We’re leaving Portugal tomorrow. After ten months here, we’re on our way back to our Pennsylvania farm. When people ask me how I feel about leaving, I tell them it’s hard to say.

In December 2019, Terry and I bought a little house here, where we planned to spend April to June and September to November. In January, we booked our flight for April 15. Then Covid-19 happened. Americans without visas could no longer enter Europe. Our visas were still pending. Over the next five months, I re-booked our flight to Lisbon three times.

Meanwhile, as I waited for news from the consulate, and stayed home to avoid covid, I spent some glorious days on the farm working on my book, waving to Ben on his tractor, watching Rosie and her little brother Henry play. I caught up with Hana from the porch, and walked the few steps to the barn for fresh eggs, organically grown vegetables, grass-fed beef and lamb. Why on earth would I want to go to Portugal?

But when the Trump signs and confederate flags were impossible to avoid, I re-booked our flight to Lisbon for September 14.

On Thursday, September 10, we got word from Lisbon. Our visas were waiting for us . . . in Newark. Friday, we drove ten hours to claim them. Saturday, we went for covid tests. Monday, we got the test results we needed to be allowed on the plane.Tuesday afternoon, we arrived at our new house in Porto da Espada, red roses climbing up the whitewashed wall, cacti in flower, orange trees, lemon trees, and a pergola awash with kiwi fruit.

Although no restaurants were open, the bakery was, and warm, crusty bread was plentiful.Our house was almost empty, and furniture stores closed, due to covid,so we traipsed around the countryside buying used chairs, desks, lamps, and bookcases we found on OLX – Portugal’s “Craigslist”. Masked and cautious, we made our transactions with sellers who were glad to see us.

And not a Trump sign in sight.

In November, it began to rain. Our house lacked central heat and the faulty fireplace didn’t work. I’d have been so much warmer in Pennsylvania. We watched the American election results on the computer. Although relieved that Biden won, we were aghast at the 71 million Americans who voted for Trump. More rain, Christmas and New Year’s in lock down. No farm, family, friends to visit. No vaccine yet.Then the insurrection. I re-booked our flight to Dulles from January to July.

It rained a couple more months, while I finished my book. And in March, everything changed. Wisteria overwhelmed the trellis, wildflowers—lavender, poppies on the road side. Our garden bloomed with roses, camellias and iris. Our trees produced more cherries than we could eat.

Bela Branquinho

On April 15, we got our first jab of vaccine.

People came out of their houses. Invitations were extended for luncheons with friends. In May, more roses, more cherries, a trip to the Alentejo coast, a jacaranda tree in full bloom outside our window. We took a trip north to the Serra da Estrela mountains and an art exhibit where we found a painting we loved, met the painter Bela Branquinho and her husband Miguel – and loved them, too.

By June, there were agapanthas, apricots and plums. Oleander everywhere.  A lovely concert in honor of Michael, a wonderful friend and musiciian we lost a few months earlier.  

On June 30, we got our second jab.

Last week, figs–hanging purple in their leaves — tasted luscious with goat cheese and honey. At long last, we ate dinners out. Pork and clams, Salted cod.  I wrote an Epilogue to my memoir, sent the book to the publisher. We left for the Serra da Estrela to pick up Bela’s painting. On our way to Seia, everything sparkled. All the villages I’d seen a dozen times before were more beautiful than ever. Ancient in the most wonderful way. I was already feeling nostalgic about Portugal, and we hadn’t even left yet.

Next week, I’ll be back in Pennsylvania, fully vaccinated, playing with Rosie and Henry, deep in conversation with farmers, writers and artists we love. Still mourning the loss last month of our wonderful friend, Stephen. Next month, in Oregon I’ll be able to see my boys and their families.

By mid-September, we’ll be here again, sipping mint tea on the terrace, gazing at the São Mamede mountain, thrilled to be back. By November I’ll miss everyone at the farm–the family, the dogs–and be homesick all over again.Two homes and a bundle of friends on both sides of the Atlantic. An embarrassment of riches.

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