Mom is standing in the driveway. Motionless almost, she watches me angle the car just so while I wait for the gate to open. It is a bitty eerie to see her standing there, not moving, not saying anything. It’s like this every time I arrive from the airport in my rental car. Almost as she does not recognize who it is. But to me, it means “I am home. It is sort of comforting to know that some things never change and I can count on mom standing there as all the past years before.
As my feet hit the tarmac, the same feelings always wash over me: I am grateful for a safe trip and a bit emotional as setting foot on Portuguese soil does mean that I am truly home, the country I was born in and always will feel connected to no matter how many miles away I live or travel. The transfer bus waits as usual – idling as the passengers descend the stairs from the plane and find “their” spot on the bus. It is always a very short ride from the plane to the terminal and I always wonder why they don’t just let us walk – we have been sitting for hours after all and stretching our legs could do no harm. But then my legal mind reminds me that there is probably a safety concern and some rule or law that needs to be followed.
Getting to the passport check is always uneventful – pleasant and uneventful, although this time there was a bit of queue as several planes arrived exactly at the same time. Getting my luggage is the part where I always wonder a little if my bag actually made the transfer and I am always grateful it does arrive in one piece.
As I make my way to the rental car agency, I notice the changes around the airport – construction is everywhere. There are new giant “cement canopies” covering parts of the parking lots, new parking lots, new walkways – all in the process of being created. The walkway to the car rental agencies is now in part a semi-covered tunnel that inclines downward at first (yes, I rode my luggage cart down the hill) and then back upwards.
I will spare everyone the re-telling of the process to get my rental car, as it is dull as a doorknob.
So one of the many things that are new (to me) since I visited last year is that I see many more women, of all ages, proudly showing of tattoos. The most popular one seems to be leopard spots covering one shoulder. Men too, seem to have more tattoos in general. I don’t recall seeing so many young men with tattoos when I was living here, but then again 28 years have passed and the fads have changed. And considering that we have over 300 days of sunshine in the year and the warm weather dictates less clothing, those flesh ornaments are almost all exposed for all to see.
New also are the highway tolls. Up until now, the highways in the south of Portugal did not have any tools. The government however decided to change that this year. In of itself, tolls while annoying and having a separatist nature – most people who earn the minimum or slightly above the minimum monthly salary can barely put food on the table and pay their utility bills never mind paying for tolls – in this case are also dumb. Well, the process for paying them is dumb. If you are not registered with the traffic department, and most cars are not as it is the case for rental cars, a picture of your license plate is taken as you enter and exit the highway. The toll is then calculated and registered in their computerized system. To pay the toll one must go to the Post Office (why?) within two business days. They then look up what you owe based on the license plate you give them. Oh, the inefficiency startles me. So guess who will avoid the highway if she can help it?
Driving around town, something caught my eye. I noticed that many street signs had changed. For some odd reason all the lettering is now in lower-case letters only unless it is the proper name of a place, town or building. So the School is school and Hospital is hospital. It all looks very odd visually and makes me wonder what the purpose may be – do they save on ink by not capitalizing as many letters? I brought this to the attention of my friend, and she stated that it is indeed the new way are making the street signs, but she did not know why. While it is not technically incorrect, it just looks odd as if someone forgot to capitalize the words. And, the interesting part is that not all town and cities are at the same level of conversion their street signage, so some towns you have a mix, while others have not started the process and others yet have completely converted.
Change is good! Most of the time it is, sometimes however one has to wonder why change was necessary or why it came about in the first place.
To me, it is all the same at the end of the day. While I can count on mom’s stone-faced expression as I pull up to the house, I know that the country as a whole must make changes to move forward. Even if those changes sometimes seem odd or dumb, they often give origin to other changes that make more sense and bring forth even more positive changes. As to the tattoo invasion, I’m indifferent. I like tattoos and while it may be something new here and now, tattoos are an ancient ritual of African, South American and many historical tribes. The right to do with our bodies what we choose should never be judged or regulated.
Ah, it is good to be home regardless of what never changes, that what must change and that which should be left unchanged.