The Portugal Adventure – The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly

Harry had borrowed a car for the occasion and showed me some of the sights as I watched the traffic fly by.

We were due at the director’s home for breakfasts and Harry did not want to be late. I had not slept on the plane and was ready for a nap. Instead, I was confronted with more people I was ready for.

The Continental breakfast was a novelty and I mostly listened and answered questions. Apparently, no one expected Harry to show up with a woman on his arm. Harry was trying to play it cool. Until he poured coffee into his tea cup.


To sleep, perhaps to dream – Shakespeare

After breakfast, the field director’s wife led me past the puppies to the apartment beneath hers. It belonged to a family who were missionaries with TEAM. They were on leave in the states, and had agreed to let me sleep, perhaps to dream, in their apartment. I was tired but wired. My internal clock was ticking when I was tocking. the events of the past few days skipped and jumped on a kaleidoscope in my brain. Eventually, I drifted off into a light sleep for about six or seven hours.

The bidet: every home should have one.


Putting on the Ritz

Harry arrived a little early to take me to dinner, of course, and to his surprise, I was ready. (It was a rare event. My dad spent quite a few years of my life telling me, “Hurry up, Susan.”). 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 admired the way he held his own with the other drivers that I was certain were in training for the Daytona 500.

Cristo Rei, Lisboa

We drove around Lisbon a little before we went to eat. Harry pointed out more landmarks such as 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 name of the bridge in itself is a monument of sorts. It 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 differed. He was, in fact if not in title, a dictator. On the 25th of April, 1974 the military initiated a coup, which eventually returned democracy to Portugal, and the bridge got a change of name.

Soon, Harry pulled into a parking space outside of a large building. It was the Lisbon Four Seasons Ritz, where he took me inside for dinner. He helped me order from the Portuguese menu. We each had a bitoque. A bitoque (prounounced bee-tok) consists of a grilled or fried tenderized steak topped with a fried egg. They serve it with a helping of rice, and French fries. Fortunately, I am an adventurous eater (especially if someone else is buying). I liked it.

We sat there talking for a long time before Harry took me back to the apartment where he dropped me off. He told me what time to be ready in the morning, and I really did sleep this time. Jet lag is for real.

Harry talking through the window to António Figueira (Tó) on the trip.

On the morning that we left for camp in Germany, everyone met together to caravan in several vans. We pointed our noses east and began to roll. It was a short trip to the border of Spain, but the next leg of the journey would be much longer. 

We stopped at a Spanish café around 1 p.m.for some lunch. Since time was of the essence, I ordered an omelet for my meal. It took over an hour and a half for all of us to get our meals, and mine was one of the last. Who knew that making a simple omelet could be so complicated?


The Portugal Adventure – I Love Coffee, I Love Tea

It may have been the seven-hour flight over the Atlantic. Perhaps the loss of seven hours of my life added to it. I was in a place where my ability to speak English fluently was of minimal benefit. Or it could have been the shock of a handshake instead of the expected kiss factored into it.

My senses went on overdrive. It went beyond the whiff of diesel fumes. It was just something for which I had no olfactory memories. To this day, if you were to blindfold me, and open a jar full of Portuguese air under my nose, I would immediately iria começar a falar Português. The language reverberated in my ears. Sounding like a merging of Spanish and French. I kept trying to hear the conversation. Unsuccessfully! The golden orb in the azure sky gently warmed the morning without the harsh summer blast to which I was accustomed in the states.

Harry interrupted my reverie to ask if those two suitcases were all there was of my luggage. When I admitted that they were, he grinned and said, “I’ve never known a woman to travel with so little luggage.” Score? I thought I had brought a lot. It had seemed more than enough as I had dragged it through the airport. Was it meant as a compliment?

We stopped in front of a white car where Harry deposited my bags in the trunk.  As he put the key in the ignition, I noticed the flow of the traffic. The cars were small, and zipping around like they were practicing for Grand Prix of Monaco.  Suddenly, we were in the flow. Harry took me on a roundabout but short sightseeing excursion of which I remember little apart from my white knuckles. Then he announced that we needed to get moving. He was taking me to eat breakfast with some of the Portugal team.

We arrived in good time. As we stepped out of car, the door opened to a warm welcome. The field director’s wife had prepared an attractive continental breakfast which was reposing on the table.

I was the novelty of the month. Harry had a woman in tow, a wonder that no one had ever expected of Harry. And they expected me to talk. Now, nothing renders an introvert more incapable of conversation than a room full of new acquaintances whose curiosity is killing them. But Harry came to my rescue with a diversionary tactic. He asked for a teabag, then picked up the coffee pot and poured coffee it over his teabag.


The Portugal Adventure – Into the Wild, Blue Yonder

(Disclaimer: this is by way of being a memoir. After 33 years, memories tend to get a little fuzzy around the edges. If you notice something that you remember differently from me, please don’t disillusion me. Thank you. 🙂 )

(If you missed the earlier posts, you can find them here: one and two.)

Any hesitation in making a decision to fly to Portugal in the summer of 1978 lay in the necessary financial commitment on my end. VISA credit cards were still somewhat of a novelty, and I was certain that the airline would not accept my Strawbridge’s credit card. When you make around $6000 per year (before taxes), even in 1978 the necessary expenditure was an impossible commitment. I nearly had to say “No.” Then, my dad stepped in and offered to lend me enough to supplement my budget. He said that I could pay him back when school started back up in the fall.

I went to a travel agency in town which took care of my passport photo, and my travel arrangements. I had never flown anywhere on my own, and was all in a dither getting things together. No one wanted to drive me to New York City, (go figure) so I reserved space in an airport limo.

In late June, or early July my whole family spent two weeks at the beach. Someone my dad worked with had a cottage on Fenwick Island, Delaware. We had been going for several summers. Our routine included cooking meals ahead, and keeping it simple when we were at the cottage. Another ritual included my mom putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and my oldest brother taking one of the pieces and hiding it. My oldest brother had joined the army by that summer, so someone else had to carry on that tradition. I can’t quite recall who it was. 😉 Mostly, we just kicked back and enjoyed sun, surf, and sleep. We kept the possibility of one more family member missing by the next summer in the back of our minds.

TWA Flight Center

Somehow I managed to keep both feet on the ground until the day of departure. The sad puppy eyes that my dad used when he looked at me might have helped that. When the airport limo arrived, it looked nothing like what I had pictured. But, the driver did his job well, and we arrived with time to spare before I needed to board the plane.

The direct flight to Portugal left in the early evening. As we queued up for takeoff, I had time to ponder Harry’s last letter. It was full of the detailed information I needed to get through the airport, and customs. He could not come in and help me get through, but his directions lacked nothing. When I got to the exit, he wrote, he would be waiting for me. He added that I should try to sleep on the plane, because it would be a long day after I landed. Right. At the end of the letter before his signature, he wrote: “I love you” with no further explanation. That pretty well freaked me out. But not enough to keep me from going.

Lisbon at sunrise

The flight was about seven hours. I wasn’t thrilled about being in a jet hovering between sky and water for seven hours, let alone doing that while trying to sleep, but I tried. I passed the hours reading, thinking, watching the inflight movie, and eating. Shortly after our on-board continental breakfast, the sun came up over the horizon, and we were circling over Lisbon. It was about 7 a.m. Lisbon time.

Even though I knew no Portuguese, Harry’s instructions were clear, and I had no problems. I was a little stressed when I didn’t see him immediately upon passing through customs, but it was only a short moment before he walked in the door with a big smile on his face. He walked over to me, reached out his arm, and shook my hand.

Next installment: here

The Portugal Adventure – My Laddie Lies Over the Ocean

(Disclaimer: this is by way of being a memoir. After 33 years, memories tend to get a little fuzzy around the edges. If you notice something that you remember differently from me, please don’t disillusion me. Thank you. 🙂 )

(If you missed part one, you can read it here.)

Oddly enough, at age 25, I was not looking for a romantic relationship. I had been disillusioned by the dating game, and was content with my job at the Christian school. My delightful fourth grade students (27 that year) were more than adequate substitutes for having children of my own. I had some friends with whom I could hang out, and was mostly independent. Yeah, well, I still lived in my parent’s home. With my gross salary around $6,000 per year, it was a viable option. And yet, those beautiful red roses perfumed the house even as I resisted their implication.

On Monday, I took a rose or two and put them in a vase on my desk. The students noticed and asked questions, of course. But there was little to say about them at the time. Full time teaching leaves little time for daydreaming and speculation.

I wrote a letter to Harry thanking him for the roses, and told him  that they were beautiful. Then, I added that they had arrived on April Fool’s Day, and waited.

Email was not widely used at that time, so our correspondence always went snail mail. Air mail, to be more exact. Harry’s  reply came in short order. He was, in fact, a tad miffed with whoever was responsible for delivering the roses on April first. He explained that he had asked that they be delivered a week earlier, for Easter. On March twenty-fifth. It was an explanation that didn’t answer my real question. But, then, I hadn’t asked my real question. He had signed off on the letter, “Love, Harry” — for the first time. So, then I had two questions. Given that the whole of my senior year in high school when we were dating, Harry had not used more than maybe 250 of his words at most over the course of the year, I might have made an educated guess. But, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to know the answers.

School is over, oh! what fun!

 Anyone who teaches (or has taught) school knows that once April Fool’s Day is past, the school year runs down to the end in a blink. Achievement tests are added to report cards. Students are already feeling the euphoria that the freedom of summer will bring; it all contributes to the general mayhem.

Harry began writing more frequently, and always signed his letters: “Love, Harry.” I enjoyed hearing about life in Portugal, and continued to reply to his letters. They seemed to be coming more often. Sometimes I’d wonder where he had been keeping all of those words the year that we dated. Occasionally I’d catch my dad looking at me in a forlorn tone of “voice.” After the roses arrived, he, at any rate, had no doubts whatsoever about what Harry meant! And he was feeling a bit depressed about the whole thing.

In early June, I opened a very thin, light envelope with a letter from Harry in it. He wrote that the missions team would be taking a group of Portuguese teens to Germany for camp, and asked me to come along. He said that he would pay my expenses while I was there, and asked me if I could buy my airline tickets. (His salary was also bare bones.) It was my turn to have no words. But I had the feeling we might be getting closer to the answers to my questions.

Next installment: here