If Verne is the city boy, that makes me the country girl. Although I was born in Lisbon, my parents soon moved back to Ponte de Sor, a nice little town nestled in the countryside. Being brought up in such a small and rural place had a profound impact on me. You grow up free, without borders. You go out on the streets to play with your friends, alone, no parents. You ride your bicycle, you play in the construction fields, you jump the rope, you scratch your knees (and elbows, and chin, and…), you fight and make peace, and only the sunset calls you back home. That taste of freedom lingers to this day.
Back then there were no mobiles, emails or messaging. Yet my friends and I would punctually meet every day after school at the same corner, feet on the pedals, hands off the brakes, imagination standing ready. The town held only a few streets, yet there was always something new to discover.
In wintertime, the air itself had a taste. A comforting mixture of cold and burning wood. During the summer, the heat was more than just temperature, it got under your skin and became your shadow for the day. You longed for afternoons spent in the semi darkness of your room, reading a book.
My grandparents had a small piece of land to cultivate, and whenever my parents and I would visit them, we would come back with potatoes, onions, eggs, apples, lettuces, on top of infinite kisses and hugs. We lived on a small townhouse, so I grew up with my parents longing for a similar place for us. I remember we used to gather around the living room table, drawing how the house would be like, where we would plant the vineyard, the orchards, the strawberry fields… It took many years to make it happen, and I had already moved away from home when it did. But I enjoy it no less, as I go there every chance I get. Last month, under the excuse of harvesting, we gathered the family around grapes, wine and memories.
But living in such a small place is not always idyllic. I had a very happy infancy, so it’s easy to look back and only remember the good moments. But the feeling of isolation, of being away from the world sometimes bordered claustrophobia. I remember writing a letter to my favorite author, lamenting this isolation and letting her know how much books helped. As I grew up, my imagination focused on the two things I wanted most: a driver’s license and the time to leave for college. Two tickets for exploring the rest of the world.
Eighteen years after, I don’t like driving but have had the unique opportunity to travel the world. Yet my brain, when left alone, travels back home to my little town. As much as I enjoy city life, the countryside is part of me, and I couldn’t imagine growing up in any other place.