The Portugal Adventure – The Rain in Spain if you’d like to map the trip.

On the road - Harry conferring with Tó Figueira. Tó was  one of the young adults who worked with the Americans.
On the road – Harry conferring with Tó Figueira. Tó was one of the young adults who worked with the Americans.


On the Road

Ebullient teens crammed  the vans with suitcases and bodies.  The astonished sun blinked  as he peered  over the horizon. Vigorous activity at this early hour seemed indecent.  The babbling of Portuguese language assaulted my sleepy ears.   One year of Spanish in high school did not begin to cover the differences between the countries.

The hot desert held little charm. With the of sunrise it had turned into a sauna. But the heat did not deter the teens. Our boys thrust their heads out of the window and bellowed cat-calls to the girl of each town. Then we stopped at a café for lunch. There was no menu.

I should have ordered whatever every else had. What was meant to be a short stop ended nearly two hours. The rest rooms were the worst  I had ever walked into. I managed to enter and exit without touching anything. I was not sorry to say “adios” to the café.

Tó’s English was good, and he had declared that he would translate the conversations for me. I put too much faith in that promise. The translating began well, but it is exhausting to sustain a conversation in a sometime language.   More frequently, Tó  and Harry were involved in other conversations.Without translations. I found myself listening to a lot of Portuguese.


We arrived in Madrid about 9:30 that evening tired and hungry. As I was wondering where we would  find a place that was open. We walked up to a restaurant, and the place was closed. My stomach kind of rumbled. It was a long time since lunch. with the management, they agreed to open early for us. Yes, in Spain, 10 p.m. is an early supper.

The waiter seated us and gave us menus. I now had three languages to field. I recognized “pollo.” Yes, chicken! I jumped on it. Orders made, the Portuguese asked me what I was eating, and that was how I learned that  Portuguese chickens  are “frangos.”  And we waited. A long time.

During the long interval between ordering and the eating,  the Portuguese tried valiantly to converse with the exhausted Americana. They were indefatigable. Finally, someone asked me, “How are you?” slowly, and in Portuguese. I dredged up  my high school Spanish and responded, “Estoy cansada.” (I am tired.”) My interrogator instantly came back with something that the folks around us found hysterically funny. She repeated it again slowly in Portuguese: “Estás cansada, ou casada?” I thought that I was getting a Portuguese language lesson.  But, from the tone of the laughter it occasioned, it had nothing to do with a vocabulary malfunction. It was more like they were laughing at a joke.  And and it was contagious.

I looked to Harry in my best damsel in distress expression. Would you believe that man was still laughing hysterically at this  joke that I did not understand? Finally, he caught his breath, and told me:  “She asked you if you were tired, or married.” A few explanations, and I got the word play: casada =  married and cansada = tired. I laughed again, this time with them. I recognized that  the humor was the right hand of fellowship. I knew then that I could fall with love these people. Who else did I know who could make me laugh even when the joke was on me?


The Portugal Adventure – To Sleep, Perhap to Dream

Harry drank his accidental beverage that morning! And I learned two things: He was fully as stubborn and I am, and  I should be cautious about challenging him to take a dare!

To sleep, perhaps to dream – Shakespeare
The field director’s wife saw me fading quickly and led me to the flat beneath hers. The family who lived there were in the states, and had graciously offered me their home while I was in Portugal.  It all seemed surreal. I was 3,511 plus miles away from home with only one person I knew in sight. And the last time I had seen him, he had just broken a date with me because he wanted to go to a picnic instead.

I was tired but wired. My internal clock was ticking when I was tocking. The events of the past few days skipped and jumped like a kaleidoscope in my brain. Eventually, I drifted off into a light sleep.

When I woke up, I decided that a shower was in order. Though I’d given the bathroom a glance before I crashed, I didn’t remember seeing that peculiar bit of furnishing earlier. I examined it. Then, I turned the faucet on and off. I looked around in the vicinity. It was less than an arm’s length from the fixture with which I was more familiar. I wasn’t going to ask. Resolutely, I turned my energy toward getting ready to go out to dinner in Lisbon.   The Portugal Adventure - The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly

Putting on the Ritz

Harry arrived a little early, of course, and to his surprise, I was ready. The man who sent me roses was armed with the loaned car, and gentlemanly attentions. He held the doors, and made sure I was comfortable. I totally admired the way he held his own with the other drivers; I was certain were in training for the Daytona 500.
Harry drove by  more landmarks like the statue of “Cristo Rei” (Christ the King) near the 25th of April Bridge (identical to the monument found near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

The bridge was originally called Salazar Bridge, named for Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, who served  from 1932 to 1968. Though Life Magazine called him the greatest Portuguese since Prince Henry the Navigator, many of the Portuguese had seen him quite differently. Dictator might have been a better title.

On the 25th of April, 1974 the military initiated a coup, which eventually returned democracy to Portugal, and the bridge was given change of name.
Soon, Harry pulled up at the the Lisbon Four Seasons Ritz. where he treated me to a bitoque. A bitoque (bee-tok) consists of a grilled or fried tenderized steak topped with a fried egg. It came with both a helping of rice, and French fries.

The next day, we would be pointing our noses toward Spain.

Have you ever mixed tea and coffee in the same cup?

The Portugal Adventure - The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly

Sopa á Portuguesa – Portuguese Soup

Soup is a comfort food, and the Portuguese have many ways to make us comfortable. We raised our children on the Portuguese soup recipe I am going to share with you. It’s versatile; you add or subtract items as the seasons come and go. Since the soup base needs to be pureed, you will need a food mill, or an immersion blender. The Portuguese were way ahead of us with the immersion blender, and it works like a charm, but the food mill works just as well: you just have to work harder.

Sopa à Portuguesa
Soup base: how much you use of each ingredient depends on how much soup you want to make. It’s good left over, so if you find you like it, make a big batch.
Chicken broth is a good way to start. Then add:
2 -3 potatoes
3 – 4 carrots
1 large onion
garlic to taste
1 turnip or more (I prefer rutabagas)
any other root vegetables you may like
1 cup or more of pureed pumpkin (can used canned)
olive oil
Choose one: turnip greens, spinach, cabbage (or some other kind of green leafy vegetable) or Italian-style green beans
rice (if you like it)
Parsley and cilantro, minced
Peel the potatoes, turnips, onions, garlic and carrots.Cut them into small cubes. Chop the onion, and mash the garlic. Put them all into a large pot, and add the pumpkin. Barely cover with water. Add a spoonful of olive oil. (I usually drop a few chicken cubes in, or use broth.) Bring to a boil, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
Puree the vegetables with an immersion blender. (Or use a food mill, and put the puree back into the broth in the pot.)
Rinse the other vegetables. Leafy vegetables should be shredded or torn into small pieces. If you have green beans, they should be kitchen sliced into pieces about 1/8 of an inch long.  Add them to the puree along with a half cup or so of rice and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, and the rice is cooked.
Stir in some minced Italian parsley, and cilantro to taste. Add salt and pepper if you like.
Sopa à Portuguesa
 Do you have any favorite soup recipe?

Beautiful and Ancient Portugal – Aldeia Histórica de Castelo Rodrigo (Historic Village of the Castle Rodrigo)


Courtesy of Maravilhas de Portugal
Courtesy of Maravilhas de Portugal

This Medieval village, built on top of an isolated hill, 820 meters above sea level, offers a splendid view over the fields and hills around. This ancient walled town, fully recovered under the Historical Villages Recovery Program, shows signs of human occupation dating back to the Paleolithic age. Although the county seat has passed to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, the village still has many places of interest, such as the mother church, founded by the Hospitaller Brothers in 1192 and dedicated to Our Lady of Rocamador; the tank, served by two gates, a Gothic and Moorish another; the pillory and the clock installed on an old tower. You can see how the castle ruins reveals the anger of the population when, at the end of the reign of Philip II, burned the old palace of Cristóvão de Moura, one of the defenders of Spanish legitimacy lusitania land.

The Portugal Years, Year Six: Camp

Teens at first year of camp.
Teens at first year of camp.

Summer of ’83 saw the first year at camp. Kids hunkered down in their bunks or in one of the apartments (because the bunks were not completed). The necessities were there, but it was rough. The “kitchen” was a small shack that would eventually be the snack shack.

When I visited the camp with Bethy, the activity she saw entranced her and she begged to  be a camper. She was too young,  but she begged and her daddy would be there all day so she  joined the fun. I warned her that she had to stay the week. I was pregnant and I could not drive the car.  (A perfect example of how parents punish themselves.)

My beloved daughter had fun during the day, but the nights found us both weeping and missing one another. She made friends of both American and Portuguese kids, and had one special friend named Matthew. He was an “older man” (he was six)  and fascinated her by showing her how the side pieces of his glasses could be stretched and pulled and not break. Except that he broke them….

By the next year, spring of 1984, the camp was fully ready for the campers. Benches and wooden adorned the dining hall, and restaurant appliances and kettles, stoves and a walk-in refrigerator filled the kitchen. The cooks made good use of the facilities and kept the hungry campers well fed. The snack shack covered during the times in between meals. I contributed to the snack shack food with homemade cinnamon rolls – they never got completely cooled.

The apartments, set away from the noise and fray, was a good trot to the dining hall. Bethy spent her days running around camp all the day long. Susie was happy as long as she could see me from where she was. They never lacked for company from among the campers!

Staff members were encouraged to eat their meals in the dining hall. I tried to coöperate. The stumbling block was that Susie found the noise level in the dining room intolerable. Generally, I ate quickly and took her back to the apartment before she had a meltdown.

One noon before lunch, she nursed and fell asleep. I figured she would be safe enough if I walked up to the dining room for a bite to eat. My bad. I had scarcely arrived at the dining hall when one of the campers came up to tell me that Susie was crying. Bellering was more like it. I could hear her before I was halfway back to the apartment.

But, as summer came to an end, Susie became accustomed to the noise in the dining hall and looked the food over. Till then she wanted no food but mother’s milk. One day the kitchen put out ripe pears  for dessert. I watched Susie as she reached out for one of those soft juicy pears, then mashed it with her tongue and ate it. And begged for more. There was no stopping her after that.

Susie at camp
Susie at camp

What do you think that blue thing is in the picture?

The Portugal Years: Year Five, Waiting

Portugal is the university for learning how to wait. Maybe not waiting patiently, but waiting. For instance, if you want a marriage license, first you must stand in the queue with all the other happy couples who are about to embark into wedded bliss.  No one really hurries the process through. An important part of any transactions with the government includes a variety of stamps to affix to the legal document in question. After the government official carefully stamps the paper he hands the certificate over to the owner. Had a baby? Be ready to stand in line. Need a passport? Start really early to apply.

Yep, you need to obtain the correct paperwork and stamps or nothing happens.  That was, however, seldom the end of the story. After the person, relieved  to be done with it, often discovers that it was not the end. Upon arriving at his destination with the correct documentation, he has to give the paperwork to a supervisor to verify it. Whereupon the second official discovers that some stamps are missing and the man has to return to the end of the first queue. The only way to hurry the process is to cross someone’s palms with silver. It’s officially illegal, but if you want to move forward, you need to grease the hand of the one who can hurry things along.

There are ways to help move babies forward, too, but  they reserve those methods for emergencies. Our new baby girl was dilly-dallying in making her début. Her original due date was near the beginning of the new year. Harry was rooting for January seventh – his birthday. She scorned both dates and chose January tenth, which proved from the beginning that she was a girl with a strong mind of her own.  She was Sarah Susanna (Susie), and though she made us wait for her to arrive, she could not want to wait for the delivery room crew to hand her over to her mommy. She protested with great lung opening testifying to her wrath, which stopped as soon as they laid her on me. Harry is wont to say that she had screamed loud enough to peel the paint off of the wall.

Unfortunately, the nursery nurses did not understand Susie’s language. After her birth, they made her wait an hour before they figured out that they needed to bring her to her mother. Then they went all official when they came back later and discovered us doing what mothers and newborns have done since the beginning. They did bend the rules and left her in my room; Susie made sure that she didn’t have to wait anymore.

The next day I waited for Harry to bring Bethy to meet her new sister. Bethy sat on a bench and held Susie on her lap and waited to see what would happen. She wasn’t quite certain what to do with this small person. We waited for three weeks to hear Bethy’s thoughts. Then she looked at me and said, “When are you taking her back?”

Saturday morning and daddy doesn't have to go to work!
Saturday morning and Daddy doesn’t have to go to work!
Sunday morning and time to dedicate the baby.
Sunday morning and time to dedicate the baby.



The Portugal Years: Year Five – Part 3, The Aftermath

It wasn’t just the television that we missed. My washing machine would not work without “light.” Not a happy thought with a toddler in terry cloth diapers being potty trained. Night came early in November and even earlier when there was “no light.” And there were the clothes and other items that we had stored in the garage under our flat, plus the stench from the mud and drowned livestock. Some of the baby clothes were irredeemable.

No refrigerator meant “to market to market” every day. Milk was the ultra-pasteurized in a box kind, which was better than nothing but did not taste like fresh milk. We were thankful for our propane gas cooker as we tried to create some  kind of “new normal.”  At least I could cook.  I read books to Bethy, and she played with her dolls and dressed up in my cast-off clothes to entertain herself.

The back garden was one deep puddle of river mud. The grasshoppers were not impressed. One sunny day my friend Ana Maria and I opened the windows on the varandas to help dry out the humidity. When we opened the windows, a five-inch-long grasshoppers hopped in. It was some time before I stopped freaking out. The back varanda was, for a time, abandoned.

One morning I decided that while the refrigerator was empty, I could easily clean the inside of it. It was large  for a the Portuguese appliance, but it was short enough that, at 5-feet 8-inches of height,  I could look over the top of it. I got a sponge and a bowl of soapy water and opened the refrigerator. Then I stepped back. The air carried the reek of death. I had missed one small package of chicken livers, and they announced their presence rather strongly.

I always started dinner early so I could have enough natural light to cook. When Harry arrived at home after the sun set – around 7 p.m. –  we ate. Since it was fully dark by that time, we rinsed the dishes and left them in the heavy-duty marble kitchen sink to wash in the morning. The ants, whose homes the flood disrupted, took a little longer to surface than the grasshoppers. I woke up four days into our adventure to a kitchen overrun by the displaced ants. Cleaning up the kitchen by candle light became our romantic evening activity.

We didn’t have to wait as long as Noah did for the flood to end; we had no electricity for only 12 days. I can sympathize with Mrs. Noah in the cleanup afterward though. Some of the things in the garage were salvageable. Thanks to the neighbor, we had our car. And we were not harmed (though we harmed a few ants and grasshoppers). Bethy’s last Christmas as an only child lay ahead, and 1984 would arrive just before her baby sister would arrive.


The Portugal Years: The Fourth Year – The Car

Our Renault 4 - photo taken from the varanda of our apartment.
Our Renault 4 – photo taken from the varanda of our apartment.

While we were in the states, we got permission to raise money for a car. At this point, we lived some distance from team members who had vehicles, and some places Harry needed to go did not have a convenient bus stop nearby. So, he looked around, talked to people and we ended up with a Renault 4. It is bigger on the inside than you might imagine, and it was economical to drive. It had, as did most cars in Portugal, a manual transmission.

I had some experience driving stick shift, but I’d never seen the likes of the Renault 4. The gear shift was on the dashboard! I tried to learn how to shift it, but never really succeeded.

Harry customarily parked on the sidewalk as you see here. It kept the car safer. Across the street was a farm where they grew the best potatoes I have ever in my life eaten. A small river helped with irrigation. It was a wonderful neighborhood, and a great place to live. I loved it.

Bethy loved to help Harry wash the car.
Bethy loved to help Harry wash the car.