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Portugal Pants by Anita Cabrera

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

The last time you were in Portugal, some forty-one years ago, you had better pants. In those days you were like the kids half your age you are with now in Messajana, a town with eight-hundred or so residents and no celery or tofu. These kids have good pants. “Good” like the pants you took out of your suitcase and put back in your closet because you wanted to travel lighter. You left behind the faded, weird-fitting, Japanese jeans with conveniently huge pockets that you bought used ten years ago. Nor did you bring the men’s white Levis, passed down by your son a foot taller than you, jeans so roomy you can take them off without unbuttoning them. They make you feel irreverent because you swim in them, yet conservative and well-dressed because they are crisp white denim.
The author in purple pants in Portugal

The young people you are with here did not bring pants to look respectable. This makes you realize you have been hanging around too many mothers over fifty-five who dress like you do. Your housemate for the month, a young artist whose galleries pay him before he has even created the paintings, recently graced the cover of GQ Australia wearing a custom-made Gucci suit with gold paisley lapels. He wears the suit pants to the one of two bars in town that you go to. He nabbed a pair of limited-edition Gucci boots right off the feet of an international heartthrob, former boy-band lead singer and actor. He is sponsored by haute couture and hot French designers, which means they send him whatever threads he wants as long as he is seen on Instagram or at a media event wearing them. He has got good pants.You have brought along your practical, discount store mom jeans.

The pisser is that this group of twenty-something year-old artists from France, Belgium, the U.S., Australia and Portugal like to note whether an item they are wearing is used, upcycled, recycled or vintage. You are petty. You want to scream, “I did vintage in 1974.” You skipped school in eighth grade to hang out at a vintage shop in Westport, Connecticut. In 1981, you climbed into a dumpster in Madrid, scored a Pima cotton men’s tuxedo shirt with light blue pinstripes, a ruffled bib and cuff-link holes. It had a small tear you easily mended.

And what did you carry across the ocean to the artists' residency where you are the lone writer? Not the baggy, red Dickey trousers your youngest son found in a box in the Haight that even your college students complimented you on. No, you had to pack the Ross mom-jeans, and we are not talking the “mom jean” currently in fashion, but really bad mom jeans no one under thirty would be caught dead in. And why, at the last minute, did you throw in the skinny jeans that are just so out-of-date and even tighter than they are supposed to be? Sure, they were fine for hanging out with your ninety-three-year-old in-laws in a quaint North Bay coastal town...not outdated at all when kicking it with near centenarians.

The only other American in your cohort is a thin, pale woman from Utah who could make a dishtowel look like haute couture because she is as tiny as Twiggy. She wears wire-rimmed glasses and no makeup. Worse, the one pair of pants you’ve seen her in are a shorts version of your favorite pants, which you didn't bring along: wide cut-off jeans, naturally faded to a pale blue, almost white, that hang below her belly to knees, trimmed in naturally frayed threads. In any top, even a man’s muscle undershirt, she looks ready for the catwalk at Fashion Week.

She is a sculptor and casts organic materials in bronze after burning them out, or something like that. Plus, she forages and knows plants and soils and birds because she was a double-major, biology and art, and spent summers at her grandparents’ farm. And she’s a certified scuba diver because she spent winters at their place in the Bahamas. She just came back from an intense master diver certification stint in Honduras. If she put on your Ross mother’s (senior discounted) jeans, she would still look ultra-cool, partly because of who she is and partly because they would be huge on her. But the worst part is that you, at your “elder statesperson” age, are the most puberty-angst-stricken-superficial wannabe of the bunch.

You may be romanticizing. Maybe the pants you had in Portugal last time weren’t that cool.

While teaching English in Madrid, you walked past a boutique in a posh neighborhood and were mesmerized by the pants on a mannequin in the window -- tapered metallic-colored nylon, with sleek pockets on the legs and showy zippers. They were expensive, beyond your budget. But just as you were leaving the country to travel with a friend, you splurged. Oh, how you wish you had comparable trousers with you today. But instead, you go out with this group of ultra-hip young people, in their ever-so-stylish pants of many origins and forms, looking like the den mother -- which, face it, at twice their age, you are...Even if they did invite you along to the three-day music festival in Lisbon they went to for the weekend.

Just put on your pants and be done with it! Puberty shouldn’t outlast menopause. You still have time to find some super-cool, Portuguese-old-man-pants in a dumpster before you leave.


A. Cabrera's stories and memoir pieces about the intersection between family, addiction and mental illness have appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Berkeley Fiction Review, The New Guard, Litro and other literary publications. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and adapted for stage by the Bay Area Word for Word Theater Company. She writes, teaches, dances and otherwise lives in San Francisco, CA


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