Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

A wanderer's dispatches on life, love and the human condition

You can have the most amazing day on 5 euros

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I’m sitting here in my home being warmed by the fire I just built and marveling on how lucky my day was. I spent most of the afternoon and evening chatting, drinking wine, eating cheese and homemade organic bruschetta at my new friend K’s house, after doing yoga and having coffee with another woman D and making plans with her to go out on Saturday night. It is so nice to be making female friends here, and so wonderful to meet like-minded women who also made choices to travel and change their lives even when things seemed difficult.

I knew D would be super-cool from what I knew of her before we met (we’d spoken on the phone and through e-mail before and she just seemed like a lovely person). I took her yoga class this morning (the 5 euros of the title) and then she bought me coffee after, and we made plans to hang out Saturday night and go surfing together sometime. Like me, she doesn’t like to surf alone and is still learning, so we figured we should team up sometime. She’s from Switzerland originally but has lived all over the world, including Africa, and runs a yoga, surfing, ayurvedic cooking and detox retreat in Burgau, which is south of here.

K, who I met just last night in my Portuguese class, was more of a surprise, and a lucky one at that. I’m still overwhelmed by how warmhearted and generous she was to me today after having known me for less than 24 hours.

She invited me over to the old Portuguese farmhouse she shares with her boyfriend, who is away working in Spain right now. We drank wine and she showed me her organic crops — more than 20 varieties of hot peppers to make piripiri, a popular hot sauce here; tomatoes; basil; and pomegranate, orange and other fruit trees. When it got too cold to sit outside after the sun disappeared over the hills to the west, we went inside and ate cheese, bread and fresh bruschetta she’d made with tomatoes and basil from her garden, as well as garlic.

The best part about the day was the conversation. Though we probably should have been practicing our Portuguese, we spoke what was for both of us our native tongue and discussed a whole range of things. K had been an English teacher with a good career in England before she left there three years ago for a new way of life in Portugal, so she, like me, loves great books.

At one point we discussed Haruki Murakami, one of K’s favorite writers (I love his short stories), and how the Portuguese love reading him in translation. I told him that his writing makes me ache and she said this is probably the reason the Portuguese love him as well — his penchant for nostalgia is in line with the Portuguese notion of “saudade,” an intense longing and a notion that I, too, love about this culture and these people.

I had actually never thought about Murakami that way, but it makes perfect sense, and it was so great to have such an intellectually stimulating conversation in such a beautiful setting without having to change the way I spoke because the other person didn’t have the same grasp of the language that I do. It also made me realize again how important it is to learn to communicate in other languages, and intensified my desire to learn Portuguese.

(As an aside, the fact that a local newspaper here needs a senior reporter who speaks both English and Portuguese also is an impetus for acquiring language skills pronto; they don’t begin interviewing until mid-January, and I feel like if I can convince them to let me interview based on my experience, I might be able to take intensive courses to have passable written and spoken Portuguese by then.)

K also is incredibly well-traveled and, like several other people who’ve been key figures in my life lately, is a big fan of Arab countries and culture. My trip to Morocco opened my eyes to the vast richness of it as well, so we talked about that and her numerous travels in other Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

I also told her what a big fan I’ve become of the English-language Aljazeera news station on cable here (one of the few English-language stations I get), and how refreshing it is to get a non-U.S. view of not just the Arab world, but world news in general. At times during our conversation I again felt the strong urge to find a way to stay here on a more permanent basis; there is still the subject of finding work to consider, however, but I am hoping that will sort itself out eventually.

And somehow in the middle of what was already an amazing day, my Portuguese friend also decided to resurface. I hadn’t heard from him in a week; I had sent him a text on Friday inviting him and his girlfriend to dinner and he didn’t reply, so I once again figured I ought to go on my way here without him and let him come around if he felt like it.

Then today, funnily enough, I accidentally sent him a text that was meant for D and didn’t realize it later (I was trying to give her my phone number by texting her and his name is the one before hers in my phone). Then as luck would have it, as I was driving to K’s I saw him pass on the road in one of the vans for his surf school — it’s lime green and hard to miss — so I honked and sent him a quick hello text, to which he also did not reply.

While I was at K’s, he phoned me and actually apologized for not returning my SMS messages, and asked me if I wanted to have dinner Friday night. Had I not been drinking most of the day I might have been shocked, as apologizing for disappearing on me is not typical behavior for him.

Anyway, I’m not sure is dinner is with him or with him and his new lady friend, but either way, it should be fun; that is, of course, if he doesn’t bail, which would be more the type of behavior of his I’m used to! I will try not to hold it against him if he does, nor take it personally. I think he does the best he can when it comes to his friendship with me.

I’m off to take a shower now and chill out before bedtime. Being in full-on European mode, I haven’t even bathed today, and figure it might be a nice idea. Tomorrow should be a great day as well, as the swell is expected to be back to chest high, a perfectly surfable height for me. It’s been really big for nearly a week now, so I’m really looking forward to getting back in the water.

Then I suppose I should try to be more productive in terms of finding paying work; I told K that on Thursday I’d help her pick berries that they use to make medronha, a Portuguese moonshine that the locals fancy, but I’m not sure if that counts as an actual career move! But I guess you never know, especially in a place like this.

Author: elizabethmontalbano

I am a writer, photographer, lover, fighter, traveler and bon vivant currently residing in southwest Portugal.

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