Every act, every decision, over the last two years has been made against a backdrop of first the pandemic and now a war.
Five years ago this week, I arrived in Portugal, in Coimbra, for the first time. Although there were several trips back and forth to the states to deal with visas and the like, after that first trip, I never really left.
One thing Coimbra has taught me is perspective. Portugal has witnessed centuries of fortune and misfortune, including forty years of a dictatorship that only ended in 1975. The view from my apartment takes in the Sé Nova, the New Cathedral, whose construction began in 1598. The Sé Velha, the Old Cathedral, dates from the 1100’s. We walk under the Torre de Almedina, part of the town’s original medieval wall, on our way to our favorite ice cream shop. The University dates from 1255. Very different from the U.S., where old is 1700, and whose history doesn’t include kings and castles and Moor invasions. Or dictatorships. So yes, perspective.
Coimbra has been very good to me. The shopkeepers in Celas, my neighborhood, have never tired of my asking como dizer . . . how do you say . . . and I’ve had adventures and made many very good friends here.
But, I’m moving south next week.
The Algarve, which hugs the southern coast, is known for miles and miles of beaches and acres and acres of golf courses. Not in any way where I ever saw myself. I don’t like sand, or even sun. I certainly don’t play golf. But, because of the horses I so enjoy there, I spent nearly all winter poking around the nearly empty winter beaches and towns large and small. Loulé, Alte, Silves, Tavira, Olhos de Agua. While the sea does dominate – you can see it in the light – there’s more to the Algarve than popular tourist spots that hug the coast. I’ve chosen Boliqueime.
As much as I’ve loved Coimbra, I missed the trees and air and light of my Connecticut cottage in the woods. Now, I’ll be living in a cottage in Boliqueime that looks out over an orchard. A cottage within walking distance of a quiet café with a panoramic view of the sea. A place close to the stables, and close to Loulé, a city with a vibrant Mercado and art and music venues. I’m trading the expanses of Coimbra for the light and air and wide-open skies over the sea-hugging Algarve. It is, in a way, a replication of my Connecticut life, near where cows grazed. Sheep graze near my lane in Boliqueime.
In the wake of the pandemic, many re-considered their lives. Priorities shifted. My own decision to leave Coimbra was made in the wake of feeling the pandemic had stolen two years. But the worst was behind us, right? Wrong. A fresh war has shocked us out of that peculiar complacency. Moving day will come as waves of refugees are still fleeing Ukraine.
Sure, packing up is tough. Dismantling a life I know and like to one I may or may not like as well . . . but I’m only leaving one beautiful part of the country for another. Ukrainians and other refugees from war torn places are fleeing into abysses of unending uncertainty.
As I fill a box, as I take a memory off a shelf, I find myself wondering, is this the right choice? How foolish. How embarrassing. I’m only leaving Coimbra for Boliqueime.
All those who are grieving, all those who are displaced. Perspective.