One of my top favorite movies of all time is Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts; I love the messages in the movie, what she learns about herself and of life as she voyages to three regions of the world. In one of the regions, Italy, she learns the expression “dolce far niente” … the “sweetness of doing nothing.” To be quite honest, I had never truly experienced that before until about two days ago. In the United States, it is so easy for people to forget how to just be. We have so many distractions around us that are not present here in Portugal. In Portugal, people take 1 ½ hour lunches in order to fully enjoy everything on their plate and engage in friendly conversation. What a wonderful and healthy cultural philosophy!
So, two days ago, I went on a beach trip with my study abroad group to a beach near Lisbon in the city of Setúbal. It was such a gorgeous day, and a great break from studying and homework. Before arriving at the beach, we stopped at a few lookout points on a mountain called the Serra da Arrábida. “Serra” means mountain range, so “Serra de/da (insert place)” means “mountain range of (insert place).” The view was so magnificent, with the sparkling blue water and golden shore beneath me and white clouds above me.
It’s crazy how you can feel so tall and powerful looking down from a view like this yet, at the same time, be reminded of how small you are in comparison to the world around you. I digress.
The beach was so pristine.. it’s actually one of the best known in the region of Lisbon. Personally, for anyone planning to visit, I preferred the beaches in Cascais and Estoril because the water is a bit warmer and the sand is softer and white. Setúbal is a true fishing town- like Porto (a city to the North of Lisbon)- so the sand is a little rougher and the ocean is frothy, messy and rambunctious from all the fishing activity. Nevertheless, I found a perfect spot to set up camp and I took a nap on the sand. FYI- I am not a nap taking kind of person, it felt genuinely strange to be so relaxed!
The best part of the beach is the natural clay found on the cliffs that line the shore. Many people take a dip in the ocean water and then take the soft, crumbly clay off the side of the cliff and rub it on them before letting it dry on their skin as they sunbathe.
The journey to procure my bag of clay was quite interesting. We were sitting on one side of the beach that was a long bit away from the clay cliffs, so I went off with a huge bucket ready to collect some. Along the way, the sand started burning my feet and the bucket became super heavy, so I left it behind and just took the plastic bag inside. A sign told me I was now entering the other side of the beach, which I didn’t think was a big deal. I then asked a random beach goer instructions to the cliff with the clay and, after following his instructions, I noticed that all the people down in front of me were staring at me. I didn’t think much of it and continued to dig for the clay. It was then I noticed that I was on the nude stretch of the beach!
Even though I knew nude beaches existed in Europe, it was still so strange to find myself upon one. I guess that it just serves as a warning for all my American friends and friends from other countries that even though you may think you are prepared for all a country has to offer, you are never fully prepared. Hmm, I should have titled this post “Portuguese Culture: The Phenomenal and the Abominable.”
To review, Portuguese culture is very much carefree and I love how it emphasizes enjoying one’s life by taking pleasures in all moments- overlooking an ocean, eating a homemade meal, sitting with a friend and chatting for a while… etc. Yet, at the same time, it’s not carefree in that it is lazy or unproductive but that it respects the things in life enough to give them their proper time or appreciation. Hence their relaxed attitude and admiration towards the human body, leading to my culture shock of the day. I will post about the tourist beaches I visited a couple of weeks ago and about the conference I attended yesterday very soon.
Até jà, which means “see you soon.” Beijo, meus amigos. ✌