The Portugal Chronicles – Year One: Food Shopping or What Exactly IS That?

The day after we moved into our apartment, Harry handed me a pocket sized English-Portuguese dictionary and a 1000 escudo bill (about $20.00 U.S.) and encouraged me to go to the mil-escudos-d-pedro-v-1980store and to get some groceries. Then he ran off to catch the bus.  My Portuguese at the time consisted mostly of sounds and a few words.  I could say “good morning, ” “good evening,” “good night” and “I don’t speak Portuguese.” However, when I said it, I discovered that it immediately set off a long monologue entirely in Portuguese.

I sat and studied the money.  I cast wary glances at the dictionary in my other hand. And I pondered the plethora of mishaps that might lie before me. I looked up hamburger and discovered it is the same word in Portuguese.  Harry loves hamburgers and I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

cobbleI set out on the cobblestone pavement, and paused outside of the butcher shop. The window was full of meat. Hanging on hooks.  Dripping into puddles of blood on the floor. I decided that there had to be  meat somewhere that didn’t look like a blood sacrifice.

I had been in the small market with Harry the previous year. Would that I had paid more attention. The small market carried a lot butcher shopof packaged foods. They even carried two brands of corn flakes (Kellogg’s and the National brand). But the fresh meat cuts did not look familiar, and my Portuguese did not stretch far enough to ask questions. If that were not enough, the meat was sold in Metric measures. I didn’t speak that yet, either.

Up and down the aisles I trolled until I found a small freezer. I peered at the contents. I couldn’t read the labels except for one package: “hamburger”. Bingo. I picked up some bread, potatoes (two things Harry told me he could not live without) and some milk and cookies. (The milk came in a plastic bag.)

At the check out, anxiety hit again. Was there enough money? How would I know how much money I should give them? What would I do if they talked to me?   At the register, they took my purchases, rang them up and then said something. I handed them the thousand escudos. The cashier asked me something. I shrugged. He gave me change.

The hamburgers were almost a hit. They were heavily seasoned, mostly with garlic and salt. I could foresee that eventually, I was going to have to make friends with the butcher shop.

Next episode: Transportation

Luís de Camões – Portugal’s Poet Laureate

Coimbra is the city where the first Portuguese university was founded.



by: Luis Vas de Camões (1524-1580)

WEET lucent waters of Mondego’s stream,
Of my Remembrance restful jouissance,
Where far-fet, lingering, traitorous Esperance,
Longwhile misled me in a blinding Dream;
From you I part, yea, still I’ll ne’er misdeem
That long-drawn Memories which your charms enhance
Forbid me changing and, in every chance,
E’en as I farther speed I nearer seem.
Well may my Fortunes hale this instrument
Of Soul o’er new strange regions wide and side,
Offered to winds and watery element;
But hence my Spirit, by you ‘companied,
Borne on the nimble wings that Reverie lent,
Flies home and bathes her, Waters, in your tide.

–Translated by R.F. Burton

Brief Bio:

The Portugal Chronicles, Year 1 Over the Threshold

We exited the airport building, and hailed a taxi. The driver put our suitcases in the trunk and drove us to Queijas where Harry had rented an apartment.

A little history, if I may. It was 1979 when I moved to Portugal with my husband, and five years or so before on April 25 the military overturned the government and the dictatorship. It was a bloodless revolution called the Carnation Revolution because the soldiers carried carnations in their rifles. Harry first went to Portugal in 1976, and the country was still rumbling in the wake. In fact, the airport was covered with military personnel. revolution

One of the outcomes was the emancipation of Portugal’s African colonies. Public utilities were, to put it mildly, in a state of disrepair. At times, a couple of weeks went by with no water. The Communist Party tried to take over the country at that time, but in the end the Socialist Party took the government under the leadership of Mário Soares.The Portuguese colonists were vacating the African colonies, and some arrived in Portugal with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Harry told me about the apartment on the ride to our new home. He added that he had left another couple from our organization to rent it from him until we arrived. His request was that they make sure the house was tidy for his bride. They reassured him.

We walked up the stairs to the first floor apartment. Harry unlocked the door and then carried me across the threshold. Inside, we shared our first (but not the last) kiss in our new home. It appeared that the couple who had been there had vacated the place in haste. Harry grabbed a broom and started to make up for their lack.

He walked me through the house. The kitchen was roomy and foreign looking to me. There was no stove or refrigerator in the place. But, it was cheerful. The window opened onto a pulley that I would use to hang out our laundry. We had a 220 washer and dryer on the way, but it would be at least a month before they would get through customs and to our home. And we were young and able so it washingdidn’t become an issue to wash the laundry by hand in the bathtub. It did, however, take some time to dry. (The Portuguese had concrete washtubs outside on their veranda that they used to do their laundry, which was probably nicer than the old ways.)

We had three bedrooms – a huge apartment in fact. There was a cupboard in the hallway where we would later put our firstborn to sleep while we packed to move to another house.

Then, there was the living room. The landlady had painted it especially for us. My American eyes could not adjust to the result of her thoughtfulness. It was dark teal paint and she had taken a paint roller with a floral pattern on it and carefully painted it in vertical strips around the room.

Next installment: food shopping, or what exactly is that?

The Portugal Adventure – Into the Wild, Blue Yonder

I’m back from my week at the beach (a working vacation, I might add where I wrote a 7000 word eBook for a client), and this is the third post of my Portugal series.

The Portugal Years

(Disclaimer: this is by way of being a memoir. After 33 years, memories tend to get a little fuzzy around the edges. If you notice something that you remember differently from me, please don’t disillusion me. Thank you. 🙂 )

(If you missed the earlier posts, you can find them here: one and two.)

Any hesitation in making a decision to fly to Portugal in the summer of 1978 lay in the necessary financial commitment on my end. VISA credit cards were still somewhat of a novelty, and I was certain that the airline would not accept my Strawbridge’s credit card. When you make around $6000 per year (before taxes), even in 1978 the necessary expenditure was an impossible commitment. I nearly had to say “No.” Then, my dad stepped in and offered to lend me enough to supplement my budget. He said that I could pay him back…

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The Portugal Adventure – My Laddie Lies Over the Ocean

Romance and fun as the story begins to build up steam!

The Portugal Years

(Disclaimer: this is by way of being a memoir. After 33 years, memories tend to get a little fuzzy around the edges. If you notice something that you remember differently from me, please don’t disillusion me. Thank you. 🙂 )

(If you missed part one, you can read it here.)

Oddly enough, at age 25, I was not looking for a romantic relationship. I had been disillusioned by the dating game, and was content with my job at the Christian school. My delightful fourth grade students (27 that year) were more than adequate substitutes for having children of my own. I had some friends with whom I could hang out, and was mostly independent. Yeah, well, I still lived in my parent’s home. With my gross salary around $6,000 per year, it was a viable option. And yet, those beautiful red roses perfumed the house even as I resisted…

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