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"Is this some type of joke?"

3:07 pm

Lisbon, Portugal

"Is the voltage in Portugal 220?" the elderly man sitting beside me asked. "I have absolutely no idea," I told him. "That's an interesting question." There were several moments during my flight when I wondered if the man knew where he was going, and perhaps more importantly, why. It then dawned on me if the latter was a pre-condition for travel I'd have far less stamps on my passport.

I cleared customs without any real issue, which was a far cry from my voyage through Central America just a few months earlier. I was part of a group casually shaken down for a few bucks on the Costa Rican - Nicaraguan border. It all happened so seamlessly I almost didn't mind.

"Maccarone?" the man sitting opposite the thick glass asked. "Is this some type of joke?" I looked at him quizzically. Over the years my last name had drawn its share of bizarre inquiries but never in all my life had I been asked if my surname was an attempt to dupe someone. I kept quiet. I was a guest in Portugal, a moniker I've long wanted to claim. Part of that responsibility entails picking your battles and occasionally biting your tongue, especially when pride is involved. There was no sense in taking on the trivial with a man wielding the little power he had within a designated space of time. "Go ahead," he finally said.

I arrived at my host's apartment after the cab driver and I spoke about the weather, sports, and traffic before I began to feel devoid of any depth. I gradually redeemed myself by pelting my driver with questions considered the "third rails" of every Thanksgiving holiday: politics, religion, education, and health care. He answered each question honestly and even with pride.

A few minutes later, a tall, middle-aged, and handsome man named Antonio showed me around the flat I'd call home for the next two days. Just as he was about to head out we somehow stumbled on the subject of Portugal's history, which promptly led to world history, then politics, the environment, self-awareness, masculinity, vulnerability, meaning, immigration, Elon Musk, relationships, mortality, success, taxes, and trade. Between the two of us we could have brokered a peace deal and written a bestselling self-help book. We spoke for 45 minutes, which was only 3 minutes less the length of time we'd known each other. This is why I do AirBnb, I thought.

I spent the bulk of my afternoon wandering through this beautiful city, while fighting jet lag and the subtle pangs of hunger if there is such a thing. The narrow cobblestone streets and Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Classical architecture (among many others) are as harmonious a blend as the words that make up the rhythmic musicality of their language. I'm half convinced I could listen to a Portuguese person read the phonebook.

Other than buying a bag of hot peppers I mistook for goji berries my adventures have been tame. I can't wait to see what else this often overlooked country has in store for me.


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