I’m super-tired tonight after a day on the beach and more surfing (today went a little better than yesterday) but wanted to take the time to record a few observations from my first few days back — observations that remind me why I love this country — while they are fresh in my mind:
1. I forgot the connector that allows me to listen to my iPod in the car, not to mention my iPod itself. As a result, I’ve been listening to a lot of Portuguese radio and, except for a few current Top-40 hits and the inevitable club and house music, all they play are the hits of the 80s. Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, the Spin Doctors — all of their greatest 80s hits played over and over and over.
Heard “Young hearts be free tonight” lately? I have. What about “Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known?” I tell you, a shiver of existential synchronicity ran through me when that special song came on. I wouldn’t admit this anywhere else except publicly on the Interwebs, but I’m sort of loving it.
1a. The hits-of-the-80s fascination supports my theory that Portugal is in an 80s time warp. It is the third world of Europe we’re talking about here, though a charming country it is, and everything is about 20 or so years behind the U.S.
2. The old Portuguese men who stand in doorways or on the side of the road or on some plot of land they’re farming wearing newsboy hats still totally knock me out. I’m not sure why they wear those hats, and many times I have no idea what they’re doing in the doorway or on the side of the road. But I love them.
3. If you have been here a few times and keep going to the same places you will invariably run into someone you know. It usually happens in a most uncanny and startling way, as if you have somehow conjured them.
4. The Portuguese people were born with an innate ability to do very little — or nothing at all — for very long periods of time. They also work harder than most anyone I know. And they can spend a whole day wandering around the countryside, stopping in cafes in each little town and talking to their neighbors. (They all know one other, of course.) If I spoke the language better, I wouldn’t be fretting about having so much time on my hands.
5. Like the Italians — with whom they share an extreme fondness for talking — the Portuguese are also serious about their coffee. And they drink lots of it. I reckon it helps with the talking. I do wonder how two countries that love coffee so much can be so inefficient when it comes to many other things.
6. Except for a few exceptions, nearly everyone I’ve tried to communicate with has been really understanding about my lack of language skills. The Portuguese are not stupid — they realize their language is nearly impossible for foreigners to wrap their tongues around. I think they appreciate any attempt to even try to speak it, even badly. And they will always provide the missing word when you’re ordering something. Two women in two separate grocery stores have had to remind me about 10 times the Portuguese word for “slices” when I ask for deli meat. It’s “fatias,” pronounced “faht-ee-ahsh.” I was reminded twice yesterday and will now never forget it.
6a: The reason the Portuguese language is so difficult I think is that the accents on the words are not in the place you expect them to be. I can’t think of a good example right now, but try reading something in Portuguese the way you think it would be pronounced and then ask a Portuguese speaker to read it. See what happens.
6b: The Portuguese, being the jokey types, also play switcheroo with subjects and verbs. There are billboards all around the countryside for a popular TV news show that says in Portuguese “The hour of truth has arrived” — “Chegou a hora da verdade.” Or, actually, it says “Arrived the hour of truth,” because that’s what it literally means if you translate the Portuguese to English. They do this with other things too. Want another beer? “Mais uma cerveja, por favor.” That’s “More one beer, please,” not “one more.” See what I mean?
That’s all I can think of right now, but I’m sure that it’s more than enough.
And for a few minutes as I wrote, I forgot that today I have been feeling a little homesick, a little lonely and a little “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” (I’m sure it’s the remains of the jetlag talking.)
It be only 9:35 pm local time, but I’m retiring to my bed. (People go to sleep early in the country.) I hope you are happy, safe and warm, wherever you may be, and I hope today you take a second to appreciate all the beautiful people, places and things you love in your life.