About to be published
Hi, folks.I have had the MS of "How to be Portuguese-ish" accepted by a publisher. They are on-line and are called Authors On Line. The appearance of the book on their website will mean that interested parties will soon be able to buy an e-copy, on-line.In don't know if this is the ideal route to go, but it seems like a first step into a world where it is difficult to be accepted by any mainstream publisher, unless you have a blockbuster on your hands.So, if the e-book gets good response, I will then see if it interests the mainstream.As part of my strategy I'll also be keeping this blogsite open, with extracts from each chapter. I would be both pleased and excited if you all contributed to the 'Comments,' by clicking on that word and adding your experiences, or agreements/ disagreements.If I ever get to a second issue, I would then consider the inclusion of those comments.I'll probably only go 'Live' on the AOL site in about a month, but will keep you all informed.
HOW TO BE PORTUGUESE-ISH by A. Bife
Of course the question that may cross your mind, having read the title is, why should anyone who isn't Portuguese want to be Portuguese?
Many folk are quite happy with being whatever nationality they are, no matter whether they are actually living in the country of their birth, or not.
In fact I am quite proud of being a Brit.
Others, who immigrate to countries such as Australia and South Africa merely transplant themselves from one English community to another - and sometimes become more British than they ever were in Britain.
"All you have to do when you arrive in Portugal is go to a meeting of the Royal British Club and you will see the biggest bunch of stuffed shirts you thought possible." Said a South African acquaintance. (Who was somewhat anti-Brit anyway as his Grandmother had died at the hands of the British in a concentration camp during the Boer War in South Africa)
[Yes it was the Brits who invented concentration camps, not the Nazis]...
I have taken a Nome de plume for this book - which is A. Bife.
Portuguese may enjoy the joke as ‘um bife’ is their nickname for any Brit (m) and I believe it owes its origins to the British enjoyment of roast beef.
(Or maybe the Portuguese enjoyment of roast Brits - who knows.)
I would like to thank every Portuguese who showed me hospitality and kindness during my stay in their country - and for showing me pity for being a Bife.
This book may contain statements of a controversial nature - they do not represent the views of anyone I know, or have met either in Portugal, or anywhere else and are entirely my own conclusions
All events are real; I have merely changed some of the names of the participants. (In case they decide to either disown, or sue me.)
I would be very interested to hear of anyone’s comments to these contents and this blogsite is for this purpose - which will contain extracts from the book.
You will be able to add your comments to the various chapters by clicking on ‘Comments’ and following the on-line instructions.
CONTENTS 1 Africa
2 My Discoveries
9 Food and wine
10 Family and friends
11 Precious places
12 Religion and Politics (and Masonry)
14 Flora and Fauna
15 Don't talk about the Spanish
17 Holidays, Bibliography and Weblinks
...It was also about this time that I was invited to my first ‘Sardinhada’. This is a BBQ at which the principle item on the menu is fat, juicy, fresh sardines.
The house where the event was to take place was down Jules Street - a street more well known for its second-hand cars and even more second-hand car dealers, but also where many Portuguese lived.
I clearly recall driving cautiously down the road looking for the house number - all the while following a delicious air-borne aroma of BBQ’d sardines.
There are two ways to eat sardines at a sardinhada.
You can be civilised and sit down at a table where a serving dish groaning under the weight of dozens of the hot, tasty fishes will be plonked down to be shared between four people - where you will help yourself to three sardines at a time to add to your plate-full of boiled potatoes, salad and grilled peppers.
Or, you can eat it the way I have seen on the 13th June at the Festa de Santa António in Lisbon.
Place the cooked sardine on half a bun, then pick off the skin with your fingers (if you don’t relish it), eat half the sardine, then remove the head, spine and tail (again, if you don't relish it), then eat the other half with the juices that have seeped down onto the bun.
If you wish to wash your fingers and remove the smell of the fish, it is best accomplished with red wine. (What a waste of wine.)
Whilst living in Johannesburg I made another trip to Lourenço Marques.
At the time I owned a rather beaten-up blue Triumph Spitfire, but it got me to L.M. and back without missing a beat.
I became stuck in a drift of sand whilst trying to drive down a beach road and had to go looking for help - which came in the form of a local farmer and his tractor.
The locals were very friendly and helpful, pushing and pulling the Spitfire whilst the tractor gently eased the car out of the sand.
My journey took me into L.M., then up the coast road to Xaixai, then to Inhambane and Maxixe.
In L.M. I stayed at the Tivoli Hotel, which had an intricately carved, wooden reception area - a cross between Hobbit-land and Swedish modernism, whilst one floor up all beauty vanished with bedrooms as stark, bare and minimalist as they were refreshing.
At Xai-Xai I was awed by the coastal scenery, with lagoon, after crystal-clear lagoon, inviting me to dip into the tepid waters.
Which I did.
The hotel at Xai-Xai was small and unpretentious and owned the fishing rights for a huge stretch of coast, as well as a well-stocked farm. The dining table always groaned with fish, prawn, crayfish, meat dishes, fruit and vegetables.
The beach rarely had more than three people on it. (The beach stretched as far as the eye could see, in either direction.)
Driving on I reached Inhambane and decided to take lunch ‘al fresco’ at the hotel restaurant. First course was lamb soup, although I think it tasted more like goat. I found a piece of jawbone, with a manky, green tooth still embedded, at the bottom of the bowl.
From that moment and for the next three days I formed a very intimate relationship with the bathroom and eventually had to abandon the holiday and head for home.
But Inhambane and its sister village across the river, Maxixe was charming. I took the journey from one side to the other on a dhow, piloted by locals whose job seemed to be that of ferrying water in huge earthenware pots.
I was told that Maxixe didn’t have enough fresh water and Inhambane was its supply.
The river was as calm as a lake and I took some photographs from the dhow with my camera skimming inches above the placid waters.
The dhows must have been very old and true to the nature of the craft seemed as though they had been grown, rather than crafted. The sails of this particular craft must have been patched a hundred times and it was quite amazing that the vessel got anywhere with the weight of all that extra, patched canvass.
Over the years, I visited a number of Portuguese forts.
When in Maputo I had been intrigued by the massive Fort of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of Conception), which like those in Morocco, contained a large and comprehensive ‘village’ within it’s walls.
In Portugal, The Citadel - Fort of Cascais was a 16th century fortress built to protect the Bay of Cascais. In the garden, there is a small, open-air artillery museum and recently the whole ‘village’ was utilized by a home decorations exhibition, whereby each of the dwellings was taken over by a specific decorating firm.
Its future plan by the local council is to turn the whole of the ‘village’ into an unimaginative shopping area. (As if there aren’t enough shops around, but of course it would be out of the question to turn it into a cultural experience. People are more interested these days in retail therapy.)
But at least they have turned their attention to its preservation.
At Carcavelos, the seafront is dominated by the huge Fort of São Julião da Barra, which is currently occupied by the military.
The Buzios (Whelk.) lighthouse in the mouth of the estuary was at one time used to accommodate political prisoners, who were chained to the walls and had to cope with the daily incoming tide.
The Fort of São Bruno, Caxias was built in the 16th century by two Italian architects and has recently been refurbished inside and out.
And it looks beautiful....
I had no pre-conception of what Portugal, its capital Lisbon and its surrounding suburbs and villages would be like.
Yes, I had travelled in Spain, Italy, France and Holland, so expected it would be sort of European/ Mediterranean.
Bear in mind I was in Portugal in late September. In England the weather would have turned chilly, the sky would be grey and warning us that winter’s depressing chill would soon be upon us.
And here I was only a few hours flight away, in glorious sunshine and warmth.
Lisbon’s architecture blew me away - a heady mixture of the ornate, Rococo, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Ultra Modern and their own invention called ‘Manueline’ - replete with themes of the sea and Portugal’s maritime discoveries.
Long, wide, tree-lined avenues, open spaces filled with statuary to poets and writers and ancient electric trams added to the uniqueness.
The heady smell of ‘expresso’ coffee was everywhere.
Avenida da Liberdade boasted one of the most expensive property rates in Europe and all the top fashion houses and five star hotels were there. I was impressed even though I don’t frequent such establishments anymore.
Then we cruised from Lisbon along the ‘Marginal’ - one of the main thoroughfares which runs immediately adjacent to the Tejo river out to sea and all the way to the ‘new-rich’ town of Cascais, about 35 kilometres from Lisbon.
What a beautiful drive, with the sea always at the side, accompanied by beaches, ancient forts, tropical gardens and palm trees.
We passed through Estoril, now known mostly for its huge Casino, but more recently the home of the exiled Spanish King during the rule of Franco and onto Cascais - once a cute fishing village, but now the home of the wealthy middle-class.
Beatrice kept talking as we drove - here was the Boca da Inferno (mouth of hell), waves pounding into the rocky grotto, there the edges of the fabulously wealthy Quinta da Marinha and then Cabo Raso, with its small, delicately pebbled cove.
Finally we arrived at the zenith of the day’s sights - Guincho.
By now it was evening and the wafty, milky, cloud covering had absorbed salmon tones from the sunken sun.
Guincho, home to surfers, wind surfers and sun-worshippers gained its name from the screech of the seagull.
And wild place it is - even with the Range Rovers and Mercedes’ parked along the roadside.
Strong, seasonal winds had whipped the sand dunes into a skin-abrading blanket across the road and motorists, bikers and pedestrians alike fought their way from the beach to their vehicles.
But I didn’t see the discomfort.
I saw raw nature doing what it does whilst reducing us to mere specs of insignificance in the process. In my mind’s eye I was already living there and making photographic studies.
That evening Beatrice and her husband Diogo took me to a ‘taverna’ in their local village of Almocageme, where we dined on barbecued pork ribs and drank a musky, full bodied red wine from the Alentejo.
It was well after midnight when I fell asleep - as though I was cocooned in a fantasy - doves and owls called out in the wild forest around my cousin’s quinta.
‘So this is Portugal.’ I woke, muttering to myself, with a slight hangover the next morning.
A strong black Delta-brand coffee and several slices of toast later and Beatrice was showing me around the garden that was her labour of love.
Although in its infancy I began to sense the wonderfully wild contrasts that would evolve through the combination of pretty English and exotic Portuguese flora.
Then we were in the car again and off to the precipitous village of Azenhas do Mar, where the little, white-walled houses clung to the cliff-top and threated to plunge, lemming-like, into the tidal pool below, at the slightest puff of wind.
At Sintra, Beatrice found a parking space, despite the multitude of tourists and we began our mini-exploration of this tiny, yet perfectly formed, royal village, with a visit to ‘the best tea room in Sintra.’
Here I was baptised into the exquisite combination of jet-black, bitter expresso coffee (called ‘bica’), creamy pasteis da nata (a very delicate custard tart made with fila pastry) and queijadas de Sintra (another kind of tart, but using cheese as the filling - more like cheese-cake).
I hadn’t Beatrice’s experience of other tearooms in Sintra, but I was quite prepared to accept her diagnosis as it being the ‘best.’
As we ambled about the town admiring the architecture I noticed the ‘scrim-like,’ diffused, cloud formation, which in combination with the strong sunlight lent a peculiarly studio-effect to the tree-lined, cobbled streets. I had the weirdest sensation that I was in a film set - the fairy-tale castle of Sintra adding to the Disneyland fantasy.
The next day I was back on the plane to the UK with a serious dose of Portuguese-ness in my system. (Instant saudades.)
On reflection I considered that the Brazilians were very poor, possesed little and managed to be happy. The Brits had three of everything (three houses, three T.V.’s, three wives) and were a miserable bunch of gits.
Perhaps Portugal, being between the two extremes would offer the best of both, with the minimum of the worst.
….Silva Rosa ran the place with a rod of steel. (Probably to make up for his lack of any other kind of rod.)
You did what he said, or else.
Now this was a very strange way of working for me. I had spent thirty years working with and not for account managers and directors, whereby my ideas and suggestions were usually the ones that were deeply considered and usually presented (and without wishing to sound boastful - usually got the business).
In short I had gone from being a well-respected creative director to a well-paid lackey.
The man who had actually interviewed me and signed the contract was a Dutchman, whom I shall call Piet.
Let me explain that I was not being employed as part of a ‘Cunha’. I had no family ties which could make such an elevated plea.
No, this was the hard reality world that I was accustomed to in London. I was being headhunted because I had a fantastic portfolio and C.V.
In that day and age it was unlikely that you would be employed because someone feels sorry for you.
The fact that I spoke no Portuguese was of no concern, especially as most of their clients were multi-national. What they were looking for was someone with ideas.
Piet also made a point of telling me that the reason I was a suitable candidate was that the head office in New York had stipulated that McNaff’s Portugal had to find a heavyweight Creative Director with international experience.
Piet was a great guy and his job was number two to Silva Rosa. We got on great, we lunched together and we drank together.
But there were rumblings and I discovered that Silver Rosa didn’t like some of Piet’s decisions.
Suddenly, one evening Piet called me, crying hysterically over the phone.
"Can we talk?" He wailed.
It seemed that the only place Piet felt safe was the church, so we went there for his confessional.
There was a funeral being conducted at the front of the church and we sat huddled together at the back.
Piet bawled like a baby for the next hour and between the blubs I managed to piece together his story.
The short story was that Piet was married, but was having an affair with one of the ladies at McNaff’s, who was an ex-lover of Silva Rosa and Silva Rosa was very pissed off.
I also realised that Piet had an alcohol problem.
Eventually Piet pulled himself together and decided to go home.
I never saw him again.
I believe he did make an appearance at the agency a few days later with a massive black eye - which he blamed on walking into a door.
I wondered which of the three parties had belted him.
Then he was reported dead...
….As you may have realised by now, Portuguese is not an easy language, neither to read, write, nor speak - especially if you have never particularly developed your linguistic skills before and worse, if you have no experience of Latin languages.
(But once you have some command of it, the next step into Spanish seems to be much easier. Looking at the two languages, written, side by side, they look like they could be from the same country - it is when they are spoken that all hell lets loose and you are left battered and confused. So, a word of advice, don’t try - not, at least until you believe you are fluent in Portuguese, or vice versa.)
Next bit of advice is to get yourself a proper, comprehensive dictionary, pref one E-P and the other P-E. Don't waste your money on the small pocket dictionaries because they are usually Brazilian based - whereby the word content is quite different, as is the spelling and the pronunciation. (Only useful if you are going to Brazil and not Portugal.)
The best I came across was by Porto Editora. (But you won’t find this in the U.K.)
Once I had made up my mind to move to Portugal I still had some weeks to kill in Brighton and so I looked around to see if there were any Portuguese lessons to be had at the various colleges and language schools.
Blow me down, there was.
And so I enrolled in a small class of eight, with a teacher from Oporto.
She was fun and light-hearted and because of the small size of the class we received very personal attention.
In those few short lessons the most important string of words I learned was ‘Empregado da bomba de gasolina,’ which means gas pump attendant – only because I thought it sounded so hilarious. (I don't think I used it in conversation in the whole thirteen years I was in Portugal.)
And I learned that the lettuce in a hamburger was ‘Alface’ not ‘Alfacina.’ (Lettuce, not lettuce-head - a derogatory term the Oportoense use for the Lisboetas.) The teacher thought this was hilarious and giggled for the rest of the lesson.
The Lisboetas, in return call the Oportoense ‘Tripeiros,’ or tripe-eaters, after their historic survival on tripe dishes.
So, when I arrived in Lisbon, the few words that had stuck seemed to have something of an Oporto influence.
Let me explain here that the rivalry between the two cities is about as extreme as it is between say, London and Manchester, so my attempts at speaking Portuguese with an Oporto accent, in Lisbon, were just about as intelligible as if I spoke some foreign language, like English for example.
One day, at McNaff‘s, the crazy little receptionist named Monica approached me and told me a friend of hers was an English teacher, but she also gave Portuguese lessons. Her name was Margarida and she gave me her telephone number.
Within days we had arranged to meet and she would give me lessons at the agency at the end of the day.
I must add now that Margarida came to be one of my best friends, so anything I say, which you may take as disparaging, is only being made lightly. She was a charming, intelligent, misunderstood and quite lovely person.
But when she arrived at my office I was quite taken aback at the tiny, diminutive girl/ woman, dressed in an old-fashioned frock and wearing her aunt’s hairstyle. She spoke like Mini Mouse and laughed like an out of control, clockwork bantam hen.
Margarida tried to give me lessons, but almost every time she had a lesson booked, my work would get in the way and I would have to cancel. Over the course of a year I had maybe ten lessons.
After a year we tried having the lessons at her parent’s town apartment, where she lived. But that too was always cancelled and eventually we gave up the lessons.
By now I had come to know her and her nutty humour and ability to laugh at anything. She had suffered deep personal tragedy when her boyfriend, with whom she was deeply in love, died at the wheel of the car as they went on holiday together.
This caused Margarida to sink into a terrible depression and for years she wrote long, sad, desperate poetry to help her come to terms with her love and her grief.
After several years’ friendship, she eventually had the confidence in me to show me some of the work and I couldn’t read more than a couple of pieces without crying.
There is much that I know about Margarida, but it is all too personal and I wouldn’t want it exposed on these pages.
But, she did get me going on learning Portuguese.
One evening we met at a restaurant - Margarida wanted to meet some of her friends - yet another lesson in Portuguese-ness.
At one point I needed to go to the bathroom, which was at the opposite end of the dining area and to get to it I had to negotiate my way past a huge aquarium, stocked to the brim with seaweed, rocks and the evening’s live repast.
On my way out I heard an unusual swishing, swishing sound - rather like the far-off sound of waves breaking against a sandy shore, which I attributed to a special sound effect to go with the aquarium.
However as I took one step past the tank I realised the sound was coming from inside the restaurant.
Yes, it was the sound of dozens of Portuguese speaking. (Nearly all words end with a sh-ish sound.)
When I was playing polo in England I met a crazy Portuguese player, who was utterly useless at the game and was permanently being shouted at and referred to by the coach, Terry Hambone as ‘That useless f *cking Pork and Cheese.’
(In fact it was rather unfair singling out Luis like this, as far as Terry was concerned everyone except himself was f*cking useless.)
Well Luis and I struck up various conversations, so I revealed to him that I was thinking about moving to Portugal. (This was just after my Brazil trip.)
What he told me was that the Portuguese are brand crazy.
"They won’t buy anything unless it’s a well-know brand and everyone can clearly see the logo on the outside." He joked.
"They are an advertisers dream in one sense and a complete headache in another, because they won’t shift brand loyalty too easily." He emphasised.
And it is true.
The Portuguese are also not very adventurous.
This is borne out by a number of business studies made by British, German and American multi-nationals. They conclude that the Portuguese will never look for original ideas, they will only copy what everyone else is doing and just be satisfied with whatever slice of the pie it brings them.
(This is often a complaint amongst Brits that of the several million restaurants in the country, only a tiny percent don’t serve traditional Portuguese meals.)
So, in terms of marketing if you throw enough money at establishing a brand, watch out for imitators all trying to catch a slice of the pie.
There is also a huge amount of complacency.
For example the most popular and respected bank is the Caixa Geral (General Safe), which has been in business since God was a boy. A very great number of its customers are therefore elderly and urban, which means they don’t have very high expectations of the banking service beyond deposit and withdrawal.
Avoid that bank like the plague.
If you should ever be drawn in there, on any day of the week and especially at lunchtime, expect to see hardly any tellers and huge, very slow moving queues with everyone, including the tellers, smoking. (Before the smoking ban.)
Expect to wait at least forty-five minutes for any kind of service at a Caixa Geral Bank.
And if in the course of conversation with anyone, or during the course of a job you do come up with an unusual idea expect to be looked at peculiarly, or even told you are crazy.
If you think Portugal is right there in the twenty-first century, as exhibited in its smart, modern architecture, flashy BMW's’, Mercs and elegantly and well-dressed populace - think again.
It is all patina - underneath lies a crumbling, cobwebbed, fifteenth-century feudalism.
The gap between the old generation and the new is enormous.
The old are trapped in their Salazar-regime-mindset - one which expected its citizens to shut up and do what they were told. They were afforded the minimum of rights and comforts (unless they were from a privileged family). You still see many elderly folk walking around as though haunted by this terrible ghost of fascism.
(But it could also be that they are ill, cannot afford medication on their paltry state pension and their rat-infested building is crumbling.)
I’m not joking.
You may also meet many of that era who thought Salazar was a god - that he had the populace well under control (as they should be), that what the Portuguese people needed was a good dictator - they needed to be told what to do.
If you meet a Portuguese who tells you this was never the case, it is because he doesn’t want to believe it existed and he’s all-right in his ivory tower.
‘Let them eat cake.’
I have Portuguese/ South African friend named Laura who was actively seeking a wealthy husband, one who could provide for her in her old age, because she saw how badly her Portuguese grandmother had been treated by the state and didn’t want to live through that when she became old.
Let’s also not forget that nearly four million Portuguese are illiterate.
And the blanket that is thrown around the older generation (imposed, not only by the Salazar regime - I’ll come to others in a later chapter) is one of fear - that nothing is possible beyond the introverted world they were allowed to inhabit.
Today’s youth still have an element of that fear, but are much more likely to look to the outside world and its consumerism. They have also taken heart from the influx of Brazilians, who seemed to have drawn their inspiration from close proximity to and trade influence with the United States.
It is almost as if the Brazilians believe anything is possible and will 'have a go.'
Similarly the influx of Russians and Croatians has caused many raised eyebrows...
Saudades means to have a ‘sad longing for.’
If you were born in Portugal and find that the only solution to getting work is to emigrate, you will have permanent saudades for your homeland, its lifestyle, climate, your friends and family.
Many Portuguese have saudades for the greatness that Portugal once had during ‘The Discoveries.'
It now has no greatness - it is a pawn of the EC and an underdog to its eternal enemy Spain.
You can help ease the pain if you are living ‘Fora do pais,’ by finding like-groups of emigrantes.
You can listen to the fados of Amália and Mariza, the modernised traditional songs of Madredeus, the folk of Dulce Pontes and the wonderful guitar of Carlos Paredes.
You can invite friends round to feast on Bacalhau and drink hoarded Alentejo wines.
Or, like me, you can write a book of memories and experiences.
But you will never kill the saudades, even if you hate the ruling classes, detest the politicians and are in self-imposed exile...
FOOD AND WINE
Ask Isabel’s Dad anytime what his favourite English meal is and he would say, without hesitation, ‘Fish and chips.’
Ask me anytime what my favourite Portuguese meal is and I may say ‘Bacalhau and boiled potatoes.’ (As close to fish and chips as you’ll get.)
English breakfast can be found at many establishments in the Algarve, or at a certain Welshman's beachside café in Cascais - which humorously advertises ‘English breakfast, fish and chips, English newspapers, a good cup of tea and milky coffee.
This may also be enjoyed at some very, very exclusive, smart hotels. (Throughout the rest of the country.)
Incidentally I was once watching Cable T.V. and interviews were being conducted amongst a sample of the U.K. population, in the U.K. - who almost unanimously thought the Algarve was a separate country, next to Portugal.
What the Portuguese have for breakfast is either a tosta and a café, or a pastel and a café, or a cigarette and a café, or a pingo/ mata-bicho and a café, or just a café.
From that you can guess that the single, most important aspect of breakfast (or mid-morning, or mid-day, or lunch, or five, or dinner, or midnight) is coffee.
So to take that further, a tosta (pronounced toshta) is a toasted sandwich, which usually takes the form of a tosta mista (pronounced mishta) - (toasted cheese and ham), or tosta de queijo (pronounced kayjoo) - (toasted cheese), or tosta de fiambre (toasted ham).
A pastel is usually a pastel de nata - a custard tart, a pingo is a small glass of wine and a mata-bicho (meaning to kill the worm - of hunger) can be aguardente - cheap white brandy made from the dregs of the wine-making (fire water).
Another favourite mata-bicho is a miniature bottle of Martini Rosso.
There are of course, many other variations depending on location and class.
If you go into the café at the Cais de Sodré station in Lisbon, for example, you will also find sandwiches of omelete (omelette), vitela (veal), filetes de peixe (fish fillet), presunto (cured ham), or chouriço (smoked sausage).
Coffee also reaches heights of complication sufficient to bewilder any foreigner.
A straight expresso in Lisbon can be called variously a bica, or a café. If you ask for a bica in Oporto, or anywhere up north they will laugh at you and tell you that such a thing doesn’t exist. In the north you ask for a ‘Cimballino’ - which is the name of the brand of expresso machine.
Cappuccino has only recently arrived and then only in quite up-market cafés. If you ask for this expect to wait half an hour whilst they froth up gallons of milk and spill it everywhere.
Otherwise you can ask for a carioca, a galão, or a meia de leite (or meia da maquina).
A carioca is a shot of expresso with lots of hot water in a small glass. (However if you ask for a ‘carioca com leite quente’ in Brazil, which means a native of Rio (young boy) that has hot milk - be prepared for some very rude answers.)
A galão is a big glass of milky coffee and a meia de leite, or meia de maquina is a cup of coffee comprising a shot of expresso and hot milk. (If it has two shots, it is called ‘Um café pingada’ - which means coffee with drops of milk.)
Isabel told me there was even another variant made back when she was a teenager, but no longer served, called a Capilé. This was made with mixing instant coffee (like our 'Camp', or 'Bev') with warm water then adding freshly pressed lemon juice and topping up with ice and water.
A word of warning: Coffee in Portugal is very strong - it can blow your brains out, especially if you add sugar.
Be prepared for serious verbal diarrhoea.
Be prepared for addiction.
In case of the latter, cross the road at the slightest whiff of coffee emanating down-wind from a café.
And now for the purists, here is how a good meia de leite should be served: The cup must be placed under the steam nozzle whilst the beans are either being ground, or measured into the expresso machine holder. Then the cup must be emptied and immediately placed under the nozzle(s). The machine must run until the coffee is about a centimetre from the top if it is ‘normal’, or about half way up the cup if it is ‘Italiano,’ or ‘curto’.
The coffee must have a slight curl of beige, oily froth on the surface - otherwise the coffee is stale, the machine isn’t giving the right pressure, or the filters are clogged.
If you want a really good meia da leite, make sure they use full fat milk and they put the milk in first - that way the mixture will have more fullness and the final slick curl of coffee oil will sit on the top.
And if you want a better 'bica' make sure they heat the cup first, with steam. Then they can put the expressed coffee into it. Serve with a stick of cinnamon.
But what a land of mouth-watering delights....
FAMILY AND FRIENDS(Portuguese, Cabo Verdiano and Braziliano, as well as the usual rag-tag of Brits, Canadians and Americans.)
If the Portuguese didn't have such strong family and friends ties, the country would cease to exist.
It is the glue that keeps the place going.
As I mentioned, when I was working at McNaff's, the adverse conditions under which we all had to work made us stick together very tightly. It was a big family, with, unfortunately a very ugly father.
If you are going to date a Portuguese/a expect to come second in the relationship to their family.
Sunday is family lunch day, you may even expect to be dropped on Sunday, in the early part of your relationship, but once you seem to be a factor in their lives and future you may be expected to give up whatever you have planned and attend the Sunday lunch.
The same goes for any family matter. If anyone in the family gets pregnant, married, sick, dies - there will be the obligatory family get-together and support.
Actually I think it is terrific.
My family was never like that.
And family in Portugal means the whole family - grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, kids, dogs, snakes, the lot.
Any event can be held up for family reasons. Folk take days off work because their auntie was sick.
Funerals are obligatory. (Especially if for the deceased.)
Appointments at work, the bank, lawyers, in the municipality, anywhere, can be broken, because of family reasons.
In a way it is a pity the Monarchy no longer exists, because I am sure the whole country would be bonded together even tighter. (There is some support for the present pretender to the throne - the Duque de Bragança [a very nice man] and you can often see this monarchist support on car bumper-stickers.)
My intro to the whole family thing was through my cousin.
When I first arrived in Portugal I stayed at her apartment for two weeks and her Portuguese husband was very kind and treated me immediately like family. From then on I regularly received invites to attend family parties and lunches (but thankfully not funerals - I am not good at funerals, although when my neighbour of six years died I was there to support her daughter and grand-daughter) and I thank him for that.
Once I started going out with Isabel and was accepted into her family, that was it. I was automatically invited along to get-togethers at her parents, three aunts and even remote uncles and cousins.
I once sat down to a Christmas dinner with sixteen of them. I once sat down to her Uncle’s 80th birthday with nearly a hundred of them.
And, as I have said before they exist for the children. You can go to any family get-together and there are loads of kids. If it is an outdoor event the kids are specifically catered for. If you go to a restaurant with kids, the waiters nearly always make a point of treating them well.
I think if Britain had a better family/ relatives/ kids culture there would be less yobs on the street getting out of their heads and nicking cars for joyrides.
This mixing of the groups and the sexes extends to the schools - there are very few segregated schools (a complete contrast to the English public school, shirt-lifter system), so kids are all brought up together. They learn to deal with each other as male to male, female to female and male to female peers.
This is much healthier than the stiff, awkward Brit way of creating barriers between parents and their offspring.
The Portuguese even extended this principal of mixing to their 'Discoveries' back in the sixteenth century, when they were out exploring the little known worlds of South America, Africa, India and China. It was a matter of principle that they were to mix and inter-marry the locals....
Here's a place that really is a bit different. Called the Venice of the north, the town is divided by canals and served by Venetian-type gondolas - not at-all surprising when you know that the area was settled by the Phoenicians.
Make sure you also take time to go out to Praia da Barra - out along the lagoon that is formed by the River Aveiro. Here you will find fishermen bringing in their daily catch of fish and shellfish in Phoenician-style boats, complete with religious and daily life-scenes painted on the boat’s swan-necks.
These boats are called 'Moliceiros' (Molicar means ‘hard work.‘) and once upon a time they were used to gather seaweed. (Not profitable these days, which is a great pity as seaweed has many uses - fertilizer, bread, boiled as a vegetable.)
Take a stroll along the isthmus and see the really original architecture as the houses are all painted in stripes - a theme seen in Venetian architecture and also on the islands of the Açores. (English spelling Azores).
ALCOCHETE (Pronounced 'All cow sh*t.')
Take the new bridge south over the Tejo and follow the signs.
You'll notice that as soon as you have crossed the river you are in the country.
The climate appears to change, the air smells different.
By-pass the massive Freeport retail shopping village (Shops, shops and more bloody shops - this is where you can shop till you freeze with icy mist in winter and shop till you boil with swarms of flies in summer.) and head on into the little town, which in Spain would probably be touristically labelled as a 'Pueblo Blanco.’
Here it is simply an 'aldeia' - village. White, but not named so.
Apparently its foundation goes back to the Arabs (any word with 'al' in front is Arabic, with the exception of Al Capone, who was definitely not an Arab thug) and it means 'lime pit.’
However, the predominant industries in the locale today are bulls and fish.
Once a year they have a wild party called 'Festa dos Barretes Verdes', but I'll go into that in the chapter on festas.
It's a charming village.
You can even get a trip on a traditional, immaculately renovated, eighteenth century, Tejo barque, which will sail you up-river, or if you pay enough, down to the Algarve.
If you want a really great dining experience, go to the Al Foz restaurant, which sits right on the river's edge. (Foz means river-mouth.)
At high tide, the waves crash against the plate-glass windows. (And when your bill arrives your jaw crashes onto your plate.)
In 2003 I decided that I couldn't make a buck in Portugal anymore, I wasn't getting any younger (in fact retirement age was only around the corner), I had no savings, no property and both my parents were aged and infirm.
So I rationalised that I should return to England.
That lasted six months and things didn't turn out as I expected, so irrespective of the risks I decided to return to Portugal again. Instead of trying to get my own business going, I would find a job, any job, which for a brief while meant some dodgy employment in Ayamonte, Spain.
Arriving back in Cascais I initially stayed with friends, but then I decided that the weather was so nice I would go camping.
I stayed at the Guincho campsite for three months and had a whale of a time, but that's another story.
Realising that camping would not see me through the impending wet, windy, winter months I began to look for a bed-sit, firstly immediately at Guincho and then I slowly widened my net to include Cascais.
One evening I took myself to dinner at a great little restaurant called O Correio. (The Post Office - which is what it used to be before its present incarnation.)
I had finished my meal of char-grilled squid, boiled potatoes, mixed salad and a half bottle of red wine (ten Euro) and was about to leave, when along came some friends of mine, Carolina, her sister Brigita, (B's best friend) and their Mother.
So I joined them. We chatted about what they were up to, what I was up to and then drank some more red wine.
The next day I received a call from Carolina to say that her Mother had heard about a small bachelor apartment in a garden, right next to where she lived and suggested I go and take a look.
So I did.
I immediately hauled ass into my Land Rover and went to meet the landlord and his wife.
They turned out to be retired, quite sweet and enthusiastically Anglophile, having lived and worked in London for thirty years.
They took me into their garden, past the vines, the bird cages and the barbecue, the swimming pool, the lawn, the strelitzia, the orange, lime and lemon trees, the vegetable garden - which contained potatoes, leeks, onions, green beans, pumpkin, courgettes, cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, coriander, red and green and yellow peppers, chillies, more strelitzia, banana trees, more vines, persimmon, more vines, granadillas and I forget what else, but there was more.
Eventually we arrived at the bachelor pad, which was tacked between the house and the garage.
It was laid out in an 'L' shape which comprised a single room serving as a bed-sit, whilst the 'L' bit was the kitchen and a tagged-on toilet/ hand-basin/ shower room. All sparkling new, clean, and ready for occupation, at a mere two hundred and fifty Euro a month, including electricity.
How fast can a person say 'I'll take it?'
I spent the better part of a year here talking to the plants, listening to the birds, taking every meal outside on the patio, drinking lots of wine, eating fresh fruit and vegetableshaving the odd BBQ, meditating and generally doing absolutely nothing.
Was it Heaven, or Eden?
Atibá is a weird word, derived from the Brazilian/ Indian place-name of Atibaia (pronounced by the Brazilians as Achibuya). If you ever want to visit an out of the way place in Portugal, don't go there, because apart from my ex hide-away there's nowt else, apart from the local gym and a nice view of the motorway. (Sorry, there was another very small attraction and that was the store/ café/ padaria called Orquídea, which served tantalising, hot, fresh bread - twice daily.)
Why does Portugal have such a high road mortality rate?
Why do the UK and Sweden not have anything like the same problems?
DRIVERS LATINO/ MACHO
The men are Latino and macho. They have got ‘Tomates,’ yes they have balls and they are going to show you who is boss on the roads.
If you are a woman driver you must also be expect to be intimidated. (Even by other women drivers who want to have balls.)
If you drive a small car expect to be intimidated by bigger cars. If you drive a big car expect to be intimidated by ‘Jeeps’ and if you drive a ‘Jeep’ just watch out for trucks.
It’s all down to bluff.
I was once driving at a respectable 120kph down an auto-estrada. Out of nowhere a black Mercedes sat on my rear bumper and furiously flashed its lights. I was overtaking another vehicle at the time, but the Merc continued to flash. I had nowhere to go. When I could get past the other vehicle the Merc driver pulled alongside and swerved towards me, threatening to force me off the road. He then sped off.
And they have a quick temper. If they do something stupid, don't give them the finger, you could just end up being given a bloody nose when you stop at the next intersection.
The country is full of road signs. (Someone has made a tidy profit out of that little contract.) The trouble is that they are all a little inconsistent. Sometimes you will get good signage. On other routes it will start out good and then suddenly peter out - leaving you to ask locals what and where.
Often the signage is posted exactly at an interception, or turn-off. This is OK if you are not travelling fast, when there's plenty of time to look, think and decide.
But if you are doing anything over 50kph on a three-lane highway when you have half the population of Lisbon driving up your tailpipe and you suddenly happen upon the sign to the road, exactly at it's turnoff, you have had it. You either drive on, get lost, or try and find a turning place.
Or, of course you could suddenly swerve and hope you are making the right decision. Just hope that someone driving three lanes to your left doesn't make the same decision, at the same time and try to cut across three lanes, making the turn right in your face.
The country is also full of bad roads.
Beware in winter when torrential rain is a thing of daily occurrence. You may spot a small puddle in the road, or at the side of the road, which on impact turns out to be axle deep.
I was once driving through Cascais along a newly tarred road. Lovely and smooth it was. Suddenly, as I turned the curve I saw a Christmas tree sticking out of the middle of the road. I made an emergency stop and got out. There was no manhole cover and someone had put a tree in the hole to warn drivers.
Well at least there WAS a warning.
I wondered what had happened - had someone stolen the brand new plate? Had the road workers not put it there after they'd finished laying the tar?
Maybe the Portuguese should pass a law that amongst your vehicle’s emergency equipment of triangle, yellow coat and tool-kit you must also carry a collapsible Xmas tree.
Because of the winter's rain, roads will deteriorate considerably throughout winter. They won't be fixed by spring. They may be fixed just before summer, when the foreign tourist arrive and whose continued custom the country would prefer to keep.
Pot-holed roads can cause bad driving as you wind down the road trying to avoid the holes. The holes also cause lots of vehicle damage to any part of the suspension and exhaust system. (Or anything else below floor level.)
Of course if you are driving in Portugal for the first time you have problems in compound. You haven't driven on the wrong side before and so you aren't used to roundabouts where the traffic is coming from another direction. And you are not used to using mirrors on the other side of the vehicle.
(I was recently back in Portugal driving a hired van to collect some household effects. I am used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side, but the hire van's wing mirrors were non-adjustable. This meant that I would see a vehicle approach to overtake and then for a brief instant I saw no vehicle at all. On return to the U.K. the hire company told me it wasn’t their responsibility to provide adjustable wing-mirrors and that I should contact the van’s manufacturer. Duh!)
Imagine how dangerous and disconcerting that was.
As a foreigner you are also not used to seeing signs in a foreign language, unfamiliar place-names and distances in kilometres.
So, please be very careful and don't add to the mayhem.
Drive at your best, show the most consideration, set an example.
Always assume that the other driver is going to do something stupid. (Because they will.)
Portugal is a poor, third-world, banana republic isn't it?
Not if the number of brand new BMWs, Mercs and Shags are anything to go by.
Thanks to the generosity of the banks, credit has been easy to obtain for some years. You can now get credit for anything.
Portuguese are now up to their necks in debt with apartments, furniture, clothing and cars.
Some Portuguese have two, or three jobs. No wonder they are such nervous drivers.
Get to a party and the men will want to discover what footie team you support, where you live, if you have married a retired Morangos e Açúcar star and what car you drive.
Street racing is becoming more popular amongst the yoof. Like many other countries there has been an explosion of popularity of ’Tuning’ and X-box games. Expect to see wings, fins, chrome wheels, fluffy dashboards, massive ICE and chassis mounted, blue lighting on a regular basis.
Seen especially at night, near clubs, discos and pubs and driven by teenage yobs I have dubbed them 'Chungamobiles.'
FLORA AND FAUNA
U R G E N T W A R N I N G
PINE CATERPILLAR (Lagarta do Pinheiro)
The other day I called my cousin in Portugal. After the usual exchange of small-talk she sadly informed me that Muffles, her stray, pet Perdigueiro-cross doggy was close to death, because he had tried to eat a Lagarta do Pinheiro. His tongue had swollen and he had been choking.
Fortunately my cousin knew about this condition and rushed him off to the vet immediately, who performed an emergency tracheotomy. Then he was pumped with steroids and anti-biotics. It seems like dogs often die from contact with this caterpillar, or at best lose part, or all of their tongue.
This insect can be found in any pine tree and they develop in their cocoons en masse. I believe this caterpillar has not received enough publicity from the Portuguese government.
People coming into contact can suffer severe skin, eyesight and breathing irritation.
Here's the official word:
"The Lagarta do Pinheiro is correctly known as Thaumetophoea Pityocampa and has a huge, negative impact on animals and people. It is found in pine trees and forests throughout the country and is considered a very destructive plague. Between January and May they bury themselves in the ground as part of their evolutionary sequence. Between August and September they are born as caterpillars and gather in their host to absorb the heat. A fine silk thread connects them. These caterpillars have eight receptacles with 100,000 stinging hairs. These receptacles can be opened to release thousands of these hairs which increases the possibility of poisoning any animal, or person that comes into contact with them. The hairs are like needles and inject toxic substances. Dogs smell, or eat them out of curiosity and children play with them. The areas most affected are eyes, mouth and tongue. If you have them on, or near your property have them destroyed. The tissues that come into contact with the toxicity die and often the only solution for dogs is to be put down."
Hospital Veterinario Principal
Can be seen in many parts of Portugal - free range. Best place to really enjoy seeing them is at Tapada de Mafra, where they run around in little families and you can watch them feeding at specific feeding places, from the comfort and security of your car.
Pata negra (black trotter) are the most highly-prized eating.
PHEASANT/ DUCKS/ PIGEON (Faisão/ Pato/ Pombo)
All to be found freely throughout the country. The latter to plague levels in city centres. However no one seems to have taken the initiative and offered them as pie.
RABBIT/ HARE (Coelho/ Lebre)
Another favourite for the "Caçadores". Found on menus in the country, but rarely in the city.
CATS AND DOGS (Gatos/ Cães)
Not officially a wild animal, but so many of them are thrown out onto the streets to fend for themselves that perhaps they deserve special status.
My cousin has certainly rescued a few, as have many of her friends.
I have rescued a cat and a dog, both of which are still with me.
Cats and dogs are severely maltreated by the Portuguese, a fact that does not endear them to pet-loving Brits. ( But having said that, it was recently announced that 50,000 animals per year are put into the hands of the RSPCA, in the UK. Animal lovers indeed!!!)
You will see strays almost anywhere.
The problem is huge and the government does little to prevent it. Some councils have undertaken a massive capture and destroy campaign, so that you now see far less strays in shopping areas and railway stations than you used to ten years ago.
But my cousin tells me that there are lots of ordinary folk who are trying to help and save animals. The thing is that these stories never make the front-page.
Pet's protection leagues are very poorly funded and seem to rely on donations.
If you do rescue any animal, take it straight to a vet and get it thoroughly checked out for fleas worms and any diseases, which they are probably riddled with after months, or even years of scavenging.
And you have to be prepared for the worst.
Some cannot be saved.
And make sure they are chipped. It is compulsory.
"Raining cats and dogs" is perhaps the one English phrase the Portuguese find most amusing.
They love Lisbon. Rats and not the Crow should be its emblem. The climate is nice, there's plenty of bins in the street, restaurants abound and today's generation seem to know nothing about the negative effects of littering.
EAGLE/ HAWK/ OWL/ VULTURE (Águia/ Falcão/ Mocho, or Coruja/ Abutre)
Eagles are to be seen in the north and east. I have spotted them in both locations, near the Spanish border.
Hawks are to be found all over the country and I love to see them.
We had an owl that was a regular visitor to our house in S.Pedro. He/ she used to come and perch on a telegraph cable and study the field opposite, then fly off as silently as he/ she had arrived.
Vultures can also be seen in the north and east. I have seen them on a number of occasions circling on thermals.
SNAKE (generic name: Cobra)
You don't often see snakes in Portugal, although they are there. I once ran over one in the hills in Sintra and once saw the discarded skin of one at my friend Vanessa's house in the Algarve. A good friend of Isabel's keeps two in a big glass aquarium at home, but they always seem to be sleeping under a rock, so I have never seen them.
Don’t know if a Cobra is also called a cobra.
Love 'em. They fascinate me, always have done since I discovered them as a kid in Africa. I guess they are just miniature reminders of dinosaurs. Pity we can't hear them roar.
They are aggressive and totally territorial. I have often studied them attacking each other over the rights to bask on a particular stretch of garden wall.
Lizards can be seen almost all over Portugal (not so sure about the colder climes of the Minho and Trás-os-Montes).
IBERIAN WOLF (Lobo)
There is a wonderful Iberian Wolf reserve at Malveira, just east of Mafra. You can visit them and have a conducted tour.
These animals are fascinating.
If you own a dog you will know how you can develop a very close bond and understanding.
But when you meet a wolf, eye to eye, you know they are checking you out.
Are you a threat?
Are you submissive?
Will you be good to eat?
After I visited I was a sure-fire sucker to be a wolf sponsor, for which I received a lovely photo and regular reports on her condition.
IBERIAN LYNX (Lince)
The Ibéria Lynx is endangered, but there are efforts being made to conserve what there is.
On the internet SOSLYNX will give you more news.
Don't expect a rapid response if you email them.....
DON’T TALK ABOUT THE SPANISH
Especially not in the company of Isabel’s Dad, Marco. Not so long ago you just needed to drop the noun ‘Spain’ into any sentence, at any time in an evening’s social get-together and he would have launched into a five thousand word tirade about THEM.
Today, though he has come to accept that Portugal has been taken over by the Spanish. He told me just before Christmas about a recent poll, part of which I have pasted below.
"A survey from 2006, shows that 28% of the Portuguese think that Portugal and Spain should be one country. 42% of these would put the capital in Madrid and 41% in Lisbon. 96.5% thought that the economy of Portugal would fare better in a union with the economy of Spain and more than a half would accept Juan Carlos I of Spain as head of state.
Note the crisis of Portuguese economy at this moment. A similar survey in Spain, after the Portuguese one, showed that 45,7% think that Portugal and Spain should merge, this support is especially higher in the younger population (18 to 24 years old) and communities near the border with Portugal.
But in Spain only 3.3% would prefer Lisbon as capital, while 80% would prefer Madrid. 43.4% think the country should be known as Espãna/ Espanha (Spain) against 39.4% preferring Iberia."
(Actually Wiki I think you have got the accent in the wrong place. I believe it should be España, not Espãna. Espanha is the Portuguese spelling. – Ed.)
I think that the results are very revealing about national attitudes.
The Spanish are go-ahead, dynamic and want to re-conquer the world.
The Portuguese (who are a nation just waiting to be conquered again) just lie there and take it.
A better name might be a combination of the two country’s names, bearing in mind that Spain is approximately six times bigger, in all respects.
How about Espangal?
The flag could be two stars - one big one and one tiny little one lazily orbiting around it, surrounded by lots of other stars (the number of states currently in the EU)....
THE MOROCCAN CONNECTION
What on earth does Morocco have to do with a book on being Portuguese-ish?
Actually, quite a lot.
Of course, by now you are aware that the Moors were in Portugal until 1139, having reigned there since the eighth century.
And they left behind much of their culture: agriculture, maths, navigation, the arts, crafts, fruit, vegetables and cooking.
To say nothing of its language, attitude and genes. (I worked with a copywriter at McNaff’s who possessed an ancient dictionary he had found at a market, which demonstrated the thousands of Arabic words still currently in use in the Portuguese language.)
An expression we would often hear in Morocco would be ‘Enchala’ (God Willing, or As Promised.); the Portuguese today still can be heard to utter ‘Oxala.’
The Portuguese are not good at revealing their historical Arabic roots, whereas stepping just two feet into Spain and it is evidently a national pride. (In fact, the Portuguese don’t seem to be too good at displaying any of their roots. What, weren’t the Phoenicians and the Romans good enough for them?)
In fact the Oportoense readily scoff and call anyone originating anywhere from Lisbon down to the Algarve ‘Os Mouros’ (The Moors.) and sometimes ‘Os Morenos.’ (Dark-skinned.)
I know and have seen many, many Portuguese with dark skin and hooknoses, who would easily pass for being an Arab - all they lack is the robes and the sandals.
But, I’m not so sure how many Portuguese could readily pass for being Roman.
Although it is said that if you see a Portuguese with grey eyes and a long, thin nose, they probably have Phoenician genes. (I have seen quite a few.)
In the year 2000, Isabel and I decided to take a holiday in Morocco, but when I first proposed the idea, her response was, "Ooh, I’d love to go, but I’m so scared of them. I don’t like the way they look and I’ve heard that foreign women on holiday there, are often abducted and end up in a harem, never being heard of again."
O.K. I had a very scary experience when I was there on holiday in 1986, when a young Arab youth had threatened to slit my throat.
But that could happen anywhere..couldn’t it?
After much discussion between Isabel and me, we eventually decided to take the trip and duly booked our flights.
I’ll skip the story about the wonderful flight we had and get to the other, Portuguese-related bits.
In order to get from the airport at Casablanca into the city centre and our hotel, we decided to take a taxi. We had asked at the Information desk what the likely cost was and it amounted to only a few Escudos.
As we exited the terminus we were surrounded by dozens of Moroccans of all age, shape, hue and size. (But not gender - taxi driving is strictly a males-only profession.)
I was reminded of the babble of taxistas that used to queue and jostle for fares outside Lisbon airport before the airport management were forced to re-organise them.
Taking in the hubbub and theatrics of the rabble, one gnarled veteran drew our attention more than the others - who offered such a low taxi rate that we just had to accept.
Our hearts sunk, however when he led us to his vehicle - a severely battered and panel-beaten, forty year-old Mercedes. (Actually, taxis were rarely any other make in Morocco.) I swear the bodywork was held together by the paint.
Our luggage was bundled into the boot, which eventually shut after repeated, slammed attempts.
(Some of the taxis in Lisbon similarly look like they have been around the block a few million times.)
And the driver politely gesticulated for us to slide into the back seat. Within seconds he had appeared at the wheel and began to coax life from the wheezing old diesel. Several agonising minutes later, after we had settled our vibrated and shaken bones, the Grande Taxi rumbled on its way.
The driving was erratic, but then there were goats, donkeys, camels, donkey-drawn traps, cars, mopeds, trucks, buses and potholes to be manoeuvred around. To be fair, the driver was probably doing quite a good job.
Every time the driver floored the pedal, there was an agonising lag as the old oil-burner considered its response. Each time he swung the wheel it was more as though he was swinging the tiller of an ancient dhow. And whenever he applied the brakes, we wondered if there were any.
Suddenly the driver took evasive action and we we dived off-road onto an adjacent dirt track. The vehicle groaned to a halt and the driver slid out of the car.
We looked out of the windows to see what was happening and saw that we were parked next to another, newer taxi. The two drivers became involved in heated, animated discussion and then our driver jerked the door open.
"Please." He ushered us out and gesticulated at the other taxi.
"Is alright." The other younger driver re-assured.
"Please." The old guy repeated with a grin.
"What the f*ck is going on?" I yelled as Isabel and I exchanged concerned glances.
"Is this a kidnap?" I demanded.
"No, please, is OK. This taxi no go Casablanca. My taxi go." The younger hustler replied.
So reluctantly, we boarded the other taxi, feeling rather like we were being abducted by some radical gangsters.
Suddenly my system went into adrenalin overloadand I began to be hyper-aware of the vehicle, the driver and every single event and detail outside the vehicle.
Were we being taken to the destination of our choice, or something more sinister?
"It OK meester. Ole man taxi have license for airport, no license for city. This taxi have license for city, no for airport." He explained with a mouth and a half of teeth.
We quickly learned that taxis in Morocco are great fun, mostly honest (as far as any taxi driver is ever honest with cash-rich tourists) and very reliable.
There were four modes of public transport in Morocco: The bus, the train, the petit taxi and the grande taxi.
We took a bus once, on our way back from Al Jadida. (We had gone there to see the famed Citerne Portugaise, which was a Portuguese-built reservoir. This was contained in the Cité Portuguese - a self-contained city within fortified walls. The street named Rue Mohammed AhchemI Bahbai had recently been visited by the then Portuguese Prime Minister António Guteres, who made a donation to the rebuilding of the street on behalf of his nation.)
There is similar evidence of Portugal’s previous conquest of Morocco at Asilah where inside the walls I found a ‘Portuguese village’, complete with typical Portuguese architecture and azulejos (tile-work), which had been there since the mid fifteenth century.
A very strange feeling being one minute inside the walls in a Portuguese village, then the next, stepping outside the walls and being in Morocco.
The bus ride was an eye-opener and almost identical to another trip we had once made between Lisbon, Mafra and Ericeira, in which some locals boarded and an elderly farm- working couple began to argue at the top of their voices about his lack of ’Tomates.’ (A comical reference, not only to their lack of that same vegetable, but also his inadequate ’balls.’)
In the Moroccan version, we sat amongst a busload of agricultural locals, together with their loads of produce, chickens and goats. An ’Hostess’ boarded carrying a cardboard tray of cakes and sweets for sale and then we were off.
Some miles down the road, we stopped to allow more passengers to alight, but as all the seats were taken, the driver removed several fold-up deckchairs from the overhead rack and set them down in the aisle.
Thank God, there weren’t any emergency stops made, because I could imagine that these ’jump seats’ and their occupants, would have shot though the windscreen at the speed of sound.
Our experiences with trains were pleasantly surprising. (Apart from the difficulty of making ourselves understood at the ticket office, which we muddled through, with a combination of guide-book phrases and gesticulation.)
The first trip was from Casablanca to Rabat and resembled the smooth suburban ride from Lisbon to Cascais. The second trip was from Casablanca to Marrakesh and more resembled the service between Lisbon and Porto before the new ‘tilt’ trains were installed.
This service was faultless: On time, clean, quiet and very cheap.
Not dissimilar to that of the 'Linha' from Lisbon....
(Ferias, feriados, festas e feiras)
First things first. If you go to any of these don’t wear jewellery, don’t flash your mobile, or your camera and keep your wallet in an inside, buttonable/ zipable pocket.
And girls - keep that handbag over the shoulder and fastened.
Seriously, there are always thieves about, although Portugal has, at the present, a lower crime rate than many countries.
In Portugal you will encounter various types of holiday (Ferias).
There's the big one, once a year, which can last as long as a month and is usually July/ August. It can be taken anytime in this period. If you are a Lisbon resident the first sign of this occurrence is that every road south, to the Algarve will be blocked for several days. And there will be the accompanying toll of accidents and deaths as impatient and frustrated maniacs try to overtake where they shouldn't.
You will similarly find that, unless you have booked several years in advance, that all hotels and restaurants outside of Lisbon are solidly booked.
Then there are ‘Feriados.’
These are little holidays that occur throughout the calendar year, that can be in celebration of anything from Religion (usual), to the commemoration of a battle, or the day when the Salazar dictatorship ended. (I'll drink to that.)
If you look on the calendar, you'll see that these holidays are usually only one day, but most Portuguese will take the ‘Ponte,’ that is the bridge between one weekend and the next.
So they end up taking a week.
The calendar is replete with such opportunities and as a result many people are either away, or companies are reduced to skeleton staffing, quite a few times in the year.
Sunday used to be a ‘Day of rest,’ but the church no longer holds so much sway over the population, whereas ‘Shopping’ does.
I would say that 90% of Portuguese holiday at the beach and that probably jumps to 100% for Lisboetas.
Lisboetas are always at the beach anyway. At weekends you have to buy a ticket and stand in line to get into the water. There are so many bodies on towels at Carcavelos that you are only allowed to stay for three hours.
If you live and work near the beach there’s no real reason for going away on holiday. (Unless you want to look for a different beach.)
The summer and holidays for the Portuguese are when they get to stop looking like Europeans and regress to looking like Arabs, as their tan gets darker and darker.
I was once on the beach at Cascais and noticed a girl lying there, asleep, with almost purple skin - she was so burnt. I couldn’t help myself and assuming her to be English, decided to go and warn her about her condition.
But no, she was Portuguese and not the least bit worried.
I saw her the next day too, topping up her tan from the day before.
Holidays are also a non-stop orgy of eating, drinking and insulting your best-friend’s wife.
Top, wealthy, jet-setters, VIP's, poseurs and media stars all go somewhere exotic and get Hell-o magazine to do a photo-editorial on them.
'Pedro and his lovely wife Mafalda beside the pool in Rio,' or 'Maria Manuela revisits her teenage love-nest in Monaco and shows off her new implants.'
Or something along similar lines.
You may then be treated to a dozen nauseating pictures of bling, more bling, cheesy smiles, embraces, shots of the gold-plated taps in the bathroom and group-shots of drunken, night-club revelry.
I don’t doubt that you are wondering how I have the credentials to critically write what I have.
After all I am a nobody and not known, in any major way, in any sphere.
I was born into the military, my Father was a pilot - shot down over Holland whilst I was still in my Mother’s womb. My Father was injured and spent time in a prisoner of war camp and reported as ’Missing, presumed dead.’
I have also had my own experience of military life, although nothing like as extreme as that experienced by Dad, I still found my school’s army cadets, a shock to the system - all that ‘square bashing,’ all that standing to attention in the blazing sun, all that endless rifle and kit cleaning. All of it seeming pointless in peace-time.
And as a kid I must have seen hundreds of hours of war-film footage, including that of the horrific Nazi work-camps.
So, it is hardly surprising that I evolved into a person who dislikes and deeply mistrusts the military and authoritarianism.
Common sense and decency are virtues that grace all of us, in varying amounts, but it doesn’t take the brain of Britain to understand that the present day situation in Iraq has been engineered and is immoral.
I have lived in a number of countries, which have given me the opportunity of studying different cultures, particularly those with a mixture of cultures.
In my childhood I came to understand that the blacks in Africa were treated like slaves and were not afforded their rights as humans. Later in South Africa I saw this taken to the extreme with the heinous laws of Apartheid.
In Britain I saw plenty of tolerance and I grew up to become tolerant of all races, creeds, religions and gender.
The only thing I can’t tolerate is stupidity (in all its forms of treatment towards people, animals and the environment), although I am prepared to moderate that view when I know that I am dealing with ignorance, lack of education, or mental deficiency.
As a child, in London I recall how difficult life was. Food was inadequate and rationed. The climate was cold, wet and smoggy - which caused a severe downturn in my health and death to thousands of others.
On moving to Rhodesia we were blessed with a marvellous climate and a simple life in the country, but a life which had no luxuries. We initially had no electricity, no hot water and commuted to town on bicycles.....