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: 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.

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?

What Susan Learned In the Woods Behind the University

Waiting for the connecting bus
Waiting for the connecting bus

As I began to have confidence in my ability to find my way around Lisbon, I decided to explore. One day I deviated from my habitual bus route to the University for Portuguese language class. It was broad daylight and the campus was crawling with students and faculty. What could possibly go wrong, right?

At the place where I transferred from one bus to another there was another bus with “University” on the marquee. I looked at it day after day, and wondered why there were two different routes to the school. After long deliberation, I decided one morning  to woman up and satisfy my curiosity.

I may or may not have had a few qualms once I was on board. We were driving in a different direction than my usual bus, of course. As I rode through unfamiliar territory I found myself moving into high alert. I wasn’t sure from where I would be exiting along this route. It was taking longer than my normal transportation, and I nearly missed the exit stop for fear of missing the exit stop.

This bus stopped in back of the University building. Between the bus stop and the University there was a beautiful passage through some woods, and I was the only person walking through it. Due to the longer bus ride, I was moving along with what was for me a brisk clip through the rustling leaves.

Past the halfway point, I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I jumped, turned around and saw a man who looked like he was “challenged.” He  beckoned me to follow him, and followed up the invitation with some gestures that needed no translation. I moved away quickly and repeatedly yelled in both English and Portuguese, “No!!! Não!!!”

I am more of a meanderer than a sprinter, but on that day I might have come in first in a 5K run. I ran straight to the café in the University and got a “bica” (espresso) to calm my nerves that worked so well I nearly fell asleep in class. Looking back, I think that my admirer probably had gotten loose from The Punchy Lands population.

What kind of close calls have you survived? Do you have any advice about exploring? What is the lesson that Susan learned?

The Portugal Years – Year One: Price’s Pensão Residencial

pensao
Portuguese Hostel

When you live in a beautiful place with a delightful climate  and if it is in Europe you can depend on having visitors. If you have extra bedrooms as we did in our first home, you never know to whom you may be offering hospitality next.

Portugal fulfills all of those criteria, and the visitors did come. Family members came, friends came and people we’d never met came.  Occasionally, Harry and I considered naming our home Price’s Pensão Residencial (Price’s Hostel).

One of our first visitors was a young woman who had come to Portugal to do some art work for one of the mission organizations. She bunked on a mattress on the floor in one of the spare bedrooms. She did not want to share meals with us – asked us for to a shelf in our refrigerator so she could prepare her own meals.

A distant relative, Les Stouffer, came to visit us during our first year. He was our family’s perpetual bachelor, and had traveled all over the world but had not seen Portugal. He was an outstanding house guest and we enjoyed having him there.

One summer some basketball players came over from the states to do a basketball evangelism thing with the Portuguese teens. They slept on mattresses on the floor and I had to find my robe for the duration of their visit. It was the hottest summer we had while we were there.

One of our favorite visitors was a former student of mine. He was one of those unforgettable students that all teachers have in the course of their careers. He was smart, and had a great sense of humor (without which you really suffered in my classroom).

One Thursday I gave the students a social studies test on material we had spent three days reviewing. This student failed the test miserably. School policy was D and F grades required a parental signature on the offending test within three days.

On Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from his mother. She was greatly distressed, but I could not understand what she was saying. It sounded like, “We studied for the test all weekend.” I was terribly confused myself because I never administered a test to my students on Mondays and I told her so. She insisted.

When I realized she was talking about the social studies test, I tried to explain. She insisted that it was a test he took that day. When she finally heard me say, “He took that test on Thursday,” she still could not take it in. It took several  repetitions for her (and for me)  to understand that her fourth grade son had tried to scam us.