What Will We Remember About 2020?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

In January of this year, we had been traveling after the holidays from Versailles, France all the way to Normandy. On a whim, we stopped by to see Mont Saint Michel. It was an hour from closing and we barely had time go to the top and come back down. Then we drove south, passing by Pamplona with just enough time to have a coffee at the Café Iruna and say hello to Papa Hemingway. Then onwards to Portugal.

If I had known then how this year would turn out, I would have asked to drive and drive for as long as we possibly can. Before the pandemic broke out in mid-March.

In March, we celebrated my birthday in Spain at La Guardia with a sumptuous seafood dinner. I had wished for more travels throughout the year, not knowing that within days the only travel we'd be doing was walking to the garden and back.

Portugal Garden3Portugal Garden6

Right before they declared the lockdown, I was walking on the beach with friends. We were talking about the corona virus, something we had just started hearing more and more about. Nobody knew anything. I started to worry. My husband and I finally decided to stay at our country house in northern Portugal, near the sea and wait until this blows over. The schools were closed only a few days after that. 

Portugal Garden2

I'm writing this now, on the last day of 2020. The midnight hour has not yet struck in Portugal and so the rest of the world has already crossed over the threshold of the new year. But I'm still here, sitting at our dining table, the same one we've had many meals on in the months during the lockdown. 

Portugal Garden7

And so I ask myself, what did we do with all those chunks of time that seem to have flitted away?

The garden became our salvation. That's where we played, grew our food, had scientific experiments, kept our animal friends. It's where we imagined that a better world was possible. 

Portugal Garden8Portugal Garden4

I grew food like a madwoman. I hoarded seeds and experimented with plants that I had never even tasted. And that's how we were able to try tomatillos, horned cucumbers, pear melons, watermelon radishes and so many more, some with names we couldn't even pronounce. My husband worked around the house improving things. My daughter collected insects or looked for birds' nests. We were all busy. There was never a day that we were bored. Worried and anxious, yes. But boredom never sat down on our couch especially since we didn't own a TV set.

Portugal Garden9Portugal Garden10

I remembered hours spent reading books or staring at the fireplace. Climbing our plum trees and making jam. Growing sunflowers that always faced the sun. Our cucumbers and yellow banana tomatoes never made it to the kitchen. They were so crunchy, we just snacked on them straight from the vine. 

Portugal Garden11Portugal Garden11

In April, our geese showed up with eggs. We were able to help them hatch one. She arrived one rainy night and we had to bring her inside. We named her Charlie Gosling. She grew fast and we imprinted on her. Or she imprinted on us. She would come up to me every time I visited her with her parents bringing gifts of lettuce hearts and kale leaves. The goose family became notorious for ravaging my garden beds but we didn't mind.

Charlie Gosling

Weeks turned into months and we started missing friends and family. The situation had become worse all over the world. I was staring into the fire until the early hours of the morning.

It finally hit me that after this year, maybe, we won't be able to see some of our loved ones again.

In June, we lost our beloved uncle in the Philippines, Tito Jappy. He had been battling cancer and he passed away on June 12, on Philippine Independence Day. He had previously worked for the Philippine government and was loved by many. I regretted the fact that I didn't get to spend enough time with him. He last visited us in Porto 2 years ago and I haven't seen him since then.

In August, as summer arrived, and the weather became warmer. The lockdowns in Europe had started to ease up. We had family from France come and visit. We were able to celebrate Sinaya's birthday in the garden with her cousins. We spent days on the beach surfing or looking for sea urchins. We ate them on the spot, on some bread with a sliver of butter or simply raw, with a dash of wine vinegar.

Spain Beach4Spain Beach2

We were able to go on a short camping trip to Galicia in Spain. We were amazed at how the waters were so azure, almost deceivingly tropical. We spent days in a rented house overlooking the sea when it rained nonstop. So we played monopoly and made pasta from the fresh tomatoes we packed from our garden.

Portugal Garden1

In September, we officially ended our self-imposed lockdown and went back to our apartment near the city in Porto. Sinaya went back to school. We started seeing our friends outdoors, at seafood restaurants or cafés right by the beach. Autumn in Portugal is still my favorite season. We had long sunny days and dazzling sunsets without the tourists. 

I started keeping myself busy in the smaller space we occupied. I accepted a remote social media job. I picked up creative writing again by enrolling in an online fiction class with Oxford University. I started taking French classes with a tutor which I absolutely enjoyed. Gabriela, my teacher, is such a joy to spend time with. We spoke about films, travel, poetry, and art and it felt like I was conversing with a friend, but in French. 


We still managed to spend most of our days outdoors either surfing or skateboarding. We have been so lucky in Portugal that we didn't have any more lockdowns later in the year. We did have curfews but we made good use of all the time we were allowed to move. Rain or cold weather didn't stop us from going to the beach or for long drives in the mountains. 

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After coming back to Porto, I walked around the city for hours, trying to see how much it has changed. And it definitely has. So many well loved cafés and restaurants had closed only to be replaced by new ones. Porto, as a small city that relied heavily on tourism, has been roughened up by the pandemic. It was bittersweet to walk around the same streets. But I saw that the changes had also brought about some good. Apartment rentals became affordable again. The locals started to take back the space that was rightfully theirs. 

And here we are, on the very last day of year. What will we remember about 2020?

I hope we remember not just the fear, but the unexpected joy in the moments of solitude. That we are more connected than we are divided. That we love and that we are loved. That even through the isolation, there will always be a moving sea between us though we stand on opposite shores.

Happy New Year to all of you! May we wake up to a better world this coming 2021.

Moving forward to the New Year,
Sole Sister Lois

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