In 1972 my mother, Elke, who lived in Zurich for many years, bought a plot of land in the Algarve, the southern coast of Portugal, because a lawyer friend predicted that the gorgeous hundred-mile stretch of beaches would soon become the next Riviera. Elke paid the equivalent of fifteen hundred dollars for three acres about a mile inland from the Atlantic Ocean and adjoining a luxury beach resort called Vale do Lobo. She thought of the property not as real estate but as a paper investment to sell once it proved profitable.
At the time, she had no idea how her purchase in Portugal would change our lives.
It is eleven years later and my mother is eighty-three, the same age as the century. While my husband Walter and I are in Zurich for our annual springtime visit for her birthday, she receives a letter and waves it with a gratified smile.
“Look at this. This is a hundred percent profit in just ten years. Isn’t that wonderful?”
The letter is from the real estate firm of Rodrigues and Lopes, offering to buy back her property in Portugal for double her purchase price. Elke has enjoyed the idea of owning land with Riviera potential and was intrigued enough with the Algarve to buy several books illustrated with dramatic black and white photographs of sunny beaches, dazzling white villages, hillside farms with donkeys and almond blossoms, and rural people in traditional dress. Each time Walter and I visited her, we pored over the survey of her property and the books and photographs. We found the region starkly beautiful, but my mother wears pearls and high heels every day and likes Paris, London, or New York for vacations. She never had any intention of traveling to a rustic patch of ground far from what she considered the basic amenities of civilization--art galleries, theaters, fine shops and restaurants, and a good hairdresser. Walter and I, however, became ever more charmed by the lure of such a distant exotic place. At first we only pictured vacation afternoons on the terrace of a cool white villa under a distant blue sky, and saw ourselves strolling on the beaches. But something about that undeveloped plot of land in a faraway place suggested that in a few years we could break out of our embedded lives and embark on something new.”