The best part of our recent trip to Portugal and Spain was meeting people that left me in awe.
In Madrid, I sauntered over to a pop-up venue at a hotel where there were many wares to be bought. I saw a long outfit of shimmering gold that caught my eye and I put it on. I noticed the designer looking at me as I surveyed myself critically in the full mirror. She walked over to me and said in her beautiful accent and wide smile, “No, no, not like this; you need to put it off the shoulder. You are too vibrant to wear something in such a formal way; the clothes need to flow and breathe with you.” It was hard to ignore the designer, Viveka (https://www.vivekashop.com/). She was tall, and larger than life. She was also very popular and many people stopped by to say hello. In the brief time I spent at her booth, she sold at least 10 pieces, and they were remarkably affordable. Viveka chose to hang out with me, all the while managing customers, giving opinions, selling clothing and finding the right pieces for people. She was curious about who I was and where I came from. We bonded and shared stories. She told me of her adult son who had lymphoma and liked to party. I told her about my bout with cancers.
And while we were chatting away, she brought stuff for me to try. A pink net coverup, a beige coverup. A white casual top, and she threw in a second one for me at no cost. And then she told me I should buy a kimono as kimonos are all the rage in Europe right now. I was hesitant because it felt like wearing a bath robe. But Viveka searched and went into her trove to find me a vibrant, bright blue kimono that she approved for me. She asked me to pair it with jeans and a white top. We hugged and kissed and exchanged contact information, promising that one day we would see each other again. Her radiance stays with me.
In the Algarve in the southern region of Portugal, we met a couple, Mauro and Chiara, who had moved from the UK to settle in Portugal. They had family in Lagos and one day, they decided to take a leap of faith and move also. In their travels, they met someone who had a business idea of opening up a family bar that was child-friendly, and had healthy and fresh food options. And that’s how O Ninho (oninho.familybar) came to be. We were passing by outside their restaurant and they invited us in with the promise that Mos and Amaal would be occupied in the kids area on the second floor, with educational toys and books, while we enjoyed a cappuchino. We learnt that this was the first time they had ever worked together. They were discovering how to cook and create beautiful Vegan concoctions together. And they were just making plans to start a “Mommas Club” as a place for mums and their kids to come together monthly, and learn and eat together. What has stayed with me after meeting this adorable couple is how life during Covid gave them a chance to pause and think about what they loved, where they wanted to live and what was important to them. And once they figured this out, they just made it happen. They work hard running their business and then make time to go to the beach and enjoy life. I am so inspired by their courage to reboot their lives and chase their dreams, trusting that it would all work out.
And then there was Francesca Rimonti, also known as Chicca! She owned a highly-rated restaurant called Chicca’s in Praia da Luz in the Algarve (https://chiccasrestaurant.com), and she was one of the most dramatic women I have ever met. She oozed confidence. She was a wondrous entity and a drama queen all rolled in one. It was in the way she announced herself unapologetically, with flourish, when she came to your table, “I am Chicca!” And when she told you about the menu, it was like an art form. Every dish took a life of its own through her words and I could literally taste the succulence and fragrance of what she was describing. She saw herself as a craftswoman, working with the finest ingredients, combining things that grow together seasonally, and cooking with love. And the dessert, oh my, the dessert… I can still remember the beautiful chocolate raspberry peanut butter cake, the white chocolate & raspberry shortcake and the roast strawberry & passion fruit tart, desserts that Chicca created and makes lovingly. Chicca has shown me the raw power of passion and bringing that to life in a visceral way.
I am channelling a little bit of Viveka’s radiance, Chicca’s passion, and Mauro and Chiara’s faith, as I return to “real life” in Toronto. I find it wondrous, that people I met quite by accident, from the other side of the ocean, for just a fraction of time, have had such an impact on my life and how I choose to live.