Fishermen were leaving the dock to catch the last pink rays of dawn as Lina and I sat down for breakfast and asked each other what we’d only asked ourselves in the weeks leading up to this moment. How will we manage 17 days of uninterrupted togetherness? And where, exactly, are we?
I met Lina three months before at a rooftop party in Manhattan. A few of us were sitting in a circle, chit chatting. She was a photographer from Sweden living in London; I was a filmmaker from LA living in New York. We walked around the East Village and ate dinner at my favorite Italian place. We drove to the Jersey Shore, got drunk on the boardwalk and had surprisingly good sex at a beach motel. Then she went back to London
“Let’s see each other again,” I said on the phone.
“Let’s meet in the middle.”
“There’s nothing in the middle,” she said. “Just ocean.”
“There’s one place,” I remembered. “The Azores.”
I was always curious about the Azores. I spun a globe once, asking the heavens where I should escape to when I got the courage; my finger landed right on them. What were these tiny islands doing out there in the middle of the Atlantic? Technically, they’re part of Portugal and therefore Europe, but they seemed the most isolated droplets of land on the whole surface of Earth. There’s only one flight a day from the US — a red-eye from Boston to Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands — and I was on it.
Lina was waiting for me at the hotel. We took each other’s hands and meandered around the cobblestone streets of Ponta Delgada, the capital. We rented a car and zig-zagged across Sao Miguel’s swaths of farmland and rainforest, passing blue-green lakes, volcanic craters, donkey herders and pineapple trees. We circled the coast on the wisps of asphalt that connected one seaside village to the next till we ran out of road at Nordeste, perched on a mountain on the Eastern tip, and slept in a creaky hostel with eight rooms, empty except for the ghosts. We ate a lot of fish.
We must’ve seemed quite the couple. I was the fellow in the green sweatshirt and dark jeans with that self-aware Jewish quality and curly hair to match. Lina was the far too attractive Scandinavian ex-model who years before had tried being a bitch only to discover it didn’t fit: better to own up to the gentle artist within. (She always had her camera with her, but I could never guess when she’d pull it out. “Sometimes it’s nice not to take the picture,” she’d say.) After a while, though, we became “Lina and David,” as if the phrase were obvious.
We spent a week in a small house on Terceira, the next island over. We lounged around, swam in natural pools and ate more fish. One afternoon, we visited the only volcano in the world you can go inside. We looked up to see the sun splitting into rays, funneling down the rocks and coating a living layer of green with light. Another day we stumbled onto one of the Azores’ many trails, made for tourists but abandoned to nature, where we hiked through a forest that looked like a Disney film. Butterflies encircled us, left us and encircled us again. When we arrived at the top, the ocean was in every direction but our backs, like we were standing at the prow of a ship, sailing to a place like this one, in a perfect circle.
“Wouldn’t it be romantic if we never saw each other again?” Lina asked. Maybe, I thought, but I didn’t want to think about it. We were together now.