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BACKward is the new FORWARD

Earlier this year, I spent a few months in southern Portugal, learning about a different way of life, and taking in some new experiences. While there, I met a few Canadians and Brits now calling Portugal home and I asked them how they might describe their new country. Among the praise for sand and surf, their comments included “it’s a bit backward at times” or “in some ways, they are years behind everyone else”.  After three months away, while I might add similar commentary to my own description, mine would carry with it, a much more positive slant.

What I noted during our time away, was the way in which many Portuguese people are doing things, living their lives, connecting with others, that is similar to that of days gone by.  And while it did take longer and in some cases more effort to achieve what we have come to do at an almost sonic pace here at home, it did achieve the same results and I think in a much richer and more meaningful way.

Older women in our town (yes, not men) still hang their laundry out to dry, and sometimes it takes a little longer, a couple of days, for clothes to be ready to wear.  So while you cannot wash the outfit this morning, for the party tonight, you can expect to have clean, fresh smelling, and beautifully kissed by the sun clothes.  All this while enjoying the outdoors, banter with neighbours and time with their pets; a connection to the outside world.

They shop for food they need, food that is in season, and only enough for a few days at a time.  They buy truly ‘local’ food, that is grown by their neighbours, that has traveled shorter distances, that is meant to be eaten at this time of year.  They prepare their food with timeless recipes, and with each other, and they share their food, their wine, and their table with those around them, both family, and those whom they consider family.  They eat outdoors, in the warmth of the sun and the warmth of each other.  Generations eat together, the old, the new, the in-between.   They share what they have, throw out very little, and waste not much.  Dinnertime is as much about breaking bread as it is about belonging, with loud and joyous conversations, where children are included and encouraged. It is a celebration in the moment, not meant to be hurried or processed or passed by. Many still wash their dishes by hand and with each other, making connections over the counter.

They make space for love and friendship. Retired men can be seen playing games on the boardwalk, loudly telling stories, laughing and noting who is cheating at the game. Children are often with grandparents after school and many of the women in my neighbourhood spent time outside laughing with those passing by and sharing stories with those on either side of their steps.  They make time for time out, with many of the shops in our town still closing for a few hours each afternoon, providing rest for the weary, a chance to relax and reenergize before evening, and heading home or out for dinner.

I recognize that much of what I love about this place and its people has been driven by the past, its politics, religion and reality, and I know that much is changing here too. Portugal, while showing reverence for the past, is more advanced in many ways, in its environmental solutions, in some of their systems and in much of the form and function I encountered.  Still, I remain convinced that not all progress is defined by looking forward and I believe that the previous has much to teach us, that speed can serve to distract us from what is meaningful and that sometimes we are better served by that which is slow.

My brother once told me “there is something magical about this place” and I would now agree with him.  Of course Portugal is changing too, younger generations are walking less and driving more, at supermarkets more than markets, and hurrying to the next happening.  Getting back to basics might not be best for everyone, but for me, I am choosing to learn from those who are standing still; to let go of the list, to slow down so I can savour, to leave the rushing to the rest, and to the knowledge that this moment is the only time we have on earth. I intend to make my moments last.

Portugal blog, Backwad is the new Forward