Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

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

Portuguese driving directions will get you there eventually

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Today I got my bi-annual directions from here to the Lisbon airport from my Portuguese friend, David. On paper, they look like this:

Odeceixe
S. Teotonio
C. Branca
Milfontes–Brumheiras (direita) Porto Covo (esquerda)
Sines
Grandola
Lisboa

Spoken, they go something like, “You go Odeceixe, and then you see sign for Sao Teotonio and you go Sao Teotonio, then you see sign for Casa Branca and you go there, and then you see sign for Milfontes and…”

Well…you get the idea.

They’re nearly identical to the directions he gave me the night before I left in May, except his friend Ricardo, who witnessed the directions-scrawling today, corrected him about what happens when I follow signs for Milfontes.

It’s a good thing, too — last time I nearly ended up in the Atlantic Ocean in Milfontes in the wee hours of the morning because I didn’t know I had to take a right at the roundabout in the direction of Brumheiras before actually driving into the town itself. I ended up on some road that, if I hadn’t been paying close attention, would have landed me in the drink.

So now I am nearly ready to go to sleep and wake up once again in the early hours for my three-hour drive to Lisbon, where I will board a jet airliner and fly to Newark, New Jersey, where I will board a train and ride to Philadelphia, where I will get in a car driven by my father and eventually end up in Oaks, Pennsylvania, for Christmas.

I am happy to be going home to see my family and the people that I love in the U.S., carrying with me all the joy and beauty and love that has been shined on me by my lovely friends here, and by this unbelievably beautiful place that has truly changed my life.

The last few days I’ve been thinking about the plans and expectations I had for this trip, even though I tried not to make too many plans or expectations. But I’m human, and a tad neurotic (some people may argue more than a tad), so I did have ideas about what might happen by this time.

Well, I haven’t fallen in love. I haven’t gotten some spectacular new job. I didn’t write a novel. I’m not some fantastic surfer and I still haven’t paddled out via the channel to the Arrifana right beach break. I can’t speak fluent Portuguese, and I still have trouble holding even the most basic conversation in it.

So if you were to ask me if I accomplished everything I wanted while I was here, or if my trip was everything I hoped for, I would probably say no.

Of course, my expectations were probably set a little high. Someone who’s reached her late 30s without writing a novel probably doesn’t write one in two months. I wasn’t really trying that hard to find a really spectacular job, and it takes people years of dedication to become a really good surfer (and I’m not exactly the most athletically inclined person in the first place).

As for Portuguese — it’s a notoriously hard language to learn, and it’s a miracle I can read and write convincing text messages in it in two months, much less speak conversationally. And when I asked a native speaker today (the aforementioned Ricardo) how my language skills are coming along, he said, in truly honest and deadpan Portuguese fashion: “It is good. I can understand you when you speak Portuguese.”

Trust me — when it comes to the language, that’s the highest form of praise you can around here.

But I’m an idealist. I’m a romantic. And I’ll admit it, I kind of live in a fantasy world.

The older I’ve gotten, the more grounded in reality and the here and now I’ve become. But it doesn’t stop me from having flights of fancy every once in awhile and thinking that just because I wish it so, that everything in my life will work out the way I imagine it in my head.

So in two months I haven’t suddenly created this magical new life for myself. I’m still more or less the same person I was when I arrived, with a little less money and a little more free time.

But somewhere in between not exactly meeting all of the expectations I tried not to have, some other really amazing things have happened.

I met some truly wonderful like-minded people who I felt I could be myself with, people who loved and accepted me as I am and saw the beauty in me, as I saw it in them. I saw astonishingly gorgeous places I’ve never seen before. I cooked meals for strangers and they cooked them for me, accepting me into their homes as if I was family after only knowing me for a few days or weeks.

I may not be a pathetically novice surfer, but occasionally I did really and truly ride some waves, and always felt the same thrill I had when I rode my first. And I did this on some of the most stunning beaches in Portugal, if not in the world.

Even outside of Portugal, amazing things happened for me. The most unbelievable of them all is that I will return to the states as an artistic co-collaborator on a sculpture that will be featured in a show alongside works by some notable contemporary American artists, namely Matthew Barney (Bjork’s boyfriend), Kiki Smith and Donald Lipski.

It’s a long story, but my ex-boyfriend contacted me right before I was leaving for Morocco and asked me if I had any love poems to use as inspiration for a romance-themed he was asked to sculpt something for. (He’s a metal sculpture living in Lexington, Kentucky.)

Without thinking about it, I sent him a poem I wrote about us, post-breakup, something that sort of looked back on it all and mapped out our relationship to the places we lived, spent time together and traveled to.

He ended up using it, casting it in bronze (the whole poem! in bronze!). The finished work is beautiful and undoubtedly took a lot of time on his part, and will likely travel with the show not only in the states but also in Europe. It has both of our names on it and I even had to submit an artist bio for the show. (A bonafide artist bio! With my name as the artist!)

I have devoted much of my life — in some way no matter what else was going on or what I did to pay the bills — to creating something beautiful through art. So I am super-excited at the notion of this heartfelt poem that I wrote — and man, was it really a deluge of emotion when I wrote it — being featured in this way. (Stay tuned for photos and more details later.)

Now I know that all of these great things could have happened to me anywhere, and that I of course was instrumental in making it all happen, not the Algarve, not Portugal.

But I really do believe it is the energy I get from this place and the comfort I feel here to act intuitively and trust myself more than I ever have that has led to these modest achievements as a human being. And that is enough for me to want to spend more time here in the future to explore the possibilities.

So even as I look forward to being reunited with the people I love back “home” — and to losing myself in the frenetic energy of New York City for a little while — I will certainly miss this part of the world that has always been so lucky for me, and everything about it that I hold dear.

But hopefully, if all goes according to plan — one I am trying not to regard so rigidly or with too much expectation — I won’t have to miss it for too long.

Author: elizabethmontalbano

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

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