October 25, 2009

Lisbon, Portugal

The wind that was directing my wanderlust sails appropriately delivered me to the seafaring shores of Portugal. I had put Portugal on a short list, along with Dahab, Egypt and Kythira, Greece, of places that I would want to work from if I ever decided to try my hand at writing. And toward the end of my last round of travels, I had decided that I did want to write. A book. A book about surviving from some of the deepest pain I have ever known. 

Dahab was on the list because when I landed there over a year ago, it was one of the most calm places I had ever visited. I remember remarking that if you weren’t a writer yet, then this was the place to become one. Kythira was always tempting because it is the supremely beautiful island where my family reigns from and I thought it would be a good place to receive divine intervention from the ancestors. Heck, they could even write the book for me and I could just kick back with some Ouzo and a cigar. But Portugal was special. And Portugal was calling to me. 

Back in 1967, shortly after my mother started work as my father’s secretary, in which time my father had declared her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, he took a trip to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. I know this because I found the three love letters he had written to her, one from each destination. They spelled out the artistic ambitions of a man, a dreamer, who wanted to earn a living from writing poetry and painting pictures; to live indulgent with wine and cigarettes; to wake each day with passion and my lovely mother by his side. And with each letter he promised them, sentence by sentence, that it was all possible. 

The weathered paper detailed the streets my father walked down, the food he ate, the drinks he drank, the music he heard and, at the end of each, how much he missed her. When I found these letters over thirty years after they were written and ten years after his death, I lamented that the author was a man I never knew. 

During my years growing up, my father had already chosen to let his creativity suffocate under the stresses of his reality; having a wife, two children, elderly parents to care for, mortgage payments and pending college tuitions. All which was supported by a job he hated waking up for everyday. By the time I was five, the poetry had turned into number crunching behind a desk, sweet wine turned into hard scotch and his passion was left to linger as forgotten words on faded bar napkins and letters sealed in time, stamped with postage from Portugal. 

I decided that instead of seeking out calm or ancestral soil, I would instead come to a place where my father felt some of his greatest freedom. I would use the path of his life as an example, if not a warning, to keep my dreams and artistic pursuits front and center. And in doing so, I would kick off the festivities in Lisbon, a city my father loved, retracing some of his steps by drinking port and listening to Fado music in small bars into the wee hours of the night. And then, just as in his letters, I would weave home by the dim light of the streets.

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