The Witch of Portobello and I are sitting at the Bamboo Hut, looking out at the torrential downpouring rain which has been pummelling the island for days. Wafts of cheap tobacco and cheaper marijuana occasionaly drift our way, as we contemplate life on this quirky little beach on Ko Pangnan. The Witch, my friend Lacrima, was the one who introduced me to this beach and all of it's yogurt-eating, fire-twirling, downward-dog-posturing, techno-dancing, mushroom-shake-eating, yoga-loving, pot-smoking, beach-bumming, Paulo Coehlo-reading, feel-good ways. The sun, beach, yoga, reading and interesting conversations are the attraction for me, that and catching up with my good friend Lacrima.
Lacrima is one of those larger than life figures who can enter a room with her beaming, mischevious smile and with no shades of shyness will soon be friends with all. Only the most skeptical can resist her spell as she exudes a confident, carefree and bewitching aura, probably a result of her Roma heritage. Her favorite line is to abruptly yell "Excuuuse me! Excuuuse me!" in her sing-songy gypsy Eastern European accent to any nearby random stranger in order to ask for directions, find out what the are eating, ask for a cigarette, find out where they are from, or to just say hello.
She also has a habit of quickly coining a nickname for her new friends. My cute name is "Little Bird," which is how she always- always
- addresses me. I will be sitting in cafe eating with a group of friends and Lacrima will burst in "Leeeetuuuhl Baaaahd! Leeeetuuuhl Baaad! What are you deeeww-ing!?" Charming, and always slightly embarrassing. "Why does she call you 'Little Bird?'" people will ask. I have no idea. Because I remind her of one I suppose. I didn't learn the name of her boyfriend- Little Pumpkin- until I met him in person. (Vadim.)
As coincidence would have it, my friend Lacrima is the inspiration for the novel the Witch of Portobello
by Paulo Coelho
, the famous international bestselling author who wrote The Alchemist
, one of the best-selling books in history. If you've been living in Azerbijan or America you might not have heard of him, even though he has sold over 100 million books worldwide.I first met
"The Witch" Lacrima in Lima, Peru, after I had landed into a deserted hostel on the coast of Lima late one night about five years ago. I was flipping through a guide book in the living room of the converted house when this frazzled, pretty girl with a lively mane of dark wavy hair came busting through the front door. She had hardly been there five minutes when she abruptly approached me. "Excuuuse me! Excuuse me! Can you please come with me to dinner? I am starving! And I do not want to go on the streets alone."
Lacrima didn't leave my side for the next month or so as we travelled through Peru, teaching English in Arequipa, meeting up in Maccu Piccu, dancing the night away in Lima. She has become one of my best friends, and for sure the only one I have travelled with on three continents, as I also visited her in Austria and she is the one who introduced me to the seldom-traveled beach of Haad Yuan on Ko Pangnan in Thailand.
So this year I met up with Lacrima again in Haad Yuan after some e-mail coordinating to find out that we were both coming to Thailand. Every bungalow on the beach was full when I arrived, and after a full day of negotiating I was able to secure one. When Lacrima arrived a few days later, she had the same challenge, so we ended up sharing a bungalow about 30 meters from the beach. The shared price rounds up to about $6 per person. The only hazard is walking in on her doing yoga in the nude. "Lacrima, put some clothes on for Chrissakes."
After being on the road awhile, it was a breath of fresh air to see my Romanian friend. In the book The Witch of Portobello
, the protagonist is a young girl named Athena who is born of a Gypsy mother in Romania but is adopted and begins a journey until she eventually ends up in London. Lacrima was born of a Roma mother as well, and was also adopted, by Romanian parents who emmigrated to Austria when the Wall fell in 1989. They were essentially smuggled into Austria via Hungary, where they spent a few nights in jail before finally coming to their freedom. Lacrima now lives in Vienna.
Athena in The Witch
is on a spiritual quest, which includes music and dance, and part of her journey was to find her real mother. Lacrima, who just recently met her real Gypsy mother, is also on a sort of yoga-inspired spiritual journey. She also just did a 10-day meditation retreat in India before coming to Thailand.
The similarities make it obvious that she was the inspiration, and it all makes sense when you consider her relationship to Paulo Coelho. When I met Lacrima in Lima, she had just come from Brazil where she was going to meet Paulo. He was going to helicopter her to a remote jungle lodge in Brazil (the man is worth hundreds of millions) but she lost contact and it all fell through. She ended up stuck in Rio for awhile, where she was assaulted at knife point, so she got the hell out of there and headed to Peru. (No wonder she didn't feel safe walking the streets at night.)
The stories these famous spiritual gurus can be interesting, and Coelho, who has a following of millions and writes mostly spirituality-based books, met Lacrima (if I remember correctly) through a mutual friend at a book signing. He was struck by her, and so he quickly befriended her and took her on as his new assistant. Out with the old, beautiful young Eastern European assistant (from Estonia), and in with the new.
She traveled with Paulo for awhile and helped coordinate his book signings and publicity tours. His fondness for her grew, and he wanted Lacrima to have children with him, offering to buy her a large house in order to raise the children. As for Paulo's wife, I am not sure what she would think about this.
Lacrima respected and cared for Paulo, but found him to old and resisted his advances. 'Paulo, I am young enough to be your daughter,' she told him.
He quickly dumped her and moved on. Out with the old, beautiful young Eastern European assistant, and in with the new. His shallowness doesn't surprise me at all, in fact there are many of these "gurus" right on this island who use their "spiritual expertise" to convince cute young backpackers to sleep with them as part of their "spiritual awakening." Paulo Coelho doesn't strike me as any different, only he is older, with hundreds of millions of more dollars, more fame, and obviously a greater range of potential targets.
All for the better that it didn't work out, as far as I'm concerned, because as she was hung out to dry in Brazil, she found her way to Peru to meet me. We are re-united in Haad Yuan where we can carry out our tradition of making fun of the local yippies (hippie hearts, yuppie money) and talk about real spirituality, the kind that isn't used to empower the ego, get laid or look cool. I'm not the expert, that's for sure, but I'll hang around the Witch and maybe her witch powers will rub off on me. And if I'm lucky I'll be the inspiration for someone else's novel, which will hopefully help that person gain fame, fortune and women. If I'm lucky.