The Portugal Years – Year One: Life is Very Daily

It may have been Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote in one of her stories that the the ordinary days give little about which to write, and so was the first half of 1980. The first baby in our organization was born during that first year, and was the darling of us all. (We were all young couples.)

In addition, I began to understand about 30% of the Portuguese language when people talked to me – and what to ask if I didn’t understand. I became accustomed to the church services where people were on time when they arrived 10 minutes past the appointed hour to begin and continued to be on time when they arrived up to 45 minutes late. (And it is a form of being “on time” that I continue to treasure.) Toddlers and young children were permitted to wander around during the service with impunity. Unless they went too far, in which case a parent would grab them by the ear.

I took the bus to my weekly tutoring session at Dona Isabel’s home and learned how to wrestle with Portuguese verbs and win. I insisted to Harry that if we traveled on a double-decker bus, we must ride on the top. That rule lasted until the time we nearly missed our exit due to crowding.

Some days we just wandered around the Baixa (“by-sha” the area of Lisbon that was destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1755). There were stores and other places to explore. We never left our money where it could be easily snatched, and our eyes were always open.

It was normal for a man to sidle up to Harry and offer us a Rolex watch for the unbelievably low price of $5. This is when you do not make eye contact and just kept on going. Another time, we came across some women (who may or may not have been Romanies) hawking hand embroidered tablecloths. Harry stepped up and treated me to a masterful lesson on haggling.

Spring turned into summer and my Portuguese lessons were over. I had hoped for another year studying the language, but the money was wanted for expanding the ministry of the organization. That being the case, Harry and I began to turn our thoughts to another shared dream, a dream of hearing the patter of little feet in our home.

tablecloth

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The Portugal Years – Year One: Samantha Cat

Siamese CatAfter the holidays, life settled into a routine. I thought I would take another semester at the University, but when they tested me they wanted to put me in the advanced class. I was worried that it would be too much too quickly. When I tried to get into the intermediate class, it was already full. So, we decided that I would continue with my private tutoring once a week.

About that time a lot of friends were looking at me speculatively and others were coming right out and asking if I was pregnant yet. I wasn’t, though. Not yet. I did have my baby Seal Point Siamese kitty, Samantha, though. Sammi was fun. She followed me around the house and played with me. I had wanted a Siamese cat since I had visited a college friend’s home where her family had a stable full of cats and at least three of them were Siamese.

If you’ve had little contact with Siamese cats, please put away your copy of Lady and the Tramp and cut Siamese cats a break. They are mischievous and intelligent creatures, and most of them are quite vocal. Harry did not grow up with four-legged family members, and he wasn’t entirely on board with the whole thing, but he humored me. It was still our first year of marriage.

One evening, another couple from our organization (also newlyweds) came over to visit. The husband was not a fan of cats (a condition that frankly, I do not understand). When they came into the house, he did a visual sweep of the perimeter of the living room and looked for Sammi. Then, he settled down in a comfortable chair. Thirty minutes later, after he had let down his guard, Sammi casually walked around from the back of the chair, gave a sudden leap and landed on the arm of the chair next to the husband’s arm. I am positive that Sammi tipped me a wink with a twinkle in her bright, blue eyes.

The Portugal Adventure – Beautiful Bavaria: The Waiting Lady

For those who never had the opportunity to read some of the incidents before we said, “I do.” Sometimes it’s just hard to understand man speak. 🙂

The Portugal Years

The days melted away like a snow cone in summer. There were plenty of things to do at camp when we weren’t sight-seeing. Harry was busy, and though we talked as often as possible, by the last day at camp I still hadn’t heard the words that I was waiting to hear.

On that day, we read a devotional together, and prayed. Then, we talked. Harry said that he sure would like to date me. I responded enthusiastically. He then said, “It would be pretty hard to date with you in the states, and me in Portugal. I felt rebuffed.

What did he mean by that? I was on tenterhooks all day. Every time I added everything up, it did not seem like it should have been a “goodbye, nice to know you.” But it felt like it.

In the afternoon, I wandered around the campground watching the various activities…

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Just When You Thought the Party Was Over

In my family, Christmas ended when December 26th arrived. We always sang about the twelve days of Christmas, but we didn’t know that the song held a wealth of uncharted tradition. In Portugal, Christmas Day was only the beginning of celebration. It ended on January 6th, when we celebrated King Day to remember the Wise Men who traveled long and far to see the Christ child. In American liturgical churches, we call it Epiphany.

The King Cake – Bolo Rei – is ubiquitous all during the holiday season. Bolo Rei attended every party and every get together during December and into January. It is a beautiful and delicious cake made from a rich yeast dough laced with spirits. The cake had dried fruits, candied fruits and nuts in the batter.

The cake had two hidden secrets inside that were wrapped in parchment paper: a coin, and a fava bean. There are different customs around the country, but what I was told was that the person who had the coin (or toy) in his slice would have good fortune for the next year. The person who got the fava would have to bring the Bolo Rei next time. The cake was always good fresh and even better toasted and buttered the day after.

On January first, I was done with Christmas and ready to take the tree down and get back to whatever would be closest to normal. Then Harry asked me, “Why are you taking the tree down already? My mom always left the tree up until after my birthday on the seventh. And she always made me a Red Velvet Cake.” Birthday? Ooops!!

bolo rei
Bolo Rei

The Portugal Years – Year 1: Our First Christmas

Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted Chestnuts

In November, the weather was rainy and cold. Black umbrellas, black clothes and long nights were the new normal. We moved from fall into winter. Few Portuguese homes had insulation, and none that I knew of had central heating.

I started baking more often to keep the house warm. There was a portable gas heater, but I was concerned about it using up all the oxygen. We layered our clothes according to the temperature. Our tea kettle whistled often and we made tea. Being newlyweds, we didn’t need a good excuse for extra cuddling for warmth. And that was when we learned not to combine making tea with, um, cuddling.

One liter of milk
One liter of milk

By mid-December long lines of people were waiting patiently for their bacalhau (dried codfish).  Boiled dried codfish is a Portuguese Christmas tradition.  That year it was scarce.

The cows went dry in December as was their custom. Until then, we had been buying fresh milk in disposable plastic bags. Our only milk resource after that was boxes of milk with a shelf life. That was a shock to my culinary expectations.

chestnuts roasting
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

There were comforts for the season. One was roasted chestnuts. The smell of them roasting was a come hither fragrance. I’d never had them before, I but took to them like an ant does to sugar. Along the streets the vendors had their little brazier of chestnuts. They were an inexpensive treat that came wrapped in a paper cone, satisfied your hunger and warmed your hands.

About a week before Christmas, Harry borrowed a car and we went looking for a Christmas tree. We found a long-needled pine tree that we thought would look nice in our apartment. The ceiling was high, so we picked a tall tree. Too tall as it turned out. We cut it down, but it still brushed the ceiling. The next job was to decorate. All we had was a handful of ornaments that my former students had given me. What we did have were hidden in the pine needles. But, as long as Harry had his favorite cookies, he was good.

I was looking forward to the holiday break from language school. I had plans to read  books, play with my Samantha cat and just kick back. Didn’t happen. Right before Christmas day, Harry announced that he was coming home with a family of Americans who had just arrived. They would be working with a missions organization in Portugal and needed somewhere to stay until they found a place to live.

They were some of the most delightful folks I have ever met, but I was selfish. I really didn’t want to share our first Christmas together with anyone. Eventually, I got over it. Mostly. It wasn’t long until we become friends with them. But Harry and I did talk about how important it is to make sure that we communicate with each other before making major decisions. (We still haven’t agreed the definition of “major decision”.)

One other memorable thing happened that winter. In December, color television came to Portugal. And color TV created a revolution. When the favorite Brazilian dramas turned up in living color, the women’s clothing industry began to sell lighter, brighter clothing. And there I sat with all of my new dark wardrobe. 😀

Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera
Dona Xepa, Brazilian Soap Opera

What is your most memorable holiday that you’ve experienced? Why? (It can be any holiday, not just Christmas.)

pine

The Lisbon Zoo !

1989, Lisbon Zoo in Front of the white peacocks.

1989, Lisbon Zoo in Front of the white peacocks.

One of the family things we loved to do, especially after we had children, was to visit the zoo in Lisbon. We visited the monkeys, the giraffes, lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! One year when we went, they had added a pool with dolphins,  billed as “The Miami Dolphins”. We liked to sit close to the pool so we could catch some of the splashes! Well, not all the “kids” liked the splashing, but I thought it was fun. Sometimes the trainers invited some of the children to participate. Not all of the children liked that, either.

The star of the zoo, at least for us, was an elephant. The elephant’s name has been lost in the mists of time, but his talent has not been. You had to have a token, which you purchased at the kiosk. Then you held it out to the elephant. He plucked the token from your hand with his trunk. Next he deposited the token in the designated container and rang a bell.

One of the features of the zoo was the pet cemetery. Nothing like one you may have read about elsewhere, it fascinated us. There were some chairs nearby and we often stopped to rest there. It would be difficult to describe, so I found a short YouTube video featuring the cemetery.

Would you want to bury your pets there? What do you think of the names of the pets?

Pão por Deus (Bread for God or Bread in the Name of God)

One of the fun things about living in a country in which you did not grow up is discovering how much alike and yet how different your birth country is in comparison others. Holidays are no exception.

Pão por Deus almost mirrors what Americans call Halloween. However in Portugal, October 31 is Dia de Finados (Day of the Dead). This is the day that they pray for the souls of all of the dead to rest. In the old days, they processed to the graveyards and took food to eat at the graves of their dead.

In 1755, The Great Lisbon Earthquake (8.7 on the Richter Scale) destroyed a good portion of the city. The ruined section is now known as the Baixa Pombalina for the Marques de Pombal who was responsible for the task of reconstruction. People lost their homes and had no food in this disaster. Many of them walked the streets of Lisbon asking for bread in the name of God. Sixty thousand people died as a result of that earthquake and it created a tsunami about ten meters high. There was no discernible tectonic activity in the area at that time. (Want to know more?)

A new custom that began that day that has passed the test of time. Although it may vary from region to region, on November first children replay the aftermath of the earthquake. They take bags and go around to their neighbors’ homes early in the morning asking for “Pão por Deus.” Although originally the people were looking for bread, it is not uncommon now for people to give children cookies, candy, fruit and maybe even a coin.

Fun fact: In our second home in Portugal, one afternoon everything that was loose in our home was rattling or jangling. I thought at first that it was a big truck rumbling by the house, but soon realized it was an earth tremor. Before I could lose it, it was over.

What do you think about the custom of Pão por Deus? If you were going to begin a new holiday, what do you think you might like to do?

Pão por Deus
Pão por Deus