European Craftsmanship, Missouri Heights Dream
By Angilina Taylor, WeAre5028.com
The first time I met Carlos was the summer of 2011.
He was the right-hand man for the owner of a factory we had just started doing business with. I was the right-hand woman for the owner of Taos footwear, the company with which I was Director of Design and Development. Carlos and I spent countless hours developing shoes together, me asking if he had this type of leather or this type of sole and him rustling around to show me what capabilities the factory had. Carlos is of Portuguese descent but he spent his formative years living in Mozambique, so he sounds somewhat like a Portuguese Russian, if you can imagine that. More often than not, I would have some hair-brained idea and he would say to me, “Angilina, I am sorry we cannot do that.” Every once in a while after I left he would run down to his “magic-shop” and miraculously the impossible became possible.
It wasn’t until we worked together for two or three years that I really got to know Carlos. He picked me up from the airport on a sunny Portugese day– and to be honest, I thought to myself, “What will we talk about on this 30 minute journey?!”– to drive from Oporto to Guimaraes. To my surprise we talked about everything and found that we had so much in common. We talked politics, the shoe industry, about our shared love of fitness and riding bikes, his side physical therapy business and my personal training endeavors.
A New Friendship
He recounted his childhood days in Mozambique where his father was very successful and the family was happy, but then the political turnover happened and he and his family were forced to leave the country and left with nothing. This was the beginning of the end for his father who finally took his life.
It was one of those conversations…
By the time we got to our destination I was thinking maybe we could drive some more. Upon dropping me off at my hotel we agreed that we must do a bike ride together soon. Carlos rides his bike at least 60-100K every Sunday training for larger rides like adventures along Camino de Santiago with his riding buddies.
On my next trip to Portugal, I came prepared with all of my gear. After a very long work week, Carlos and I took Sunday to do what we love, get outside and ride. The roads in Portugal resemble something Doctor Seuss would dream up, windy and wonky and surprising. I am continuously blown away when we drive and arrive at a destination how we got there and how it was navigated with such ease and speed, and why did we have to drive that fast?
The day of our ride I thought we would make our way to a bike path of sorts, but then again that is me being American, why would we need a bike path? It was a crisp September day, we wound about the streets of Felgueiras and eventually climbed our way into the backcountry.
We passed vineyards and chickens and little cobblestone homes, farmers and ladies hanging their laundry out to dry, and children playing in the roads. Our half way point was a small cafe in what to me seemed like the middle of nowhere, where little old men stopped in for their morning espresso and read the Sunday news. We sat down and had our espresso, the original energy drink, and Pastel De Nata, a small custard pie delicatessen. We sprinkled our cinnamon on top and bit into the flaky crust, the creamy, sugary middle was just enough to savor the day and fuel us for our ride back to reality. The company and the journey was perfect.
Exiting the Corporate World
When I decided to make a lifestyle change and leave corporate America for the start-up journey, Carlos was one of the first people I contacted. He was supportive, helpful and provided me with a plethora of information and contacts. He put me in touch with the best factories in Portugal and made sure that when I arrived in Portugal I was all taken care of. I arrived in Guimaraes armed with a giant list of people to meet and scheduled my days out for one person to pick me up here, one to drop me off there, lunch with this agent, and dinner with that one.
The days were long and every door I knocked on felt like I was getting closer and closer to my dreams. After a very long week Carlos invited me to Saturday lunch with his entire family. His wife, two sons, mother and father in law. Portuguese food in my opinion is some of the best in the world. We ate, we drank vinho verde (pronounced vin verd) for hours, his sons translating the questions his wife and in laws had for me.
There were moments when I thought “Somebody pinch me, is this really my life?”
His family was lovely and took me in with the warmest welcome– including an invitation to their home to Skype with their daughter who was living in New York. It was their Sunday ritual and I was a part of it, the love, joy and support in the room among a family that has seen their fair share of trials was what it is truly all about and I was blessed to be included.
We ended the day with a bike ride, this time on a bike bath. Carlos and I on bikes; his son João on inline skates, circa 1992. The scene was comical, João trying to keep up and us chuckling away. Even as the skies turned, the rains, they poured sideways! João, who had the keys was miles away and we couldn’t help but laugh. Carlos said, “My wife would kill me if she was here. My wife she is special, she is a virgin.”
“Ummmmmm, what? What do you mean?” I just meant his three children and all.
“You know, she is special; she is born in August.”
“Ahhh, she is a Virgo!”
Driving back to my hotel, Carlos, João and I were sweaty, drowned rats. I sat in the car, mind reeling, as on that surprising drive so long ago. New friends across an ocean. Sumptuous leathers; hand-crafted shoes by friends/artisans that are family to me. I made it happen– I chased a dream and caught it.
Us Virgos… we are special, aren’t we?