Chocolates. Flowers. Dinner. Sex. Recipe for romance? Not in my Playah Book.
My true romance started with blue water, white sand, $1.75 cocktails and wifi. Let me break it down in one thought: I felt no pressure to live a desirable life. I felt invited by the environment of easy living, clean air and to live that desirable life.
Feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders at the time, I bought an expedited passport (only $200) 2 days after I purchased my 4am flight to San Pedro Island, Belize, January 2nd 2014. I left the daily grind of aimless work for slave income in inclement weather among disconnected relations to live and breathe where I freely made decisions on what I would do next based on what I would love to do and where I would like to be without a financial thought. It was a place of respite and healing.
Leaving the U.S. I felt a bit like a giggling fugitive at the airport. Every minute of my flight I kept wondering if I should go and check back, but I couldn’t come up with a real reason why. It’s not like my phone was ringing off the hook with people wondering where I was. I literally snuck off in the middle of the night and eloped with living abroad. After that opportunities popped up to allow me to just keep traveling until I found the right country to make a commitment for permanent residency.
Comfortable in my playah mentality, I was restless during the first years of travel, always looking to the next country while I was living in the paradise of the current country. I thought every place I lived could work for me. “I could live here,” I thought. “Sure,” my inner voice replied, “We know you can make damn near anything work. But where do we fit? Where is the one place where we make an investment to live? That’s where we need to be. Keep searching.”
So here I am, country #12, head over heels in love with Lisbon, Portugal. I tear up a little now in relief to find that life fit I’d been on a 45-year search for. I always thought that I needed the beach near me with its calming surf sounds, excessive heat and palm trees. There was always something missing though, some sort of city civilization.
Being the agitated city dweller, I’ve had enough of the dog eat dog hard living of NYC and, now, Washington DC. I was over Chicago and Detroit before the consideration ever entered my mind to even visit those cities. As long as I can remember, my mom and I lived in the romantic world of the arts. We saw major Broadway musicals in the best seats, studied ballet in a tiny dance studio above the Ed Sullivan theatre, where Stephen Colbert now hosts the Late Show. My dad even performed jam sessions at the Cordial Bar next to that very same theater while waiting to cover the unwanted jazz gigs of popular musicians of that time, now all legends.
I danced right next to top actors and actresses like, Betty White, Sonia Mazano, and Morgan Freeman. My true education was obtained when I escaped & cut high school regularly, spending my days studying the mimes, vocalists, dancers, musicians, painters and hip hop artists who performed in Washington Square Park. Color, creativity, diversity and passion infused the air in lower Manhattan organically then. There was a diverse romantic freedom among the city chaos as urban culture bubbling over with a renaissance of many different cultures and communities. Music, good thoughtful music, was playing everywhere. I was spoiled, free and safe to achieve a purpose that I wasn’t ready to approach just then.
Adulthood took several complicated turns when I veered down other paths that had nothing to do with who I am, what my values are or my purpose in life. It took 25 years to steer back to myself and continue to build a life starting from the beginning. Remembering back during high school, I would read through mountains of fashion magazines stacked by my vintage bed where I actually read the articles; I became informed about Europe. Life seemed more romantic there and I fantasized about that. The women were real, sexuality was open, education was taken seriously there, music and art were experimentally played, languages were plenty, men treated women respectfully, colors were vibrant and clothes fit artfully.
I kept trying to create and inject this European fantasy into my life and mind gone awry instead of just traveling there and checking it out for myself. I used every excuse in the book, “It’s expensive to travel,” but it doesn’t cost more than a smoking addiction or a month of weekly happy hours to travel. “My friends and family will have a hard time if I go,” everyone’s life continues to go on and most people I know even notice my new address on the other side of the world. With current video technology, you can keep any relationship going strong. “I need to speak the language,” but no, not in Portugal (or Mexico or Costa Rica or Belize) I don’t.
From the moment I landed in Porto, Portugal, it’s been passport stamped with a wink and smiles, bienvienidos (welcome), live jazz gracing the multiple historical squares, Spanish guitar filtering through the windows of the top hostels in the world, couples kissing on the edge of the river, people with little white dogs smoking in that European way they do wearing cozy scarves, like they don’t give a damn. The streets literally flow with wine, tons and tons of locally made wine for just €2-€5. All men respect all women; moving from the narrow sidewalks to let the ladies have their space, holding doors without ulterior motives, hat tipping and halting their cars to allow women to cross regardless of the traffic light color.
Speaking of color, the colonial buildings are draped in shades of pastels with tall windows fenced in ornate 18th century rod iron. The walls are framed festively in royal molding, luscious cool marble and the traditional blue and yellow Portuguese craft tiling. The air is cool, crisp, and clean. Lisbon has a sophisticated mass transit system with trains, trams, trolleys, buses, ferries and even Uber drivers, again for just a few dollars. I prefer to take the trolley to top off a romantic day of working on creative projects and coffee sipping at a local café where the owner tells me how it’s his, “pleasure to serve such a beautiful woman every day. Thank you.” I even changed cafes to see if the results would be different. Nope. It’s like the café owners go to café school learning poetic European “Thank you” and “Come again” lines. I’ll take it, apply for my residency and breath the air of St. Valentine every day just by living in the place that embraces me fully with warmth, caring and respect.
About the writer, Lisa May: After raising a family most non-traditionally, she left the states in search of a life that fit her true self. In three years of travel she developed Expat Real, a guidance service for those who wish to live abroad but don’t know where to start. Lisa May has traveled to 12 countries and lived in 10. She continues to travel the world and post interviews with other expats about their process of life abroad.