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Three Hundred Sixty Six.

I know what you’re thinking.

Nope. I still don’t have any answers. And I still don’t feel like a grown up. Maybe slightly closer, but I still don’t even want to have to take care of a houseplant.

SIDENOTE: Somehow I manage to keep my dogs alive and happy. I don’t know how that works. Life Math is weird.

…Maybe I’m just not a green thumb.

Anyway.

My BFF Jo texted me yesterday and said, “It’s your last day as a 26 year old.”

At first I kind of panicked. Holy shitballs. 26. It’s over. I feel like it just started. I know it sounds like a super cliche, but in some ways, it really was like the blink of an eye.

I started this blog a year ago as a challenge to myself as a writer. Early in 2012, I kind of lost faith in myself. I hit a major rough patch and thought wow, maybe I’m actually a terrible writer. Maybe I have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t want to ever write again. Of course, I eventually came around and realized that writing is the thing I love the most. And in the same vein, I knew that if I wanted to be a writer, I’d have to write.

But I was kind of scared.

So I promised myself I would write something every day.

I wasn’t really expecting that forcing myself to write a blog post every day – a story that somehow led to me learning a life lesson, no matter how small – would help me be happy. I saw it as much more of an exercise than anything else. And an opportunity to maybe be funny. But I have to say, writing this blog has given me a completely different outlook on my entire life. It’s helped me understand how my past has made me who I am. It’s helped me work through a lot of difficult times and put a positive spin on things I would have never otherwise laughed at. It’s helped me approach life in a much more open, accepting way.

Like, happen to me, life: I’m ready to learn from you.

That was a disaster. Oh well, next time will be better!

I can’t believe that just happened. I am mortified. Also, that was hilarious. I can’t wait to tell people.

I did it! Someone pat me on the fucking back!

I hate everything right now. Surely someone will understand.

I am hurting. I need to know it’s going to be okay.

This is weird. Does everyone feel this way?

Did that just happen? SRSLY?!

At the same time, I had come to a bit of a crossroads with myself. I had hit a self-love low. I was feeling depressed, defeated, discouraged, you name it. I decided enough was enough: it was time to make the active decision to be happy.

I also discovered that Jayne Mansfield had stretchmarks. And my world was turned upside down. In a good way.

To quote myself (is that totally pretentious? I’m trying to recap, shut up.):

Jayne Mansfield, the American actress, singer, Playboy playmate, and all around drop-dead gorgeous bombshell, was flawed in a way that has been the root of much of my self-consciousness for all of my teenage and adult life.

So…all of that got me here.

SIDENOTE: It’s really hard writing the last post of a 365-day blog.

It’s going to be difficult to let this blog go. I know I’m going to wake up tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and my first thought is going to be, “What can I write about today?” or, “Oh shit! I still have to blog today!”

But I’m looking forward to channelling my creative energy into a number of other projects that I’ve already either started or am about to. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m not going anywhere. Maybe there will be another blog. Maybe not. But I promise there will be something.

I was trying to think of a fun way to commemorate the end of this blog.

Here’s what I came up with.

Jayne Mansfield had stretchmarks.

jayne

And so do I.

Image2

xA

P.S. It’s hilariously ironic that in the majority of the pin-up photos I took, my stretchmarks aren’t that visible. Because they’re everywhere.

But I guess there’s a life lesson in that, isn’t there?

I’m probably the only one who really notices them.

Image7_2

P.P.S. Things I meant to write but forgot: Happy Birthday to me! Also, here’s to 27! I’m crazy excited for it!

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Three Hundred Sixty Five.

I know this is a 365-day blog, but this is technically the penultimate post, because it’s a birthday to birthday thing. And tomorrow’s my birthday!

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SIDENOTE: Have you bought me a birthday present yet? We can’t be friends if you didn’t because all I care about is material possessions.

Anyway, I thought what better way to spend the second-last day of my crazy year-long blog than looking back on some of its best moments?

SIDENOTE: Maybe that should say best/”best”…

Think of this, if you will, as a flashback episode of your favourite TV sitcom. With the help of a couple friends, I’ve compiled some categories I think you’ll enjoy.

Without further ado…

Top 5 Stupid Kid Moments

photo(1)

Oh boy. Where to even start with this one?! Well, okay…

1. Pressing buttons was (OKAY, STILL IS) a thing I loved doing. See examples A and B.

2. Of course, there was the time I electrocuted myself

3. The day I put scissors through my finger

4. Setting fire to things is never a good idea.

5. Neither is writing a hate letter to your childhood friend.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

I have to give honourable mention to the day I learned that “bastard” is a bad word. Oh, and also to the combination of shaving off my eyebrows and getting hair extensions.

And guess what?! It’s your lucky day. I found a photo of teenage Andrea with hair extensions and no eyebrows. And apparently I have no shame because I’m gonna post it on the Internet.

Extensions

Boy oh boy oh boy.

Moving on!

Top 5 Most Awkward Moments

If you haven’t deduced by now, I am the QUEEN OF AWKWARD. This is quite the random assortment, but I feel it encompasses who I am pretty well…

1. The day a goat ate my t-shirt. (Enough said.) (Stupid goats.) (Seriously, why would she do that to me?!) (Ugh.) (I fucking loved that t-shirt.) (SOB.)

2. The day I learned about orgasms in sex ed. (Is anyone else craving cake?!)

3. Barrel-chested. That is all.

4. The day the National Poet of Scotland called me stupid. Which I really should add to my resume.

5. My elementary school “boobies” moment.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

There are so, so many, but I feel like my Pilates FAIL and my Zumba BARF moments were pretty grand.

Top 5 “SRSLY?!” Moments

You know those moments. The ones that make you go, “what the fucking?!”

1. People and my tattoos. Why are people so weird about my tattoos?

2. That time a guy threw a book at my face. No big deal.

3. NO I DON’T WANT TO TAN.

4. Nothing says “what the fuck?” like getting pepper sprayed!

5. Also charming: when people tell you how to pronounce your own name

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

I have to give myself a shout out for fucking up my neck by making fun of someone on a Zumba DVD. Because who the fuck does that? This girl, right here.

But the greatest honourable mention in this category goes to Glasgow, Scotland, where I experienced so many WTF things, including…

Finding a tooth in an ATM.

Finding a used tampon on a bus.

And buses in general.

Among so many others. I fucking love you, Glasgow. I really do.

Top 5 Workplace Blunders

It’s a wonder I still have my job. It really is. It’s also a wonder I still have any self-confidence after all of the stupid humbling things that have happened to me at work…

1. My friends still bring up the day I parked on the sidewalk.

2. Also charming: locking yourself in a stairwell on your first day of work.

3. Or, you know, getting caught dancing in the bathroom.

4. Similarly, walking in on your coworkers in the bathroom.

5. Or traumatizing them with your hair colour.

BONUS PHOTO:

Getting caught taking a selfie at work.

Work selfie

At least I know my office mate loves me and doesn’t judge me.

Top 5 Relationship/Sex Fails

Look. I’d prefer we don’t dwell on how much I suck at relationships, okay? OKAY?!

1. I have been known to throw myself at guys I like.

2. I’ve learned the hard way that spin the bottle will only break your heart.

3. So will going after guys who don’t care that you exist. (But you can keep trying to shout “LOVE ME! LOOOOOVE MEEEE!” at them. Trust me. Guys SUPER love that.)

4. I’m good at ending up in awkward sex situations.

5. And awkward kissing situations, sometimes.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS AND A BONUS PHOTO:

Okay, well, first of all, heartbreak, right?

I think I also screwed it up with this guy, because he was clearly paying me a compliment.

Let’s not forget all of my failed marriages. Sigh.

And the time a MONSTER RASH ruined my potential Scottish boyfriend.

And hey, since I’ve already shown you how great I looked with hair extensions as an eyebrowless wonder, here’s a photo of me in the midst of the MONSTER RASH attack. This was after I managed to get my eyes open, because they were swollen shut.

Photo 130

Good lord…

Top 5 Accomplishments

I didn’t screw up everything, though. I’ve done some stuff. Yeah. I do things! I TCB every once in a while!

1. I’ve gotten over a lot of fear to become a Zumba instructor.

2. Then I stuck with it for a year and changed my life.

3. I grew back my eyebrows, guys. I fucking did it!

4. I got over some serious “I can’t!” bullshit and also tried wall climbing.

5. Oh, hey, I also learned how to embrace myself sometimes. I think that’s pretty huge.

HONOURABLE MENTION:

I BLOGGED EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR 365 FUCKING DAYS.

A year, guys. A YEAR.

I’m excited to celebrate my birthday with you all tomorrow.

xA

P.S. I know what you’re thinking. There totally should have been some sort of crazy travel category. But I just couldn’t narrow that shit down. So you’ll just have to re-read my entire blog to enjoy.

Three Hundred Fifty Eight.

So, not sure if you guys have noticed this yet, but I’m a bit of a socially awkward nerd.

You’d think that I’d get it together for my Zumba classes, since I have to stand up in front of classes of 10-40 people oh…eight times a week now, but I don’t.

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 10.24.16

I giggle and make awkward conversation. Then my warm-up starts and it inevitably has some super nerdly (see: AMAZING) song in the mix, like Beastie Boys or Run DMC (see; THE BEST). And maybe when I teach I’m like, a super nerdly dancer. I actually have no idea, because I’ve never seen myself teach. I know how I feel when I teach, and that is super into it. Like, having the best time ever.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that maybe I come across as really “white,” whatever the fuck that means.

DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way a slight at the girl involved. I just found the whole experience to be so fascinating and it made me think about how we see people. I’ve been wanting to write about this for ages, but I never wanted her to feel offended. I know she used to read my blog at one point. Just in case she still does, I want to be clear. No offense intended and no offense felt on my part. (Well, okay, a little at first, for a couple days. But that’s long gone.)

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 10.20.16

SIDENOTE: See? Super nerdly.

SIDENOTE TO THE SIDENOTE: That’s my phrase of the day and I love it.

ANOTHER SIDENOTE: That photo is an outtake from my photo shoot with the amazing Christina Louise. Check her out and hire her.

Let’s get back on track.

I was teaching a class. I was still pretty new to teaching – within my first six months or so. I was already starting to become Facebook friends with some of my regular students, which is cool. I had been befriended by a girl from Brazil. I guess I had never mentioned that my background is 100% Portuguese.

One of my favourite songs from my playlist at the time is called “Aqui para Voçes” (which translates directly into “Here for You”) by a Portuguese/Angolan group called Buraka Som Sistema. It’s a crazy techno/rap/dance something or other, with lyrics performed by a Brazilian carioca musician named Deize Tigrona.

So. The lyrics are Portuguese. So I know what they mean. I sing along to them because I have them memorized. That’s what I did during my class, but I guess this girl didn’t notice that. I guess some of the lyrics of the song may also take on a different meaning depending what region you’re from/what type of Portuguese you speak. After consulting a number of Portuguese-speaking peeps, no one heard anything dirty in the song, but maybe if I asked another 10 people, someone would hear it that way.

Later on, I got onto Facebook and saw a status from this girl, written in Portuguese, that was expressing shock over the song. I’m totally paraphrasing here, but it said something along the lines of You guys wouldn’t believe what I heard in my Zumba class today…blah blah song…it’s hilarious when people dance to music they don’t understand the context of…where do people come up with these shitty lyrics?

SIDENOTE: This is a total digression, but I have to say, even interpreting the lyrics the dirty way, I’ve heard MUCH WORSE in English songs. Like, any song on the radio. Never mind all the diiiiiiirty naughty dirty Spanish stuff Zumba uses!

The thing that really struck me about the whole situation was the assumption that I had no idea what was going on. I mean, in all fairness, yeah, maybe lots of instructors have no idea what the lyrics of the Latin songs they use mean. I use a lot of Bollywood and Bhangra songs and I don’t know all of the lyrics (for the record, I typically Google it so that I at least know they’re not filthy). I don’t think you HAVE to know what the lyrics mean if you’re feeling the music. It’s not a job requirement.

But why the assumption?

I’m not gonna lie, for a while, I was sort of offended. I’m proud of my Portuguese background. I treasure the connections I have to Africa, Brazil, and Portugal. Teaching Zumba has actually strengthened that connection, too. Dancing and singing along to Portuguese music I love is a way for me to embrace who I am. So I was hurt that someone might look at me and not see that.

I’m totally over it now, of course. But it got me thinking. We make a lot of assumptions. I’m guilty of it, too. giselebundchen300

Would you assume she speaks Portuguese? Maybe not.

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 10.21.35

But in the same vein, why assume I don’t? (According to what people think of my face, I could speak a million languages.)

Lesson learned: When you “assume,” you really do make “an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'” It’s 2013. Gay white couples adopt Asian babies and teach them how to speak German. Or something. You know what I mean.

xA

P.S. Besides, knowing how to speak Portuguese gives me super powers. Just check out this hilarious article by Kayla.

P.P.S. See also:

…and so on.

Three Hundred Thirty One.

Let me tell you about a family outing I went on when I was 6-7 years old.

I can place my age fairly well because my paternal grandparents were with my brother, my parents, and I, and I only spent time with them once as a child because they lived far away in Portugal.

We were all out at a park, taking a lovely stroll on a warm day, when I saw them:

cattails-in-lake-murray-iris-greenwell

Cattails. Whoa.

Now, I can’t say that I remember the first time I ever saw cattails, but I guess I always liked them, because I distinctly remember that my first feeling upon seeing them during this particular family outing was, “I WANT THEM BECAUSE I LOVE THEM.”

So I asked my brother, Bryan, to pick me a cattail.

I don’t know why I asked my brother to get me one, because I was a pretty bold, self-sufficient kid. Typically, it was my brother asking me to do things he was afraid to do, like climb the kitchen counters to reach cookies or ask my mom for candy when he worried she would say no.

SIDENOTE: We Beça kids loved the snacks. We Beça kids still love the snacks.

Anyway. Maybe I thought the cattails looked too big for me to pick, so I needed my super cool older brother to use his mature kid-muscles to pick one for me. He was, after all, as spry and skilled in my eyes as The Karate Kid, and he did a killer impression of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Plus he knew all sorts of stuff about superheros. All I knew at that point was that I liked Storm’s outfit.

But I digress. Bottom line is I asked Bryan to get me a cattail, and Bryan complied.

What Bryan didn’t realize, though, is that while the cattails looked like they were rooted in mossy earth, they were actually rooted (can you call it that?) in a green swamp.

He took one step forward to grab hold of a cattail and he sank right into said swamp.

Oh shit.

My grandpa grabbed a quick hold of his arm and dragged him out of the mud, which had suctioned itself all around his leg. In my memory, you could hear the “SLUUUURP” as he was freed from a fate so terrifying it might as well have been the quick sand from Indiana Jones.

SIDENOTE:

And then he was immediately rushed to the park’s public bathroom to wash off his leg and sneaker (which I’m sure was never the same again).

Poor kid. He was not impressed.

And neither was I, because I never got my damn cattail.

So that was the day my brother learned to maybe toss a stone or something to test the depths before trying to pick anything out of a marshy-looking area.

Oh wait, this blog is about my life lessons.

That was the day I learned I have the best brother in the world.

He’s always got my back. Even when I’m being a little shit.

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Plus, I mean, I wasn’t joking about him being cool. Just look at him.

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SIDENOTE: I have clearly lost my touch for the sassy over-the-shoulder pose, because I can’t pull it off today to save my life.

xA

P.S. Genuine LOL.

Two Hundred Ninety Six.

A little known fact about me (only because you haven’t asked): I love wax museums.

LOVE THEM.

If we were in some random, small, creepy town and there were a wax museum, I’d totally go anyway.

I spent like, half a day at Madame Tussauds in Amsterdam.

So when I was in Dublin with my mom, there was no question: we had to hit up the National Wax Museum.

It was totally great!

Until I saw Oscar Wilde.

I don’t know if I have talked enough about Oscar Wilde on this blog. Basically, you just need to know that I love him. I’ve loved his writing since I was young – like 12 or so. I’ve named one of my dogs after him. My entire Master’s thesis was inspired by his work. I know it sounds a little weird, but I am 100% convinced that in a past life, I lived in Dublin and knew him. (I should blog about that…)

To the two of you who are still reading this (okay, maybe there are five of you, because three of you are going, “Oscar WHO?”), thanks for staying with me.

There I was at the National Wax Museum, staring down a wax sculpture of Oscar Wilde. I wouldn’t even call it an amazing likeness. It was fairly good. I felt like the hair semi-concealing his face was a bit of a cop out. But it was good.

But being next to it freaked me right out.

Oscar 1

“Get in there!” my mom waved me in excitedly, “I’m gonna take a photo!”

I took a step toward the sculpture and stopped.

I turned toward it.

Stared it down.

“What’s wrong?”

“I dunno,” I said, “It’s freaking me out.”

“Get in there! I’ll take a picture. GET IN THERE!”

(My mom gets really excited sometimes.)

I took another step toward the sculpture and sort of leaned in. I don’t feel like I can properly convey just how uncomfortable I was, guys. I felt like I was intensely close to the sculpture. I felt like it was basically breathing on me. My blood pressure was up. I was nervous.

Basically I thought it was going to come to life and kill me or something.

(I have no idea why.)

This is how close I was:

With Oscar

So…not close AT ALL.

As you can also tell, I had a hard time staying still because I just wanted to GET THE HELL AWAY from the sculpture.

I thought that I was developing some irrational fear of Oscar Wilde or wax sculptures. But how could that be possible? I had never felt that way about them before. And when I was at Madame Tussauds a few months later, I took photos with all sorts of wax sculptures (I basically made out with the David Bowie one), so what the hell, right?

Fast forward to the Cultural Centre of Belém in Portugal, where I came across this fucking guy:

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I turned the corner and there he was. I stopped dead in my tracks.

Was he real?

I waited a few moments and he didn’t move.

I took another photo:

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I coughed. I cleared my throat.

Nothing.

It was an installation.

And I COULD NOT GET NEAR IT.

That’s when all the pieces came together, flashing before my eyes.

Lesson learned: I still love wax sculptures. I just fear any sculpture that is leaning forward just so, making their face not entirely visible. Because I think they will come to life and kill me. (Obviously.)

Can you blame me?

xA

One Hundred Ninety Seven.

To say that I was nervous to meet my maternal great aunt would be a bit of an understatement.

One of the greatest downsides of being a first generation Canadian is that none of my extended family lives here. Everyone is either in Portugal, or in Africa, or in Brazil, or in other parts of Europe. It sucks that I haven’t even met a lot of my family, and that I rarely get to see the family I do know and love dearly.

So when I was living in Scotland, and planned a trip to Portugal, I was hit with the sudden realization that I would get to meet some of my family, and it was, well, overwhelming.

My maternal grandma lived with my family from the time I was five years old until just last year, when she and my grandpa had to move into a seniors’ home due to mobility issues. I knew that it would make her entire life for me to meet and spend time with her sister, A.K.A. her BFF. They were so close in age, and were notorious for looking alike and sounding almost identical. When my mom and her cousins were kids, they often couldn’t tell who was calling them in for dinner. (When I spoke to my great aunt on the phone for the first time, I got what they were talking about – it was uncanny!)

So anyway, I was nervous.

I mean first of all, my Portuguese sometimes falters, especially when I’m stressed or nervous, and it would be just she and I, so I worried that we may have a miscommunication, or that I may not be able to explain myself, or answer all of her questions eloquently every single time.

Secondly, I’m gonna come clean with you all: older people tend to make me nervous. Throw me in a room with like, 10 kids and I know I’ll be fine. I’m weird. I’m loud. I’m naturally (well, at this point, it’s natural) colourful. Kids love me! Throw me in a room with 10 seniors, though, and I will stare at them like a deer in the headlights. I think this is mostly due to the fact that older people tend to be the ones who judge me the harshest, think I’m a hoodlum, hate my tattoos, etc., and they aren’t usually afraid to voice it. So I always get stuck in a “what are they thinking?” panic.

The beginning of my day with Tia Milu (Auntie Milu) got me off to a panicky start.

The night before, we made our plans to meet up over the phone.

“Okay, what you’re going to do is take the train to the _____ stop, and then just get off and wait for me.”

“Okay, Tia Milu.”

“When you get off the train, DO NOT go through the pedway and cross to the other side, okay? I’ll do that. I’ll come find you.”

“Okay. I’ll just sit and wait.”

“Yes. If you cross through the pedway, you won’t find me. DO NOT cross through the pedway, okay? Just don’t. It’s too complicated. You don’t know the way. Just get off the train and WAIT.”

“Okay, I will.”

“Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“So you’ll get off the train – ”

“I’ll get off the train – ”

“And then?”

“And then I’ll just WAIT.”

“Right. NO CROSSING OVER.”

“Okay.”

“Good. See you tomorrow.”

SIDENOTE: I wish you could hear her harsh, no-nonsense, Portuguese way of speaking. Tia Milu was not a lady to mess with.

So the next morning, I took the train to our designated meeting stop, I got off, and I waited. I did NOT cross through the pedway – heaven forbid – and “get lost.” I sat down on a bench and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After about half an hour, I noticed there was a little old lady who had been sitting almost directly opposite to myself on the other side of the tracks for almost as long as I had. The distance was great, but she looked somewhat like my grandma. I started to wonder.

Had I misunderstood?

No. It was literally impossible to misunderstand the conversation we had had the night before. Tia Milu was so adamant. DO NOT CROSS THE TRACKS. I waited a bit longer.

And waited.

And waited.

The little old lady was still sitting there. I pulled out my mobile phone and dialed Tia Milu’s number. The little old lady across the tracks reached into her purse, pulled out her phone, and answered.

Oh shit.

“Hello?”

“Tia Milu? This is Andrea.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of the tracks.”

“What are you doing over there?!”

“It’s okay, I can see you – I’ll cross right over and come find you.”

“I told you to come find me on the other side of the tracks!”

“I’m coming – just a minute!”

I jogged down the stairs, through the underground pedway, and back up the stairs on the other side of the tracks. Tia Milu was still yelling at me into the phone, but I had zoned her out to focus on speed. I ran across the platform to where she was sitting.

“Hi, Tia!”

Tia Milu turned to me with a very serious look on her face and said, “Just a minute! I’m trying to find my neice!”

I froze.

“Tia Milu, it’s me. I’m here. I’m on the phone? This is me. I’m Andrea!”

“Oh! I found you!” she yelled into the phone, “I’m going to hang up now! Goodbye!”

And then she turned to me like I was a new person – not the person on the phone – and we started our day together.

I more shakily than she.

Algés, Portugal
Algés, Portugal

We took the train back to Algés, where she lived, and went for lunch at a really nice vegetarian restaurant. The entire time, she chided the waiter for not bringing her a steak, and questioned how anyone could eat vegetarian food.

I’m not gonna lie: at this point, I was pretty certain my great aunt hated me.

But then we both started to relax a bit. As we were talking through town, she started joking about how her poor balance and depth perception had paid off when she tripped and fell into the arms of a very handsome young man about a week prior.

“Oh yeah?” I teased her, “Way to go, Tia. You’ve gotta start scheduling those “falls”.”

I admired that Tia Milu walked around by herself as much as she obviously did – her eyesight was on a constant downslide, and at the time we hung out, she was very nearly blind. She was so old and so tiny, and yet she stomped across town with me like nobody’s business, and told me about the courses she had enrolled in at the local college, just for fun.

We walked all the way to the Vasco Da Gama aquarium – probably 20-30 minutes from where we started.

“Okay,” Tia Milu announced, “Let’s sit here. I love these fish.”

We found a bench right in front of one of the gorgeous Koi ponds that fill the front yard of the aquarium.

And then we sat.

The Koi fish at Vasco Da Gama.
The Koi fish at Vasco Da Gama. Photo Copyright Andrea Beça.

Occasionally, we would exchange words. Tia Milu would ask me small questions about myself, and I did the same. We took a short break from sitting to feed the fish from a 10 cent candy machine filled with Koi food.

“They’ve gotten so big!” she told me proudly, “Just look at them! And they know when you’re coming! I swear these fish see me and know – there’s the lady with the food! ”

I watched her coo at the fish, totally in her element. I wondered how well she could distinguish them, or if she just appreciated the colour more than anything.

And then we sat again. After a while, I realized that I was completely relaxed, and I felt like Tia Milu and I were old friends. The silence was warm and comfortable between us.

I feel like I could go on forever about that day and how much I learned in just a few hours with my Tia Milu. I learned a lot about her and her life, and I learned a lot about the town’s history, its aquarium, its college, etc. But I think the most important thing I learned from spending time with her – something that I am lucky to have learned more than once during the two trips I took to Portugal that year – is that there really is an invisible bond between family. It’s there before you know it.

Also, it’s often the simplest things – like watching Koi fish swim around a pond – that bring the greatest pleasure.

My Tia Milu and I at the Vasco Da Gama Aquarium in Algés.
My Tia Milu and I at the Vasco Da Gama Aquarium in Algés.

Okay, before I sign this one off, I have to tell you how Tia Milu said goodbye to me, because it’s too fucking hilarious to leave out of the story…

After a lovely afternoon together, Tia Milu walked me back to the train station in the centre of Algés and asked me if I knew where I was going.

“Yes, I know which train to take and how to get home, no problem.”

“Great. Well, it’s not coming for another 30-45 minutes, so we’re going to have to wait.”

“That’s okay, I don’t mind.” I promised her.

We stood in silence for a second. I thought that we were going to wait for at least a bit longer before saying goodbye, but after a very short moment – like, literally less than two minutes – Tia Milu turned to me and said, “Well, I need to buy bread, so I’m gonna go.”

She gave me a hug and a kiss and stomped away like a lady on a mission.

I waited by myself for the train before going home to my aunt’s place in Parede.

Blunt old people, man. So funny. (And a little scary.)

RIP, Tia Milu. I’m glad we got to meet!

xA

One Hundred Thirty One.

I try to never make assumptions when I’m travelling to new places. I like to do a lot of research so that I know what I’m getting into, but I don’t want to colour my experience by thinking I know what a place will be like.

But sometimes you just do and you get it wrong.

After I finished my master’s degree in Glasgow, I took advantage of my proximity to, well, to a lot of places, and I did as much travelling as I could afford. My BFF Mags, her boyfriend Tim and I went to Paris together, and then we split up and did some travel on our own before meeting up again in Lisbon, where I spent a good chunk of time with family.

When we split up, I went to Amsterdam and Geneva by myself.

Geneva, as I’m sure you know, is the home of the United Nations:

Cool! Photo Copyright Andrea Beça.
Cool! Photo Copyright Andrea Beça.

From what I read, a lot of people speak English in Geneva.

At least I think I read that. But maybe I just assumed.

Because from my experience, almost no one speaks English in Geneva.

I was basically lost from the time my plane landed. Having done enough solo travel, I found my way to the bus that supposedly went into town, but with absolutely no knowledge of the city or its layout, I had no idea when to get off the bus.

I tried to ask the bus driver. He just shook his head at me and pointed for me to sit down again.

Here’s the thing: I’m Canadian. I have a pretty extensive French vocabulary just from living in Canada ad absorbing words here and there, but I only took French in school until halfway through grade four when I switched schools, because my new school didn’t offer a second language at the time. I speak Portuguese and Spanish, and a little bit of Italian, so I understand a lot of French, but I can’t speak much back. And unfortunately, I definitely don’t know how to form questions in French. I know “ou est” means “where is” and that’s about that.

So I sat on the bus and wondered what the heck I was gonna do.

After a long, long time, I started to wonder if somehow we had driven all the way through Geneva and I was going to relive my wonderful (see: frustrating as hell) bus misadventure in Glasgow. So I panicked and I got off the bus.

Another assumption I made about Geneva is that because it’s in Switzerland, which is insanely expensive, it would be beautiful and impeccable and clean like Sweden, which is also insanely expensive.

Don’t get me wrong, Geneva has a lot of gorgeous areas within the city, like this one:

Adorable! Photo Copyright Andrea Beça.
Adorable! Photo Copyright Andrea Beça.

But it’s also an old European city, so it has a lot of areas that have that old, gritty European feel. Which I totally dig, but when I’m lost and worried, old and gritty also makes me nervous.

My nerves were calmed by the fact that Geneva’s crime rate is like, 0%. (No, really.)

I wandered around, looking for someone to ask for directions. No one I encountered spoke even a word of English, and my poor French was getting me nowhere.

(In all fairness, if someone said, “Ou est….this!” and pointed to a random address on a piece of paper, I would feel inclined to ignore them, too. I probably wouldn’t, but I’d want to.)

Finally, I met a lady who said “non” to English, but in French asked me if I spoke any other languages. “Italiano?” She asked, perhaps seeing something in my features that looked Mediterranean.

“YES!” I shouted back in English. (Oops.)

On that trip, I got more assistance in Italian and Portuguese (thank goodness for Brazilians, who seem to be all over the world!) than I did in English or French.

Lessons learned:

(A) Never assume the UN = English speakers.

(B) I really should work on my French skills.

(C) Geneva is COLD in October. Like, COLD COLD.*

xA

*Random, but important!

One Hundred Four.

At some point in the midst of my serious talk with Mr. Jones in the third grade (about how I was acting out, how he thought I needed to ditch my friend Sara and start being true to myself, etc., etc.) he stopped, looked at me very seriously, and said, “Are you Norwegian?”

This is the story of my life.

On my first day in Edinburgh, I was eating breakfast at my B&B and an older couple at the next table struck up a conversation with me. This was pretty common, since I was travelling on my own and I was only 19. Everyone felt like I needed company, which was really sweet (most of the time). They asked me where I was from, where I was headed – all of the usual small talk questions you ask someone you’re meeting who is also travelling in a foreign country. Then they said, “You’re Black Irish, right?” Apparently, it was my very fair skin – but dark eyes and hair – that gave me away.

When I got to Ireland, I got asked if I was Scottish. No, let me rephrase that: people assumed I was Scottish.

(When I was living in Scotland, people knew, before I even spoke, that I was not Scottish…)

A great percentage of the people who see my last name – Beça – written down on paper immediately look up at me and say, “I thought you looked French!”*

Wait a second…

Throughout my life, I have been told I look like and/or asked if I am:

(Big breath in...)
(Big breath in…)
  • Norwegian
  • Italian
  • Scottish
  • Black Irish
  • Spanish
  • Egyptian
  • Swiss
  • South African
  • Persian
  • Swedish
  • French
  • English
  • And others I know I am forgetting…

(Big breath out…)

Ironically, the people who thought I was English were the Portuguese. I would walk into a store or restaurant and I would see the employees prepare to deal with a tourist. They would look at me expectantly, waiting for either very slow English or broken, butchered Portuguese, and when I would speak to them in their own language, they often took a moment to get over their shock. One woman actually froze in her tracks and stared at me for a good 30 seconds, like she was so surprised I spoke the language that she needed a minute to process what was actually happening. Her response came in confused, stuttered Portuguese. Then she asked me what part of Great Britain I was from.

“I’m Canadian-Portuguese,” I told her (in Portuguese, obviously).

She just stared again, then got me the food I ordered.

In 26 years, no one – and I really mean no one – has ever asked me if I’m Portuguese.

So apparently, I have a very international face, which I’ll take as a huge compliment.

xA

*So far, I’ve discovered that the cedilla is used in French, Portuguese, and Turkish, and that it does the same thing – makes the ‘c’ sound like an ‘s’ – in each of those languages. Know of any others? Let me know – I’m genuinely curious!

One Hundred One.

There are a lot of dicks in the world. And when I say that, I mean derogatory dicks, as in assholes, as in mean people, not just penises. I’ve got nothing against penises. Also, just because you’re a dick doesn’t mean you have one. Not in my books, anyway.

Lately I feel like I’ve met and/or had to interact with a great percentage of the world’s derogatory dicks. It’s hard to get dragged down by other people’s negativity, even when you’re being so nice to them, doing your best, etc.

But whenever I’m stewing in a little pot of sadness, wallowing in self-pity, probably crying and eating something I shouldn’t be (like, say, an entire tray of vegan brownies) all I have to do is send one of my BFFs a text, or give them a ring, and I remember that everything’s going to be fine because they are the best. (Hence the ‘B’ in ‘BFF.’)

The other day, Jolene, one of my newest BFFs, asked me a very logical, organized question, which is just her style: “So what, exactly, makes a person a BFF, as opposed to just a really good friend?”

To which I said this: A BFF is a friend I love endlessly, a friend I can tell absolutely anything without fearing judgement, gossip, etc., and maybe the most defining quality, a friend I could spend 24/7 with without wanting to murder them in their sleep, meaning a friend I could easily live with, travel with, or marry.

Let me tell you about four of my BFFs.

This is Chelsea Handler. She's the celeb I think Jolene most looks like.
This is Chelsea Handler. She’s the celeb I think Jolene most looks like.

I met Jolene because she’s a Zumba® instructor. I went to her class – my first Zumba® class at a big gym (as opposed to the tiny studio I was used to) – and thought I was going to die. (A) Because I was nervous and self-conscious, but also (B) because Jolene is an insane instructor who jumps around a lot and I spent the whole class trying to catch my breath.

But even before the class had started, Jolene pegged me as a newbie and came to say hi. And we clicked. I had that instant “this is a cool chick” feeling about her, and I was right. Eight months later, she’s the jelly to my peanut butter, the Laverne to my Shirley, etc. I see her pretty much every day, I co-teach Zumba® with her, and I’ve never wanted to kill her. I’ve never even been annoyed with her. We’re so similar in so many ways, you’d think we’d make each other crazy, but I think we’re just the right amount of crazy to get along on an in-person and psychic level. It’s true friend love.

Jolene is amazing and lost over 160lbs, so she also doesn’t think it’s weird when I text her things like, “On a scale of 1-10, how stupid and/or noticeable would it be if I stuffed my bra right now to make it fit better?” when I’m having a wardrobe meltdown. We compare notes about how much our arms flap when we’re teaching. It’s great.

Also, we’re the same shoe size, and Jo has a lot of really cute shoes, so I have to keep her around for when I want to borrow them. (I have my eye on a pair of hot pink stilettos.)

This is Juliette Lewis, A.K.A. my girl Louise.
This is Juliette Lewis, A.K.A. my girl Louise.

My BFF Louise actually gets stopped on the street and asked if she’s Juliette Lewis. One day I swear I’ll take her out somewhere and lose her to a crowd of fans. And I can understand why: because she’s crazy cool.

Before Louise and I became friends, I knew her as this insanely cool alterna-sexpot (see: goth chick) who always came to opening nights at the theatre I was box office manager at. She had a wicked hairdo and she wore frilly underwear as pants. Basically, I had a crush on her and her sexy corseted confidence.

One day, she came out to audition for one of my plays. She walked in wearing a pair of sexy high-heeled boots or something, and being the nerd that I am, I couldn’t help but mention them. I think I babbled something along the lines of, “OMG you’re so cool and you always look so put together and rock the highest heels and I wish I were you will you autograph my left tit?”*

Louise proceeded to tell me a story about this time she went out to the grocery store and everyone was looking at her funny, which she didn’t get because she was just in a tank top and some sweatpants. Then she got home and her then fiancee (now husband) said, “Babe, you’ve got a false eyelash stuck to your forehead.” It was at that moment that I fell madly in love with Louise. She’s hilarious (yes, HILARIOUS, as in one of the FUNNIEST people I know!) and the craziest shit is always happening to her, but she’s got the best outlook on things: she’s always able to appreciate that the crazy translates into a great story and she’s always able to laugh at herself along the way.

Also, she saves stories for me, which I look forward to every time we get together. When I get a text saying, “Oh no, this is an in-person story only,” I know I’m in for a really good one. When she calls me whispering because she’s in a broom closet, I know I’m in for a killer story.

Mandelle was like, "No one tells me I look like any celebrities," which I think is weird, because she totally looks like Rose Byrne, but she has better hair.
Mandelle was like, “No one tells me I look like any celebrities,” which I think is weird, because she totally looks like Rose Byrne, but she has better hair.

Thank god I was refused a raise at my theatre job and decided to spite everyone by getting a different theatre job one year. Because if I hadn’t, I would have never met my BFF Mandelle. And I still believe to this day that is was pure fate, because my “new” theatre job only lasted five weeks, but I’ve gotten to keep Mandelle for nearly five years now.

She hired me as her box office assistant at a huge theatre company in town. On my first day at work, we were sitting at our desks, which faced one another, and she started quoting Elf at me. When I left at the end of the day, she was like, “Byeeee, Buddy! Hope you find your dad!” and I tried to play it cool, but I was internally GEEKING out.

SIDENOTE: To this day, we still call each other Buddy.

On my second or third day at work, Mandelle told me we needed to go for lunch together…away from the theatre. So we walked down the street, got some food, and she told me flat out (which is true Mandelle style): “I’m quitting this place.”

“Me too!” I blurted out, unable to imagine the theatre without her. Three days into our friendship, I already knew I didn’t want to be there without her. So I handed in my resignation, and so did she. That was in May. By June/July, we were already going on roadtrips together and talking all the time. Mandelle and I have done a lot of laughing together, and a lot of crying, too. She’s also the only friend I’ve ever had who made me a Birthday Tree, which is a Christmas tree decorated with birthday streamers, and with a big photo of me as the angel. Shut up, right? The best. I adore her.

And the only thing I hate about her is her fucking PERFECT, AMAZING HAIR. (Seriously. Perfect. Beautiful. ALWAYS.)

This is Margaret. Wait, I mean Rachel McAdams. No, no, it's Margaret...right?
This is Margaret. Wait, I mean Rachel McAdams. No, no, it’s Margaret…right?

Margaret didn’t show up to our pre-first-class orientation day at the University of Glasgow because she was still in transit from Detroit, Michigan, so I didn’t even know she existed until our official first day of class.

As soon as she opened her mouth, I was two things: (1) intimidated as hell, and (2) intrigued.

Margaret is one of those insanely smart, well-informed, well-read women who can say, “I hate mushrooms”** and sound like she’s at the presidential debates or something. So when she started to comment on a play and compare it to American politics, I was like, “Oh shit, this girl’s way smarter than me.” Luckily she doesn’t hold it against me that I know almost nothing about politics.

Mags and I had what I’ll call a blossoming relationship. We didn’t talk very much at first (because she was intimidatingly smart and cool!), but when we finally got started, we couldn’t stop. We became two North American peas in a Glaswegian pod, and we’ve been besties ever since. I still can’t go shopping without accidentally almost texting her to say, “Want to come with?”

Margaret was there for me when I got hit by the monster rash and I needed to go to the ER. She was also there for me when my uncle passed away very suddenly and I needed someone to come over just to watch me cry and help me pack a suitcase and book an emergency flight to Portugal to be with my family.

Thank goodness she was also there every time I wanted to indulge in really awful reality TV. We also did a lot of travelling together, which I think is a true testament to our friendship. I still wish every day that we could somehow live in the same city, because Chicago’s really far away and I miss her daily. (The OBVIOUS solution to this problem is that I should move to Chicago.)

Also, Margaret brought her ridiculously cute dog with her to Glasgow. And we all know how I am around ridiculously cute dogs.

Me and Audrey, my canine BFF.
Me and Audrey, my canine BFF.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Wow, Andrea, first of all, your BFFs sound like the coolest ever, but secondly, what’s the lesson attached to this long, rambling blog post?”

The lesson is this: There’s no need to let the derogatory dicks of the world bring you down, because your BFFs will always be there for you to:

(A) Make you feel better.

(B) Remind you that you’re loved and supported to matter what.

(C) Trash talk the assholes for as long as you need.

I’m a lucky girl. I love you ladies!

People say I look like Ginnifer Goodwin, which is the first celeb lookalike I actually agree with.***
People say I look like Ginnifer Goodwin, which is the first celeb lookalike I actually agree with.***

xA

EDITED TO ADD: Guys, I just realized that I have NEVER had a fight with ANY of my BFFs. Like, ever! That’s how brilliant they all are.

P.S. There aren’t actually enough words to express what these women mean to me. Also, if I really got going, you’d probably find me, still sitting at this laptop like a week later with a 50,000 word blog post in front of me, sobbing uncontrollably and muttering things like, “Shit, seriously, they’re the BEST.” And I wouldn’t even be drunk. That would be sober crying. So there you have it.

*That’s an estimation, FYI.

**I don’t think Mags hates mushrooms, but I sure do.

***Shout out to Ryan for his mad Photoshop skillz. Thx for the BFF mash-up!

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