By Patrick Falterman
We arrived to our would-be lodgings around twelve-thirty in the evening. After quite a long walk, in which I made myself trot along at a very good pace so as not to lose any more time, we came to a grand three-story home situated in the very classiest sector of Montevideo. Upon my knocking we were greeted by one of the other fellows living there at the time, who bade us sit and await the owner, who it was said would be arriving home shortly from an evening on the town.
Indeed it was quite a short time before Juan, the owner and founder of La Licorne, came in through the heavy oak door in very much a merry mood, and with his girlfriend Carmela in tow. I immediately took a liking to the both of them, whom wasted no time in being the most gracious of hosts to our travel-weary duo. Wine was passed around freely, as were several joints of very fine marijuana, while Juan told us the story of the place where we now sat.
Founded as a “Liberaría Viva,” or “Living Library,” La Licorne was the brainchild of Juan himself and was his attempt to both run a business and partake in an activity he loved, which was the indulgence in literature of all sorts – in particular, poetry.
I myself being a fellow admirer of the literary arts (though not so much, I’ll admit, of poetry), was quite pleased we had arrived at such an appropriate place to pass our time of rest in Montevideo, and was thankful for the message that John DeWitt had sent me all more than a year before; and so we drank a little and smoked a little until quite a late hour, until Juan showed us to our beds, which were two small mattresses lain out on the floor of one of the drawing rooms – which to us may as well been feather beds furnished in an expensive hotel, we were so weary.
The next day I received a message from John DeWitt himself, inviting Tony and I for an artsy night on the town to see a modern interpretation of Motzart’s classic opera The Magic Flute. I found myself quite disposed to go with him, as did Tony, and I assured John that we would accompany him for the evening’s entertainment.
The day, however, was spent by the two of us earning money in the historical downtown sector of the city with our respective instruments – though I found, to my dismay, that earning money in the nation of Uruguay with a harmonica was not quite as easy as I had found it to be in Brazil. In all a day’s work I managed to make for myself no more than two hundred Uruguayan pesos, a small sum considering the hours I had played. Still I fared better than Tony, who made less than sixty. Thus I realized that perhaps our stay in Montevideo would not be so comfortable as we had hoped, if the busking would not be decent.
And so with the two hundred Uruguayan pesos in my pocket I set out upon the town with Tony and John, the latter whom I had met earlier that evening in La Licorne. Rather a soft-spoken fellow, with a short beard and very curly hair, I found him to be very pleasing company; and indeed it was a welcome change to hear another American voice apart from that of my own for awhile.
The interpretation of The Magic Flute turned out to be quite a comical one indeed – and with a good part of it being sung opera-style and in German, as per to the original. The rest, it seemed, would be in French; I enjoyed the show and left satisfied, despite the fact that we had rather the worst seats in the house, having arrived late to the theater.
After this night out enjoying ourselves, I myself kept to the library for quite the rest of my stay at La Licorne, being unwilling to subject myself to the subpar work opportunities available to me in the streets of Montevideo. Tony, it seemed, felt the same way – though he did go out once or twice more while I was there, for want of more money.
La Licorne, while at first seeming a very lovely place indeed, after a couple of days began to stick at me; that is to say, I felt the familiar lethargy that having a safe place to sleep and an abundance of comforts at my disposal invited – those comforts being mostly alcohol, tobacco, and copious amounts of marijuana. Food, however, was not so abundant, and despite the fact that most (if not all) of the library’s inhabitants either had great sums of money for themselves or had wealthy parents who were well-disposed to provide for their offspring, what little food that stayed in the small narrow kitchen was carefully accounted for – though oftentimes in the evening a Chilean who lived there would cook great heaps of fare for most everyone who cared to taste it. And my two hundred Uruguayan pesos went very quickly, as I found Montevideo to be an extremely expensive place to live, and soon was without money, nor indeed the desire to go out and make more – or very much food, except for what Tony and I had managed to purchase by pooling our earnings at the supermarket.
Indeed, my lethargy was likely due to the fact that I had begun smoking marijuana quite all day long, there being such a reliable supply of it in the house – and this coupled with the aforementioned poor work opportunities on the streets caused me to become very un-active after four days at the library. Fortunately, the place being a library, there was a great stock of books available to me for reading – though these were mostly in Spanish. I managed to finish an old favourite, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, written in this way, though found its cutting wit and social commentary to have been very much dulled in translation. After this I resigned myself to reading only books in English, of which there were a few around, though they were mostly long, arduous works of poetry from the sixteenth century, which I had neither the time nor the desire to occupy myself with. I managed to find a few old science-fiction novels from the early-to-mid twentieth century, and while science-fiction has never been my favourite genre of writing I will admit that I heartily enjoyed reading them, having not read a book in English for many months at the time.
One of my principal endeavors in Montevideo was to acquire additional visa pages to put into my Passport – for I was nearly out of space, there being just one-half a page remaining on the original set to place more visas. However, upon making a trip to the U.S. Embassy, I learned that I would have to make an appointment online if I were to be granted audience within the confines of my own consulate. This seemed very typical to me, especially drawing upon the experience of my past dealings with American consulates overseas, so I quelled the anger and frustration I felt at yet another fruitless visit to the Embassy in my lifetime and was obliged to return to La Licorne, connect to the Internet, and make the bloody appointment. Upon doing so, however, I found to my infinite irritation that the next available time for an appointment was still six day’s distant – which meant I would have to wait, quite without anything to do and with a growing desire to return to the Road, in La Licorne.
Meanwhile, things at the library were going about as usual, with long, lazy days spent doing nothing much more than reading, smoking pot, and passing long, pointless hours in front of the computer. I had planned on doing some writing in the library, and indeed I was in dire need of updating this site – but I simply could not bring myself to write down a single word, the lethargy was so profound. Indeed, what should I have expected, with so much Mary-Jane being consumed on such a regular basis – though I thought nothing of it at the time. The day of my appointment crept slowly up on the calendar, and perhaps because I waited so eagerly for it, seemed nonetheless further off than ever at the close of each evening.
Having grown tired of the confines of my mattress in the drawing room, I set out to hang my hammock in some of the ample roof-space that I had found the library to be outfitted with. Indeed this proved to be a good idea, for many people would come walking through the drawing room at all hours of the night, and sometimes waking me up quite suddenly and effectively; so on the roof I found a much quieter and relaxing slumber, though it was considerably cooler and with sometimes a strong wind blowing in from the sea. These things, however, I found comforting, as they reminded me of the Road and the life I loved, the open air rather cleaning out my head and removing at least a little of the stupor I felt while sleeping indoors.
One day, about three days before I was to have my audience with the American Embassy, a large party was thrown at La Licorne. This was, I was told, to be the library’s final event; Juan’s business endeavor had apparently failed, and the place would be closing down in a few weeks’ time. As per to the tradition of young minds, it was saw fit for a huge, final celebration to be held before the doors of La Licorne were shut for good, a thing which I, having a young mind myself, had figured to be a fine idea.
As the people began to arrive towards the middle of the night, a particular person, whom I had never seen before, came in and seemed to quite take charge of the whole house. He was tall, thin, and with the typical beard, moustache, tattoos, and longish hair that most of the folk who frequented the household sported. He introduced himself as Rodrigo, and was quite the one for barking orders – though he did prepare some tasty cheese tortillas, which he shared with many of the guests, myself included. Despite the peace offering, I took an immediate dislike to Rodrigo and his commanding demeanor, and after playing a match of chess with him that I had been unable to finish for the man’s constant “move, move now, go quickly,” chatter in my ear, I resigned myself to ignore the newcomer and attempt to enjoy the festivities.
This, however, I found rather impossible, for the experience with Rodrigo had left a bad taste in my mouth and, since the party had deteriorated to mostly loud music and shouting, I was obliged to go to my hammock on the roof for the evening for want of a little peace and quiet, and perhaps a sea breeze.
When I awoke the next morning I went downstairs to find my original friends in La Licorne quite absent – and Rodrigo still there, and having done a complete re-arrangement of the house. The cursed man was in the act of fastidiously taping down computer cables to the floor as I descended the creaking wooden stairs to the ground level. Rodrigo wasted no time in asking me when I was to go to the downtown to play my harmonica, to which I responded: I would not go, I would only wait for my appointment and read on the roof. The brazen newcomer, however, did not find this to his liking, and began asking me about rent. I presently informed him that I had been invited to this house more than a year ago, and who was he to ask me for rent, anyhow, him being only a vague friend of the household? In order to avoid any further conflict with Rodrigo, I retired with a book back to my hammock on the roof, where Tony came up a few minutes later.
“There’s something you should know,” said my Padawan to me from above the pages of the Rudyard Kipling novel I was working at. “This guy, Rodrigo, has bought the place. He’s the new owner.”
I looked up from Mowgli’s adventures in India with a start. “What happened to Juan and the others?”
“I don’t know. He’s not here.”
I frowned. “All right. Thanks for telling me.”
Tony left, and I continued to frown into my book. This was most displeasing news, since if Rodrigo was now indeed the new owner of the house, he had every right to ask me for rent, of which I had no intention of going out in search of, as I only had two more days until my appointment – and anyhow, I would not waste any money I might earn on paying rent to such an disagreeable character, and for lodging at a place to which I had been invited such a long time ago. At that point I made the sudden decision (as per to most of my decisions) to leave La Licorne right then and there, to avoid any further conflict with Rodrigo and indeed, for the sake of my own sanity and psychological well-being.
It had been decided some time before reaching Montevideo that Tony and I would separate after reaching the city; our plans to reach the Guineas had changed somewhat since departing Santiago de Chile, mostly due to the fact that my dear father, whom I have not seen for more than two and a half years (nor, for that matter, the rest of my immediate family) implored me to return to the United States, if not for just one holiday season, for the sake of him, my poor mother, and my aging grandparents. He even offered to purchase the airplane ticket, which would serve as my Christmas gift from him, and which would be round trip and take me back to the same city I would depart from approximately three weeks after arriving back home to the States. After some hesitation (for sometimes I get a horrible fear that if I ever return home, some dreadful tragedy will befall me and leave me unable to continue my adventuring), I agreed; so my father purchased the ticket for me, which left from Belém, at the mouth of the mighty River Amazon in Brazil, on the fourteenth of December 2011, and which returned to her on the tenth of January of the following year.
This being sometime in late October in Montevideo, and me having a further seven thousand kilometres to travel before reaching the River Amazon, I felt myself all at once very pressed for time. With the added problem of La Licorne’s new owner, I felt it very appropriate that I should leave that very same day. And so I took down my hammock, which had hung on the roof at La Licorne for no less than five days, and swiftly packed my bags in preparation for my departure. The appointment with my consulate, I feared, I would not make. Fortunately I had room still on my Passport for two more visa stamps, after which I would be completely out of room and very much obliged to pass through some American consulate in Brazil to renew my stock of pages.