You know, I realized last night that I was so caught up in thinking about yesterday’s class that I didn’t even realize Wednesday was the day we were supposed to fly home. As I was updating my datebook while waiting for Gabe at the movies, I saw the whited-out flight information, and marveled at the fact that I hadn’t even given it a second thought. Guess that means it’s a good thing we didn’t go!

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be at my mom’s house right now, and wake up to her pancakes on my birthday next week. But I wouldn’t have loved to be waking up at her house at 3 AM with jetlag, nor to be saying goodbye to everyone again in two weeks’ time before coming back here for another month and a half. I think that would’ve made our final time here intolerable.

This way, there is nothing but sweet anticipation of our return home. And Sweden. And lots of visitors. Between them, I think I’ll make it through.

***

During my trip to the lycee yesterday, I was struck as I usually am by the beauty and poised maturity of the young women here. The school goes from kindergarten through 12th grade, so as my friend and I walked through the halls, I saw girls of all ages, from little ones of 5 or 6 to almost-women of 17 and 18.

Many of the older girls were far better dressed than I, with carefully made-up faces, a self-conscious swagger to their hips, and painfully hip outfits, no doubt bought on their lunch breaks at the giant mall across the street. As I passed, they looked at me with curiosity and frank assessment, which I returned in equal amounts. I smiled at many of them, sometimes even getting a shy crease of the lips in return.

These girls were a world of contradictions. Summer weather is now in full effect, and the short shorts and skirts it has brought out both accentuated these girls’ impossibly long legs and at the same time revealed their coltish girlishness. Faces still round with childhood held studiously bored eyes rimmed with smoky makeup, an odd counterpoint to the braces peeking out of their shiny, well-glossed lips. Most women here wear their hair straight and long, but on these girls, the style served both as a distant echo of a child’s carefree tumble and a conscious effort to appear like their well-manicured older counterparts.

The contrasts between sexy and childish, worldly and naive, made me think of a conversation Gabe and I have been having on and off for the entire year. Portugal itself embodies so many of those same juxtapositions, in a way one would think impossible for a country of its size.

Most recently, we renewed this conversation when my uncle sent me an article saying that Portugal has just legalized gay marriage. Even though the President disagrees with it morally, he knows that any attempt he’d make to quash the measure would be overturned by the liberals. Instead, he is willing to put aside his objections in favor of focusing on the larger issues at hand, namely, their failing economy. Wow! What a concept.

As I’ve discussed before, Portugal also has one of the most pragmatic, progressive, and successful drug policies in the world. By decriminalizing all but the most blatant dealing of drugs, they have reduced the amount of drug crime and its associated societal ills by a drastic amount. Again — such pragmatism!

And this from a country that only legalized abortion three years ago, which turns out 150,000 people to see the Pope, and which still counsels young couples about to get married against using any form of birth control. Not to mention one that will not allow bikinis to be worn in a swimming pool that is frequented by men wearing tiny, see-through white shorts. (Yes, I am still bitter about that, nearly six months later.)

Makeup and braces indeed. This country can’t figure out what it is: gawky adolescent girl, or mature young woman. Like the students I passed in the halls yesterday, Portugal seems to fall somewhere in between the two, striking a note of sweet, self-conscious maturity tempered by shadows of its more innocent days. All in all, it provides a fascinating transition for an outsider to observe.

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