The Portugal Years – Second Year: The Cat’s Meow

When we brought our little Samantha Cat home, we had not considered all the attending possibilities. Harry’s mother was a farm girl who believed animals belonged out-of-doors; he had no experience with pets. In fact, for a while, even Sammy was a little frightening to him.

Kittens, as you may know, grow into cats. Sammy took her time maturing, but when she hit puberty, all the tom cats within a square kilometer showed up around our home. My last cat was spayed. She was a cat who knew the meaning of decorum. For several weeks, Sammy “sang” and howled to the toms, and they filled in with the descant and watered the door. I didn’t need a translator to know what it meant. But, hey, how hard can it possibly be to keep one small cat in a house with closed windows and doors?

We had wanted to spay her, but we had no money for it. We did our best to keep her indoors. We thought we succeeded, but Sammy was a sly creature. One day I heard her calling me – from the outside of the house. The damage was done.

As Sammy’s girth passed mine, I considered the stories I had heard about cats wanting to make their own “nest” when they were ready to birth their offspring. It was a cold spring, and there was no central heating, I worried about the soon coming kittens surviving the cold, and ended up making a nest next to the stove in the kitchen. Just in case.

One Saturday morning I was cleaning when I realized I had a stalker. Sammy was right behind me on every step . When I stopped and looked at her, she mewed. It took me a few minutes to realize that she wanted me to follow her. Right into the kitchen and into her box she went. I petted her, and went back to my tasks. She followed me and mewed and purred. This went on for about half an hour when something clicked. I was her midwife of choice.

I felt like Prissy in Gone With the Wind. The closest I had come to a “birthin'” of any kind was a graphic movie called Emergency Childbirth that they showed us in tenth grade health class. (Three boys passed out.) But Sammy didn’t need any emergency help.  Unless I looked like leaving the room. That was verboten!

It was an extraordinary experience. Sammy purred through the ordeal. A kitten emerged about every 45 minutes until there were four of them. Sammy licked them and bit the miniscule umbilical cords like a boss. The loud purring  guided the newborns to Sammy’s teats. They were tiny, and looked more like rats than kittens.

About two weeks afterward, my doctor became concerned about something that might become a problem, and put me on bed rest for a week or so. Sammy found this unacceptable. Sammy spent about half an hour going back and forth between my bed and the box with the kittens. Then she disappeared.

I had dozed off when I felt her land rather clumsily on the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and saw her depositing one of her kittens near me. The other three followed, and she was finally content.

Newborn siamese kitten.
Newborn siamese kitten. Their markings come as they mature.

Have you ever had an extraordinary experience with an animal?

The Portugal Years – Year One: The Summer and the Winter Were the First Year

sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And suddenly, or so it seemed, the year had rolled around to June 30th once again. It had been two eventful years from the time I visited Portugal until our first anniversary. I was comfortably settled with the culture, and could speak well enough to go on with, but my ears…well, the Portuguese words ran past my ears much more quickly than my ears were able to catch them.

Harry, in spite of the landlady’s consternation, had painted the living room. We went to the store to pick a color. I was looking for a very pale peach to lighten up the room. Someone should have warned me. What looked like pale peach on the paint chip became pumpkin pudding on the wall. We lived with it. It made a great conversation starter.

I had become a competent food shopper by listening to and watching the Portuguese women shop. There was fresh produce all year ’round, but winter time was the time for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage – and Harry didn’t care much for them. We got through it with a little cheese sauce poured over them and sometimes a hollandaise sauce.

Soccer barged into my life. I learned that Portuguese boys often learned to kick a soccer ball (futebol in Portuguese) before they could walk. And the aficionados of soccer are even more passionate about the sport than baseball fans in America are about going out to the ball game. I did find it much easier to watch than baseball.

My formal language lessons ended, but learning to speak Portuguese would be an ongoing project. Writing in Portuguese is fraught with its own pitfalls. Written Portuguese is much more formally expressed than in conversation, and requires great care in the writing. Another challenge was that two people in our organization were raised in Brazil. Brazilian Portuguese is less formal. Is it any wonder that people who didn’t know me thought I was Brazilian?

And, of course, Harry and I continued to hold a hope in our hearts that our dream would come to pass. We were ready, but the dream was not. We still had Sammi cat and I wasn’t lonely during the day.

Harry took me to a seafood restaurant in Lisbon to celebrate the first anniversary of our wedding. He had been saving up for quite some time so he could give me a lobster dinner. It was delicious, and we finished the meal with a performance of Cherries Jubilee.

cherries jubilee

The summer and the winter were the first year. And President Jimmy Carter was finishing his last year in office.

 

 

 

 

Have you ever eaten a flaming dessert?  What do you think you would like about Portugal?

 

The Portugal Years – Year One: On the Road Again

Portugal-CIA_WFB_Map_(2004)We did not plant churches. Our ministry was to support  local churches; we held evangelistic meetings,  taught teen Bible studies and did summer camp for teens. We also had a musical ensemble.  

Occasionally, Harry and I borrowed transportation and set out to participate  in some of the events, or just to meet with and visit with our Portuguese colleagues.  There is a map with the with a mileage counter on the right for your convenience as you follow us around Portugal. All trips began from our home near Lisbon. (For the sake of clarity, Lisbon is approximately on the same parallel as New York City but with a milder climate due to the Jet Stream.)

One late fall trip took us all the way to Porto. It isn’t the most northern town, but it is one of the oldest. The River Douro runs through the town, and on one visit there I saw women doing their laundry in the river. Other areas had wash-a-terias where women took their laundry and washed it in concrete washtubs.

Washer Women 02

this time, we were visiting the Centro Bíblical, another group that had summer camp for kids. When we arrived we were greeted warmly as only the Portuguese can greet. We were further north, and the little Portuguese language that I had learned did not sound exactly the way that it had in Lisbon. (Some of the Portuguese in the north sounds closer to Spanish.) But I did not need any translation for the love with which they greeted me. Harry was a favorite, and everyone wanted to meet his new wife.

It was much colder in Porto area than it was in Lisbon, and I was glad that Harry had given me a heads up on bringing warm clothes. We sat in the kitchen as the sun disappeared over the horizon and the cold invaded. They had a brazier on the floor to heat that room. Harry was applied to frequently for his mad translating skills.

At bedtime, I was escorted upstairs to where the campers bunked in the summer. I began to wish that I had brought more warm clothes; it was cold in there. I was in the girls’ dormitory and Harry was over in the boys’ dorm. The bunks were short and narrow, but there was no fear of falling out of bed. The ladies came and lovingly tucked me in by wrapping numerous woolen blankets around me. I couldn’t move.

In the morning, I wondered what was next when one of the ladies came and with words and gestures signified that I should get up and get my clothes on. I did and went downstairs. Everyone crowded around me and kept asking a question I did not understand: Dormiste bem? Harry was not in sight. Finally he showed up and told me they wanted to know if I had slept well. That was the beginning of understanding that Portuguese manners are more formal than those of my homeland. Eventually, I discovered that the formal manners also make it easier to have healthy intimacy in friendships.

On that same trip, we visited a Portuguese family who lived on the Atlantic coast. I don’t believe I ever met an inhospitable Portuguese (though I suppose there may have been some). The family we visited was so happy that we were coming that they prepared a special delicacy for us. They had gathered a large amount of sea snails, then seasoned and cooked them just for us. My word, I hoped I could get them down. All I could think of was the story about the missionary who was invited to dinner in an African village where he was fed some sort of white grubs.

They handed us a plate and a toothpick to pick the snails out of the shell. I looked at them for a minute, and watched others eat. Then I took the plunge. To my delight, they were delicious and eminently edible.

Cooked_Sea_snails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever eaten snails? How do you feel about formal manners?

The Portugal Years – The First Year: Festas dos Santos Populare (Popular Saint’s Festivals)

festas

Each year, in the month of June, Portuguese cities and villages enjoy a two-week long “block” party. The parties go on long into the night and feature processions, music, singing, dancing and grilled sardines. In contrast to Carnaval, these two weeks are dedicated by the Catholic Church (remember that a large percentage of Portuguese are Catholic) to three beloved saints; namely Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint John, the Baptist and Saint Peter, the Fisherman.

santo-antonio

Saint Anthony was born in Portugal, and became a Franciscan monk.  He traveled to Italy and made his home in Padua. St. Anthony is the saint of lost things (including people and souls), and and also of newly weds (perhaps because newly weds are lost – maybe because they are lost to everyone but their spouse? – I don’t know. He was named a Doctor of the Church for his ability to clearly teach the Bible. He is often portrayed with a the Christ Child, who is believed to have appeared to St. Anthony. His feast day is June 13, the day he died. St. Anthony is the patron saint of Lisbon as well as of other towns.

Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptist’s feast day is recognized on June 24th, his birthday. (Note: most saints are recognized on the day they died. Only John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are recognized on their assumed birthdays.) It is close to the summer solstice and you may notice many church festivals coincided with pagan customs. In addition to being the forerunner of Christ, he is considered the patron saint of tailors (he made his own clothing in the desert) and of shepherds (he called Jesus the Lamb of God).

St_PeterOn June 29th, the Portuguese celebrate the feast day of St. Peter, the Fisherman. Being a sea-faring folk and fishermenl, they go all out for this saint with music and dancing. He is considered patron saint to a long list of people including bakers and the the Universal Church. (If you want a full list, you can go here. It’s interesting to read.) When St. Peter was condemned to be crucified, legend tells us that he asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

Okay, readers, why do you think that St. Peter is so popular? Would you want to have a chat with any of these saints?

The Portugal Years – The First Year: Carnaval!

The Portugal Years – The First Year: Carnaval!

carnaval-tv

The first known settlers in Portugal were groups of wandering Celts. They brought their pagan religions and festivals with them.  When the Romans arrived around 210 BC, they called it Lusitania. Christianity arrived in what would eventually become Portugal around the end of the first century A.D. The people of Lusitania had their own religion. When they embraced Christianity, they added it to a number of their existing festivals. 

Although most of the Portuguese festivals revolve around honoring the saints, Carnaval has roots mostly in the pagan religions of the settlers along with some Christian traditions. Those early roots included fertility rituals for good harvests.

carnaval 2

There is a lot of tomfoolery going on as well as parades and parties. The idea behind it is for people to get the urge to sin out of their system. If you are interested in reading more, you can go here. It is the Portuguese version of Nola’s Mardi Gras, celebrated over the three days before Lent (and penitence) kick in.

That first year – well, it was interesting. Many Portuguese enjoy watching Rio’s Carnaval on the TV. I have to admit that in many ways I lived a fairly sheltered life growing up in Fundamentalism. That first year of watching select portions of Rio’s televised (and uninhibited) parades was quite a revelation – in more ways than one. The Portuguese parades were more conservative, possibly due to the significantly cooler temperatures.

So, are you ready to join the party in March of 2014?

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

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.

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 Portugal Years – Year 1: Thanksgiving and My Curiosity (O dia de ação de graças)

The autumn days were pleasantly busy with language study and immersion in the Portuguese culture. We called family rarely –  it was very expensive. (And for the record, it took me a long time before I would even answer the phone  after I learned the proper way to greet someone: “Está?”(Are you there?) I was afraid they would expect me to understand them.  The temperatures crept down to “need a sweater and wool skirts.” And it rained often as is the custom of autumn weather in Portugal.

By the time November rolled around I was accustomed to purchasing meat from the butcher. In that shop where all of the bloody meat was hanging on hooks in the windows, I discovered that a pound of ground beef (ground on the spot) was a little less than a half of a Kilo. So, I asked for half a kilo to keep it simple. It took awhile to get used to it; it was very lean meat.

One of my adventures in cooking involved a cow’s tongue. (The cow was dead

Cow's Tongue
Cow’s Tongue

when I got the tongue in case you were worried). Like the elephant’s child, my curiosity had no end. I pulled out my trusty cookbook and fearlessly went where I’d never gone before. Harry got through that meal, but asked me politely to lose that recipe.

We lived near a farmer’s market that was open once or twice a week. Most of the food was produce – and it was lovely.

rabbit
Rabbits

One stall caught my eye week after week. They sold rabbits. I knew I had a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook that had a recipe for Hasenpheffer. One Saturday, my curiosity got the better of me again. I asked for 2 rabbits. The lady who owned the stall pulled two out of the cage, murdered killed them, and put them in a bag for me. I had a few queasy regrets as I carried the warm rabbits home in the bag. This experiment eventually turned out much better than the cow tongue. But I couldn’t bring myself to make it again. I did, however, start buying stewing hens when I wanted to make soup – I even put the eggs into the soup.

When Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I began looking at the turkeys in the butcher shop. They looked scrawny compared to the Butterball Turkeys I was used to eating. They were, however very good. (Long years later I learned about free range poultry – we never appreciated what we had when we had it.)  The Portugal team gathered together for the meal at our house. We were voted in because we had the most room and the biggest table. Everyone brought food that they liked when they celebrated Thanksgiving in the states. Of course we had turkey. Someone found a store that sold imported food and we had cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, vegetables, pumpkin pie – all were there in abundance. And there was one thing I’d NEVER seen at a Thanksgiving meal. Our secretary was from Miami, and she brought deviled eggs.

Turkey
Turkey

Have you ever had any extraordinary food adventures? What do you like to have on the table for it to be Thanksgiving?