There is such a sense of place for me in Portugal. I have never been able to explain why – it’s just a comfortable feeling like going home. I recognize the people as they pass by me as if I have met them in some other life. I somehow was raised on their cuisine. I crave the classic Portuguese dishes of Bachalau and traditional Amêijoas in garlic, wine and butter. And while I have never been a fan of the cheese danishes and pastries my husband adores, well, don’t get me started on Pastéis de Belém or Queijadas de Sintra
And still, I have no explanation of why everything in this country is so familiar to me. And why it beckons me home.
When I was a little girl, I would argue my unwinnable arguments with my older siblings explaining that “when I was big” I had done all these things before and knew all this information. It was only because I was reduced to being small again, that I had forgotten what I once knew.
It’s like that for me in Portugal. I feel like a small child again ready to have that same strange argument that would explain it all – When I was big … I was Portuguese. I have been here before; had these conversations; devoured clams on the beach. It’s odd.
I don’t speak Portuguese. I do understand bits and pieces – mostly because my Portuguese friends toss in words of English so I can almost follow the conversation. But the language has never been a barrier for me. The Portuguese are a friendly tribe, the nearly always break into a smile when you pass. And that is such a thing to see especially on older folks with weathered faces who smile true greetings every new person they meet.
The countryside itself is a mix of children’s fantasy and grownup dreams, Old World charm and amazing natural beauty. Everything and everyone is embodied in this country.
I am inspired by the water. By the care that’s put into securing each stone in the sidewalks. Being raised in a disposable economy, I have always relished in the care and love I see in restorations of old buildings and spaces. Portugal embodies this sense of pride in its history, construction halts when Roman ruins are found in the base of building renovations. Excavations are often done bucket of dirt by bucket of dirt, so that the structural integrity and history of the building is not impacted. The bones remain strong ready to support the next generation.
The castles are well-preserved visions of my own childhood dreams. Romantic turrets where the prince can climb up and rescue me. Draw bridges to keep marauders at bay; and even complete cities walled behind their own comforting blanket of stone. In a day and age when building a wall has become such an awful metaphor for exclusion, Portugal’s walls are art and history. The invite you in. They sooth my soul with the stories they tell.
Every time I return I am home again. And every time I return home, I bring a piece of Portugal with me.