Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

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

In a Portuguese minute…


Life here has been a flurry of transactions lately, each one of them — this being southern Portugal — as surreal and time-consuming as the next. But now I’ve sorted myself out with a car, car insurance, a surfboard and a rack for it on top of my car, and it’s starting to feel like home here. All I need is an apartment to rent by the end of the month and I’ll be fully set up.

I’m not sure exactly where to begin about what’s happened since I arrived here a week and a half ago, trading New York for the southwest Algarve — two completely polar opposites if there ever were any. Strangely enough, though most wouldn’t think so, life moves almost as fast here — sometimes faster — than it does in New York. I awaken each new day filled with expectation about what the day can bring, and am constantly surprised about how much can happen, even if sometimes it seems to be happening in slow motion.

That said, there were a lot of changes I had to deal with when I arrived, and I didn’t take to some of them so easily. Things have sorted themselves out more or less now, but transitions for me have always been a little rough. (As I have lived a life in a constant state of willful transition, I believe I am a glutton for punishment if there ever was one.) I think I’ve finally eased into it, though, and am starting to accept what is now, and move forward from there.

The last couple of days I’ve been surfing, now that I finally have a board. Although I’m not sure you could call what I did yesterday surfing — I pretty much got drilled by a huge wave that was breaking too close to shore not a half-hour after I went in the water, and that was that.

It happened like this: I misjudged where the wave would break and instead of breaking first and pushing me forward with whitewater, the wave broke pretty much on top of me at such a steep angle that it drove me and the board headfirst into the sea floor. I landed hard on my face, crushing my nose and mouth and wrenching my neck; in retrospect I’m quite lucky I didn’t sustain more damage than the fat lip and scratches on my face I’m sporting now. Good times.

Today was a much better day in the ocean, I’m happy to report. I started off the day with a long hike in the morning sun, quite sore as I was from yesterday’s thrashing. But the break at Burgau, the beach mere steps from the house I’m staying in, was working with small but fun waves, and R and a traveling Aussie surfer M — who has been hanging out with my friend crowd here for the past few weeks — were in the water. Instead of working on some marketing for her business like we were supposed to, D and I decided to join them.

At first I went in the water alone to the far left of where R, M and a few others were surfing — shy, as usual, about going where everyone us for fear my novice self would get in the way. I was also feeling wobbly and sore from my mishap yesterday, but was determined to at least get in for awhile so I didn’t lose my nerve to keep at it.

I paddled around for a bit but then R came over to get me — he told me I’d likely be thrashed into the ground again if I stayed where I was, and graciously paddled out to the back with me, showing me how to maneuver my longboard under waves as we paddled out. (Basically, you turn the board over and go under it, letting the wave break over you, then pop up after it passes and get back on the board to keep paddling.)

I was grateful for the help, and both R and M gave me friendly advice about how to catch waves and where I should sit and wait for them. Thanks to their help, I managed to sit out in the back and watch the better surfers catch wave after wave for awhile. It was a warm day and the sun was out, so it was really quite lovely just to be out there with my friends enjoying the ocean, and to remember again why I love surfing so much (even if I am still just learning).

I caught two waves of my own, but completely wiped out without even standing up on the first, and rode the second mostly on my belly. Still, it built up my confidence, and now I’m feeling better about going out on a small-wave day and sitting in the back with the others, even if I don’t catch anything.

It’s thanks to the third of my recent transactions I am now equipped to surf. Thanks to the first, I became the proud owner of a black 1997 Fiat Punto. The transaction was done nearly entirely in Portuguese, as the owner of the car didn’t speak English. Most of it I handled myself and, wonder of wonders, most of my friends agree I got a really good deal for a used car in Portugal (apparently they can be quite expensive and quite crap at the same time). I paid 900 euros for it and it runs pretty well and was spotless when I bought it (it’s since picked up some dirt and crumbs, the former from my driving around the countryside on back roads and the latter from a sandwich I ate in it the other day).

Getting the car was easy enough, give or take a hiccup. When you buy a car here you and the previous owner have to go to some official Portuguese office (don’t ask me to tell you the name of it or find my way back to the one we went to in Lagos) and fill out paperwork to transfer the title and registration of the car over to the new owner. The first time we tried to do that, there was some discrepancy between the car’s current title and the new paperwork, so we had to go back a second time before that could be completed. All of this as I said was done in Portuguese or miming, so it was quite a little adventure.

I drove the car for a couple of days without having insurance, which is much cheaper here than it is in the states — I’m paying 250 euros for a year instead of the $1200 I’d be paying in the U.S. I asked around trying to figure out how to get it, and was all set to randomly go into an insurance company or bank (some of them do insurance as well) to get it. But then I looked at a studio apartment a woman is renting nearby and happened to ask her if she knew of an insurance agent, and lo and behold, the next day she had hers coming round to her house to sign her sister up for insurance.

So the day after I looked at her apartment (I think I may take it — it’s 300 euros a month with electricity, water, gas and Internet included, and isn’t far from where I am now), I went back over to meet with the insurance agent. Of course, that transaction took more than two hours (just like pretty much anything official you do around here), and the insurance agent (a 50-ish Portuguese man named Antonio) and I got into a few tiffs here and there. But now I’m a legal owner and driver of a car in Portugal, so I’m pretty pleased with how it all worked out.

One of the things I really love about the Portuguese is how easy it is to argue with them and not have them take it too seriously. My passionate Italian nature lines up nicely with this quality. If you get upset about something, it’s quite easy to raise your voice and sound very agitated with a Portuguese person, and have them do the same back, and then end the argument very quickly in a very friendly way without any offense taken by either party. I dig that.

The point Antonio and I argued most over is some Portuguese insurance clause that considers how long a person has had a license to drive to decide how expensive their insurance should be. Now that in and of itself isn’t strange — I’m pretty sure it’s that way in the states as well.

The problem we ran into is this: Because I am driving on an American driver’s license that was issued only last year in the state of Pennsylvania (I had to get it there so I could go to the Italian consulate in Philadelphia to get my Italian passport), in Portuguese terms I have only been driving for one year. That’s totally not true, of course — I’ve been driving for 22 years. But this is not something you could explain to the Portuguese insurance people. They are sticklers for paperwork around here to an absolutely ridiculous degree, and if my license says it was issued in June 2009, well then by god to them, that’s the very first time I ever had a license.

So now I’m supposed to be contacting the DMV in Pennsylvania to get some kind of record proving I’ve had a license since 1987, not 2009. (I got my license in that state when I was 16 years old.) I’m pretty sure the Portuguese don’t quite understand what a royal pain in the arse doing that is going to be for me. But for all their love of paperwork, the Portuguese themselves aren’t really in a hurry to get things done generally, so I’m certainly not going to rush acquiring proof of my driving experience.

All in all, I’m quite delighted and mostly amused by how things work around here, and am generally pretty happy with my new life. There are some things I hope get sorted out, both personally and logistically, but I’m trying to be patient and be happy and proud that I’ve gotten myself this far.

Author: elizabethmontalbano

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

3 thoughts on “In a Portuguese minute…

  1. No red Hyundai in Portugal?

  2. haha…NO. god, that car was crap. italian cars are much sexier.

    holy shit. tim faia. how the hell are you?? where the hell are you? xx

  3. I live in Breckenridge and am doing really well, good job, great family and relatively few, ahh, issues.

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