The best parts of Portugal are the Portuguese people. Knowing them has made my life richer. I met Tia (tee-ya) when we moved into our second home in Loures. She was a childless widow who lived in a couple of rooms added on to her niece’s home. When she learned that we were going to the states for a spell, she kept asking me if we were coming back. When she saw how much Bethy had grown while we were away, she exclaimed over her for a long time..
Bethy and I had been on our way to buy our daily bread when Tia emerged from her little cottage and welcomed us home. Bethy did not really remember Tia, but she responded to Tia’s greeting with a smile.
Tia was a good friend and my door into “Old Portugal.” She lived under Salazar‘s dictatorship in her youth. (If you are a history buff, the link has a good bio of Antonio Salazar.) He ruled with a hand of iron. From Tia, I learned that Salazar passed a law that no one could walk in the street barefoot. That was so that any foreigner who might visit the country would not know how poor the Portuguese were. It would make him lose face. Littering in the streets was illegal. He enforced laws in unpleasant ways. Like jail time – and Portuguese prisons make the worst American ones look like a week at the Ritz.
When she was growing up, Tia’s family seldom saw meat except for the occasional chicken on a Sunday. When they did have chicken, children gave way to the working men and women in the family, and the kids got to gnaw on whatever was left. The gnawed bones were then boiled to make canja (chicken soup). As one of my American friends over there said, “First it was (grilled) chicken on the spit, then it was the spit on the chicken” that went into the soup.Tia loved to cook, and she amazed me bythe things she made from the little that she had.
One day in early spring, I found Tia in her house taking down a very hard roll of bread, a small coin and something I can’t remember from her door and replacing them with new. She told me that the coin was to keep her from poverty, the bread was to keep her from hunger and the other was to keep her in good health through the year.
(Any of my Portuguese or other readers who can correct me on that please do.)
I think that the best thing that she gave me was unconditional love. I was a foreigner in her country (and Americans are notorious for being obnoxious when they are out of their own country) but she accepted us as we were. And in doing that, she enriched our lives.