiration of his customers waiting in their longboats. He was an optimiser … someone who makes the most of a potentially dull job.
Christian revealed his membership of this august group from the word ‘Go’. We went for the first time to the beach bar, Lamarea, where he works as a waiter. We shared one of the comfortable settees overlooking the sea and he came up us … tall, skinny as a spider, long black hair under a backwards cap, t-shirt, knee shorts, and a princely smile that would make a nun kick a hole in a plate glass window … ‘Hi – my name’s Christian – yours? (‘John’) – Yours? (‘Anthea’) ‘John and …? (‘Anthea’) … An … thea.’ High fives all round. ‘What can I get you?’
When he returned with our beers, I said ‘Hey, Christian … you look like our son. He’s a good-looking feller, too’. The next time he said to me ‘In Italian’ so I hazarded ‘Duo birra grande, prego’ and seemed to get away with it. There was the time Anthea said ‘How are you?’ and he replied ‘OK … I’m always OK’.
The above shot shows him offering me 5 euros that I’d left as a tip. ‘Too much.’ That is formidable optimising. I said it was for him. When I introduced him to my daughter, Melissa, I said he was the best waiter in town: ‘or at least that’s what he keeps telling me’. 5 euros is modest.
We became regulars at his bar and, whenever we met, I was energised by his openness, his warmth, his friendliness … without much English.
45 to 50 … slender … silly hat … distinguished, hawkish features … loud jacket … skin-tight yellow trousers … pointed, red shoes eighteen inches long. He puts a cap down for donations and performs on the promenade and in the main street. He does a terrific statue … frozen in exaggerated mid-stride, eyes on the horizon for ages. I tried it and started twitching within seconds.
The first time we saw him we were sitting in Christian’s bar and he was blowing sausage balloons and Christian joined in the act failing lamentably to blow up a single balloon. Get the show on the road. The clown involves passers-by: he made a balloon into a circle and invited a little girl to put her head through it. She wisely declined. Putting her head in a noose. Sometimes he would closely follow someone aping their steps. On one occasion he stretched an imaginary thread from a seat across the promenade and warned people and they obediently stepped carefully over it.
The ultimate dignity of the clown.