The thing about life that is so obvious, but easy to miss, is how our overt realities rarely match up to our covert realities. Just as I wrote those words a car alarm went off in the neighborhood its staccato horn reverberating through the quiet streets of Campbell. Oh, that’s rich. I sit here in the dark, nestled in my warm bed, computer on my lap, slugging down cup after cup of American coffee, smiling like an idiot.
When the universe knows you’re on to something she gets alarmed.
I’m a little warped this morning, classic timezone confusion, my body thinks it’s time for lunch, but the clock says it’s 3:03 am. I’ve been trying to silence my thoughts and go back to sleep for nearly an hour, total fail, when I heard Larry wrestling into his workout clothes (showoff) at like 4:15 am, and then quietly exit the room I shot up in bed as if a spring tomato and grabbed my computer.
Admittedly I prayed he would remember to brew a pot of coffee and when that familiar aroma came slithering down the hall I was captured.
Mornings do that to me, they hold me against my will, and I acquiesce to their inexcusable demands, joining forces as we liberate the day.
My brain is murky. It feels as if my thoughts are cocooned by a thick fog, one that has enveloped my entire body, and every word has to fight to emerge. I’m not kidding, I sat here for five minutes trying to think of the word reverberate?
We call this jetlag because my body might be in California but my internal clock is on Portuguese time.
Visiting a person, place, or thing that is distant or rare catapults my intuition into high gear. I find myself continually scanning for clues that affirm my version of reality. You know what I mean?
If you don’t understand the language you have to listen with your gut (not literally) so you can intuit the nature of the encounter. It’s essential for survival, evolutionary, as old as the Neanderthals who were tall but perished because they were rather ignorant by today’s standards. This could be all conjecture but I have a feeling the National Institute of Mental Health will be contacting me shortly.
We landed in Portugal early evening after flying for nearly sixteen hours, exhausted but slightly giddy to be back on solid ground, part of me no longer wonders how distance makes the heart grow fonder. Coming in from all corners of the world Larry’s brother Ken, wife Marta, darling daughters Sophia and Martica convene at the Lisbon airport, as my son Tony meets us upon arrival.
My heart skips a beat when he comes into view. There he is, tall, stately, and ever so handsome. Not the same boy I chased down the street when he got into that taxi five years ago embarking on a new life in Australia and then onto Portugal a few years later. He has grown into a man. I feel as if I missed the metamorphosis because it happened while he was outside the range of my maternal radar, without a doubt the cord has been severed, and I struggle with this new reality.
The first hug always brings me to tears which I now recognize as tiny waves of grief. I grieve for all those missed years, the intimacy formed through daily encounters, the casual bond between mother and son that time and distance can erode. Yes, I’m being dramatic but in my defense, it’s all true.
This is what I call my covert reality rolling down my cheeks because overtly he is in my arms, solid, present, and ever so familiar.
Finding the apartment we rented for our stay in Portugal was as if following an Agatha Christie novel, somehow we had the wrong address, missed every important clue, or quite possibly this is the way of things east of the Mississippi. We had to take two cars to get us all home but it’s a foreign country, it’s dark, and our people are now scattered about Parede chained to their luggage, and a rather intense language barrier. Oh, joy.
We stop near Tony’s apartment to get our barrings and Thalita shows up like a breath of fresh air. I claw my way out of the crowded car so I can walk the rest of the way with the only person who appears to know the location of our apartment. She’s Tony’s significant other, lovely, thoughtful, generous, and clearly competent. She walks me to our new home as if a stray cat in need of refuge. I was a mess, tired, disoriented, and longing for a warm bed.
Early the next morning, standing on the balcony of our room, I scan the landscape for what’s similar and different from “the other side of the same side of the world,” as my son Dante puts it, the one who arrived in the middle of the night and somehow found us all on his own?
The view of the Atlantic Ocean is spectacular and vaguely similar to the California coastline. The air is crisp and clear and I wrap my arms around my waist for warmth. I see the appeal of Portugal, its ancient history merges seamlessly with the modern world, preserving not only the charm but renaissance energy.
What’s different is the coffee.
Our apartment is large and luxurious, with three bedrooms, three baths, a huge living room, modern kitchen, and dining room. Seeing it in the light of day I’m blown away by the spacious accommodations and how generously they house seven of us.
Larry and Ken slip out early, walking to a nearby store for supplies, which include coffee, eggs, bacon, fruit, bread, olive oil, milk, juice, fruit, assorted meats, and cheeses. All familiar but slightly different and perhaps that’s why we travel, to challenge that which we’ve come to know.
It’s Saturday morning, Tony and Thalita show up early to cook us breakfast, and join us around the large and abiding table. I try and take in every detail, I realize this is not humanly possible, but I give it a worthy effort. I watch Tony’s face as if a mother holding her newborn for the first time. I breathe him in as if a person struggling for air and you can only imagine how he’s not sharing this headspace.
Remember when we said when we turned gray
When the children grow up and move away
We won’t be sad, we’ll be glad
For all the life we’ve had
And we’ll remember when…
Damn that Alan Jackson
The scramble to ready the troops is humorous. Did the owner really leave only six towels on our beds for seven people over a ten-day stay? Thank God Marta was able to reach into the chained cupboard as if Huduini and secure more supplies. This is what rolling with seasoned travelers looks like.
Lisbon is one of the world’s oldest cities, I feel much the same, with seven cinematic hillsides overlooking the Rio Tejo that cradle Lisbon’s postcard-perfect panorama of cobbled alleyways, ancient ruins, red-tiled roofs, and white-domed cathedrals as if lofty guardians to which I aspire.
The city is dotted by a collection of terraces known as miradouros (viewpoints), with stunning views of Lisbon, and the ocean beyond. Around every corner are unexpected delights, unique shops, charming cafes to stop for an espresso (bica), an elegant glass of Touriga Nacional, maybe a refreshing pitcher of sangria while we marvel at the almost fairytale scenery.
After a long day of touring Lisbon, we gathered for dinner at a local restaurant, before the young people head back to Rua Nova do Carvalho, which is most commonly known as Pink Street, a popular place to enjoy Lisbon’s thriving nightlife. Us oldies sat on the balcony sipping wine until the wee hours of the morning.
We did go to bed before the kids but there was an issue with the lights around 4:00 am which I am not copping to mind you. I’m simply sharing. I was trying to turn off the lights when the kids returned but only succeeded in illuminating every room in the house, accidentally of course. Unbeknownst to me, the lights are connected to sensors, set off by movement, and you have to be a Ph.D. in engineering to figure out how to turn off the circuitry. Let’s just say it was memorable.
Welcome to Portugal.
As the world turns we arrive on Sunday morning, while the rest of the house recovers from last night’s shinanigans Tony, Thalita, Larry and I head to Flora and Fauna for a unique breakfast, Portuguese hippy is the closest I can come, it involves seeds, acai, avocados, and bananas. Enough said.
I can’t be positive but we’ve only been in town for two days and I think we’ve worn out our hosts?
We spent a day touring Cascais, a small oceanfront community, with a thriving harbor, beautiful trails along the coast, and exceptional shopping. One of my favorite cities is Sintra, it’s dotted with castles, lush gardens, and striking coastal mansions. It’s charming, like Larry, but less formidable. I found the bread plates I’ve been coveting since my last trip to Portugal two years ago. Yes, I bought them and hand-carried them all the way home. It’s not like I walked but I will boast that they arrived unscathed.
I ate octopus, please don’t comment, I still feel bad.
We attended a traditional Fado dinner, listening intensely to the impassioned songs of the Fado singers, but not understanding a single word. The thing is you know exactly what they’re saying, it’s a performance about longing, love, and fervent desire. You feel it because love is the one language the Tower of Babel couldn’t confuse. It’s just unrequited and maybe that’s the purpose of life. Figuring out how to love?
Before we were ready Marta, Ken, Sophia, and Martica headed to Madrid to return Sophia to her study abroad program and spend a few days with family and friends in Spain.
Allowing Tony and Thalita time to catch up on work Larry, Dante and I walked from Parede to Cascais along a coastal path stopping for libation and fries along the way. We sauntered along the cobbled streets of town browsing through shops before taking the train home. After a refreshing shower, we headed to Tony’s and Thalita’s for appetizers and wine.
Tonight Larry and I split off from the group for a private dinner at Tascono’s while Tony, Thalita, and Dante went out for burgers. Our dinner was an experience in itself, from the appetizers to the fresh lobster, oysters, prawns, and crab we feasted like kings, topping off the meal with a dry port.
Exiting the restaurant I glance down the street to see my sons walking together, looking more alike as the years pass, laughing because they closed down a beachfront bar. This mama’s heart is filled with joy.
We exceeded 20,000 steps just about every day except Thursday, Larry’s birthday, when I scored less than 100 steps, but I did make six heroic trips to the bathroom while wrestling with an aggressive flu bug. Thank God it was only the twenty-four-hour kind.
In one wretched moment, I managed to screw up all the plans Tony and Thalita had so painstakingly put in place for a fabulous weekend. The five of us had reservations to stay overnight at a winery in Douro Valley for a tour, tasting, and birthday dinner. Then on to Porto the next day to check out the town and enjoy some traditional Portuguese port. Fortunately, they were able to cancel without penalties.
As Larry is known to say, tough times don’t last, tough people do. The kids pivoted and figured out how to celebrate the birthday boy locally while I languished around the commode. Larry was treated to lunch along the pristine coast, aka “his favorite meal,” comprised of excessive amounts of chicken, french fries, and cold beer. That night while I computed how much weight I had lost, Tony and Thalita came back to our place to cook dinner and surprise Larry with a scrumptious red-velvet birthday cake. I joined them from a distance as my digestive system began to stabilize.
Saturday morning I began to panic prematurely about the dwindling hours I have left with my son. The five of us piled into Tony’s car and head towards Setubal, stopping for a traditional Portuguese brunch along the coast. After touring the ruins of Castelo de Palmela located on the edge of the town (made me think of Outlander), we found a tile shop established in the 1800s and purchased a customized Casa dos Oreglia sign for the lake house.
We ended our journey with a small glass of muscatel in the town square. It was a good day. That evening we gathered for dinner at a restaurant called ironically California which reminded me I would be back on the same side of the other side of the world all too soon.
Our final day in Portugal found us at a live game of soccer at the Sporting Stadium in Lisbon. As I watched the teams kicking the ball with equal force towards their respective goals, fighting to defend their turf, I felt much the same. Equal parts of me wanting to be home vs more time with Tony fought it out on the field of my mind. Home won while I mourned the end of the game.
The hugs goodbye were wracked with longing and dolor. Admittedly I was unable to maintain my composure or the corresponding flood of emotion that accompanied me to bed. He’s made a life here in Portugal, and I have to accept this or remain in a continual state of suffering, which is simply wanting what I can’t have.
If the purpose of life for sentient beings is to have a happy life then Tony has chosen well. I value his ingenuity and persistence to pursue that which has captured his heart, passion, and curiosity. Lisbon is a bountiful place, full of opportunity, and adventure.
This could very well be a natal moment when a new reality is born or I could finally be learning to enjoy those rare moments of exaltation awaiting on the other side of the same side of the world. I can live with that.
I’m Living in the Gap, holding tight to warm memories, I’d be thrilled if you’d join me in the comments. What are you holding tight to these days?