Portuguese Snapshots

3 Aug

3 SHORT ACCOUNTS OF PORTUGAL

Abandoned buildings in downtown Porto

                                                                 Porto: Anarchist Poo

Abandoned buildings in downtown Porto

Abandoned buildings in downtown Porto

Kelly and I stopped at the first café we saw and sat outside next to a group of men who were definitely tourists and questionably speaking English- it’s hard to distinguish a foreign language from a Scottish accent, I’ve discovered.  We ordered our usual café com leite and pondered the anarchist campout across the street with handwritten signs hanging from statues and black spray painted “circle-A’s” on the surrounding concrete walls.  A handful of rugged anarchists with mullet haircuts were sprawled upon the cobblestones amidst abandoned, rotting buildings, which were prevalent in the center of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.

Suddenly, I needed to use the bathroom, or “casa de banho” (if you ask for only a “banho,” you are asking for a bath, we learned).  Usually, I would save my business for somewhere more private, but being as busy as we were- arriving at 2am after missing our flight, taking a terrible tour bus ride, eating “Little French Girls” and tripe, tasting port wine, and climbing church towers- I didn’t want to miss my chance.  I went into the ladies’ single toilet, sat down, and realized there was no toilet paper.  Emergency.  I cringed, pulled up my pants, and leaped into the men’s room across the hall.  To my relief, there was toilet paper.  There was not, however, a lock on the door.  I tried to be as quick as possible, but a mulleted anarchist came swinging in.  “Ola!” He yelled in surprise and I did the only thing I could do: I sat there and said “Ola” right back.  He slammed the door and I didn’t see him again.  Kelly and I finished our bad coffee, and we left.

Little French Girl

Little French Girl and beer

We ate dinner at a place where the piano player was a Portuguese equivalent to a Jersey Shore guy, wearing only a black pleather vest to show off his manly chest.  When we finished, Kelly and I stood on the sidewalk and watched in awe as a parade of cars drove back and forth honking their horns, setting off firecrackers, and screaming in victory.  The center-right party won the election, ousting the Socialist Party that had long been in power and is being blamed for Portugal’s current economic crisis.  I wondered, with embarrassment, what the anarchist thought about the election results… but he should be more embarrassed than me anyway- only capitalists use toilets, right?

CONIMBRIGA: Language Barriers

Kelly and I went to Conimbriga, the largest Roman ruins sight in Portugal.  The sight was impressive with red brick columns, an aqueduct, and beautiful mosaic floors still intact, but it’s also in the middle of nowhere.  Only two buses went back to the town we were staying in; one at 1pm and the other at 7.  We finished touring the grounds at noon, so we napped in the hot sun near the bus stop.  There was an unmarked bus in the far corner of the parking lot, but it didn’t look like the bus we arrived in, so we watched it drive away ten minutes before 1.  The place was deserted except, maybe, for some Roman ghosts.

Because there was no way we could stay without food or water in the hot ruins for the next 6 hours, Kelly and I walked along the road to the nearest town.  Sweaty and stomachs rumbling, we stumbled into a restaurant with locals indulging in large meat platters. Kelly and I weaved to a table through watchful eyes and greasy chins.  It’s rare to see tourists there, especially 6 foot tall American ones. (We were giants in Portugal, I might add, I think the average height there is probably 4’5”.)

The swastika was a symbol of good luck and used as decoration in these rich Romans' mansions.

Our waitress didn’t speak a word of English and there was no menu so we struggled to explain that we were willing to eat anything.  “Melhor” (“the best”) I said in Portuguese, and she replied with something to the effect of “everything is the best.”  “Carne,” (“meat”) I tried.  The waitress motioned with her hands around the room implying that meat was the only thing they served.  “J’ai faim,” (“I’m hungry”) Kelly pleaded in French.  “Kelly,” I snapped, “She knows we’re hungry, why else would we be here??”  Kelly abruptly stood up and marched to the nearest table, with most of the restaurant’s patrons still watching us, and pointed to someone’s half eaten mystery meat dish.  “That!” she said.  “Dois!” (“two!”) I added.  We ended up getting two grilled half-chicken platters with mounds of fries.  It was delicious.

Roman Ruins

Roman Ruins

When we left the restaurant, an old man was zooming along the sidewalk in his electric wheelchair with his wife limping behind and yelling for him to wait.  We mimed to ask her where the bus stop was, she showed us, seeming to forget about her husband who was long gone, and we finally made it back to our hotel.

NAZARE: Being in Someone Else’s Shoes

Nazare Snails

Nazare Snails


The doorbell buzzed as I was leaning over the washing machine trying to figure out what the heck all the knobs did.  I opened the window to look down onto the white stone street.  “Ola!” a woman said and squinted up at me, putting her hands on her head to keep her black scarf from sliding off, her black petticoats blowing in the ocean breeze.  She owned the apartment Kelly and I were renting for 25 Euros a night.  I rushed down the polished wooden stairs to the door, being careful not to slip in my socks.

I pulled open the door, and the lady smiled, intensifying the wrinkles around her eyes.  She asked me a question.  I stared at her in confusion. She said more, waving her hands.  I continued to stare in confusion.  She took off her worn wooden clogs, pointed to me, and then pointed to her shoes, continuing to babble.  I shrugged and slid my feet into her shoes.  She gave me a rewarding pat like a puppy and then disappeared into the neighbor’s open door, coming out with another pair of clogs on her feet.  Putting her thin arm through mine, she pulled me forward down the street.  “Where are we going?” I asked even though I knew it was fruitless.  She repeatedly stuck her tongue out and pointed at it.  Unsure of what her tongue had to do with anything, I looked up to the bedroom window where Kelly was, hoping she would witness me being kidnapped by a black widow of Nazare.

A woman in her pettycoats on a Nazare street

A woman in her pettycoats on a Nazare street

We turned a corner and she tugged at my arm to question why I was dragging.  I stopped and lifted one of my legs to show her that only half of my foot fit into her tiny shoe.  We laughed and an understanding clicked between us, as we entered a small shop selling canned foods and nuts.  The black widow said something to the lady behind the counter.  “You stay another night or you leave tomorrow?”  The woman behind the counter translated.  “Oh, we will leave tomorrow morning.”  The black widow smiled and gave me another “good girl” pat.  We linked arms again and headed back to the apartment, laughing and chatting together in gibberish.  “Where did you go?”  Kelly asked when I got upstairs.  I told her while I pulled my clothes out of the machine and hung them on the line outside the window to dry.

The next morning we packed up our backpacks.  My newly washed clothes smelled of smoky sardines, which, undoubtedly, most people ate for dinner.  Treading down the street in the hot sun, I regretted not being able to say goodbye to the old lady.  “Ooh!” she suddenly squeeled, jumping up from a plastic chair where she was sitting with a sign to inform incoming tourists that she had an apartment to rent.  We smiled at each other and she gave me a pat.  “Where are you going?” I understood.  “We are going to Lisbon,” I replied.  “Ohh, Lisboa. Festa! Festa! Festa!” She did a little fist pump in the air.  Kelly and I said our goodbyes and continued to the bus station, ready for the festa in Lisbon that awaited us.

Grilled Sardine!

Grilled Sardine!

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