Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

Dispatches on life, love and the human condition by a wanderer and hopeful romantic

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One of my very best friends in the world Amy arrived from Seattle yesterday for a weeklong holiday, meaning I am no longer in my little house alone. I drove the hour or so trip to Faro to collect her from the airport and after a detour through Arrifana so she could see the beach where I’ve been spending most of my time and lunch at the restaurant on Fortaleza point where I’ve taken so many photos, we retired to my house to drink wine and catch up, going to bed early in deference to her jetlag.

It’s refreshing but also a little disorienting to have someone sharing my space and my little life here. I had gotten used to my own particular habits and wishes; now I have to taken someone else’s into account, someone to whom this is all new territory and who is eager to explore. But it’s good for me to have a companion and I am happy to show someone this beautiful place I’ve come to love so well.

Friday was my first day of holiday and I spent eight glorious hours on Arrifana surfing, sunning, napping and reading “Blindness,” a completely depressing book by Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author Jose Saramago. It was a good day of surfing for me and I went in the water four separate times, although the third time was at high tide and the waves were a little too big, even close to shore, for me to navigate very well. But I practiced dropping in a bit, with disastrous results, tumbling and crashing in a couple of spectacular wipeouts. One of them was witnessed by my first surf instructor of last week Aldo, who was sitting on the beach and smiled and threw up his hands at me as I came up from being thrown to the sand. I shrugged and laughed, figuring you have to learn somehow.

Later I found out through one of my new friends from Brighton Phil that it’s impossible to drop in on a wave on the kind of board I’m using if I take the wave directly, which I was doing; he said you have to take it at an angle if I even hope to stand up and ride it out. I’ll have to try that for next time.

Actually Phil and Jon joined me on Arrifana for a sunset surf, and I learned the drop-in advice from Phil on a break when he came out of the water and sat next to me, dripping wet from the water, for a long and spirited chat. The topic ranged from his profession, gardening, to Archimedes, a Greek inventor and physicist whose inventions apparently defended Sicily (he came up when we spoke of my Sicilian heritage), to attributing my affinity for Portugal and its beaches to that very heritage (“It’s in your blood, you can’t escape it,” he said).

Phil is one of those people I’m lucky enough to meet quite often who is still actually interested and curious about life and will seek knowledge just for the sake of it, and so was a real pleasure to talk to. He didn’t go to college and instead apprenticed to a gardener — in the true sense of the word, not just someone who cuts your lawn for you — so he could learn properly about plants and how to grow them. He has his own business planting and managing very large gardens for rich English folks in Brighton and sincerely loves his work. He has surfed around the world and at one point traveled to Yemen to study Arabic because he is fascinated by the culture. (He had a great time explaining to me on Wednesday about “friendly” Yemenese tribal kidnappings.) He’s traveled in Africa and the Middle East, among other places, and in general was a fountain of knowledge. He also is quite cute, with curly, unruly hair that he would self-consciously run his hands threw and puff out like a clown wig, so he was not an entirely terrible person to spend 40 minutes chatting with as the sun began to set on a gorgeous beach.

Later I met Phil and Jon for one last dinner in Carrapeteira. It had gotten quite windy and we sat indoors this time, and all three of us were quite exhausted. My eight hours on the beach in the sun and all that surfing was starting to take its toll, and they also were beginning to think about their journey back home the next day, so it was more subdued than our dinner on Wednesday — but not unpleasantly so. I had sopa de peixe again and then lamb chops this time, neither of which disappointed. After we tried to go to the one “disco” in the tiny town but though it was only about 10:45 or so it was locked up for the night. So we said our goodbyes, exchanged e-mail addresses and I went home to bed to ready myself for Amy’s arrival.

Now she is here finishing a shower and then it will be my turn. We just had a walk around the countryside near my house. Today it’s quite windy and cool so we’re going to head down to Lagos to do some browsing and shopping and have dinner later. It should be a lovely way to spend an easy Sunday.


Every day is my birthday here

What a lovely couple of days I’ve had here in southwest Portugal. Not much surfing because the waves have been small during the time I’ve had to surf, but as one door closes, albeit temporarily, others have opened.

Last night I had a wonderful dinner of fish soup, pork kabobs, caramel custard and vihno tinto with Phil and John, two English surfers from Brighton I met earlier in the week. They are staying in Carrapeteira now, a lazy, sun-soaked oceanside town that leans toward the sea on broad dunes. I hadn’t been there before and drove the windy roads in last night just before sunset, much to my delight. The light was perfect and the air smelled of freshly cut grass and pollen, and I took the road’s curves slowly, soaking in the remains of the day.

I drove to a restaurant where we’d agreed to meet, called Sitio do Rio, where Phil and John were already enjoying olives and bread with garlic butter. I joined them and we sat outside for several hours talking and savoring our food, which was as fresh as only locally grown and organic food can be. Many of the farms here are organic and the food somehow just tastes more pure than it does in most places in the U.S. Or maybe I’m just so happy to be here that everything seems better.

I wish I could explain how lovely it was to sit there as day turned to night and the sky bloomed a thousand stars, and enjoy the company of two intelligent, thoughtful and funny men, with nothing else to do and no particular place to be. Phil even paid for my dinner, which was an unexpected surprise and awfully generous of him. I may go surfing with them tomorrow, their last day in town before heading back to the U.K.

After dinner, which ended around 10:30, I was in a fine mood and on a whim I drove toward Odeceixe to see if I could find David, whom I’ve been missing. We had made plans two nights in a row and he never kept them, and I wanted to find my elusive Portuguese friend who has brought me such joy in previous visits.

On my way to Odeceixe I saw his van parked outside a small cafe in Maria Vinagre, his hometown which is between Rogil and Odeceixe. (It’s easy to spot–it’s green and says “Odeceixe Surf School” on it, with a giant-squid-grabbing-a-mussel logo.) I pulled in and went inside, the vinho tinto giving me a little extra courage. He was sitting outside the cafe with Ricardo, my first surf instructor here in Portugal, and another friend of theirs also called Ricardo. (It’s obviously like “John” in Portugal.) Little mention was made of our missed connections — just a few words about it — and we caught up a bit and chatted about life, including the fact that the Obamas picked a Portuguese water dog as the First Pet. It is the biggest news you can imagine here in Portugal, which I find odd and hilarious. You’d think they announced the pope was gay.

I sat with them for awhile and David bought me a glass of vihno tinto and at some point asked if I wanted to get up at 6 a.m. to go with him and his two friends to pry mussels off rocks just offshore. This is how things work here, where friendships are fluid and lazy and plans are made spontaneously with little fanfare. Everyone, it seems, lives in the moment, which suits me just fine these days and feels just about right. I told him of course, asked several times if he was absolutely serious because I don’t get up that early just for anything, and left around 11:45 to get some sleep.

I arose around 5 a.m. tired but extremely curious and excited for my morning’s adventure. In addition to having a surf school and camp and other surf-related businesses, David also is a fisherman and he takes mussels from the sea and sells them to local restaurants. (Last night he told me he also has gotten into the barnacle business. God only knows.) The thing is, taking fish out of the sea and selling it is legal if you have a license, but he does not; having grown up here his whole life and living hand to mouth on whatever resource he can to help his family, it is not for me to judge his illegal activities.

Since I met him last September I had always hoped I would one day see him in action, since watching someone in his natural habitat doing the thing that has kept his people alive for generations is fascinating to me. I feel honored that David would let a foreigner and a woman (the men are famously chauvinistic around here) witness such an act. It’s probably not really a big deal to him, and he probably lets people in on this all the time. But I still felt as if I was being given a gift, and was grateful for it.

David texted me around 5:45 to let me know we’d be meeting at the Rogil petro station (there is only one; it’s a mere blip of a town) at 6:15. He arrived about 10 minutes late (of course, but that’s actually on time for the Portuguese, maybe even early) and had me follow him to his friend’s house. When he got there he stood outside for awhile, apparently waiting for his friend to join us. He made a motion to me like drinking out of a glass — a lot of my conversations with David involve sign language, as his English isn’t great (it’s better than my Portuguese, however) — and I understood that to mean his friend was late getting up because he had been drinking.

Well, it turns out his friend, whose name was Sergio, was still drunk, having only went to bed a half hour ago. I found this out after I followed the two of them down a dusty road past houses and then cows to park by a sandy path we would take to get to a rocky outcropping over the ocean. Like many Portuguese men Sergio had that short, stout build with a sizeable belly, which I got full view of when he proceeded to strip to change into his wetsuit, chattering all the time in Portuguese about god knows what. David more discreetly changed in the van, and the two of us giggled at Sergio’s antics. I also was enjoying the rare light of early morning; the sun had just come up as I waited for them to change into wetsuits, tie on their nets and gather the gear that would allow them to complete their task.

The walk to the ocean took about 15 or 20 minutes, during which Sergio kept up a steady stream of chatter to me in Portuguese and French, which David told him I speak. (I barely do, so only understood a little bit of what Sergio was saying.) He also would do impish things like try to kick my feet out from under me as we walked along the path and while I was amused it also was a little annoying; a few times I scampered ahead of him to elude his reach, which wasn’t hard because he was carrying the bulk of the equipment and was laboring besides.

I wish a had a camera to capture how gorgeous it was there above the sea, but my camera battery was dead and David had asked me the night before not to take photos anyway, probably not wanting his illegal actions documented. When we got to the outcropping, there was an ATV parked right at the end, that of a fisherman who was out on another rock below us.

From the point we could see up and down the coast for miles; the day had risen clear and the sun burned off the earlier chill and warmed our backs as we gazed out to sea. David spoke to Sergio in Portuguese about how to proceed, and even though I didn’t really understand I gathered that they wouldn’t be going into the ocean that morning. He eventually explained to me that the waves were too big, crashing on the rocks where he wanted to fish, which made it a little dangerous. Later he said if Sergio hadn’t been drunk he may have gone out there, saying it was the reason for “60 percent” of his decision not to enter the water.

We stood there for awhile as David assessed the situation, Sergio curled up on a rock for a nap, and I enjoyed the sheer magic of the moment. Large, green waves were crashing over rocks close to shore, forming one after the other, the ocean pregnant with them. The sky lost its last bit of orange and was now a vibrant blue, and the rocky shoreline to the north and south was a jigsaw puzzle waiting for its missing pieces. After awhile David decided that going back out later when the tide was low would be a better option, said he would call me in the evening to accompany them again and we headed back toward where we’d parked our vehicles.

I don’t know if he will call me or not, but to be honest, it really doesn’t matter; I am content to have been given this morning’s gift. As we walked back toward the cars on the path lined with wildflowers, Sergio’s chatter a soundtrack to our footfalls, David turned to me for a second and said, “It’s good, early in the morning, eh?” I smiled and nodded in agreement. “It really is,” I said, knowing just exactly what he meant.


Small joys and lessons

Every day brings a new little joy…or three. Today it was my post-surfing breakfast: scrambled eggs, fresh bread, ripe avocado and juicy tomato enjoyed at my kitchen table with the late-morning sun flooding my tiny living room.

This week I’ve been getting up relatively early so I can surf for at least an hour at Arrifana before I work at 11. Then I stop by the little market in Alejzur on my way back and pick up a few random things for my breakfast. Today it was fresh bread, one of the most luscious, ripe avocados I’ve ever had and vine-ripened tomatoes. I combined that with scrambled eggs and devoured a simple but sensually satisfying meal. For some reason there are no plates in my little house, so I’m eating everything mostly from wooden boards. It makes me feel very European, for some reason, and fits in with the countryside that surrounds me.

Another joy today was standing up on my surfboard two waves in a row, timing things just right and feeling like I was actually making some progress at this incredibly tough sport. I can’t ride where the big waves are and catch them as they’re breaking yet, so I sit out front and catch the best whitewash I can trying to get right the awkward yet somehow graceful physical mechanics of standing up on a board that’s hurtling forward on rushing water.

The best wave I caught was one I watched one of the best female surfers on the beach catch behind me, riding left away from me toward the north end of the beach. I watched her and knew it would be a good one for me, so I paddled as it approached caught the front of it and made sure I was moving forward with enough velocity that standing up would be no trouble. It was a pretty awesome feeling.

That’s the paradox of surfing right there. The more speed you have, the easier it is to stand up on the board. And yet, as quickly as you’re moving forward, you will have more success getting up and properly balanced if you take your time. I am not sure how to explain it but it’s almost as if time slows down for those few seconds the board shoots forward like a cannon and you are faced with the decision to ride it out on your belly or stand up, which is the goal, of course.

My best rides today were those times when instead of rushing to stand up when I felt the water carry me forward, I waited a few breaths and slowly, as if getting out of a comfortable chair, stood to my feet and rode the whitewater to the shore.

Patience has never been my strong point. I had a rough go of it for many years, battling depression, codependency and my own inability to believe I deserved happiness. There were times I felt like I had nothing to look forward to; times I felt like the darkness would never pass; times I sank so deeply into despair it would take an oil rig to get me out.

This experience here has so far been a blessing I could never have imagined in a million years. If you knew me and the way I was raised and the things I was told I wouldn’t be able to do my whole life, you would marvel at the fact that I find myself here, on the unspoiled southwest coast of Portugal, going to the beach every day on my own with a surfboard to learn how to ride waves. You would be amazed that I am out at restaurants speaking basic Portuguese and charming the locals; befriending English surfers who offer me wine and give me tips on traveling to Morocco; texting in Portuguese to my friend here to make plans that he has so far consistently broken, something that would have bothered me a few months ago but now I accept as part of the beautiful dance of this country.

But I would be a fool to think it was dumb luck that brought me to this beautiful place; this sense of serenity and comfort in my own skin; this joy that comes from inside me and not from the fact that someone else loves me; this acceptance with what has been and what will be and focus on the now; this state of accessing my inner wisdom as never before.

This is the culmination of years of self-awareness, striving for self-improvement, trying to make the right decisions and yes, even patience, that tricky devil. I did this and am proud of that, but never for a second will I forget how far I’ve come. I never want to take anything for granted; I will always remember the darkness that brought me to this glorious light. I always wanted to remember simple pleasures and small wonders–that first bite of ripe avocado, that first bom dia to greet me in the morning, that first wave to bring me to shore.

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Rain and the lesson of stillness

I’m sitting here listening to the rain, which has been virtually nonstop (give or take a few breaks) and heavy since yesterday afternoon. It’s very romantic and beautiful, but prevents me from doing much outside. I didn’t bring any rain jacket (silly me–I almost packed it). And the surf is pretty big this week at the local beaches, so Aldo the guy I met on the beach yesterday who I hope to take surf lessons from told me, so getting in the water to surf is probably not a good idea.

But it’s OK. It gives me time to catch up on my blog and perhaps do some yoga here at home. I have found a woman in the nearby town of Lagos — the biggest “city” in the area — who teaches yoga, and I may take a private lesson with her tomorrow, or if not that then one of her regular classes either on Saturday or Tuesday.

I realize I’m not someone who sits still very often. I have a real problem with stillness, which is why I think I am drawn to yoga so much–it helps me slow down (even if I never really do “stop”). If nothing else I will learn from this trip how to sit still, how to be quiet, how to stop taking action and see what happens when you stop trying to make things happen and just let them arrive. I get antsy, I am impatient, I have never been the sort of person to let life come to me. I try to make life my bitch, make it do what I want, when I want it. (Next time you see me, ask me how that has worked out for me.)

I’m being sarcastic. Because of course, in so many ways, it has worked out. If I weren’t someone who took risks and made moves, I would not be here. But all of that movement has led me to a place where I must now sit still and be quiet. I said that about this trip all along, when people back in New York were telling me that maybe I’d meet someone or fall in love, or maybe I’d be out in the bars getting drunk and gabbing with the locals. Well, maybe I will yet. Maybe I will.

But I also knew that this trip was about being OK to sit still with myself and let that bring a new kind of awareness into my life. To make myself OK with really just being with myself and be content to see what arrives instead of trying to force every situation. To live in the moment and as close to my intuitive self as possible. To let my inner voice — the smarter one — tell me what to do instead of letting my anxious, brassy id rule the roost.

A very wise friend said to me recently that she believes the best things in life really come to someone when they stay still in one place for awhile. So this first week — not just because I am settling in or because of the rain, but just because it’s how it should be — is for stillness.

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Rogil day three, part one

Yesterday’s post brought to you by jetlag…and utter physical and mental exhaustion. Head wreckers, they are. I’m glad I documented what I was feeling, because I think it’s important to get as much of this trip down — the good, the bad and the ugly — as possible. It’s also interesting to see how mercurial I am…moody freak!

Anyway…doing much better today! I walked down the road through my valley and drank coffee in the morning sun. I really need to sink in and appreciate how lucky I am just on a sensory level to be having this experience. And honestly, it’s one month of my life away from my daily routine. Even if my head is wrecked for the next 3 1/2 weeks (it won’t be, but let’s say), I can go back to Red Hook, Brooklyn, and sink right back into it. I don’t think much will have changed there while I’m away.

Hopefully, I will have–or at least learned a bit more about myself, because that’s what this trip is about, isn’t it? It seems so self-indulgent and selfish when I say it like that. But I like to look at it as self-improvement; I’m learning about myself so I can be a better, saner person for the people in my life. At least, that’s part of it for sure.

Now it’s off to the beach. More later…

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Day three: Rogil

Today I’m crashing from jetlag, and had a rough day between dealing with dodgy Internet during my first day working remotely and the weird disorientation and isolation of being in completely unfamiliar territory, both existentially and physically.

There were a few bright spots, however. One involved going to two stunning beaches and being lulled by the sight and sound of the Atlantic. All the beauty in this country makes my stomach hurt; sometimes I wonder how people here can stand it. Do they notice it and appreciate it every day or just take it for granted? It makes me feel pale in comparison and more beautiful, somehow, at the same time just to bask in it.

Another bright spot was that Emanuel, the 25-year-old son of the German woman who owns the guesthouse where I’m staying, is getting an advanced degree in computer programming and is an information-technology whiz kid. When I started having Internet problems early in the day, I thought to myself, “Shit, I’m stuck out here in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have access to an IT guy.”

Imagine my delight when I found out that I actually did after asking him to help with a “Hey, do you know anything about computers?” and hearing him say with the ironic restrain only a German could muster when uttering such a dramatic line, “Computers are my life.” I love it when you get just what you need just when you need it.

Another highlight of the day came this morning when I had to approach a Portuguese pharmacist for drugs for a bladder infection, which I developed yesterday and put me in a lot of discomfort this morning. I actually looked up how to say “bladder” and “infection” in Portuguese on the Internet, wrote down “Eu quero medicina por um infeccao da bexiga” (I want medicine for an infection of the bladder–I think, anyway) and handed it to the pharmacist to ensure nothing was lost in translation. (You don’t want to mess around with that sort of thing.)

She got me what I needed right quick, and I felt better quite soon after taking the first of two doses. You really have to love how easy it is here to get drugs you need for basic ailments that in the U.S. would require a prescription.

Now if I could only stop wrecking my head over so many other things (goddamned jetlag), all would be fine…

On that topic, I do wonder what I’m doing here, why I decided to do this, what inside me felt the need to isolate myself from everyone and everything familiar just when life seemed to be looking brighter in New York.

I have always struggled with being on my own, have always felt disoriented and slightly off when I haven’t been in a relationship, as if that relationship to another is what validates me. This makes me like a lot of other people, actually; I in no way think being codependent makes me special, but it’s not something in myself of which I am proud, and I want to think that I can be happy no matter what my personal situation is. What better way to test the ghost of my recent happiness with everything as it is than to force myself to be alone, and in a place that, while beautiful, also was the site of romantic and personal defeat of the most spectacular fashion?

Indeed, it’s a pretty intense way to try to break the cycle of co-dependency. Then again, I never do things halfway, as evidenced by the whirlwind of events that transpired in the months and even days before this trip.

It’s a good thing life is full of surprises. Once I get over this blasted jetlag, I hope I can be open to all the ways this trip can surprise me. Because even in these last few months as I have repeated so many of my past mistakes, even as I’ve tripped and stumbled in all those old familiar ways, I also have certainly surprised myself. And my draw to this part of the world has always been the magic that I know is possible here.

So as I continue to swim in uncharted waters, I’m curious to see what comes next…

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Day two: Sintra to Rogil

Today I left my lovely little guest house in Sintra soon to drive south to Rogil, and moved into a tiny house in the countryside for the month. It’s kind of tucked away in between Rogil and Aljezur on a dirt road about a kilometer away from the main road. I wanted to get away from it all and, well, mission accomplished.

The place is owned and maintained by a woman named Irma from Germany who has two dogs and a 25-year-old son but pretty much lives here alone, and has for about 24 years. She’s friendly and blonde, with a weather-beaten face and that no-nonsense, efficient, German sensibility. My guest house is just behind hers and there is another one adjacent to hers where a German couple and their two young boys are staying as well.

I managed to sleep fairly well last night after a hot bath, although I did wake up in the middle of the night once. At the guest house in Sintra before going to bed I chatted with this lovely woman Maria, the Portuguese caretaker of the place. It brightened my jet-lagged spirits and reminded me why I am drawn to the Portuguese–they are both provincial, with the intuitive, open-heartedness and warmth country people often have, and worldly at the same time.

Maria, a petite, well-preserved woman of 50 with maroon highlights in her hair (she said they were “a little crazy” when I told her I liked them), doesn’t get to travel very much but she is well-read, talking to me about authors like John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway. She said that reading is how she travels because “I can’t go by my feet.” (I love the just slightly misspoken colloquialisms uttered by non-native English speakers when they speak English; I find them so charming. Let’s hope the Portuguese will find my botching of their language equally charming.) She said her job is not work because it means she gets to meet a lot of travelers and in that way she, too, can see the world.

I got to practice my Portuguese a little with Maria, mixed with Spanish because we were joined in conversation by a woman from Seville. (Funny thing–I would have pronounced it “Seh-vee-ya” but the woman actually from there pronounced it, “Seh-bee-cha.” Shows you what I know.) It was fun and Maria was very sweet and patient. She actually seemed to take a liking to me, telling me I was “muito linda” (very pretty) and acting in general very motherly toward me. When I said goodbye to her she said that she was sad we didn’t get to talk more about writers and common interests, and that next time I have to come back and stay for longer.

It’s interesting–I find that since I lost my mom, I tend to be a magnet for and in fact probably do seek out motherly types when I’m feeling fragile. I was feeling that jet-lagged sense of dislocation and loneliness last night after wandering around Sintra and dining alone on prawns at a local restaurant, which probably explains why Maria and I were drawn into conversation. (As an aside here, yes the prawns were delicious and probably fresh from the Atlantic, but I’m picky and squeamish about my seafood and they came whole and unpeeled, with their little legs practically still waving around. I was game and peeled them, but I admit I did have a fussy private moment of recoil when the server put my plate down in front of me. Being a good little traveler, I did not react, and ate nearly all of them.)

Maria also reminded me of another thing about the Portuguese that I really like–they are generally very in-the-moment and are not afraid to express whatever emotion they’re having at a particular time. I can of course totally relate to that; I’m pretty sure it’s a southern European thing in general, though of course I can’t speak for everyone. But my emotions can come and go as quickly as summer thunderstorms, but when I feel them I think they are absolutely sincere in that moment. (Sometimes I find out later I was being a little dramatic, however.) I get that same sense from the people here.

When Maria said goodbye to me and I mentioned that next time we would have to talk about “Steinbeck” and “Hemingway,” she dramatically put out her arm and said the Portuguese expression for “goosebumps.” (Forgive, me, I’m too tired to remember it here.) Then she kissed me on both cheeks twice and reiterated how sad she was I was going. It was sweet because it made me feel special and on one hand was entirely sincere, bu I also knew it wasn’t like she wanted us to be best friends or anything.

Of course the danger of that is mistaking such intense emotion for something lasting; that is where you can err with the Portuguese (with anyone, really), which I realized with my friend David in November. Don’t mistake a shared camaraderie in the moment for true friendship or affection; as friendly as the Portuguese are, there is a distance, too, that they put between themselves and strangers, a wall that does not come down easily. Rest assured, you will not be looked kindly upon if you try to smash it.

But how I found that out the hard way is a whole other story. And speaking of David, I did actually see him tonight when I went to Odeceixe to use the cash machine. He seemed neither surprised nor displeased to see me, but it was pretty much an accident (well, a sort of accidentally-on-purpose situation, really).

It happened like this: When I got to the town, there was some kind of street fair going on. Let me first say, don’t imagine some kind of New York City-styled street fair; there were probably like 30 people there, tops, and that’s probably the entire population of the town. I drove past it and went to park my car, which I did but only after a brief interlude in which somehow I went down a one-way street and then got stuck in this small area where I was surrounded by heavy cement flower boxes that completely blocked my way, and the street was too narrow for me to turn around.

While I was sitting there trying to figure out what to do (and cursing myself because I was trying to make an obtrusive appearance in Odeceixe, as I am still totally exhausted and jet-lagged and didn’t want to cause any scenes), a tiny old Portuguese woman came up to my car. I rolled down the window and said “Sinto muito” (“I’m sorry” in Portuguese) and tried to look as pathetic as possible, with an “oh my god, I’m so stupid” expression on my face.

Somehow she managed to convey to me through sign language that we could move one of the flower boxes, so I got out of the car, did that, moved my car out of its unfortunate position, and then parked it and walked back to put the heavy flower box back into its rightful place. By this point a man who was probably her husband had come to see what was going on. I can only imagine what they were saying to each other in Portuguese about the idiot American who drove the wrong way down the street and had to move the damned flowerbox.

Anyway, after that I was thoroughly mortified and drove out to Odeceixe beach just to check it out and regain my composure; it’s one of my favorite and the scene of some of my best moments in this country so far. On the way back I realized I didn’t do what I set out to do in Odeceixe–get money from the cash machine–so I went back to town, parked without incident this time, and went to the cash machines. That’s where the street fair was, and on the way I saw David’s van so I knew he was somewhere around. I was sort of hoping to run into him and terrified of an impromptu meeting at the same time. I did plan to call him but after I got settled and was feeling more like myself and not totally freaked out about being here alone.

I went to the cash machine and got money, and as I was looking around the street fair I saw David across the street in one of the tents talking to a bunch of people. This is where the stalking part comes in, sort of. (Yes, I can fly 5,000 miles and stalk someone. I am a master stalker, apparently.) He fortunately didn’t see me, and I wanted to sort of assess the situation before I decided if I should make my presence known.

I checked it out, and I didn’t see anyone I knew in the tent, and they were mostly male, so I figured it would be safe to try to catch his eye. Then again, I didn’t want to disturb him at what was obviously the Easter celebration of his town. I had emailed him to say I was coming and when but I didn’t hear back from him (that’s not unusual) and like I said, I planned to call him at some point anyway.

I decided after a bit I was feeling cowardly, so I walked back to my car with my money. Then I felt kind of lame for being such a wimp, and walked back to the street fair. I kind of wanted to be there anyway, to catch a glimpse of the local scene. I stood at the bottom of the street at the end of the fair and listened to the music for a bit, watching a few people dance to a guy standing on a platform singing alone to pre-recorded music. That was pretty funny, actually, I have to say. The guy was on this huge stage like Metallica was set to go on or something. But no, it was just one Portuguese dude singing along to local folk favorites. And there were maybe five people dancing, and they were probably the only ones paying attention.

I occasionally would glance over at David and at one point our eyes finally met. He smiled and I smiled back and he walked away from the people he was talking to, gave me the customary “Tudo bom?” and kisses on both cheeks. It was as if he’d seen me last week, as if it wasn’t totally bizarre for an American woman who lives 5,000 miles away — with whom he got crazy drunk with for two weeks in November and whose crazy Irish then-friend-now-ex-friend he likely shagged and could still be shagging for all I know — to show up in his hometown, at his humble Easter street fair, and give him the eye from across the street.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries in both English and Portuguese and I told him that I had arrived that day, where I was staying and I was totally jetlagged and needed to sleep but planned to call him. He actually sincerely seemed happy to see me, but not effusively happy. You have to admit, it’s kind of weird, and I felt weird so of course I didn’t act effusively happy to see him, either. But since tourism is his business, I guess it’s not that big a deal for people to just show up in his town and want to hang out with him, so whatever.

He said he was working now (god knows at what…serving people vihno?) and asked me if I had his number. I said that I did and that I wanted to surf and I would text him so he would have my local number. I also said, “Estou aqui sozinho,” which means “I’m here on my own,” and he asked me in Portuguese how long I was here for. (At least I think that’s what he asked.) I answered in English that I was here for a month and I was working part of the time, and that my friend was coming for a week and we were going to travel, too. He didn’t correct me, so I think I translated his Portuguese right. Yay, me.

And that was pretty much it. I really didn’t want to interfere with whatever he had going on, and he had to get back to it. He clasped my shoulder goodbye and gave me a big smile before walking back to the tent. I got a couple of beers and snapped some photos (which I’ll post on Flickr) of the wild street-fair action, and then I drove back to my little house, where I sit now watching movies in German. Yes, the TV stations are all in German, as far as I can tell. So much for watching TV to help me learn Portuguese.

Anyway, I texted him tonight as promised so he would have my number and figure I will leave it up to him whether he wants to get in touch. I really do want to surf, though, so once I get back to regular strength (I’m still totally exhausted) and if it’s good weather and I’m up for it, I can always go down to the beach and see if he has his teachers set up, or find someone else to rent me a surfboard. There are plenty of those people around here.

I can barely see straight and it’s 10:30 local time (late on a school night for these parts) and I want to try to get up early and get some sunshine and beach time before starting work at 2 pm (East Coast hours this week), so I’m going to sign off now. Check out my Flickr feed (I’m “lizoleeta”) for photo updates, and boa noite, amigos e amigas!