Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Ian showing off his new "backpack"
Ian wearing one of his new T-shirts and brushing his hair with his new collapsible brush (for the full effect, it would've been necessary to post all 13 pictures Ian took of himself brushing his hair and wearing his new T-shirt, while I was writing a post. This is just the last one.)
Our trip here was lengthy, and relatively uneventful. We took a bus then the Tube to Heathrow and waited in a line to drop off our bags (once we'd checked in) that would undoubtedly have been included in the Inferno if Dante were to write it today, but still made it to our flight on time. And then the flight was late, but only 30 minutes (whereas our flight to Lisbon earlier in the summer took off at the time it was supposed to be landing). We still had enough time in Stockholm to enter the country, collect our bags, then walk the mile and a half through eerily empty Arlanda (we were, literally, one of three flights taking off from the 56 gates in terminal five) to check in at the opposite end of the opposite end of the airport for our flight to here, even notwithstanding this flight was late too. Ian had to check his rucksack in at a different counter than me because of the straps . . . and herein lies the event. When we made it through customs (last in line, somehow) here in Riga, my bag was waiting for us, but his was not.
The lady at lost luggage was very helpful, and very organized, and although there was no sign of the lost bag in the system (i.e. it certainly didn't board the plane in Stockholm . . . because there was so much traffic, I'm sure. It must just have gotten lost in the shuffle.), she promised to find it and deliver it to our hotel. And she handed us two night packs as a consolation prize, each of which has a large T-shirt in it, so Ian now has 3 times as many as before, which is nice, actually.
The only thing we're really missing is our power adapters . . . I've got some 55 minutes left on my computer, but Ian's down to a mere 7.
But, warnings from the Lonely Planet proved, at least for us, unfounded--the taxi driver immediately turned the meter on upon entering and we had a wild ride (not a CHANCE I am renting a car here) in the 11:30pm ends-of-sunset-and-full-moon light into town, without being cheated.
Overall, thumbs up on Latvia so far.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I hate taking the bus. In part this is because, in Seattle, the bus comes about once every half hour, and from where I lived, I could be downtown in 1/3 the time it took for me to wait for the next bus. Also, I tend to get motion sickness on buses. I don’t know why, but I have to steel myself for the experience every time I go. Our three days in
One of the joys of
Ian, being the clever, technology-oriented guy that he is, insisted we buy transit passes last time we were in
They’re an excellent deal, first of all. A one-day travelcard for the Tube costs something like £6, but if you have an Oystercard, you only pay up to £4.50 per day, and it’s good on buses too. And then, suddenly, here we were in a far reach of Islington and the closest Tube station is a 30-minute walk away—completely negating my previous statement that everywhere in
I’m not against walking 30 minutes—in fact, I frequently enjoy it, and
The recent floods have messed up the Tube tubes, too, and have shorted out signals and whatnot, so buses have been all the more necessary for getting around. Ian mentioned the other day that no matter what the scale of your map is, London is so huge that you find yourself walking 3 or 4 times as long as you’d thought, so a bus is frequently welcome—and welcomingly frequent. During the day, most routes seem to run in 8-10 minute intervals (more often during rush hours). Buses run all night, in 20-30 minute intervals from to . So you know you can catch one when you need it.
But the Oystercard, the transit pass, is the icing on the cake. All you need to do is swipe it over the reader and continue on your merry way. No need to search for an unknown amount of change or worry about whether you pay at the beginning or the end of the trip. Buses are clean, buses are fun, buses are convenient. I could become a convert.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Anyway, bedbugs have been successfully eradicated, so here we are, eating tasty home-cooked food—pasta and veggies and beans our first night, brownies that Ian made for dessert the second night, crepes with Greek yoghurt and apricots and bananas or raspberry jam for breakfast yesterday morning, and so far the piéce de resistance: last night’s dinner of chicken fajitas.
J grew up in Arizona cooking Southwest food, so even in London the fajitas were pretty authentic, and the company—us, them, and five others of their friends—made us feel right at home, as if we, too, had just stopped by for dinner. The generosity of our friends on this trip has been so appreciated—it really makes a huge difference to feel so welcomed and so at home all over this continent. And our clothes have stayed pretty clean.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
note: 2nd post today! Be sure to read on . . .
We’ve just arrived back in
So, as usual, we purchased a case of port in
Anyway, first stop at the airport this morning was the car rental agency to drop off our car. This one, too, was an Opel Corsa, and brand-spanking-new. I think it had 26 kms on it when we picked it up. It had an even more useless engine, though, than the last one. On the motorway, we could more or less almost maintain 100 kph (speed limit was 120) going up a slight incline, if we downshifted to 4th and floored it. More or less. But back to my story.
I reserved the car online, and we got a pretty good deal for it—€236 or something for 9 days—and then when we picked it up, evidently the rate had changed, and they dropped the total cost down to €226. That’s at least one lunch, so we didn’t argue (okay, anyone who argues with a multinational corporation about a €10 discount is crazy, anyway).
Sometime while we were in Trás os Montes, my credit card stopped working. When I called to find out why, it seemed that the rental car company had, instead of charging me €226, charged me about €1,000 instead. That looked suspicious, so VISA had put a hold on my account. I did not authorize them to pay the charge, figuring it would all get worked out when I returned the car.
So this morning at the agency I waited patiently while they checked me in on the computer, then found my initial paperwork and perused that, then looked over everything again (seriously, it was a 20 minute process), then finally went into the back. I assumed they would come back with some notice that I hadn’t paid, but no. The agent handed me €6, said “Obrigado,” and sent me on my way.
So, it would seem that, instead of paying €226 for our 9-day rental, we actually got paid €6. Okay . . . (note: since writing this, I've accessed my CC records and they did, in fact, charge me for the car. Still, a discount of €16 is nothing to thumb your nose at.)
So off to the terminal to check in for our flight, on TAP. We handed over our two rucksacks, then started to haul Big Orange onto the scale.
“Oh no,” said the agent. “Is that yours too?”
“Yes . . .”
“Because you’re only allowed 20 kgs each on this flight.”
“Can we pay for the extra bag?” asked Ian.
“Yes,” said Claudia, our agent, “but I’m afraid it’s very expensive. It’s €50 per 5 kgs over the total.”
“What?” we gasped, shocked. “FIFTY EUROS for every extra five kilos?!?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” she replied. “That would be about €360 for this extra bag.”
I explained that it was port, and we couldn’t send it, and we couldn’t carry it on, so what should we do? Our tickets, both of them together, had cost less than €200. Could we just buy another plane ticket, and its attendant 20 kg, and call it good? But of course we couldn’t—tickets purchased one hour before the flight are much more expensive.
“You could try air cargo,” Claudia suggested. “You can walk there—it’s not far. I’ll check in all three bags just in case, but as cargo it will probably arrive sometime today, and it will probably be cheaper. Try it, and come back to see me and let me know if it works. But see me only, okay?”
So, off we went to air cargo, which is in the old terminal of
Back in the fancy new terminal, we waved at Claudia We made it! from across a crowd of new checker-inners, and negotiated security and passport control with a minimum of fuss.
The only bad part of the journey (as opposed to the cargo part, which was a somewhat bemusing novelty and, ultimately, only a bit irritating) was landing at Gatwick, where there were still rainstorms, and after descending for some unknown amount of altitude through choppy, gray clouds, we put the landing gear down, saw some green pastures near below us, and suddenly did one of those reverse descents (read: very labored and speedy ascents) back up into the misty turbulent closeness. We bumped around for another 15 minutes before attempting to land again (Ian and I tried to distract ourselves with Tintin and the Broken Ear, in Portuguese, with nominal success). This time we came down completely, but several times we wondered if one of the turbulent drops was going to slam us into the ground just a little too hard for the landing gear to handle.
Five days here, then off to
Note: As my friend Chiara might put it, Bragança’s
The first day we were in Bragança, we discovered the modern (and modernly architected) Mercado Municipal and our favorite part of it: the
Well, last night, this inability to control ourselves in the virtual world took its toll.
There’s a parking garage under the Mercado Municipal. The first day we paused as we entered and took a ticket. We discussed whether or not to leave it on the dash or take it with us when we went upstairs; I eventually saw that it said to take it, not leave it in the car. When it came time to leave, we looked around, and realized that the exit gate was open. Then we realized that the entrance gate was open as well, and that evidently all that had led us to take a ticket was our inability to pass a button without pushing it.
Ever after, we entered without taking a ticket.
Last night, several days after our first visit, I noticed that the “Caixa para pagar (box for payment)” wasn’t there under its sign on the wall. Even though there were several signs detailing how much you were to pay for the privilege of parking a mere elevator’s ride from the
When we were finally done, and, at , starting to get hungry for dinner (I tell you, we have embraced the European eating habits) we went to the elevator to go back down to our car. Even though the elevator was clearly visible on our floor, the door just cracked, it didn’t work.
“I’m not actually sure I’d want to get in it, even if the doors did open,” I said to Ian after we’d pushed the button several times. “But there are some stairs that I saw back this way.”
We took the stairs down, two floors, all the way to the parking garage, and when we arrived there we found—yes, you’re very smart, and you guessed correctly—the garage was closed. Our car was locked in.
In Seattle, when garages are locked at night, either the door will open from the inside when you’re driving out (the Cost Plus garage is an example of this—if you wait until after the attendants go home, you don’t have to pay), or there’s an emergency after hours number you can call that will get your car out (although you have to pay a fine). We looked everywhere; nothing.
I had dimly remembered that the garage was open until hours . . . but I had remembered wrong. It was only open until , and we would’ve made it if we hadn’t been obsessed with gmail and latviarooms.com. We went back upstairs (fortunately the interior fire doors weren’t locked) and the attendant at the Cyber Center directed us to a taxi rank, and we made our way back to our village by taxi (only €10, including tip).
The driver picked me up this morning and brought me back to the Mercado. It seems that our car wasn’t, in fact, ticketed, and so, after all, no fine!
Unless, of course, you count the €20 taxi fare. I couldn’t tell if the driver was amused, or sorry for us.
Anyway, endless adventures.
By the way, the hotel/salsicharia/restaurant complex where we’ve been staying has been great, even including the weird kitchen. For dinner tonight we had three different sausages and prosciutto, cheese, bread, and a sort of rabbit risotto, and a bottle of excellent red wine. Dessert was homemade blackberry ice cream and samples of different homemade liqueurs—cherry, raspberry, and orange. Yum!
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Horse riding on vacation is a bit strange. I’ve now ridden five times, and aside from the first time, each experience has evidently been a bit of a surprise to the people offering it. When we were in
Me: “Is this the horse riding?”
Them: “Yes . . .”
Me: “Um, I’d like to go riding.”
Them: “Okay . . .”
Me: “Um, how about tomorrow?”
Them: “How many people?”
Me: “Well, just me.”
Them: “Okay. How long have you ridden?”
Me: “About 30 years.”
Me: “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, say, ?”
Them: “Okay, .
Me: Okay . . .
In Orkney, the girl who guided me was great—I liked her a lot—but she had just started guiding (although she rode well) and didn’t know where the trails went (although I enjoyed just being out on a horse . . . in the thick, trail-obscuring mist).
In Porto Côvo, since we were there 11 days, I thought I would ride twice. The first time, I had the above conversation, only they asked me to call back the next day to set a time (to weed out the people who weren’t, in fact, that serious about it?). The guide I had was a Belgian girl, from the Flemish part of
In Évora, of course, it was all organized by the Dutch owner of the house and I had that great experience riding through the Alentejo for a couple hours.
Horse riding in
We stopped a few days ago, on our way to the aborted fly walk. A groom named Mario was doing some horse care when we arrived—bringing in four horses who were in turnout, and letting out two young stallions (separately), changing bedding, feeding, grooming. He invited me to groom one of the horses, a lovely and sweet Lusitano named Huna (Oona), who clearly loved being scraped and polished. Fun for me, less work for him—a perfect setup.
After I’d had enough of horse-pampering, Mario found us the phone number of the center and the cell number of a guy named Paolo, who was in charge while the other manager, someone who spoke English, was in England, at Exmoor, either at a show or buying horses or something. My Portuguese isn’t that good at speed.
Later that afternoon I called the center and asked for Paolo; no, he wasn’t in yet. Later yet I called again, half-expecting a repeat of the Porto Côvo no-one-answers-the-phone-ever-again situation, but I managed to reach Paolo, and he invited me to ride today, from 4 to 5.
So when I arrived today, it turned out that none of the horses have shoes, so they couldn’t be ridden on the gravel roads running through the park. Instead, I would be able to ride in the small round arena, and in one of the pastures, if that would be okay. Since riding was what I wanted to do, and trail riding wasn’t absolutely necessary, I said sure, that would be fine.
Paolo handed me a helmet and put me on Huna, and then let me go to have my fun. And you know, it was great!
I’ve never yet had enough time in my riding lesson schedule to come up with a day for hacking (riding without an instructor—a practice session where you work, on your own, on things you’ve been learning in lessons), but when I start up lessons again I’m definitely going to make time for a hack. Huna and I circled around the arena for awhile, practicing sitting trot and leg yields and bending and cantering each direction (she preferred cantering left), then we went out into the pasture and tooled around there, doing extended trots and more cantering, and practicing turning away from the barn even though she didn’t want to. There were a few jumps set up, and I was tempted to do a couple, but decided that new horse, wrong boots (i.e. a pair of Puma sneakers—bright red, really cute), new field, and permanent jumps (they were made out of logs, not bars that can just be kicked away) were enough reasons for discretion to win. I rode a little over an hour, loving it the whole time, and at the end Paolo apologized to me for me having to work on the horse (because, I guess, she wanted to go back to her stall?). Anyway, absolutely no apology necessary. Huna and I each got some schooling, and I got some time in the saddle, and it all reminded me, yet again, that I love riding. I drove home listening to Free to Be You and Me, and grinning the whole time.
And Ian got some good work done.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Ian caught up with me.
On the road to Gimonde, where we're staying.
The ridiculous kitchen.
Beautiful bridge in the middle of our walk today. Some flies, but not too many.
We're staying in a refurbished house on the edge of the Parque Natural de Montesinhos, complete with a shared kitchen (of a weird, weird, inconvenient design--the cabinets come down to about two feet over the counters, so when you're doing anything with your hands--cutting, stirring a boiling pot--you can't see anything but the blank white cabinet door in front of your nose and so you feel a bit like the hands in one of those old skits from camp where you're the hands feeding someone else's face cereal or brushing someone else's teeth. But, of course, you have the knives and the boiling. But I wasn't going to complain . . . that's right . . . ), so it's pretty convenient. We had dinner last night with two other guests, or, at least, we all ate at the same time, although two different dinners. But afterwards we shared their port and our port, and talked long into the late evening (almost midnight, which would be late night in other parts of the world but is evening in Iberia).
There is also a restaurant, in the next building over, owned by the same folks who run the inn. We ate there our first two nights, and enjoyed it very much. The woman who served us is very sweet, and spoke to me in Portuguese, and asked if we wanted the TV on (we said no, because we have no resistance whatsoever and it's nice to at least look at each other once in awhile while eating, and taste the food), and served us only one Javali (wild pig) dinner instead of two, which meant that we only had a little left over, which she wrapped for us to take home.
On Friday we went again and had goat, which was also good, and potatoes and salad and a cornmeal pudding with amazing fig compote for dessert, and some local walnut liqueur. We were the only people in the restaurant when we arrived, but it was only 8:30 so this didn't strike us as particularly odd. Also, she put us in a different room than the first night, but we assumed it was because the room didn't have a TV, and we hadn't wanted to watch it (other people came in after us the first night and turned on the TV). Anyway, it all seemed like a perfectly normal dining experience. She wrapped our extra meat for us to take home--I explained that I'd used the Javali in sandwiches and would do the same with the Cabrito--and we left.
The next morning, yesterday, when I opened the Cabrito to make the sandwiches, I saw that she had put in extra meat. She was afraid that what we'd had left wouldn't have been enough to feed us, so she gave us more. Very, very sweet.
Then, last night at dinner when we were talking with our fellow guests, I told the story of the extra meat.
"But the restaurant wasn't open last night," said the man.
"What?" said we.
"It's closed on Friday nights," he said. "We went over to get a coffee after dinner and it was definitely closed."
So there you have it. The restaurant was closed, but without hesitation the lady gave us a lovely dinner anyway, and not only that, extra food so we could have a lovely lunch the next day.
The world is a wonderful place, flies and all.
We had some in our room, too, for about 24 hours. It's not so bad at night, when they sleep too, but they wake up with the sun (read: a couple hours earlier than I want to) and find any bit of exposed flesh that they can, and perch there with their shit feet. They even flew up my little breathing tunnel when I covered my head with the sheet. DISGUSTING. And we couldn't find a flyswatter anywhere.
Anyway, after our aborted walk yesterday, I went home, rage in my heart, and with a brochure for the park, killed every last one of the two flies in our room (there had been three, but Ian had managed to catch one in one hand in a weird pseudo-Karate Kid move. But, I tell you, they seem like hundreds when they're flying into your nose and landing on your lips). And they haven't been back since.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Here we are in beautiful Bragança, in far northeastern
ANYway. Enough complaining. It’s working now, so I’ll be able to tell you that we’re staying on the edge of the Parque Natural de Montezinhos, where we’re going to go hiking over the next several days when we’re not working, and maybe see wild boar (which we know from dinner last night is quite tasty), and maybe start to work off all the sausage we’ve eaten in the last month or so.
Someone told my
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
We’re sitting in the mostly dark bar of our hotel right now, side by side on a surprisingly right-angled (and therefore rather more surprisingly comfortable), shiny black leather loveseat with white stitching. There’s an orange plastic vase with two sprigs of lucky bamboo in it on a rectangular black table in front of us, and a dim floor lamp with a cubic shade to my left. The open hours for the bar are to , and we’re well within those hours right now. Nowhere is it posted that the bar shouldn’t be open on a Wednesday night, and since we’ve been sitting here (almost an hour now, I should think), several couples have come around the corner, seen only the two of us side by side in a square pool of light with our laptops on our laps, and gone away again, confused. There’s nothing, actually (from what we can see), to keep us from just pouring ourselves some drinks—the bottles are out on a shelf behind the bar, the glasses are clean and within reach, we know from the regular chilly tumble that ice is plentiful in the machine. But for some reason (morals, maybe?), we’ve stayed primly in the public area. We’re only here at all, and not in our clean, Ikea-esque room, because we’ve found that we can access somebody’s unsecured wireless here. It is very
We hiked today outside Guimarães, through invasive eucalyptus forests (which nevertheless smell good when the sun hits them) and along a river, up to an ancient (maybe 2300 to 2400-year-old) city. Alongside the river for part of the way up the hill ran a brisk watercourse—I’m assuming a several-centuries-old irrigation system (although the current channel is lined with concrete halfpipes instead of the marble or granite slabs you’d expect). The ancient city was, well, very old. In the beginning, I’m always interested in seeing these ancient things . . . but then, once I’m there, I lose interest pretty quickly. Yeah, okay, a bunch of old stone walls, or not even that, just old stone squares laid out on the ground. In ten minutes I’m done, and ready for refreshment (in this case a “red fruits” juice). I always wonder uncomfortably just how long I’m supposed to be interested in ruins. I suspect it’s longer than ten minutes, but that’s almost universally all I can muster. I’m much more interested in things maybe 300 years old, which we encountered aplenty near the end of our walk, down at the bottom of the hill, crumbling and covered with vines, old irrigation ditches still flowing with water along the edge of houses and in narrow cascades over walls, feeding a corn patch here, a plot of flowers there.
Then we drove to Barcelos, which is a fine town (although no Guimarães for sheer picturesqueness), but we’re really only here because of tomorrow’s market. It’s just the weekly market, but supposedly it’s the best in
A street in Porto, in the Rebeira
Another street in the Ribeira (the Riverside)
The Ribeira seen from one of the many bridges.
The view from our attic window in Guimarães. The view was great, the smell (or rather the STENCH) of the room was not. With the rooftop doors open and the fan on, we were able to sleep. But it smelled like sewage and dead, rotten animals. Particularly one of the closets, although Ian said he looked and didn't see anything. Anyway. Pee-you.
The central square in Guimarães.
C and me in this very cool toy at the playground (A commented: "Looks like they had the architect design this, instead of the parent."). It spins around pretty fluidly, and you feel like you're going to fall out, but you don't quite. When Ian tried to get out, though, he somehow got into a position where he was crouched, and running toward the edge, which of course was going to be endlessly just out of reach. I eventually came to his rescue and stopped the thing. Although it looks like you'll fall out onto asphalt, it's actually rubber mats.
Porto at night (or, actually, Vila Nova da Gaia, which is just across the Douro from Porto), from the balcony where we were enjoying one of many stops for ice creams and coffees.
(written a couple days ago)
It’s raining right now, thick heavy drops dinging out of the sky into the gutters in a minor third bom bim bom bim bom as I lie in my bed. Behind the marimba dinging is the dull applause splatter of water on granite cobblestones, and the occasional bug-flying-into-the-side-of-the-tent sound of larger drops dripping onto lemon leaves in the garden. We won’t be going to the British Club today for a barbecue, and A is probably off the hook for cricket.
This is our first rain since leaving
We’re staying with our northern
Staying with A, F, C &B is always a pleasure. The food is good and plentiful, the bed is comfortable, there’s a piano for me to play and an accordion for Ian. We’re more or less adopted into the family for the time that we’re there, spending some time watching movies or drinking beers with A&F, and some time dressing dolls (me) or swinging (Ian) with the little girls. It feels a lot like another home away from home.
But, I have to say, it’s surprising how little kids can suck the energy right out of you. We love them, yes, but boy are they exhausting!
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Here we were finally able to coordinate all the remaining pieces of Ian’s new application for residency in
On our way back to the apartment to pick up the address of the apartment, Ian’s hat blew off and in frustration he picked it up and flung it violently to the marble-paved sidewalk where, because of a trick of the wind and the slickness of the paving, it scuttled away up the hill from him as if it were running away. We laughed hysterically and were able to find the strength of mind to collect the address and get back to the post office without any more difficulty.
There was a man at the table closest to the door, a little bit portly, maybe in his 60s, who appeared to be a little bit drunk, and perhaps a little bit the irritating soused neighborhood boor.
It soon became clear that he was indeed soused, but was evidently much beloved. About five minutes after we arrived, the first little old gray-haired Portuguese lady appeared outside in the street. When she tried the door, he held it closed and pretended not to notice her pounding and pushing on it. He eventually relented though, and she came in and sat down at his table, and ordered an ice cream cone.
Now, the ice cream cone was interesting in and of itself—it’s like a pre-packed ice cream cone that you’d get in any convenience store freezer, except that the cone part isn’t frozen, so it’s not soggy. So the proprietor (a young Indian woman—perhaps from Goa?) collected the cone and the frozen ice cream filling from the back room, then loaded the cone and the ice cream filling into a sort of drill press-type machine made specifically for this purpose, and pressed the ice cream filling through a star-shaped hole in its container into the cone, pulling down on a large handle to do so. I realize this isn’t that clear of a description, but it’s all you’re getting right now. Anyway, the little old lady settled in and really enjoyed her cone.
Over the next 40 minutes, another three little old ladies came into the café. Each was barred at the door, until the proprietor went over and, under the cover of clearing the table, stole the soused man’s cell phone and pretended to throw it away with the trash. One of the ladies didn’t stay, but the other two also ordered ice cream cones, which were pressed into the cones with the machine.
And our tostas were excellent—made in a sandwich toasting machine, but then buttered on the outsides before they were served. And then we also had a large piece of an excellent flan.
There are these little cafés all over Portugal—they each have a lager on tap, a few spirits, a sandwich or two, a couple non-alcoholic beverages, a couple sweets, and coffee. At lunch they usually also serve two or three “pratos do dia”, or dishes of the day. Simple, tasty, friendly, charming.
The barber Ian saw yesterday was also a lovely cultural experience, although for very different reasons. When we asked F for a barber recommendation, she told us that A goes once a month to a man not far from the apartment, who’s elderly and inexpensive (only € 7—the cheapest haircut Ian’s had yet), and whom he refers to as “the Brazilian Butcher.”
Evidently, this old man tells A stories about how he murdered people in Brazil 60 years ago, while he’s cutting A’s hair or, more alarmingly, shaving his neck with a very, very sharp straight razor. And if you go for your cut after lunch, don’t expect it to be very symmetrical, because he tends to drink quite a bit. But € 7—who can beat it? So A goes back, once every 4 to 6 weeks.
When we went in, an attractive older man with a short cut and a tidy, silvery goatee, who looked like he’d be perfect on horseback in a movie set in colonial
When the elderly man got up to go and the Brazilian Butcher motioned Ian toward the chair, I said “Il não fala Português, mas eu falou um pouco.”
“Okay,” said the BB in enthusiastic Portuguese, “then let’s talk!” Which of course shut me up completely.
The BB pulled out his clippers questioningly and Ian nodded.
“Numero um,” he said carefully, sitting down.
“Il fala Português!” the BB said to me, and we all laughed.
The cut proceeded swiftly and well after that. We were asked if we were German and said no, American. The BB then told us that he’d been in the Marines (presumably Brazilian Marines) for ten years, and had traveled all over the US when they did training with US Marines. He told us he was 80, and when I said that was impossible, he explained that the secret to long life was good wine (we were there before lunch, fortunately).
Somewhere along the time he picked up the straight razor to shave Ian’s neck and shape the back of his hair (perfectly, I might add), he started saying something about “boosh”, and “embraço”. I got the verb pretty quickly—something about hugging—but it took me a bit for “boosh,” until someone—Ian perhaps? Explained that he was talking about Bush. I can only assume, given his descriptions of multiple past murders, that he was wanting to hug Bush with his razor in hand. Anyway, he went on to tell us that first of all, the
My Portuguese skills are far from perfect, and I seem to be able to produce a lot more words and, evidently, sensical sentences, than I can understand (at least judging by the rapid responses I get). But I am understanding a lot, and it’s a great pleasure to be able to do so. Everyone in
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Me, a cow, and our car, which has stopped whining.
A typical scene of the big waves and rocky shore.
Porto Covo's fishing port. Those boats are pretty small, considering the size of the waves.
Looking through some windows in an old fort, probably about 500 years old. There's a similar fort in Mombasa, also Portuguese, from about the same time period. The one in Mombasa definitely had some bad, post-slavery energy, though, and this one just felt old.
Although having a serious arachnophobe friend has rubbed off on me a little, I'm not generally that afraid of spiders, although admittedly I'm not particularly fond of the large, hairy-legged ones we get in our houses in the Northwest come fall. So I've more or less kept my eyes open here, since the element of surprise is a bad element when spiders are involved. There was one big spider in the kitchen the other evening which Ian smashed with the lid of the garbage can (my hero), and another one in a bedroom we're not using, so I pretended it was just a shadow. And then I assumed that, since we'd been here a week and a half already, the spiders had probably cleared out.
So this afternoon I was sitting on the couch feeling sad and missing our friends. I had just written my blog entry about how much fun it was to host some people, and then a Dave Matthews song came on the iPod and I suddenly felt very, very homesick for people, and I admit I sniffled a little and cried a tear or two. Ian was sitting on the bean bag on the floor watching me and looking a little sad himself. I reached up behind me to the windowsill and grabbed the roll of TP we've been using as Kleenex and pulled it into my lap, and at the same time pulled the huge spider that had been lodging there into my lap as well, where it crouched on the pocket of my shorts, inches from the hem of my very loose shirt, up which it would undoubtedly have scampered for cover if I hadn't shrieked and leapt up from the couch, batting frantically at my front. “What? WHAT?” Ian screamed, levitating up from the beanbag on the floor as I leapt across the living room and behind him, clutching at his arm.
“Spider . . .” I choked out, “big spider, on my pocket!”
“Where did it go?!”
“I think under the rug!”
Ian, my knight in a strange outfit of patchwork Hawaiian print swim trunks, short-sleeved tan and blue plaid button-down shirt and grass-green sweater, came to my rescue and walked carefully all over the rug, while I laughed hysterically. He then slowly peeled it back and saw that yes, indeed, he had been successful in slaying my dragon.
And then he took this picture of it.
But the most appreciated benefit of being in a home for awhile was that we were actually able to have guests, instead of just being guests! My friends A&F, from Lisbon, came down for the weekend and joined us in our leisurely lifestyle, and gave us a much-needed infusion of conversation topics. They're European, our age, and have traveled a lot and lived all over the world, and even though I see them on average once every three years and this was Ian's first time meeting them, we all got along immediately. The great thing about keeping in touch with people all over the world, of course, is that you have an excuse to visit them (we'll spend four days at their home next week). The thing that sucks is that I know all my friends would love each other . . . but it's so hard to get everyone together! I'll just have to make it a goal sometime in the future—Internation House Party at the Taylor's. Has a nice ring to it.
In addition to the Buffet de Gelato, there are a few other things we've enjoyed about being back in Portugal and here in particular. One is, of course, the bafflingly cheap wine. I bought two bottles of red at the supermarket the other day, both from the Alentejo, both very drinkable, for €1.39 each (which is around $1.95 each). We've got a herd of cows just outside our house, and their bells in the afternoons are a charmingly musical accompaniment to Ian's snores (ha ha—no, when he snores, I poke him until he stops). Two nights ago, one night after full moon, we took a late stroll along the beaches. The tide was out, so we felt our way along the dark, wet tunnel to our little private beach and splashed around for a few minutes, then climbed back up over the bluffs and down onto Praia Grande, the big beach. We went around one headland, between the cliffs and a wet pile of boulders glistening in the lights reflected from Porto Cǒvo and from Sines up to the north. I convinced Ian that we should return on the water side of the boulders, where I thought I could tell, from the splash of the waves, that it was shallow enough to make it even though the tide had turned. “We're either going to get very wet or dashed on the rocks,” Ian informed me, making it clear that those were our only two options and neither was a very good one, but he started off gamely enough anyway. About midway along the boulders we decided it was, in fact, too dark and too deep and the danger of dashing too great, so Ian turned and started over the top of the boulders. We were, of course, barefoot, and I'm sure I stepped on any number of things I wouldn't have considered touching with my bare foot if I could see them. In fact, I stopped in the middle and, balancing precariously on the dark, rough, and mysteriously slimy rocks, put my shoes on. But nevertheless, we made it, and had a good time.
Unlike Portugal's leeward coast, in the Algarve in the south, the Atlantic coast is pretty empty. There are no major resorts, and certainly no golf courses. The Lonely Planet calls the Alentejo “Portugal's poorest region,” which it is, sure, but only because it's primarily agricultural; not because the people are in poverty as we've come to think of it in the US. It is much more our speed than the flashy Algarve, and most of the tourists we've seen here have been Portuguese, which makes me feel more like a local than a traveler, somehow.
We'll be sad to go, but I know that the Capela dos Ossos in Evora will make up for a lot.