When you discover you need some cover(s).
I am book naked. I have so few books here with me in Portugal that it’s embarrassing.
Image Credit: John Richardson
I moved with one large and one small suitcase, plus my computer bag and a Nantucket bag, which held the stuff I accumulated during my week long flight delay. My suitcase was overweight (Yay vacuum storage bags!) but with the expert help of my friend Mary Anne, we got as much of my life packed in those few bags as possible.
What I couldn’t bring—and what I miss the most—is the library of books that I’ve been accumulating since university. I donated a bunch when I decided to move abroad, but I still have cases of books in my storage unit in Florida. I brought five books with me to Portugal. Five. Not nearly enough to cover me.
Books are heavy. Bringing more than a dozen books at a time back to Portugal is not going to happen, unless I bite the bullet and decide to ship ALL my things that are in storage. That will run about $2,000 and take several months, if the crate doesn’t get held up in customs or stuck somewhere along the supply chain.
I have slowly added to my bare library, thanks to Amazon Spain. (The books are in English.) I started with nonfiction books on writing and business, books I needed for my work. But I missed reading for fun.
Then I found the resale shops. One of the shops has paperbacks at ten for one Euro. They actually have the books organized by author, alphabetically. (Most charity shops have the books in no particular order or sometimes, if you’re lucky, organized by category. I’ve never seen them so well organized as this.) This shop has books in several languages, but predominantly English. I suspect that’s because the shop is run by two English ladies. It has become my favorite store.
A friend who lives on the other side of Tavira sent me the picture (above) of his recent purchase: two John le Carré novels next to his glass of Medronho. (I’m pretty sure that qualifies as book porn and makes him a book tease.) I see a trip to that part of Tavira to visit the used book store there very soon. I plan to spend the better part of a day.
You will see a lot of expat posts that talk about what they miss most or what they wish they had brought with them when they emigrated to their new country. People are forever posting in groups asking where they can find this or that food because they miss it so much or can’t make their favorite recipe without it. I am guilty of begging people to bring me Peets coffee (and I have no regrets on that). I miss some things, of course, but I can also get along without them. The longer I am here, the more new things become my staples, my go-to foods. (My life here took a positive turn when I realized I could buy all the fixings for burritos.)
You adjust and adapt. Little by little I am finding the things I need to build my new life here. Some are the familiar things, like books or a certain food or article of clothing. Others are new finds: a favorite restaurant or shop, a Portuguese wine or pastry, and well, yeah, space heaters. (The days are warm, the nights are chilly.)
I am a bit torn about rebuilding my library. (Although my visit to Livraria Lello was pretty inspiring.) I am in a rented apartment and trying to keep purchases to a minimum in case I have to move. I don’t want to have a second accumulation of stuff here in Portugal that someone will have to deal with when I die. (I’m in no rush, but I have to think ahead.)
There are decisions to make. Do I renew my lease? Yes, if I can. For how long? Should I go for a multi-year lease? Should I think about buying a place yet? Put that into my five year plan?
Even though I’ve been here for a year, I still feel new and not quite grounded. But each month, something that was once new and odd settles into the normal range. I see progress. This past month I’ve been trying to navigate the Finanças website to register as self-employed. I’ve tried to file twice so far. The first time I couldn’t even find the online form. The second time, I found the form but ran into a stumbling block on one of the questions. I did more research and I’m pretty sure that later on today, when I go back to the site, I will be able to complete the form. And that will be one more step forward.
No one really talks about the expats who move back to their original country. Some go back out of necessity—maybe someone in their family needs them or their job relocates them. Others go back because they couldn’t make the adjustment. It’s a huge adjustment. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I tried it. It wasn’t for me” because at least you tried it. Even those who stay sometimes feel just a bit tentative. Some people “try out” several countries before they land in the one that feels right to them. Some of us get lucky on the first shot.
Building my library is a sign of commitment to my new life. Books have been my friends since I got my library card, way back before I started kindergarten. They have weight and substance. They ground me. And somewhere in my subconscious they represent a commitment to staying in one place.
And now that I think about it, I have just the place to put a bookcase.