Dana Altman, a writer from Los Angeles, arrived before the Covid lockdown and has stayed with us for almost three months.
Dana as writing when we dropped by her apartment for a chat. _ “I came to Europe earlier this year with the idea to do a self-imposed writing retreat. I wanted to write down the stories of my life. I also wanted to take time to figure out what the next phase of my life looks like: do an internal investigation of myself and figure out where I am, what matters to me now and where I’m going next.
When I first arrived in Portugal, I stayed on a farm in Montijo, and next, I rented a house in the Alentejo. It was a stone house with a fireplace, situated on a couple of acres in a pine forest. It was magical. I was writing, cooking, taking long walks and living a quiet, internal existence. I then met up with a friend from Berlin in Comporta and we traveled to Lisbon for a few days.
It was around that time that Covid was becoming something that everybody needed to worry about. And the other thing was, my next stop was Sicily; I had rented an incredible medieval house and I was getting ready to leave when the borders closed. Then I scrambled and found and rented another house in the South of France, in St. Paul de Vence. And then the borders closed there, so I found myself here at The Lisboans for a few days, wondering about my next move.
We met a couple travellers in a cafe from the States and they were frantic to get back home. Everyone was rushing to get back to the States and you could feel the fear starting to creep in everywhere. People were spending $4,000 dollars on an economy seat to get back to New York, and I thought, I'm not going to rush, I’m just going to stay here for now.
My nervous system was on overload and I was scared because I didn't know when I was going to be able to get home. I didn't know how bad Covid was going to get. I didn’t know anything, but everything in my body told me stay put. To trust in that.
And so I've been here ever since and I've created a home away from home for myself that feels very good to me and very good to my soul. I intuitively knew that the quality of my life would be better if I stayed here during the height of the pandemic.
I desired to feel safe and comfortable and from the beginning, I felt really safe in this apartment. It feels like I am in this beautiful tower in the sky with great light and views. I can hear the seabirds and the wild peacocks call from the Castello de São Jorge and best of all, I have felt deeply cared for by everyone here.
In fact, throughout all of my travels in Portugal, I have marveled at how safe and cared for I feel. From The Lisboans to the proprietors of the homes and the farm I stayed at, someone was always offering help and looking out for me. The kindness I’ve experienced here is unlike any place I’ve traveled. Everyone always said, if you need anything, reach out to me - and they meant it. So I just had the sense that I was going to be OK. It all worked out and I am very grateful and very aware of how fortunate I am to have had this experience.
I will never, ever forget this time in my life. I could cry right now. It's been very beautiful.
I’m noticing many changes in myself now. In many ways this experience has shaken me out of my comfort zone. I was in a taxi cab the other day and a voice in my head said, “You feel more alive now than you did before Covid started.” And it’s true, it shook me up in a way that I needed to be shaken up. My dad used to say that I was brave because I like to go on journeys by myself. Many years ago, I moved across the country to L.A from Chicago without a safety net and knowing very few people and I've reinvented myself many times and had some daring adventures. I think the people who really know me think that my time in Portugal during Covid was a very normal experience for me to have!
One of the brave things I did when I arrived was I rented a manual car, which I hadn’t driven in many many years and I just threw myself into European city traffic. It was harrowing the first couple days but then I mastered it. Doing these things makes me feel like I can do anything.
I love to cook, and I am very obsessed with good food and quality ingredients so another very satisfying thing I was able to do during lockdown, was get to know many of the incredible markets, butcher shops and specialty grocery stores. Thank god they were all considered essential during lockdown, because it made me so happy. Every time I go to a new country, I go to the grocery stores. I think food says so much about a place and I can’t think of a better way to get to know a country than by its food and the people who make it and sell it. One day I walked from The Lisboans all the way to Alcântara to visit Gleba, the fermented sourdough bakery with the best bread in Lisbon! The day I was there, the special bread of the day was a sourdough boule studded with walnuts and dark chocolate. Insane!
I also loved taking long walks to get a feel for the different neighbourhoods. In the beginning of lockdown, the streets were empty and there were no tourists. It was a very unique experience to have the city so quiet, and to have it all to yourself. Lisbon will never be like this again.
The other thing I loved discovering were spots with old growth trees and parks, that's very important to me. I've been sitting in the parks as much as possible. Being in the Jardim da Estrela is my favorite place to be.
"Being here has made me incredibly happy. Coming back to Europe feels like coming home to me. And every time I come here, I get really sad when I leave.
It's funny. Today I was at the acupuncturist in Campo de Ourique and I was looking out the window of the waiting area and there was a building across the street, and my eyes went to the drain pipe, because it had lovely ornamentation and it was placed so discreetly on the building. It reminded me of why I love Europe so much. Everywhere you go, there is beauty: In the ironwork, the door knockers, the tile work, the limestone bricks, and even the drainpipes. Everything is old and thoughtful and beautiful. What a lovely way to be.