Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

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

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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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Another sunrise, another continent

Yesterday I woke up after an uneasy sleep in the early hours to wind and rain on the southwest coast of Portugal and watched the sun rise as I drove through the sleepy green hills of Alentejo. Today I woke early (jetlag) to the snowy suburbs of Philadelphia and watched the sun rise from the window in the bathroom of my dad’s master bedroom.

I am strangely still high, my energy vibrating from some crazy positive frequency, from my beautiful last day in Portugal, and don’t feel nearly as uneasy as I thought I would about being back.

It was great to see my dad, who still pretty much rules above all dads (don’t even try to fight me on this one). I changed the game plan on him and instead of arriving in Philadelphia on an Amtrak train at 7:42, I arrived in Trenton, New Jersey, on a NJ Transit train at 5:00. (Yes, NJ Transit was my first stop after landing at the airport. One day you wake up in one of the prettiest places in the world, the next day — after traveling for 15 hours — you are riding the commuter train from hell.) No matter — he still showed up to pick me up, battling last-day-before-the-Christmas-holidays traffic and a brewing sinus malady.

He barely flinched when I told him I planned to stay in the U.S. for only about a month before heading back to Europe, when I told him I planned to just pick up work here and there and travel for about another year. For a man who spent his whole life in his hometown and still, at 76, goes to work every day, it’s somewhat of an alien concept not to work a full-time job and live in one place your whole life. But my dad has the heart of a traveler (we have traveled together in Rome and Sicily), so I am not entirely surprised he was cool about it, and the fact that he will be my home base/freelance check casher while I’m away.

My first greeting on U.S. soil wasn’t nearly as warm, but more or less solidified my plan to get out of the country again as fast as possible.

When I had my passport stamped at immigration, the officer asked me how long I had been away. I told him two months; he then asked if I lived in the U.S. or in Europe, and if I was on vacation or working while I was away.

Wanting to just get out of there — immigration always makes me nervous, just like seeing cops make me nervous, as if I’ve done something wrong (a throwback from smoking a lot of marijuana when I was a teenager, I think) — I said I was mostly on holiday. (As an aside, I’m glad I got rid of the weed I picked up in Portugal, where having a small amount is legal, before I left the country. There were drug-sniffing beagles in baggage claim.)

Then Mr. Important Immigration Guy asked, “Don’t you work?” which I thought was pretty rude, because what if I was one of the thousands of people who lost jobs in the U.S. — people who, unlike me, have major responsibilities and kids and bills and are in seriously dire straits. I responded, “Sometimes” and then “I’m freelance; where I am, the work is.” He smirked, handed me back my passport and sent me on my way.

His whole attitude reminded me exactly what I don’t like about the “American” way of life, which generally puts more value on making money and working even a dead-end job than life experience, traveling, creativity and a solid spiritual path. We all know which side I root for, and yes, I know I’m lucky that the circumstances of my life and the hard work of my father have, to a certain degree, allowed me this lifestyle.

But honestly, I think that more people could live a different way here if they didn’t buy into the whole American value system in the first place, so I didn’t appreciate having someone question my lifestyle, and certainly not some power-tripping government cog.

It didn’t ruin my day or dampen my spirits, though, nor will it ruin my Christmas. I’m here at my dad’s now, and looking foward to seeing my sister and her kids today. I talked briefly to my 2-year-old niece last night on the phone and that little girl was jabbering away (god knows what she was saying, but it sounded super-cute; she wasn’t talking that much last time I saw here).

Hope you all have a beautiful holiday and take a moment in between sips of wine and food-gobbling to count your blessings this year. I suspect you will find you have many more than you think.

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Portuguese driving directions will get you there eventually

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

S. Teotonio
C. Branca
Milfontes–Brumheiras (direita) Porto Covo (esquerda)

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.

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“My only advice is not to go away. Or, go away.”

In one week, I will fly back to the U.S. after spending two months abroad, mainly here in southwest Portugal.

When people here have said to me that I’m on holiday — by way of explaining why I should relax and not worry about working so much — I have responded that I don’t really feel like that. I haven’t treated this time here as a holiday per se; rather, I’ve tried to spend my time here as if I were a local resident and planned to make a more permanent home here.

This last week or so the southwest Algarve is really beginning to feel like home, and with my return to the U.S. approaching, I have some decisions to make and ideas to ponder.

One of the week’s most pleasant developments is that R, the stranded hippie surfer, has become a partner in crime of sorts.

Bonded by the fact that we’re two Americans in a place where there are few others — and with common interests like surfing, music, writing and romantic idealism in common — we’ve spent a couple of nights hanging out in his van eating, drinking and talking and have been driving in my car around the countryside listening and singing along to music.

R is sweet and earnest and funny, and it’s fun to have a bonafide guy friend here now — my Portuguese friend D hasn’t been around much, and the other men I’ve met I haven’t clicked with so immediately, or have seemed to want something more from me than I wanted to give them, and so it made being friends somewhat awkward.

The thing about R is he reminds me of people I’ve known in my life before — a combination of a couple of male friends I’ve known, one in Phoenix, Arizona, and one in San Francisco. He looks so much like the former — a musician I had a fling with — that I have to remember to call him by the correct name sometimes when I’m hanging out with him.

I’ve also introduced him to my friend D, for whom I think he’s harboring a bit of a crush. (It’s hard not to have a crush on her, lovely and kind as she is. I think I do, too, a little bit.) We all went out for pizza Saturday night at an amazing authentic Italian pizza joint in a tiny town called Petralva, and the three of us are cooking a vegetarian pre-Christmas friends dinner tomorrow night for 11 people. I also took him to her yoga class yesterday, after which we all had coffee at the usual cafe in Barao de Sao Joao.

R isn’t planning to settle in Portugal the way I am and of course doesn’t live here like D does — he wants to move his van, in which he lives (when he wasn’t living on boats where he worked as a chef) up to Amsterdam when the weather gets warmer. But he plans to spend quite a bit of time around these parts before then, so it’s likely I’ll see him if and when I decide to return in February.

But it’s these friendships and connections that are making this place feel more like a home than New York ever did, even though I love the friends I have there and feel blessed to have them.

So I have to figure this out. Right now I am hoping to spend a month in New York to settle my affairs (apply for my Italian passport, sublet my apartment again for nine months, try to rustle up more freelance work, set my freelance business up officially as a U.S. business etc. etc.) and then return here in February.

There is a lot to consider between now and then, and I’m worried that New York, that unrepentant siren, will lure me back to stay in the month I’m there.

I am pretty self-aware, and I know that I have a tendency to be flighty and can be pulled in whatever direction a particular life current takes me; commitments often aren’t my strong point (even when I make them, I tend to try to sabotage them, even subconsciously). If an opportunity arises in New York that I just can’t say no to, or something happens in my personal life to make me want to stick around, I may not return here.

But as always, the future is unwritten, and I only have now to worry about. After two days of freezing cold, it’s warmer again here, and the sun is shining after an incredibly stormy night. The possibilities of today are endless, and right outside my door. I am going to open it and take a deep breath now, and see which way today’s wind carries me.

And in case you’re wondering: the title of this post comes from one of my favorite poems. It’s by Larry Levis and it’s called “In The City of Light.” Read it. You will be happy that you did.

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Pay it forward

One of the things that’s struck me here is how helpful and kind people have been to me when I’ve been in need (and even sometimes when I’m not), and today I was able to return the favor.

Last night coming off the beach after a surf at Arrifana, I ran into M and P parked at the parking lot at the top where they’ve been camping out in their vans. If you remember, they were guests at my Thanksgiving dinner, and M and I have been in touch here and there since then, mostly about the condition of the surf and the like.

While I was talking to those guys (the beautiful boy from Guernsey was no longer with them, unfortunately — he’s already gone back home), another traveling surfer I hadn’t seen before came around and asked me, in a very American accent, if I knew of an Internet cafe. Born in the U.K., R is more or less American, having grown up in Indiana, where his parents moved when he was two, although he travels on a U.K. passport and is technically British.

I was thrilled to meet another “American” (mais ou menos, as the Portuguese say), and spent some time chatting with him. He’d been living in France for the last four years working here and there as a chef both on land and on boats, but has been traveling in Portugal since mid-October, with plans to move to Amsterdam with a brief trip to England for the holidays in the works.

I invited the three of them over to dinner last night but they didn’t come, which turned out to be just as well because I now have two freelance stories due in the next two days, so needed the time to work.

This morning, I drove to Arrifana to check out the surf, hoping I could get a quick dip in before having to do some work in the afternoon. On the way over on the only road that goes there, I saw M and P pass by in their vans, but didn’t see R with them. The thought flashed in my head that there was a reason he was still back at Arrifana — that there was a reason I was meant to miss the Thanksgiving boys and see him instead.

That reason turned out to be van trouble; when I got to the parking lot overlooking Arrifana, R had the engine compartment of his van (which is in the front seat) open and was working on it. He said the other guys took off without offering help, and he was glad I came along when I did because, based on my offer to cook dinner for them last night, I seemed like a good hearted and generous person.

And so that’s how it came to be that I spent most of the morning and part of the early afternoon helping a fellow American (sort of) figure out what’s wrong with his van. I took him to a mechanic I knew of down the road, where he dropped off his battery to be recharged, and then I sat in the sun enjoying an unseasonably warm day while he tinkered more with his van, waiting to give him a jump start when he said he’d be ready.

As I sat there, talking with him about his life philosphy (similar to mine), his experiences in France and traveling around on boats in the Mediterranean and his plan to move to the Netherlands, enjoying the sun on my face and watching below as a huge swell pummeled Arrifana (it was so big and messy no surfers were in the water), I once again felt pretty blessed.

While most of the people I know were waking to cold weather and getting ready to head to their jobs in offices where they will sit all day under the harsh glow of fluorescent light, I was sitting in the warm December (December!) sun overlooking one of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches, chatting up a cute, shirtless surfer who was going about manly, mechanical tasks that involved lots of sweat and grease. Does it really get any better than that?

I had to leave R to get back to my house to do some work before he resolved his car issue, so I don’t know the end of the story that started with a chance meeting and a good deed.

I’m glad I could help him out, in appreciation for all the lovely people here who have gone out of their way to help a stranger fumble her way toward a possible new life. And I hope he passes the goodness on.

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Turn of events

For shame — the date on my last post is November 30, and here we are now more than a week into December. There are so many things to write about that I don’t even know where to begin, but let me try to fashion a brief update and get down to the granular level later.

Everything’s been quite good here in the Algarve. I had a couple of tough, lonely and uncertain days last week when I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing here — some serious moments of self-doubt and depression. But as the Dead Hot Workshop song goes, “Everything is so confusing just before your mind’s made up” (along the same lines as “everything is darkest before dawn”) — and just like that, things suddenly turned around. (If you don’t know who Dead Hot Workshop is, they are a ’90s band from Tempe, Arizona, that I love and who should have made it big but didn’t.)

I went to Porto for the weekend with one of my new friends, D, and we had a really lovely time doing girly things like drinking lots of wine, shopping and talking about fun stuff like sex and men. It poured rain and was super-windy the whole time, but we had fun walking around anyway. Porto is a beautiful city, much like Lisbon but somehow seeming older and more mysterious. I’d love to go there in nicer weather; I’m sure it’s a total blast.

While we were away D outlined some of the tasks she thinks I could help her with in exchange for free rent at her beautiful apartment in Burgau, a lovely village on the south coast. I’m just about ready to pull the trigger on it and decide to come back in late January or February once I settle my affairs in the U.S. (Italian passport, get my apartment sorted, buy Aveda products — you know, all the important things) but I need just a little more time to think. It’s an extremely tempting offer, however, and I am definitely leaning toward doing it.

I also made a new friend last week, a young-minded 45-year-old surfer and owner of a go-cart sailing business near Sagres. I met J on Beliche beach in Sagres last Thursday in the middle of a difficult day when I was feeling quite low but didn’t want to waste the gloriously sunny day moping. He was coming out of the water, which had some seriously beautiful and powerful waves I knew I couldn’t ride, and looked harmless enough so I decided to talk to him.

He lives in Vila de Bispo and I met him there later that night for a few beers and to chat. He seems like good people and already is my designated south-coast surf checker, keeping an eye on the beaches down there for some beginner-sized waves for me.

This week I’ve gone back to work a bit, which I admit has cheered me more than I imagined it would. I’ve only got a couple of projects lined up so far, but it’s been nice to use my brain again, especially at my own pace and on work of my own choosing.

There is some other stuff going on but I’m off to yoga so don’t have time to go into it right now. I’ll post something more thoughtful and observational later when I have more time.


In love with love, in love with life…a Thanksgiving weekend tale

It’s been a busy few days here in the southwest Algarve. When last I posted, I was about to host a Thanksgiving dinner for some people here at my friend K’s house. Well I did host that dinner, and it was a smashing success, thanks in part to my impulsive idea to invite a surfer from Cornwall, M, who I met in the surf line-up at the Sagres beach Mareta a week ago.

He had offered me some words of encouragement after I had a particularly jarring wipeout in the water that day, and then I ran into him at Arrifana a couple of days in a row. The second day, when I was in good spirits, I told him to come to dinner and bring some of his mates to help a homesick American celebrate Thanksgiving. He did — five of them to be exact, including one half-English, half-Italian beauty that took my breath away when he walked in the door (more on that later).

With them, K, her two friends and me, there were a total of 10 of us at dinner, which was great fun and lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

Before I could host dinner, however, I ran into a bit of a car snafu. On Wednesday night, I went to pick up K to shop for the meal on our way to our Portuguese class in Portimao. She lives a few kilometers off the main road along a rather bumpy, mostly unpaved road in the country south of Aljezur.

It was raining quite hard that night and on our way back to the road, one of her neighbors came down the road in the other direction. It’s too narrow for two cars to cross at the same time, so I had to pull over to the side to let the neighbor — an elderly Portuguese man named Manuel — to pass.

Unfortunately, I ran the car aground on the end of a drop-off I didn’t see (it was dark by then) and couldn’t get it back on the road again because there wasn’t enough traction in the tires and the wet gravel and because of the position the car was in — tipped precariously as if it might topple over down the slight embankment.

K and several of her Portuguese neighbors, bless them — all over 60, mind you — stood out in the road in the pouring rain for the better part of an hour trying to figure out if there was a way to hook a rope to the car so someone’s truck or tractor (it’s an agricultural area) could pull the car up and back onto the road. The problem is, we couldn’t seem to locate the hook that should be under the front of the car to hook it up for a tow.

The car happens to be a Spanish car with the name of “Ibiza,” so there was a lot of joking about how the car was a piece of “merda” because it came from Spain. If you ever want to endear yourself to the Portuguese — especially when standing out in the pouring rain trying to tow your car out of a ditch near their house — blame Spain for whatever it is that ails you.

When it seemed that we couldn’t figure out the problem, we left the car until morning and called a proper tow truck driver — or rather, my rental-car company called a tow truck driver — and he easily steered the car out attached to his truck in about five minutes.

Aside from the time we spent meeting the tow truck driver and getting the car out of the ditch, K and I spent all of Thursday cooking up a feast for our guests. Besides turkey and stuffing, there were two kinds of potatoes (mashed and sweet), green beans, carmelized carrots, black bean soup, bread, cheese, homemade pumpkin pie and many bottles of vinho.

Besides the surfers, our guests included C and M, a couple of K’s friends who live in Silves. C is German while his wife M is Portuguese and German and grew up in both Brazil and Germany, and they are both lovely people.

The surfer crew arrived a bit later than C and M and made quite an entrance when they did. They are all caravaning around Europe looking for the best surf in their uniquely outfitted camper vans. (This is a trend around here and at surf spots around the world.) They all drove separately to K’s house figuring they would camp out there for the night, so the line of vans (and one mini-bus) coming down the nearly always deserted road was quite a funny sight when they arrived.

Five of the guys are British and one is Australian but has been living in the U.K. for many years. He was also the oldest — probably around 40 or so — while the others were younger. M, a tall, strong-looking carpenter with long strawberry-blonde hair, was 31, and the rest were all in their 20s if they were a day.

I rather liked M when I met him and I think he rather liked me, and I believe he thought dinner was a date of sorts. On Tuesday, the day I invited him to dinner, we had lunch together — or, rather, I ate lunch while he sat with me and drank a couple of coffees, since he’d just eaten in his van — and we had a lively chat about a range of topics, including books, bordellos and following your bliss.

He’s very funny and easy to get along with, and although he wasn’t usually the physical type I go for (the big and strong carpenter type, yes; the long reddish hair, no), I found myself thinking I might get something going with him. We even had tried to meet up later that night but the whole incident with my car and the rain sort of torpedoed our plans to meet up and drink some beers together.

When M showed up he had shaved his beard for the occasion and automatically came over to me, told me I looked nice (I wore a skirt and put on makeup for the occasion) and kissed me on both cheeks. He was very sweet and I liked the attention, but once I set eyes on A, who I pretty much half fell in love with the second he walked in K’s door, I knew I wouldn’t be getting together with M.

This is despite the fact that I also knew I had no chance with A, who was probably in his early 20s and so beautiful that in my real life back in New York a boy that gorgeous wouldn’t even talk to me, let alone come to my Thanksgiving dinner.

But it didn’t matter. Throughout the course of the night I found myself absolutely enchanted by this stunning half-Italian young man from Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel off the coast of France.

He’s tall — over 6 feet — with disheveled blonde hair and blue eyes. He is one of those quiet, unassuming men with deliberate, cat-like grace in his movements and watchful eyes. He misses nothing and when he speaks it’s usually thoughtful and observant, even though he doesn’t say as much as the others. He is well-bred and polite, and quick to smile but slow to laugh. As you can tell, I was completely smitten with him.

Though most of the evening I was content to banter with the more boisterous boys — who were all really good company and great fun — I did manage to talk to him alone a few times. I learned he did a photography degree at university in England (my key to knowing how young he is — you don’t talk about “uni” unless you have only just graduated!) but now works at the airport just to fund his surfing holidays.

He’d been on the road about two months and was in his last week here in Portugal; he’s got a ferry to catch in the north of France on Dec. 4 and planned to rush the trip back because it was too cold to surf up north this time of year.

I spoke with a friend recently who characterized some people (including me) as “lovers” who in general are in love with life and can become very passionate in the moment about ideas, people and the like without it meaning anything more than it does right then and there.

I’m going to attribute the feeling I had on Thanksgiving night and in the last couple of days about this young man who came into my life out of nowhere — and who likely has no idea that he had such an effect on a nearly middle-aged woman with the heart of someone much younger and the soul of someone much older — to the lover in me. (I like to think of it this way so I don’t think of myself as some old pervert!)

I stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. with A, my friend K and three of the other surfer boys — two Ps and C, all from Devon and one of whom went to university with A and also did a photography degree. We drank wine, medronha, coffee and tea, and I can’t now remember everything that was said but I do remember laughing a lot, marveling once again at my good fortune and thinking how it was one of the best Thanksgivings in memory.

I felt a little odd about the situation with M at one point, who left the table earlier than the rest of us and gave me a bit of a look as he was going out to his van. I didn’t follow him there, even though C made mention several times of me going out to knock on M’s door — I think the boys all thought he and I had something going, which of course made perfect sense and, had he not brought A to dinner, would probably have been the case.

When time came to go to sleep I stayed in the house and slept in a spare bed in K’s house, even though a part of me desperately wanted to follow A out to his van and stay there until the next morning. It wasn’t even about sex, really — though of course who wouldn’t want to sleep with such a gorgeous young man?

But for me actually getting too close to him might have ruined the enchantment I felt, and I knew it was highly unlikely something like that was possible anyway, so out of my league (not to mention age range) he was.

It was more like now that I knew that a person who stirred such a feeling inside of me — however fleeting — actually existed, I wanted to spend as much time near him as possible, even if it just meant I got to look at him for awhile. I suppose I now know what it means to have a mid-life crisis — to have forgotten what the first blush of infatuation feels like and to be reminded of it in such a way that you’d be willing to drop your entire life for another chance just to feel that way for a little while longer again.

In my conversations with him about photography and constellations (it was a clear night, and we were outside for awhile), I also gleaned that he had the soul of an artist, and I wanted the chance to talk more with him one on one. I didn’t dare take a chance, however — drunk and foolish a woman I was by this point — and went to bed alone. The surfers all slept in their separate vans outside in K’s driveway and across the way in a grassy spot on her mostly unoccupied neighbor’s house.

The next morning, I went out around 10 to buy breakfast fixings while M one of the Ps — the first two of the surfers up — did the washing up. When I got back from the market in Aljezur A also was awake and washing dishes at the sink.

I was a little embarrassed about how strongly he affected me and the thoughts I’d had the night before about going out to his van, so I barely looked at him; I felt like such a lecherous dirty old woman for being so infatuated that his mere presence made my hands shake.

To occupy myself, I began cooking breakfast at K’s tiny little stove, which sits in a corner of the room in a rather small concrete enclosure that anyone taller than 5’5″ will hit one’s head on if one isn’t careful (I speak from experience). I started olive oil heating in a pan for scrambled eggs and began cooking bacon in another, while warming up the night before’s mashed potatoes on a back burner.

Suddenly, A appeared at my side to help, taking over the eggs while I dealt with the bacon and the fried tomatoes (the latter an English breakfast specialty that was new to me). He was so close I could barely breathe, and we stood there side by side in that small space fixing breakfast, speaking a bit but mostly cooking together as if we’d done it a thousand times before.

In fact, he took over his portion of the task so deftly and with such authority I asked him if he had worked as a cook in a restaurant. He said no, but his father had an Italian restaurant on Guernsey and we spoke a bit about that for awhile.

I wish I could accurately explain how lovely it was just to stand there and fry bacon with this person next to me, as if we hadn’t just met in a stranger’s dining room the night before, as if it wasn’t completely bizarre that an American woman in her late 30s would impulsively invite a bunch of young surfers and other strangers — none of them American — to Thanksgiving dinner in a country that was not her own nor one that celebrates the holiday, in a house that is not her own and in fact belongs to a woman she’d met only a week before.

I actually took a moment to stand there and breathe in deeply, inhaling the mix of frying and our own slightly sour, hungover smells, silently thanking the universe for giving me such a simple pleasure, knowing that the feeling I had then would be something I would return to again in my life, especially in a dark time, as a reason to be grateful for living.

And so we cooked breakfast, and then we all ate, and then the surfers returned to their vans and to their camping spot in the parking lot on a cliff above Arrifana. I followed them there a bit later to look at the surf, and watched as one after the other they all went down to surf — all but A, who stood there with me and talked to me about the beach’s various breaks.

He showed me a famous right break with rock hazards where he’d surfed the night before and had a few close calls — and showed me the best place to paddle out to the right beach break that I have so far been afraid to try.

I told him I would never paddle out there alone and he said that if I had my gear (which I didn’t) I could paddle out with him right then. I mentally cursed myself for not having my surfboard and wetsuit with me at all times, but then figured I would probably be too nervous in his presence to paddle out with him anyway, and would probably panic and make a fool of myself.

He also said that he was glad the vicious right break wasn’t working on that particular day, because if it was he would have to go out and surf it again, even though it would scare him to do so. I immediately understood that feeling, and told him how sometimes we’re lucky that nature makes decisions for us that we can’t make for ourselves.

We stood there silently for a moment looking out over the ocean, and again I had that warm feeling I’d had when we stood together cooking breakfast over that tiny stove.

I’m going to end this story here even though it’s not really the end, because the rest of what happened between A and me on Saturday doesn’t matter. (And no, it was nothing romantic or anything like that — just a chance meeting, a quick trip to the Aljezur farmers’ market, some text messages and a possible night out with the boys in Sagres that never quite materialized.)

What matters, at least to me, is this: for a few hours, based on a random meeting in a country that I have no business being in, I fell in unlikely infatuation with a beautiful boy from Guernsey, a place that I had scarcely heard of until a few weeks ago when I met a couple from its neighbor Jersey (the island, not the state) who were also vanning around Portugal looking for waves.

In this life where people sometimes forget or are afraid to love, I am happy for the few hours I remembered what it is like to feel that mix of awe and hope stirred within me again.

What doesn’t matter is that A likely has already forgotten about me (or perhaps is wondering why some shameless American cougar was salivating after him); what doesn’t matter is that we most likely would have never crossed paths or even spoken had it not been for surfing, or for Portugal.

Being alone here is not always easy, and it is especially hard when you don’t speak the language. (I’m learning, yes, but very slowly.)

Still, the unexpected and beautiful encounters that this adventure has provided me — each one that reminds me why I will continue to lead with an open heart over and over again despite the enormous potential for rejection or heartbreak — make it all worthwhile.