Observation portrait

It was just another day at work, and the hotel was quite busy due to a Union conference. I was pushing a trolley past the main entrance like I had done many times before when something caught my eye. Directly in front of me was one of the main faces in Australian politics, stepping through the automatic glass doors. I was in awe considering I had seen this long wrinkly forehead many times on television, and there he was, out of nowhere. I felt belittled when realizing I was directly in his path, and felt like a commoner who bows in a royal’s presence. He made his entrance spearheading his team of advisors, and carried a deadly determination in his step. We exchanged looks for a split of a second, and I kept on walking somewhat awkwardly beside the retinue, still shook by the surprise. My first conclusion was that he isn’t as short as portrayed by the media, and I felt intrigued to get to know the man behind the persona a bit further. I ditched the trolley somewhere and sneaked into the conference room, fueled by curiosity. When I came in, the party leader was welcomed by the crowd, being introduced as ‘The next Prime-minister’. I have never been an avid follower of politics, considering I never believed in the whole circus around the campaigns of false promises. But during the speech that followed, the Opposition Leader stood ten-feet tall and didn’t misspell a single word, nor broke a sweat. The speech was exceptionally well written for this audience, and Bill resisted the urge to look down at his notes. He went on to make very bold statements including the need for an all Australian Head-of-State. The interesting thing to note is how fast I changed my view on the politician, almost charmed by his composure and confidence in every motion. The crowd seemed as hypnotized as me, with a speech that touched all the right notes, like watching a suitor seduce its prey. His energy filled the room. Some political promises were made. Handshakes were given all around, but I can still remember Bill’s calmness dealing with the whole apparatus. This unusual encounter will go down as the first time I really looked up to an Australian politician, in what felt as a breath of fresh air in a sometimes very polluted industry.

Interview portrait

The first time I met Anthony was at one of the biggest hippie lifestyle festivals in Western Australia, and I remember finding his energy contagious. He was the embodiment of what that festival was supposed to represent. This period was marked by a rhythm of partying not for the faint hearted.  Three years onwards and we lay on the grass for this interview under massive trees in front of an outback tavern. Whilst his massive Rhodesian Ridgeback wanders around, we smoke some rough tobacco Anthony grows in his bush property to get the conversation going. His long hair and beard are obfuscated by his contagious smile from ear-to-ear. Nowadays he seems to live a much quieter life, having chosen to migrate out bush full-time to get away from ‘all that’. ‘Lately I have become more abstract, more aware of myself as an individual amongst others.’ That was the first answer I got when asking Anthony to tell me about himself. He goes on to explain how everything around us is energy, and how nowadays he is much more aware of his. Not that I ever got the slightest trace of bad energy from him, but he always dwelt deeper into this line of affairs than most. His chicken-feet tell the stories of many smiles under the sun. ‘Talk about energy, scientific matter as the basis of everything’. It isn’t midday yet and Anthony already has more complex conversation starters than most. He does indeed carry a much calmer demeanour than in the past, but when he stares into the abstract, his kind, icy-blue eyes are a window into a soul which has paved the road less travelled. We have been friends for a few years now, but I’ve always listened to every single phrase he says as if I were interviewing him, drinking from his bottomless chalice of wisdom. The forty-five-year-old Zambian born is one of the most interesting people I know. I feel like the twenty years or so he has on me have been lived to the fullest. An extremely cultured individual, someone who you could chat to for hours without losing topic. He has been to the other side of the moon and back many times, and when he explains you one of his viewpoints in a sea of complex, philosophical-like matters, you get to understand how much he has learnt from his travels.

I have conducted this interview in a very relaxed environment, and the conversation came almost naturally, maybe slightly off-track, but that is ultimately Anthony’s essence, unconventional originality. He was happy with the portrait after a couple of changes.

Personal essay: love, geography, vice and virtue (1200-word relating to interview portrait)

As I listen to the whole interview, I notice the sole time Anthony hesitated to answer was when asked if he would ever move back home to Zambia. It is only as I hear the voice recording that I understand the silence that followed the question. The easy-going conversation took a tumble down a somewhat personal alley.

I guess the way of understanding how personal it can be is by asking myself: Would I ever move back home? Hardly. But it is a question that has boggled my mind throughout my adult life. And when it does, happiness is the main focus. Isn’t it the same as questioning our whole reality, the setting which we choose to coexist in? What would my life have been like, if I hadn’t migrated when I was eighteen? Or even, if I have broadened my horizons so much by moving to Australia, isn’t the next logical step moving again so I can broaden them even more? After a ramble of thoughts, I understand how personal of a question it was, and promise to be more aware next time.

I continue to ponder on the matter once I return to Lisbon, the first time coming back since migrating. I rediscover the city as a tourist and rejoice at all the historic facades and small bohemian bars and cafes. Always something new and exciting around every corner. For the time I used to live there though, these corners ended up mostly unexplored as you just keep yourself busy, sticking to your routes, in your not-so-busy routine. But regardless of this beauty, the cosmopolitan mentality really is something else. I had lived a whole year in Australia without this beehive-like urgency, and after less than an hour of landing and ten minutes at the supermarket, I already had an elderly Portuguese lady yelling at me, seeing I wasn’t moving fast enough at the checkout. There I was, thinking about life, at a leisurely pace, very jetlagged, and during those surreal couple of hours that followed I was nothing but a bystander in the movie that was my homecoming, watching from afar. Daydreaming.

I came back to Perth after a holiday where I craved the tranquillity of home, funnily enough. A few months later, I met this lovely Parisian girl who would later become my girlfriend. The main issue in this relationship was that she didn’t have a visa to stay, which made everything more complex. It is as if you know there is an expiry date to a relationship, you give yourself completely. This scorching love led to the possibility of me moving back to Paris with her. And once again the question popped up in my mind. After coming all this way to leave the European hustle and bustle, would I ever move back? It was undoubtedly love, but I hate French and decided to stay.

A couple of years passed and I met my Australian girlfriend. We had been together for a year when one of her friends made a remark that caught me off-guard: ‘We would have left if it weren’t for you’, she said, in a cheeky matter. Later on I learned that my partner was planning on leaving for Byron Bay with her friend, but upon meeting me her plans changed. She asked me if I’d move there with her. I told her I had plans to study in Perth. ‘Maybe after uni?’ Maybe.  Once again I had the geographical dilemma on the table.

I came back to Lisbon sometime after this and was over-excited to celebrate life in my old country; I was amused to understand how the updated version of me fitted into the Portuguese society. My friends scoffed at my thongs, the major influence of an Australian life. I didn’t care, and after a while neither did they. It seems Europeans can be quick to jump to conclusions about fashion, whereas no-one could give two fucks down-under. They also seemed intrigued by the amount of beer I was consuming back then. An aspiring writer with a deep Australian influence. What exactly did they expect?

This line of thought brings two terms that play a major part in my life, vice and virtue, onto the table. I consider myself a somewhat virtuous man, but even more of a happiness junkie, which brings vice into play. And this is where I distance myself from my Portuguese high-school friends. They seem too caught-up in the cosmopolitan rush, striving to keep busy. Of course the economy is nothing to be compared to Western Australia, so the never-ending steep financial climb that is their reality keeps them occupied and gives them a sense of purpose. But what would they actually do with their time if they were to find themselves in a position of economic stability? If life is not a struggle anymore, what to do with our day-to-day? This is a question that crossed my mind several times once I stopped working seven days a week. As of virtue, I have read enough philosophical works to understand how it goes hand-to-hand with vice. Or at least I like to think. If one has achieved basic survival needs, what exactly is one’s purpose?

It is with this never ending dilemma that I organise to meet up with Anthony once again. We go on to have an incredibly complex conversation about energy and other spiritual matters. As I listen to him speak, I keep on thinking to myself how much of an incredibly virtuous individual he really is. Which leads me to think about vice again, and I remember how much of a drinker, smoker and overall party animal he also is. Would he be as virtuous if it weren’t for his vices? What do his childhood friends make of his ways when he visits them back home? I go on to make the relation between virtue and the brain, and vice and the soul. It is a fine balance which we all dangle in. Can one be virtuous without one’s vices, and vice-versa? I can’t see myself as the most virtuous of men without celebrating this virtue by indulging in the hazy-like comfort of vice. And I don’t want to fall into a downward spiral of vice without enough virtue to level it out. As I said, it is the finest of balances.

I write these thoughts as I prepare on going back to Lisbon for a holiday. I haven’t been back in almost two years. The funny thing about going back nowadays is that I have gotten used to this change-of-airs, this craving to see something different. Australia is relatively quiet, and I appreciate that, but after a year or so of routine you need a getaway. And going back home for me is always symbolic, in a way that after usually less than a week I am already missing Australia. A self-reminder of my rightest of choices. But that is human nature after all, right? To crave change and immediately wanting to replace this change with more change that brings you back to square one, wondering what was the point in the first place. We are simple creatures with complex needs, after all.