Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

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



Today is my last day here and I’m sure at some point there will be tears; my heart is very full at the thought of leaving. The day rose cloudy but now it’s sunny, even though the wind the region is known for is kicking up some serious dust.

It’s also kicking up some big waves, which means I barely got any surfing in. I went in for about 10 minutes at Arrifana but couldn’t even get past the first break, the waves were so big. I did manage to stand up and ride some whitewater in, so at least I got a ride in my last day here.

It was a different scene last night at that same beach, my favorite one in the region for surfing (I’m not alone; it’s very popular, almost too much so on the weekends). I took a chance and went out right after work, with about two hours or so of light left. I’ve been wanting all trip to have a sunset surf, and last night was as good as night as any for it. I was hoping the waves had picked up enough to surf; they were small there all week, nothing like the monster that the ocean there is today.

I was in luck; the waves last night, while small, were big enough to ride — probably about six feet high at their peak, rolling in in predictable green sets. The best part about the surf was that between sets the water was nearly smooth as glass and there was hardly any wind, so it was easy to paddle out to even where the “real” surfers were, the first time I’ve really done that. Usually I sit “in front” and catch whitewater, but I set a goal for my trip to ride in the back and learn how to really drop into a wave — what I feel is really surfing, — and last night were the perfect conditions for that.

I tried to stay out of the way of the four Portuguese guys who were having a laugh in the waves by riding the waves as they broke far to their left, so by the time the wave got to me they likely weren’t on it unless they were having a particularly good ride or decided not to be mindful of me.

At one point they took the piss out of me, with three of them getting on a wave heading in my direction, passing by so close I thought I was going to get conked with a board. They were really good surfers, though, so they knew what they were doing and I wasn’t really in any danger; we had a laugh after my initial fear as they rode past.

I also ran into this guy Tim from the U.K. who I’d seen at Amoreira the previous night when the waves were too messy to ride. We started talking and before I knew it I had paddled out with him to the back, my fear of being there suddenly gone and I was ready to catch real waves as they were rolling in.

It was a pretty awesome scene, and when I say awesome I mean I was really “in awe.” The sun was setting, about to dip behind the rock at the north end of the beach, the water was smooth between sets, and we were just floating there waiting for the next set to roll in.

I had already dropped in on two waves before Tim paddled out so I was feeling stoked already and in great spirits. When the next one came in, he let me have it, even letting me know it was coming. I managed to catch it but wiped out immediately after, but it didn’t matter; it was a big wave for me and catching it at the time was enough.

I realized then truly why people go surfing, aside from the obvious fun and athletic factors. When you’re surfing, you’re constantly reminded of something bigger than you, something so huge you really become aware of just how small and insignificant you are. But at the same time in your smallness and insignificance, you are a part of this amazing whole. I know this all sounds really corny, but it’s how I felt out there drifting on my board, the orange sky reflecting of the green water and the ocean — this tangible,massive living thing that is the lifeblood of our world — nearly still under my board

I’m not super-religious, but if I had to say I’d call myself a Buddhist — but not a perfect one, because sometimes I kill bugs. But mostly I truly believe in do no harm and in taking personal responsibility as much as one can for everyone, starting with yourself first.

I also believe that god really is in all of us and everywhere, that we are all part of one incredible energy that subsumes everything and for which we should be grateful. I don’t go on about it all the time, of course — that would make me quite a bore, and no one would want to hang out with me ever.

But I’m saying all this now because last night and during this trip in general, I have actually felt what it means to believe what I believe. Sometimes it’s really hard, especially in a world constructed of Western values, to get in touch with this part of oneself — the spiritual part, the part that truly does want to see beauty in everything and really is grateful for being put on this earth in this manifestation, this tragically, beautifully flawed human form. The part that really does see life as a gift and feels a connectedness to everything living in this world.

In the middle of the banal day-to-day things we all have to do just to have a place to live and food to eat, in the middle of the great heartbreak it is most of the time to be human, it’s really hard to see the bigger picture. Last night’s session and this trip have given me a glimpse of it — no, not a glimpse, but a good, long view. I know I can’t explain it right how full inside I feel with gratitude right now to have been given this gift.

I know I will go back to New York and get sucked right back into the everyday irritations, insecurities, missed connections and all the rest of the mire. I know there will be days when I will hate myself, hate my life, hate my job, wish I had so many more things than I have. I know I will get frustrated and angry and sad and despairing, and think that there has got to be a better life than this.

But I hope that I can hold deep within me this satiation that I have today that knowing everything really is in its right place, that the world really is full of beauty, that my life here on this earth is truly amazing, and that the god in me and in this world and in everything I see really is great.

So now my tears truly threaten to fall as I say goodbye to this adventure. I wear a necklace every day with one word on a silver pendant: “Hope.” It’s a word I have always loved, a word that I use far too often, but always with sincerity. I really do have hope; I really do hope that I will keep this beauty and recognition of the god in all of us close to my heart when I return; I really do hope for the best for everyone that I love. I lose sight of this more often than I’d like to, but I have the best intentions.

And it is with this that I will leave tomorrow and return to the place I call home in name only. Because on this trip I have found my home, and realize it isn’t a place, or another person, or a dwelling where all of my stuff is. It’s not even Portugal, this beautiful and imperfect country in which I have found such great serenity and happiness.

Home is nowhere to be found in any of these places. It has, in fact, always been in the same place; it hasn’t ever moved an inch, no matter how many times I’ve packed up my stuff and put new walls around me. What I know now is that home is inside of me, and I will always, no matter how difficult things may seem, be in the place where I belong.

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The chase

My last couple of days I have been chasing waves. It’s a science of timing, patience, improvisation and perseverance that can be quite frustrating, especially if you’ve had limited time, like me, to find waves to ride.

So far I haven’t this week, but I hope to today. It’s my second-to-last day here and I haven’t surfed in five days. The waves at my main local beach, Arrifana, have been far too small to ride, and the waves at others I’ve visited too messy. I’m hampered by the fact that I’m a beginner as well, and sometimes a shy one at that; I am hesitant to get in the water if no one else is there, as they have not been most of the time, or if I think I won’t be able to catch the waves anyway.

I’ve also been strapped by time, having to go out in the couple of hours before work in the morning or the hour and a half of sunlight I have left after work to find waves. Passes at Arrifana and Amoreira yesterday morning, and those beaches as well as Monte Clerigo last night turned up nothing for me. This morning I went by Arrifana and Monte Clerigo again, as well as Praia de Odeceixe; at the last there were three surfers riding the waves, although they were small, and I perhaps could have ridden them as well. But by the time I arrived it was 10 a.m. and I have to work at 11; the drive back to my house from the beach is about 15 minutes, so it wouldn’t have given me much time in the water. I was also feeling shy and didn’t want to look like the novice I am next to the pros in the water who were expertly riding whatever wave opportunity they found.

Of course this exercise, like everything else about surfing so far, is teaching me, always teaching. The ocean is not something that cares about your schedule, your plan, your needs and desires. The ocean does its own thing and expects you will learn to live with it.

After a flash or frustration this morning that I once again would not get a surf in, I decided to be flexible and use my time wisely to embark on creative endeavors. I went to the market to purchase some items for my last couple of days here, and now sit here eating a tasty pasta-and-white-bean-tomato-curry soup that I just made from scratch. I stopped off on the way back from Odeceixe to take some gorgeous photos of some sawed-up cork trees by the side of the road that have fascinated me for weeks. In a way, I’m almost happy now I couldn’t surf because if I had, I would not have created these two very different, but two very important works of personal art, especially because art was the real thing I was chasing when I decided to spend this time in Portugal in the first place.

Art in its many forms has always been important to me, and I feel like I have never exercised my creativity to its fullest extent. I’m not some art star by any means, but I love the feeling, the sheer joy I get when I create something new and beautiful from nothing. It’s also nice if someone — even one person — enjoys something you have created. There is a sense of pride that any artist knows is incredibly satisfying.

I have been a writer for as long as I can remember, and my interest in creating has, over the years, spanned to music, photography, home design and the culinary arts. I have even helped design sculptures for other artists, although I myself am not gifted in the creation of visual art from raw materials. I can’t draw to save my life, and I’m abysmal at painting as well. But I can imagine things in my head, and as I get older I have begun to think more abstractly, although my innate identity as a writer grounds me in the literal world.

Part of coming to Portugal to live alone in a quiet place in the country was to get back in touch with that part of myself, which unfortunately seems to have been obliterated by the noise of New York City. Moving to Red Hook, Brooklyn — a far quieter neighborhood than the one where I lived in Manhattan — has helped. But I think these last few weeks in Portugal have done wonders for my creative brain, and I am finally feel like my muse is back from whatever extended holiday she’s been on.

So I’ll thank the ocean for helping me learn the patience and flexibility today I needed to tap into my creative side as I slurp the last few sips of my soup. The habit shows poor manners in many places and is a compliment in some, but it doesn’t really manner. Another luxury of solitude? There is no one around to hear.

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Quick update

I have woefully neglected this blog, but with good reason. I was pretty preoccupied with Amy’s visit and since then I’ve fallen ill, with a stomach virus that’s made me sicker than I’ve been in a long time. I think I’ll live, and I think part of it is just exhaustion and my body telling me that I need to slow down and rest. Maybe taking up surfing at such an advanced age was not such a good idea!

I have more or less been sleeping since about 5pm on Sunday evening, with some breaks to go to the doctor and the farmacia. I haven’t eaten anything solid since Sunday night, but am about to attempt some coffee now to get rid of my raging, caffeine-addict headache (I didn’t drink coffee yesterday). I took off work yesterday and today but am hoping I’ll be back tomorrow to work the rest of the week.

I think this sickness, as disorienting, painful and depressing as it’s been (nothing makes you more homesick than to fall ill in a foreign country alone) is not a bad thing, though. I think it’s probably a good thing to be resting in preparation for my transition back to New York on Sunday. This is my last week here, and though so far I haven’t spent it quite as I imagined, that’s probably OK.

That said, I’m going to try to catch up with the blog now with some posts detailing what’s been going on in the past week.