Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

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


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Because sometimes it rains in paradise

I haven’t really felt like writing lately, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I’ve been busy living and processing and trying to feel at home here in my new town, and I really haven’t had much to say.

I’ve spent the last few days surfing as much as I can when I’m not working. I’m really addicted to it again, and as I’ve seen noticeable improvement in my skills in the last week or so, there’s little else I feel like doing right now.

I’m beginning to understand that surfing is a disease, an addiction. Except for caffeine, I’ve never really had an addictive personality for the things people usually become addicted to, like cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. I’ve considered myself pretty immune to being an addict.

But surfing is different for me, and I understand now how it inspires people to pack up their lives in a minivan and go off traveling for months just to catch waves. Surfing not just a sport; it’s a mindset, a way of life, a personal philosophy. It sounds pretty stereotypical and stoner-y to say such a thing, but as someone who has been surfing on and off for almost a year now, and quite regularly for the past four months, I can tell you it’s totally, 100-percent true.

It’s a chemical thing, too — I think you become addicted to the adrenalin rush of being in the ocean and standing up on a wave. I find myself needing to get wet, needing to be in the ocean, feeling depressed if there are no waves to ride or if I don’t have the time to go surfing because of work or other responsibilities.

I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to. And at least surfing is somewhat good for me.

To be perfectly honest, I feel like it’s pretty much the best thing I have right now, living alone as I am in a foreign country where I still feel somewhat out of place and am still fumbling my way through new friendships, a new language and a whole new life. Getting in the ocean and standing up on a surfboard is mostly what I have to look forward to these days, so it’s no wonder I need it like a junkie needs heroin.

Other than surfing, I’ve spent my first couple of weeks in my new town of Lagos getting acclimated to my new surroundings.

I’ve realized that in the different places I’ve lived I fall into familiar patterns when I have just arrived. I explore by taking long walks or jogs or hikes in the area immediately surrounding my new domicile, taking photos in my mind of places of interest so I will know to return to them.

I note the closest restaurants, bars, stores and services of interest. I find new paths and routes that are relatively traffic-free and jogger- and walker-friendly. I quietly observe my neighbors to see what they’re like and if there’s anyone I think I should try to get to know.

Because it’s southern Portugal and it’s all about the stunning natural scenery, I’ve already explored the four closest beaches to me — Meia Praia, a long beach to the northeast that stretches toward Portimao; Praia Dona Ana, slightly to the southwest and probably the closest beach to me; Praia do Carilo, a little further to the west of Dona Ana; and Praia Porto de Mos, which is somewhere in the middle and is the only one I’d ever been to before.

One night last week also took me to cliffs hugging the coast and eventually to Ponta de Piedade, a point with a lighthouse perched on one of those cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful night — for once it wasn’t raining, and the air held that heavy early-spring wetness that held promise and mystery instead of dread and misery.

With all the rain Portugal (much of Europe, actually) has had this winter, I’ve been quite sick of everything being moist since I’ve returned, and my short time in Lagos has been no different. This week the sun has finally broken through two days in a row, but mostly it’s been wet and generally horrible, and everyone here in the Algarve has been trudging along in a collective foul mood.

As I take predictable routes to try to make myself comfortable here, still I struggle with the same emotional and existential questions I’ve had my entire life. Luckily for me, there have been some unexpected surprises since my move that have once again reminded me that I am here for a reason.

Those surprises came in the form of people. One is C, the Dutch girlfriend of the first friend I made in this area, D. (You may remember him from previous blog posts.)

The other are R and my temporary flatmate K, who two days ago moved to Lisboa but became, to my surprise, a friend and confidante in the week that we lived together.

R is a 50-something Venezuelan man who was K’s boss at a tapas restaurant just down the street from our house, and K is a 29-year-old Hungarian woman who reminds me of a younger version of myself in style, temperament and life philosophy.

All three of them have helped give me perspective on my life — in particular on the fact that I came here to live on my own, something that continues to both terrify and thrill me — in just the short time I’ve known them.

I am learning to take what life gives me and listen to my intuition, but it’s still a struggle to trust that there is a bigger plan at work, and to trust that my own instincts and intuition are leading me in the right direction.

There already are things here I long for, situations that haven’t worked out as I expected, desires that my Buddhist-trained mind is trying to detach from. I see the truth about people I’ve met — or what I believe is “the truth” — and don’t necessarily like what I see.

I get angry with myself for wanting something I don’t have and not being happy for the happiness of other people, because judging other people and misdirected desire are wastes of energy and time and do no one any good.

And still I question my own lifestyle and the choices I’ve made. I question my intensity. I wonder why it is I can never take the path that is easy for me, and why I still feel like it’s such an uphill battle sometime to make authentic connections with people.

I know I am not alone in any of my thoughts, feelings and ponderings. I am not unique in my feelings of discontentment, even when I know in my heart I have a beautiful life.

I will get through this transitional time and find a place of more comfort, and I will someday read these words again and see how far I’ve come from feeling this way.

For now as I sit uneasily and uncomfortably with some emotional challenges, I take comfort in small things. Sitting on my surfboard in an ocean that I have all to myself just after sunset, waiting for another wave to roll in.

The sound of seagulls crying outside my window in the morning, a wake-up reminder of how close I live to the sea.

Buying a gas bottle that will provide me with hot water and stove power for the next month from an elderly Portuguese man at the tiny bar down the street, an activity that very distinctly reminds me I indeed am now living in Portugal.

The strange apparition of a man playing a kazoo and pushing an old rusty bicycle down that same street this morning, a man my new friend C told me is probably the local knife sharpener who comes through town periodically. (If what she says is true it could quite possibly be the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.)

These may be uneasy days but they are also beautiful and pure and full of life. It is my life and for each breath I am grateful, and while there are things I want but don’t have, there is nothing I really need. In fact, you could argue I have far more than anyone can ever need, that I am luckier than most people deserve to be in a lifetime.

Maybe I haven’t been able to write because I’m afraid of what I might say. I’m afraid I might sound ungrateful for not being 100 percent happy all the time in the middle of such an abundant life.

But the truth is, paradise has teeth. It bites. Hard.

Sometimes it rains even in paradise. And not just showers, but Biblical shit that makes you forget not only what it feels like to have the sun on your face, but that there was ever a sun at all.

Today I went north to Odeceixe — the town in which I first fell in love with this place — and had tea with C and we discussed how compelled we felt to move here and how, once we did, we mostly wondered what the hell we were thinking. There are a lot of people like us here who are pulled as if by a magnet or that tractor beam from the Death Star in Star Wars and, once here, think at least once nearly every day that they’ve made some horrible mistake.

Because while it is beautiful here, it can also be lonely. And in Portugal if you are foreign, you are *really* foreign. Portuguese to non-native speakers is an especially incomprehensible language that takes years to learn, and the Portuguese, bless them, are not the friendliest nor the most open-minded population in the world.

I really loved Red Hook, Brooklyn, the neighborhood I lived in for a year before I came here. I really felt like I could have settled there and happily become a part of the community, and I fiercely miss some of the people I met there and the feeling of camaraderie that neighborhood more than any other I lived in in NYC has.

The problem is, I moved there when the Algarve tractor beam already had a lock on me and, as much as I could just as easily have built a cozy life in Red Hook and found my own little niche among its infinitely creative and beautiful band of weirdos, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I am luckier than many, and I know that. I have friends here, some of whom could very well be true keepers. I have a place to live, a car to drive, a surfboard to ride. I have a seemingly endless ocean that in the past few days has graciously served up small and manageable waves for me to ride. I have a roof terrace with a view of that ocean. Every day my eyes see something new and uniquely beautiful that I have never seen before.

So while I am not unhappy to be here, nor am I completely satisfied. And that’s OK. That’s pretty damned human, in fact.

And paradise, while quite a nice concept, doesn’t really exist — at least, not in the way one might think it’s supposed to be. It is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.


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This is what I see when I look out the back window of my new (old) house

I’ve found a more or less “permanent” place to live in Lagos, Portugal, living a life full of used and borrowed things.

From my terrace of my borrowed house I can see the ocean, the sun, the moon and the stars. I drank coffee there the other morning and mused about how well things have turned out for me.

I have lived here five weeks now and I have friends, a used car, a used surfboard, a little house in a great neighborhood with a roof terrace with a view of the sea, and possibly even a dog.

The person renting the house, a guy called L, lives in Ireland; the owner perhaps too, or perhaps he’s here. L isn’t sure. It’s also L’s dog that may soon be mine, but that is a whole other story for which I don’t have time at the moment.

I’m paying L to be here and sleeping in a room full of his stuff until his Hungarian friend K moves to Lisbon next week. She is a nice girl very similar to me – arty, similar clothes, a Libra, takes photos – but nine years my junior and as pale as I am olive.

K is freshly mourning the loss of a relationship and nervous to move to a city after three and a half years in this little town, a situation I myself was in three and a half years ago before I moved to New York City. So I sympathize with her, and so far we are getting along just fine.

L is a friend of D’s, my friend whose house I stayed in for a month before moving here to Lagos. As I’ve mentioned before, D is the ex-wife of a man whose surf camp visited the first time I ever came to Portugal, which was also when I decided that someday I would live here.

But I didn’t meet L through D, nor vice versa. I met L through a former friend of mine named Aibhinn who lived in New York but was from Dublin and at one point dated L’s best friend, a guy called Brian, who died not long before I met L for the first time last November.

This is how things go here in this small worth of expatriates in the Algarve. The connections between us no longer surprise me. In fact, I am sure they will start to stack up in undesirable ways.

This town, Lagos, confuses me. It is just that — merely, a town — but always I get lost. I navigated my way around New York City for more than three years before I moved here and yet I still have trouble getting somewhere the same way twice.

I have walked alone through dozens of European cities without knowing the language, armed with only a map and my wits. Yet this little Algarve-ian village puzzles me. I’m, quite frankly, ashamed of my pathetic navigational skills.

But no matter; I’m sure I will learn my way around soon enough. And I am happy to be here, with several beautiful beaches to which I have already spent several mornings jogging, very close by.

It is strange to be so out of my element and my previous life in New York, but I try not to give that too much thought. My daily visits to the sea and preoccupation with logistical matters are keeping me busy enough that I try not to worry about when this life will feel like mine.

Until then, this borrowed one will have to do.