Hérault
Ah for a nice stone villa with a pool, in Languedoc like this one, that a friend of my wife’s just bought in the Hérault department of southwestern France. Near the Medi the sea we both love, temperate weather in Spring and Fall, bearable summers… and a culture and language and way of life that I know intimately. What could be lovelier……? If only , if only, if only. In the end, this is what my wife and I truly want, but cannot afford.

Disappointing day so far.

We went to East Tavira, and took a look at a second floor apartment, not far from Aquasul.  It had no AC and would require more than a quick bodge to get it in acceptable living condition.

Ceilings too low; cracked walls; low kitchen counter; no internet, NO AC; dark dingy and unattractive.  Plus the upstairs Portuguese neighbors with the nice loud radio going on at all hours, no doubt, the cars and buzzy motorcycles in the streets below, and the bar across the street.

The guy who yesterday quoted 350 euros/m now said the rent was 400€.  He’d look into the AC thing, he said, the but rent would probably have to rise some more to cover that.  I said lovely, we’ll be back soon for another look.

Here are some pics we took of this place; they do not convey how darkly dank, hot and airless it was in there.

Then we walked back to the mini market to buy some things.  We were pursued by huge biting black flies, and had to spend 10 euros on insect spray  There were tourists everywhere, and it was hot. Again.  Does it ever not get hot here?

The narrow streets, the cobblestones and uneven sidewalks that make your ankles hurt, the tiny aisles in the market filled with old women half my height bustling about and fat tourists all over the narrow sidewalks outside… it was getting to me.

I had to get out of there.

We climbed back up the hill of hell (at least 120 feet, straight up) to our apartment. With the AC running full blast, we kicked back with the beautiful view of Tavira — a town that is doing everything it can to retain its character, while surviving off the tourist euro, but in so doing no longer is Tavira but a place for the rich to come before the Algarve becomes unlivable in say twenty years because of global warming.

So what now?

Santa Luzia?  I looked at these listings and said no way: way too overpriced; it would be akin to buying a condo in South Florida and sitting around baking in the sun and waiting to die. And while we’re at it:  what does one do here, exactly, in January and February when it rains frequently and the damp cold chills your old bones and most of the restaurants are closed and the streets wind-swept and empty?  Will you end up asking yourself, what the hell did I do?  Why did I ever come here?  Would you end up ruing the day you made the mistake of a lifetime?

I am beginning to get the impression that the Algarve is ideally suited for three sorts of people ( suspicious money laundering or greedy tax evasion types aside):

  • investors looking for buy-to-let condo opportunities;
  • people who live in conveniently nearby Northern European countries (or the UK) who want a relatively cheap get away villa in the sun (especially if they bought a few years ago) while they carry on with their real lives most of the year in places like Amsterdam or Southeast England;
  • and tourists from the UK, Germany and Italy who want to spend a few days here and let off some steam and maybe soak up some Iberian culture and perhaps go for a swim.

I don’t see Americans quite fitting in here.  There are not enough of us; the interests too disparate; those who are here too itinerant and widely dispersed to form a cohesive whole. And you can’t just bop on Ryannair and find yourself back home right nicely in a few hours; you have to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and there’s probably no direct flight to where you are going, and it will set you back a couple of thou to do so on a whim or in emergencies, so there’s that.

As a Yank, in the Algarve, there is no American colony in which to find refuge from the storms.  Madonna in Lisbon doesn’t quite cut it.  For some, that is exactly how they want it; but for most, that is called total isolation. And even if you do run into an American or two, now and then, who live here, they will be from some other place, and they will likely have some antecedent relationship to Portugal — their parents or their partners in life, most likely — and they won’t really be from your home town or even city, and there will be few of the shared memories or experiences that you might have if you came from a far smaller country.  They will, in effect, most likely be as strangers to you.

With this in mind, I am having a hard time seeing how living here is materially better than what we already have in Florida:  a house, pool, car, easy access to the ocean, English language spoken idiomatically, and of course the ability to remain plugged into our culture, political and otherwise, instead of trying to pretend we will learn Portuguese and fit in to some amorphous, hazy European expat identity that never quite jells into anything solid.

You know where the son is, of the guy who was trying to rent this place?

In the US, in Seattle, where he works for Amazon.

You won’t see that  kid sitting around Tavira  to the end of his days.

I am pissed.

Maybe it’s the endless heat.

I truly am doubting if this is actually a place where one could live comfortably, given the unbearable heat and the lack of what we consider, as Americans, to be basic necessities:  an SUV that I can get in and out of without suffering unduly from my spine/neck condition, wide aisles in supermarkets (unavailable in Tavira, unless you have a car to drive to the ones on the edge of town), well paved sidewalks and roads, and superfast internet.

Also in FLA you do not actually have to take a ferry to go the beach, and one last complaint:  the super dry hot air is laying havoc with my skin, which is now wrinkled and sagging making me look much older than I am or feel.  At least in FLA the humidity keeps your skin hydrated; here, if you walk around under the anvil of the sun for 5 minutes, you get completely desiccated and end up looking like King Tut.

Am really down on Tavira today, and am hoping our dinner with my cousin Karen and her husband will lift our spirits. (Note: it did!)

But as it stands now, Portugal is out.

Quite frankly, constantly seeing tourists is fast getting old.

I would not enjoy being stuck here all winter, during what is the most pleasant 6 month stretch of the year back home in FLA.

My wife is already looking forward to going home.

The truth is, as it was last year, what my wife would really want is to have our own little place in the country in the Southwest of France.

We can’t afford it.  We might have been able to, 15 years ago, but not today.

So we’re stuck living amongst the sorts of people with whom we have little in common.

Florida is a temporary Paradise if you just parachute in for a few months, as the snowbirds do.

But your real home has to be elsewhere, where the job is, or by the kids and grandkids.  It is in Long Island, or Philly, or your country place in Hérault.

The good life, the parachute life, is one in which you don’t go all in anywhere.

You hedge.

That sort of life, the parachute life as I am calling it here, the one that many are privileged enough to enjoy, the one we thought we would have…. it came close, oh so close!.. enjoy it, if you live it, while you can.

Our version of it slipped through our fingers, as the world moved on and stepped over us, not looking back, and the important emails stopped coming, and all that was delivered in snail mail became bills and solicitations and the occasional birthday or happy holiday cards, until those, too, arrived no more.

Boohoo.

Self-pity and a dollar won’t even buy a cup of coffee in Manhattan anymore.

Certainly not from the parachute people who are riding high unitl the next market or real estate crash  You see the parachute people everywhere.  They are the wankers you see waddling about in Tavira, or along the Promenade in Nice, or the smug Egyptians you see in Gouna.  They are everywhere, but you are no longer one of them.

We do not live the parachute life anymore  We lost the game at half time, falling too far behind to ever catch up, despite some positive successes along the way that proved illusory.

Suddenly the wind blew the wrong way, just as we thought we were landing safely ashore, and our boat capsized and we almost drowned.

This could also happen to you.

Easily.

Just like that; in the blink of an eye.

And if it does you have to just suck it up, if that happens, because the last thing you want is sympathy.

Nobody cares about a loser, and your self-respect will never countenance people having pity on you.

So you say nothing, you don’t complain, you bottle it up, one way or another, for there is nothing to be said, and with each day that passes, another part of you inside quietly dies.

Maybe it would have turned out better if life had not been so beautiful, once; maybe the ugliness all around would have been easier to tolerate if you have not once lived an alternate life, the parachute life that is yours no more.

Water under the bridge. Keep a stiff upper lip. Nothing lasts, you tell yourself. No need to get maudlin or angry over any it, despite the allure of bitterness and rage.

But what consolations are there, when it’s too late, that do not involve numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol?

Do you suddenly become enamored with the radical politics of rage?

Never act out.

The only thing to do is walk away, and go radio silent in some other place where no one knows or wants to know anything at all about you.

A place when no-one cares one whit.

But in the kingdom of hungry paupers and jobless immigrants, a clean, cold shower and something to eat on a hot day is sometimes all that’s needed. Ask them.

So, tell me, what color is your parachute?

leaving america

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