Looking back on the last 25 years
Part 2 of 3 posts
Looking back on the last 25 years
Another night at around midnight we were taking some friends back home and came around a blind bend in the outskirts of Miranda da Corvo a market town in central Portugal.
There in the middle of the road was a man lying flat out arms and legs splayed like a star across the road. We couldn’t pass so we got out and tried to help him. As we got closer we could see that he was on two crutches and was very drunk. So drunk that he couldn’t stand or support himself with the crutches. As we tried to stand him up the flailing crutches and weak legs made it hilariously funny. In the end all of our car’s occupants were out all giving advice and trying to steady him.
His wife had been watching him for half an hour from the bedroom window trying to open the front door. She just cursed him and said to us to pull him into the side of the road and leave him there. Happy families!
In the early morning it was common to see people going off to the fields with oxen pulling heavy wooden carts. These “Caramac chocolate bar” (beige) coloured cattle were so gentle and calm with huge eye lashes and sharp pointed horns. I have since found that they produce the best steak that I have ever tasted.
“Beautiful and tasty” what a combination !
One of the things that makes you feel comfortable in a strange, new place is the friendliness of the locals and, having traveled a good deal around the world, there are very few places where the locals are as friendly and just let you be.
Over the years I have met a few dell boys who look for the path to riches via a stupid rich foreigner but they are easily spotted.
One of the most common stories that I hear is of Portuguese people who have borrowed money off a foreigner and then disappeared off to France, Brazil or Angola never to return or pay back the cash.
Always remember that you may be good friends with these people but you are not family so their obligation to you is less.
Besides “you are rich and have a lot of property back in your home country”. So you can afford the loss.
I have also seen racism at a football game – perhaps not surprisingly given the recent reports of Chelsea football fans abusing a black man on a metro. This game was at Sporting Lisbon’s ground. I can’t remember who they were playing but I can remember the torrents of racist abuse a couple of black players got in the opposing team. This struck me as very strange indeed as the Sporting team had many black players who did not get abuse from the fans?
They do say there is “now’t as queer as folk!”
Social life here is often segregated by all male or all female activities. It is usually when there is a family celebration like a birthday or a christening that everyone mixes together. Admittedly at these occasions, if they are held in a home, then the women and older girls will have been cooking and preparing food for days in advance. While the men chat and drink wine.
I am starting to see more women involved in “male” activities and at a recent deer hunt there were five or six women there with around 100 men.
Weddings and christenings of course are massive events here and if you ever have an opportunity to attend make sure you go. You may not understand exactly what’s happening but it is a fantastic opportunity to meet people and there are always a few people who want to practice their English once the wine flows a little.
Food, having previously mentioned the outstanding chips, here in Portugal there are a few more food related memories that stand out.
In 2003 I was invited to go and make brandy “Aquardente” at an old guy’s quintal. When I got there I met a few more of the elderly villagers who were sitting around the walls of the loja (room under the house where the animals are kept) they were sitting on low three legged stools.
Above them the smoke from the wood fire was choking. There was no chimney in the room just a small hole in the wall that some of the smoke went through – the rest hung in the room like a cloud. The brandy was made by distilling old wine in a beaten copper still that was sitting on top of a couple of large stone with a fire underneath. One old guy controlled the heat of the fire by pulling logs out or pushing them in.
The temperature has to be controlled so that they get the maximum production of brandy and don’t burn the wine. Quality control was carried out by a very old guy who would put his finger in the slowly dripping brandy coming out of the still and rub it on his toothless gums. Apparently the first brandy is very strong and can kill you if you drink it. After a while the strength of the brandy weakens and when mixed together it balances out but it is a lot stronger than that you would buy in a bottle from your local off-licence.
During the brandy making, the house owner shouted through the floor above to his wife who brought down an old plastic washing up bowl, with large pieces of bread soaked in olive oil and salt cod covered in chopped garlic. Each of us just grabbed a handful and passed on the bowl to the next person. This in-the-hand meal was washed down with the home owner’s wine. It was very salty but delicious – the wine was rough and strong.
Each of us was given an old wine bottle of the clear liquid. I have still got mine. I use it to clean off baked-on dead flies from my car windscreen in the summer. The smell always brings back memories of that hazy, smoky day.