I thought you might like to hear another point of view...
What a treat!! Two of my six siblings and their wonderful spouses came to visit. That, in and of itself, was an amazing feat, which you will better understand shortly. The primary purpose of their visit wasn’t to be tourists, but to find out if my rosy colored reports over the last 20 months were really true. They were here to make a clear-eyed assessment of whether or not living in Portugal would work for them too.
Regardless of the reason for their visit, I was just super happy to spend focused time with them. And, as an added bonus, being able to hug them was beyond joyful! You might think my reaction was a direct reflection of a forced separation due to our move and the pandemic, but you would be wrong.
My mother and father had six children in six and a half years – no twins. The rapid succession of births meant that our house was always a bee hive of activity. Not only were we a large, boisterous family, my father was required to relocate frequently due to his career in the United Sates Air Force. We moved something like 17 times in 18 years (in one 12 month period we moved three times). All that upheaval and disruption had an up side…it resulted in a tight family bond, because we looked to each other for support, fun, and companionship.
As we matured into adults, entered the work force, and established long term relationships with important people in our lives, our family expanded. We were also very fortunate to welcome four step-siblings after my parents divorced and remarried later in life. While we didn’t grow up together, my step-siblings, including their spouses and families have been an additional blessing. I am happy to say that our family is filled with interesting, dynamic, talented, successful – but, busy – people and that means we find it difficult to get together. When we do, it is next to impossible to have a quiet, focused conversation due to the inherent excitement and chaos of these events.
As my siblings and I began to grow up and didn’t require constant care, my mother had the chance to explore her innate artistic abilities. Oh, who am I kidding? We practically drove her crazy so she found outlets for artistic expression to avoid losing her mind. Thankfully, it did the trick – she’s still going strong! Over the years she dabbled in a variety of art forms like pressing wild flowers to create exquisite framed vignettes, ceramics, painting with oil, acrylic and watercolors, and learning to play the organ and then piano. After her first grandchild was born (my son, Matthew), she fell in love with portrait photography. This love of art was passed to her children in a variety of ways. In birth order:
- My older brother David is a well-known voice over artist (commercials, movies, TV, and video games) and a talented painter of contemporary/expressionist art. Early in his career he was an onscreen actor and stand up comedian. Here is a link to David’s IMDB profile if you’d like to know more about the work he has done in the entertainment industry.
- I’m next – I like to write.
- Steve is currently an account executive for a technology company that provides high tech audio/visual equipment to the business and academic sectors. Steve is an amazing gardener! Specifically vegetables, which harkens back to our maternal Sicilian grandfather.
- Claire is an accomplished writer and editor in the non-profit space. Over the course of her career she has secured tens of millions of dollars in donations that have helped women in under developed nations, wildlife in Africa, rescued horses in the US, and rainforests in South America. While she doesn’t have much time these days to focus on it, she is a talented and sensitive sculptress too.
- Christy, who lives on an idyllic vineyard in Sonoma County California, is a top sales person for a French-based cooperage (they produce wine barrels). She loves to marry her extensive knowledge of wine with her admirable skills in the kitchen. That woman can cook!! (Fun fact, Christy and Claire are the same age every year between October 7 and November 6.)
- My youngest brother, Gary is one of the top storyboard artists in the entertainment industry. He has worked on more than 135 movies including Black Panther, The Hurt Locker, and Dreamgirls (here’s a link to Gary’s IMDB profile). What makes this even more extraordinary is that he is entirely self-taught and his talent extends beyond drawing to fine art painting, specifically exquisite plein air landscapes. If that wasn’t enough, he is also a self-taught keyboard musician, writing and playing multiple genres of music. Here is a link to his personal website if you’re curious about the breadth of his talent.
As you can see, my siblings have busy, demanding lives so connecting has always been a challenge. This is why I was so happy to have dedicated one on one time with a few of them for an entire week.
It was Claire and her husband, Adam, who just retired from his position as Chief Administrative Officer of a medical group in Northern California, who arrived the day after Gary and his wife, Marlena got here. Marlena is an executive director for an entertainment company that has produced movies like The Sixth Sense, Shanghai Nights, Evan Almighty, and Star Trek.
During their time here Won and I answered all their questions, took them around, and they explored on their own. We spent an afternoon and evening in Lisbon, but the remainder of the time was mostly in Cascais with the exception of several hours they spent with Camilla Hirsch a real estate agent with Housesmart. Camilla gave them an extensive driving tour of the coastal towns between Lisbon and Cascais to help them better understand how they differ and what they offer in terms of a living experience.
After my family returned to the US, I asked if they would offer some thoughts and observations on their experience. I told them they didn’t have to answer all the questions and to feel free to come up with their own if mine didn’t get to the heart of what they wanted to say. Claire, Adam and Marlena followed this construct. Gary, came up with his own. Here is what they said:
- What surprised you the most about your time in Portugal?
- Claire: I already knew that Portugal was a surfing destination, but wow. Cascais actually has the surfing culture that people think California has. One beautiful surfing beach after another. Generally speaking Portugal is just lovelier than I expected.
- Adam: I was pleasantly surprised by how nice, clean, and town-like Cascais turned out to be. I also expected good food, but we found it to be abundantly delicious, beyond expectations–and the wine! So good and very inexpensive. My new pro-tip is to order the house wine when dining out, which is antithetically good at every place we tried it, unlike in the US. I was also impressed with the solid infrastructure which seemed to be present in all major areas.
- Marlena: I was surprised by how compliant the people of Portugal are with COVID restrictions. No one has a problem wearing a mask! I was also surprised at how forward thinking Portugal is when it comes to being green (recycling, investment in green technologies, etc).
- Did your time here inspire you to return and why?
- Claire: Yes. For such a small country, there’s a lot to see. Best of all, it feels really accessible.
- Marlena: Yes, the lifestyle in itself is what will make me return.
- Were you disappointed with anything (and why)?
- Claire: Because of Hurricane Ida, the weather was humid and hotter than I expected. I know that’s not Portugal’s fault. Beth warned us about the variable weather patterns. She was right.
- Marlena: I was not really disappointed with anything.
- Adam: I have to think hard here. Ok, got it! The coffee was not good. Considering how good it is in neighboring countries, that was surprising. [Note from Beth: There are coffee kiosks all over the place, but they rely on a food service company called Delta for their coffee and, to be honest, it’s not that great. There are really good coffee shops, but, sadly, they are the exception not the rule.]
- What was the best part about your visit (apart from visiting family)?
- Claire: Food and wine. I loved the little restaurants in the pedestrian-only streets and the casual nature of people getting together and just spending time connecting. You can tell that Portugal is family friendly and that friends are family. There’s a feeling of connectedness there. Quite a respite from the polarization we’re feeling in the U.S. these days.
- Marlena: Weather, scenery, dining (food and wine)…everything!
- Has your opinion of Portugal changed now that you have been here?
- Claire: It’s a bit cooler/hipper/younger than I expected—in a good way.
- Marlena: I have always heard that Lisbon was a favorite destination for many people, so it met my expectations for sure!
- What advice would you give someone who is thinking of visiting?
- Claire: Plan to spend time at the beach. Not necessarily going in the water (which I’m told is cold) but to hang out there. Also, I wish I’d arranged the time to hike. The natural beauty of Portugal is worth exploring just as much as the historical and cultural offerings.
- Marlena: Bring comfortable walking shoes that will grip the cobblestones – other than that, enjoy and relax!
- What was the least favorite part of your visit?
- Claire: Getting there and back. Travel in the Time of COVID sucks.
- Adam: COVID travel. However, I was so impressed with masking and precaution compliance universally. It is just harder than it used to be. What a luxury to be able to complain about that.
- Marlena: My least favorite part were the smokers, especially sitting outdoors at a restaurant. I will say, though, that it was not as bad as I expected it to be (like in other European cities).
Here is what Gary had to say:
- What is it about Portugal?
- Every American I have talked with who has visited Portugal, is universally positive about their experience. For me, it goes beyond the great food and wine, the friendly people, the stunning architecture, and mild climate. I live in Venice California, and for all the hipness and vibe, my hometown is afflicted with a syndrome that has become acute in America: the loss of unity. My trip to Portugal left me envious of the ways of this underrated European nation. I may be romanticizing this a bit, and I know that Portugal has it’s share of challenges, but what I saw and felt was as if the winter of their recent difficult times was quickly being replaced by springtime-like flowering of potential. There is a shared goal of prosperity there. Guided by sensible and sustainable methods, even Mother Nature seems onboard as they venture toward a better kind life. They are, in so many ways ahead, of the “American Dream”.
- Come on, there must be a downside…what about the bureaucratic bogeyman?
- For hopeful future expats like myself, a lot has been said of the perils of navigating the Portuguese system of government, and indeed, I experienced this first hand as I attempted to acquire my NIF – an essential item in the visa application process. It took some creative thinking to overcome the catch-22 nature of the appointment process, but I can confirm that this type of challenge is not endemic to Portugal only. Without wearing you down with details, I’ll just say that I have, many times in my life, cursed at the regulatory maze in the states. To expect efficient and streamlined government anywhere seems to be asking a lot. All in all, it feels like a small price to pay in return for the benefits of living there. Be patient. Expect delays. Keep focused on the goals at hand.
- What do you hope to become in Portugal?
- Calmer. Healthier. To win a place in the hearts of the Portuguese. During the last quarter of a century, I made my name in Hollywood as a storyboard artist. As I transition away from my role in “Lalaland” I want to fully embrace fine art. Portugal is a place of extraordinary beauty and a creative gold mine for a painter of landscapes, like me. It is my hope that I can establish myself as an artist who paid off his debt to the nation that granted him a home by reflecting my visions and thought in my work. I will make a promise to the Portuguese people that, if you accept me, it will be a fruitful relationship. In advance: Obrigado (thank you).
Needless to say, it was a great visit. Here are a few images from our time together.
I’m wondering if the subconscious purpose behind asking my family to share their thoughts was a way to validate what Won and I have found; that it isn’t just a dream we conjured up, but that it is real. Based on their responses, there are only two possible answers…they too have fallen under the spell of Portugal, or it is real.
Hopefully, you will come and check it out for yourself. Until then, I hope you stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,