Aging on the Run
My life partner of 41 years and I both turned 65 this year. We met in Minneapolis in 1982 while engaged in El Salvador Solidarity work. Now we are retired, David from Minneapolis Public Schools where he was a school social worker, and me from 30 years of adjunct college teaching.
We put our house in South Minneapolis that was our home for 30 years, where we brought up our child, planted gardens and grew roots in community, up for sale. From March to October 2023 we divested of our things, painted and repaired the house. It turns out, getting rid of the accoutrements of a lifetime is not that easy. We hardly had time for evening walks or social justice pursuits or time with friends. We were racing against time.
Our plan was to travel – for two or three years — staying in one country for a month and then moving on.
A series of one-month rentals,
a life on the road,
aging on the run.
Month # 1 Algarve region, Southern Portugal.
October 29 The Azores.
On an overnight flight out of Boston on Azores Airlines, flight attendants turned lights down for take-off, turned them on to allow people to use the lavatory, turned them off during a moment of turbulence, and on again to serve us tabouli salad, bread and butter, meat, potatoes, broccoli, red cake, and then to finish it off, coffee and cookies. A three course meal and coffee at 1:30 in the morning, with two hours of flight still to go. The coffee woke everyone up and a lively conversation ensued that I wished my sleep deprived, one-semester of Portuguese could understand. I knew so little I failed to realize the primary language spoken on the plane was Creole.
The plane was full of people from Cape Verde and other Azores islands. The Azores were colonized by Portugal. Like the Caribbean, people from West Africa were enslaved on plantations until there 1858. Sharecropping replaced chattel slavery for over a century, but today the local economy is “service” — tourism and remittances. Like Puerto Rico and the United States, Cape Verde has an “autonomous,” politically limbo status with Portugal. Like Puerto Rico, more Cape Verdeans live off-island, many of them in Massachusetts. I learned about their life on Cape Cod at the Zion Heritage Museum in Hyannis. Decades ago, Cape Verdeans came to the Cape to work the cranberry harvest and clean hotels in the region. The people who cared for my mother during the last years of her life in a nursing home in Brewster MA were from Cape Verde.
The lights dimmed again and conversation lulled, until someone collapsed in the aisle one seat ahead of us. Lights on, and every flight attendant and many passengers rushed to our area. The flight attendants were mellow, standing over the collapsed person, not making anyone go back to their seats; everyone improvising. Since most people on the plane were older folks I assumed one of us went down, but the man who eventually came up from the floor was young and buff. He had hurt his head, so a committee of passengers and flight attendants watched over him. When it seemed clear he was ok, they began joking about getting him a life vest and parachute and letting him fend for himself. That much I understood.
Lots of laughter, no sleep. We all clapped when the plane landed in the Azores. The sun was rising – a red stripe on the horizon. In the airport David and I drank chamomile tea and plugged in our phones.
October 30-November 1 Lisbao
Coming into Lisbao, we passed the crowd of drivers and cabs and found the bus stop, got on the right bus, proud that on this first day of the rest of our lives we stuck with our goal to take mass transit whenever possible. We rode past the Ciudad University tagged with fresh FREE GAZA graffiti. A ninety foot Nelson Mandela graced the side of a building. We got off at Mq Pompeo with a 1.5 mile walk to our apartment.. We were wearing too many layers, and though our packs were as light as we could make them, by the time we passed the Capital, our phones were dead and so were we. We fell into a restaurant with an open door. The staff were so kind, helping us to crawl onto the floor to plug in phones. Two US women in their 60s, studying their phones and talking about the age difference between Trump and Biden, sneered at me. American bullies in a café in Lisbao. Granted, we were a sight, and probably a smell, with our backpacks, multiple layers and our sleepless unshowered bodies.
We had landed just around the corner from our place but we circled it several times before climbing four flights of stairs. We attempted to break into the wrong room, waking up a young man in his boxers who offered only a pained expression to our apologies.
The apartment was advertised as having a river view and that it did. In front of the river were two major construction sites. We amused ourselves watching their rapid progress. Soon there will be high rises to look at instead of the river. We did laundry three times during out thirty-six hour stay, bringing pants and shirts in and out of the balcony as the rain came and went.
Our day in Lisbao was task oriented – purchasing European adapters, practicing our walk to the city bus stop that would take us to terminal for our bus trip south the next day. We got lost and exhausted ourselves, climbing Lisbao hills passed tiled buildings on white stone sidewalks. The city was covered in graffiti. Most of it was not understandable to me. I recognized April 25 1974, referring to the “Carnation Revolution” that overthrew a nearly ½ century dictatorship in Portugal. My knowledge is slim, taking me back to a 1981 course in African history where I learned about FRELIMO, and the independence movement in Mozambique that overthrew Portuguese colonial rule. What impressed me then is how the youth in Portugal, supporting decolonization, gave people fighting for freedom in Angola and Mozambique, space. That is what we are trying to do in Central America, I thought then. Get the US out, give people space to build their freedom movements.
In addition to the FREE GAZA tags, I saw a small Jewish star and the words in English: “bring home the hostages.English is everywhere, in the graffiti, the advertisements, instructions, labels. We go grocery shopping and buy peanut butter. The entire label is in English. Is PB the quintessential USA food? We have three delicious meals that cater to our diets then pick up eggs, granola, soy milk, rice cakes and fruit for a few cheap meals. Eating out is expensive in Lisbao.
The homeless population in Lisbao is not nearly as visible or large as Minneapolis. There must be a more robust safety net here.
On the 31st, we fall asleep early and then wake up at midnight. I take the steps down from the loft where our bed is, and go out onto the balcony. The roads are teaming with full-grown witches and warlocks. Halloween is not a commercial holiday like it is in the US with decorations in every store, but apparently adults do party on this night.
Out trip to Algarve is a success, in that we catch the right buses. The atmosphere in Albufeira is 100% touristy but the air is lovely and it makes this bus station that we walked to a mile up a hill, feel down right pleasant.
Making Armação de Pêra home
We walked 9.5 miles, and climbed 25 flights of stairs, tramping back and forth, from our apartment to the farmer’s market, the shoe store for sandals, and Lidl’s – the big Aldi’s-like grocery-plus store where we found foldable yoga mats! Our walks were repetitive. The emotional affect was to make us feel at home here, in our neighborhood for this month.
Our apartment is a small one bedroom. The building reminds me of a New York apartment hi-rise, and also of Eastern European Soviet style apartments. Something in between. An elderly man sits downstairs in the afternoon. Sometimes his son shows up with groceries. An elderly woman laughs at us taking the stairs, patting our backs The best part of the apartment is our windows that open wide without screens and let in the sea air, without mosquitos or other bugs. We left them open all night. As long as I have an open window I feel great. The weather is 69-70 with lovely intermittent rainstorms.
I wrote a list of lifestyle goals. Many are the same as at home: walking, writing, social justice action, cooking our meals, yoga. We have just enough room for two yoga mats on the floor. We can’t do lateral poses. The floor is hard and the mats are thin, but the view is magnificent – of sky when we are on the floor and ocean when we stand.
Some goals are different—socializing with strangers, trying new things, not worrying about looking stupid. I am trying to not speak English to people, resorting to Spanish and to any Portuguese word I can pick up. All my life I have been afraid to be stupid in another language. I am trying not to do that anymore.
For supper we made a salad with beans bought dry from the market, and an avocado, tomato, sweet potato (purple with deep yellow interior) and almonds, also purchased from a farmer. Last night we had pomegranate, yellow on the outside, pink seeds, and delicious. Today we had oranges. They tasted like flowers.
We walked into the town a bit, off the beach promenade, through residential alleys barely big enough for a car. The housing is all apartments, some with the old tiles, others new and identical with the window and a rack to pull out and dry clothes. Only in the US, it seems, do people use dryers. I hope these years will cure us of dryers forever.
Stopped at a tienda for a drink. The TV reported on air pollution in Indiana, USA. I looked on line in vain for any notice of some kind pollution event in Indiana. It’s like weather reports: We hear of storms in faraway places and worry about loved ones there, and they are getting a sprinkle. Of course sometimes the tsunami is real.
Today much of the world is focused on the human- made US-paid tsunami of rockets, bombs, tanks, displacing a whole people in Gaza. The news is filled with false reports we must wade through. The bigger truth – the Israeli Government, (like President Jackson and the Indigenous people of the Americas in 1830), wants the Palestinians to disappear.
It is hard to see what is going on here, concerning Gaza, or immigration, or the state of workers in Portugal. These are things I would like to know.
November 4. Israel/Palestine, Farmer’s Market, Tapas, and a Seagull Friend
Last night we listened to a teach-in in New York on Gaza with Rashid Khalidi author of The 100 Years War Against Palestine, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and and Ta Nehesi Coates, Author of Between the World and Me. I was most taken by the self-revelations of Coates, coming to understand and embrace King’s non-violence as a way of avoiding becoming one’s oppressor. He had been to Palestine with Kahlidi on a five-day educational tour, and had his eyes opened wide, his assumptions cracked in one day. He compared Palestine to the Old Jim Crow. No , not exactly the same, but enough that he understood what was wrong.
I don’t understand why some Jews can’t make that connection. Of course the apartheid experienced by Palestinians is not the exactly the same as the oppression of Jews in Europe, but it is similar enough that the empathy should be automatic. Something happens to us when we swallow nationalist ideas that keep us from seeing someone else as less human.
Coates had written about Israel as an example of a form of reparations, and now, he said, he had amends to pay for that. Michele Alexander said she had a friend who organized to end South African apartheid, who had visited in the 1980s, and then went to Palestine, and said conditions were worse in Palestine. Kahlidi damned the US and gave an analysis of why US supports Israel “Nothing to do with their love for the brown-eyed Jews of Israel.” Kahlidi, whose eyes are blue, looks and sounds Jewish.
It was Saturday and the city-owned square in Armação de Pêra was filled with 50 market stalls. The farmers did not speak English to us, which was lovely. Olives in jars, almonds, walnuts, dried chickpeas and butter beans, avocados, figs, dried and fresh, every kind of vegetable, grapes, oranges, blackberries, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, sheep and goat cheese, hard and soft: a feast. We went twice, heading home when our bags were full, then returning with a list of what we missed: lettuce, cabbage, peppers. Each time we stopped at the seafood tienda, first for oysters, then for a fish which lay full with its cousins on the board. They filleted it for us and charged two euros less than labeled. No bargaining at the market. Farmers were basically patient with our struggles recognizing our Euro coins. Is that 20 centavos or two euros?
We had oyster salad for lunch, with sheep cheese, sweet potatoes and walnuts. A few nights ago we watched a Spanish cooking show. The theme was open face toasts with various toppings. Yesterday Dave, inspired, (and due to my suggestion) made us tapas with goat cheese and apples on rice cakes. I informed him this afternoon that it was almost tapas time.
“So you think I’m going to do tapas every day?”
Today Dave’s tapas were sheep cheese, dark chocolate, walnut and dried fig. We are suffering here.
We made a friend today. A seagull came to the open window this morning. She did not come in but stayed on the ledge for long while, while we did our yoga. She returned several times during the day. I sang Beatles songs to her. . She sang along.
November 5 Being a responsible resident of this earth.
It is Sunday. Today we walked the beach to a lunch destination. The waves were gigantic and so fun to watch and dodge. Weather on our phones called it an extreme event. There was less wind than usual and the sun was out on our way there, so we felt no danger. We arrived at 11AM when the restaurant opened their patio. All the other customers were in our age group—about half of them speaking a language other than Portuguese. The menu was pre-lunch. We had tuna on baguettes and pastel de nata, the Portuguese dessert specialty. The pastry was delicious, the sandwich fine and the view fantastic.
The walk was six miles there are back in soft sand. We were quite tired, but soon after returning we went in a vain search of a Sunday newspaper. I don’t know if we were just too late or if Sunday paper reading does not happen here.
We have been picking up garbage – my idea for how we can remind ourselves that we are not guests, but inhabitants here, and we need to contribute. It seems silly, but in emotional terms it works. A few minutes each day, and we feel like we belong. Plus, we made our view from the window much nicer.
The seagull has become a member of the family. She is here now, tapping on the window. It is open enough for her to come in, but she does not try—just watches us. Another gull tried to join her and she shooed them away.
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated yesterday – in European capitals, Asian capitals, and all over the United States. Biden said the words ceasefire. Something is happening. The coalition is broadening. I hope this news is reaching the people of Gaza.
All day today I thought the time had changed – our devices kept sending reminders—but it turns out Portuguese time changed last Sunday. I was so proud of how I had slowed down and relished the extra hour. Ha.
Well, all I know is it is time to watch the sunset.
November 7 Election day in the US
The beach is growing on me – my attachment to it. I am eager to run and see what it is doing now, soothed by familiarity, excited by change in tides and the length of waves. Sky is also part of it.
We went to Lagos yesterday. Took the bus, a comfortable way to travel. Most of the other passengers were our age. A melody of languages. So I was tired, and Lagos was tiring. Still I’m glad we went. The bus ride was a good way to see the countryside. No Iowa size farms, just small ones on hillsides: orange and lemon groves. Sheep, a few cows—not many. Grape arbors.
We climbed the hill to the top of the cliffs and went to the beach, more cliffs here, more shells, more graffiti on human-made holding walls. Fun to watch the selfie-taking shenanigans of other tourists.
There is a museum at the place where there was a slave market in Lagos, that opened in 2016. We could not find it. We considered returning on another day, but the reviews of the museum are so bad: no context, slavery as a mixing of cultures, use of passive voice as though no one is responsible, no discussion of slavery as an economic system with great consequences for West Africa, Portugal, and the world. No suffering, no profits. All the information pages for the museum are down. I hope that means they are taking these criticisms to heart and redoing their narrative.
We had a great half meal – a tuna salad came with giant prawns, and a delicious brothy soup. Good enough to return for a full meal – but I don’t know if we will.
Back in Armação de Pêra we built a dragon out of sand in the rocky crags among the cliffs, with shells for scales and claws. Got in the water in swim suits but just played with the waves.
I asked Dave what was going on inside. He talked of Gaza, feeling helpless, not missing Minneapolis, of loving our plan, of loving me. I told him about rethinking our social goal, that any encounter counts, that we can take our time. I didn’t tell him of the inner dialogue I was having.
Breakfast at Busieras Salmon e Ovos. Mexidas. Not sure what this dish of scramble eggs with smoked salmon had to do with Mexico, but it was delicious and presented beautifully.
CNN Portugal reported 50 Palestinians were killed by Israel this morning. My head is full of seagulls and dialogues about what is antisemitism, what is racism. Conflation is a good word. Conflating the actions of people of a race/ethnicity/religion with all those in that socialized category is racism. Conflating is what happened when Hamas massacred Israelis without discernment. Conflation on steroids is what is happening when the Israeli government massacres over 10,000 Palestinians including over 5,000 children and then says killing innocents is justified because of Hamas’s October 7 massacre. Conflating is what is going on when people say criticizing Israel is antisemitic. Conflating is what goes on when Israeli government terrorism is seen as representing all Jewry. Racist conflation is happening anytime we assume a government represents the sentiments of a people.
Not conflating is hard. Emotional resentments toward a people can pass from generation to generation. But who said anti-racism is easy? Fighting conflation is ½ of antiracism 101.
The other half is understanding that racism plus power is an existential danger. We are seeing this in real time. When a government as powerful as the United States gives its fire-power to a regime like Israel, bent on a racist massacre, then we have the conditions for genocide. Then the world population must stand together to be a collective superpower saying No. Not in humanity’s name.
November 9, Sardines
We went to Portimao and learned about the Sardine industry. The exhibit was informative but not critical enough of factory bosses – although there were interviews of elders who worked in the industry that I did not understand. They had a film (with English translation) made by the bosses in the 1930s, during the dictatorship. It showed the entire process from fishing to the creation of sardine cans. What you could see belied the happy worker narrative.
Workers were segregated by gender. Women were responsible for repetitive tasks like pulling the heads of each fish. The town has a statue of women with sardine baskets and babies that is captivating. It reminded me of the statue of Chinese rail workers in a square in San Luis Obispo, California. There is a fine line between celebrating workers, dignifying the work, and papering over labor abuse. I think of the nostalgia for company town and plantation life in the US south.
The Portuguese Sardine industry hit its heyday in the 1980s, causing a dangerous depletion in the stock by the 2010.
Like the green turtle in the Florida Keys, sardines are tied to regional identity. Florida does not can turtles for a global market any more, but the green likeness is still a symbol. Unlike Florida, they did not decimate the species completely. Today 20,000 people are employed in the industry as fishers or canners. A cannery in the city of Porto is worked entirely by women.
The fish is still in dangerous waters. Efforts to change the kind of seafood that is dominant in Portugal has been difficult. Like the green turtle which has become a metaphor for the slow life in the Keys, the sardine is a metaphor in Portugal for the little country that could. “It’s a Fado,” Earth Journal says,, as tied to Portuguese identity as the unique soulful guitarra music.
The river promenade in Portimão was more lovely than Lagos – big fishing ships, a long row of modern marble art to touch and view, and fewer tourist kiosks. We ate at a vegan Indian restaurant. The city is dotted with Indian restaurants. More people without homes in Portimão than I have seen anywhere else. We passed the Socialist Party headquarters. There did not appear to be anyone there.
I am trying to figure out what is happening on a national level in Portugal. Trying to read the paper Diario Noticias. One would never know it in sleepy Armação de Pêra, but there is a major political crisis in Portugal. The Prime Minister and many other people beneath him have been forced to resign due to corrupt investment in a lithium mining. There is concern that an opening has been created here for the right wing to take advantage of corruption within the Socialist Party. For Portuguese people, there is a more pressing crisis in housing – not a shortage, but, the paper reports, prices are too high for 6 out of 10 people. Rent is subsidized. The 2024 budget will include both rises in both subsidies and the rent ceiling. The biggest concern is the passing of the 2024 budget. The president has disbanded parliament, but they will reconstitute it to pass the budget. Government stripped down to its essentials.
On Friday November 10 we discovered new places in our front yard. A path that follows the cliffs, where the river meets the sea. Closer to home, we ventured into the snack bar below our apartment, frequented by workers on their lunch breaks and tourists alike. We interacted with people through facial expressions, exchanging laughter at the antics of two little dogs having dinner with a gay couple, and heterosexual couples from Belgium having coffee and sweets who laughed as one man faced his phalic-shaped chocolate dessert without a fork, licking the top in a way that made a several tables of 60 something’s peel with middle school laughter. One woman, about 40, had on a T shirt that said Bonjour Bitches.
Saturday, market day. we bought fresh sardines. I cut off the heads and tails and took out the innards and Dave cooked them. The first time he burned the tops because he didn’t know how hot the oven could get. The second time we cooked them up in the frying pan. They were delicious, I thought. Dave was not so enthusiastic. We removed bones as we ate. The ultimate slow food.
Sunday I was sick. An earache and no energy. We stayed in most of the day, though the sun and surf beckoned. When we went to see the sunset I felt dizzy and by the time we got back to the apartment I was in a cold sweat and the most tired I have ever been.
But the next day, Monday, we climbed the cliff and found a secluded beach filled with shells. The cliff walk got us close to desert vegetation, some incredible flowers, and cacti. I foraged cactus paddles and we had them for lunch, and supper, and breakfast. Still have a tough old paddle. Dave says it is not edible. I say that pealed it will make a great soup.
Monday night I dreamed that I asked Dave to call the doctor listed in our room info and he refused. The dream was complex, filled with invective. Emily was in it. We were in a war zone. When I awoke Dave had already called the doctor. We didn’t hear from him until evening.
We shopped at the weekday market. Getting to know a woman there. She knows we don’t want plastic bags, helps us fill our two bags evenly, and always stuffs in something extra, a lemon, some verbana for chai, a tangerine. We got more prawns too, found another way to the beach, watched the waves and did some yoga in a corner of the cliffs where we found shade. It was hot. Only 70, but the sun makes it feel like 80 in Minneapolis. We listened to Democracy Now at lunch. New York Times reporters are quitting over Gaza coverage. I read about the 92nd street Y. Their speakers series was canceled due to a protest of their censorship of pro-Palestinian speakers. Jews supporting Israel marched on the US Capital, including some born-again Christian speakers with a record of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech. Meanwhile 300,000 marched for Palestine in London. The main newspaper in Portugal is most interested in finding space between Israel and the US, mining the language of Blinken and Biden for any possible movement away from unconditional support for Netanyahu.
We walked on shaded streets away from the beach and in 30 minutes we were out of town with a farm between us and the beach. Bought a coffee (me) and an orange juice (Dave)and read a different paper, more sensational, your typical yellow journalism—so much is the same here.
What is different is how this small town provides everything we need without a car. What is different is the slow pace that I am adapting, a little more each day.
Today the doctor came to the apartment. He is German. He asked if I was too – with the Winkler name. I told him my father was German Jewish. He asked if I was a practicing Jew. I said it was my identity and right now I am speaking up against Israeli atrocities. We agreed on Gaza. He also said antisemitism is up in Germany. In another breath he mentioned that Germany has a problem with diversity now. “Soon we will have terrorism, with so many Muslims coming.” I asked him how long he had been living in Portugal – trying to make a point he doesn’t get.
I wonder about his Holocaust education. If he didn’t learn Never Again for Anyone, if the people have just found a new scapegoat, this time Muslim, what is the point of all those concentration camp museums?
I did not have an infection. He gave me a prescription for two non- anti biotic meds and charged me 60 Euros. We paid in cash.
Last night I had many thoughts about Portugal. It is like the US in so many ways. Racism and the debate over how to deal with its colonial past. Portugal is the first nation in Europe to exploit Africa, trading of goods initially, but eventually trading in human beings. The narrative of discovery is as strong in the Portugal as the US wild west and manifest destiny narrative. To apologize, to repair for slavery, and colonization, is to erase the cherished narrative of being the first discoverers, the unrecognized, sardine- country-that could, the scientists and navigators who found and conquered before Columbus.
There is a project to create a monument in Lisbao to enslaved people who resisted in the Portuguese colonies. It began in 2017. Iron stalks of burned sugar cane to symbolize slave rebellions. But it has stalled mid project. The president and others are dragging their feet.
We spent three hours staring at waves and eating grapes. Time keeps slowing further.
We walked the beach three miles again, for tea and tuna sandwich. The ocean was calm but my mind was a storm, thinking about Portugal’s immigration system, what it means to be a Jew in Europe at this moment. The brain stream was interrupted by naked bodies frolicking in the waveless ocean.
Portugal, until this spring, had a two-pronged immigration system meant to encourage rich people and poor people to emigrate here. Rich people just needed to invest 500,000 Euros into a business or real estate and they would be offered citizenship. Poor people were recruited through the labor market to work low wage jobs. They would come without documents but as soon as they had work they were applicable for citizenship. The recruitment of immigrants without resources was de facto, not de jure, to avoid censorship by other European powers who do not want a flood of immigrants.
To me, coming from the US, the wealth divide among the Portuguese seems mild. It seems like their immigration plan was to import wealth and poverty as a form of economic stimulus while maintaining some semblance of equity for themselves. But the plan has already backfired. The wealthy people drove up housing prices and the poor people drove down wages. The new wealthy are German and British, Russian and Chinese. A few are from the US too.The new low wage workers are mostly from South Asia.
On October 29, the immigration system was revamped. The paper listed fifteen goals, most addressing some kind of surveillance of immigrants. Only one goal addressed racism. None addressed the historic relationship of Portugal as an empire.
I looked it up. There are about 4,000 Jews in Portugal, in this country of 10 million. This is my home for the month. Do I belong here? I reject the idea that we need homelands, especially if they require the genocide of others to protect them. We all need a place to be. The people from India and Pakistan who come here to work, belong here and deserve all of labor and cultural rights of every other human here—including me.
The afternoon sun has become sweet now. 4pm in November. I sit at a coffee shop outside, no longer seeking shade. At the market we bought the cheapest fish and I tried to de-bone them with my fingers. Dave was triggered – memories of his parents arguing over fish that no-one wanted to debone or eat, but that cost too much in fishing gear to not give it a try. From now on it is the $14 a kilo prawns, not the $4.50 a kilo fish of unknown name with a thousand bones eyes, fins, and triggers.
We went to listen to the music at the bar near the market for a few minutes. But it was not sympatico. Seems to me if you are going to raise your voice in song you better say something at this moment. The people ate and drank and smoke, and swayed in the noonday sun to music in English that said nothing. We left and walked the beach, thinking, making a connection is hard here. Do we really need to?
Yesterday we walked along the ridge and then took the road into Porshes, which has become, in large part, an exclusive posh resort community filled with German and British tourists and those rich immigrants Portugal recruited. But not completely. We stopped at the grocery store for a bathroom. Working class Portuguese families sat at the outdoor snack bar. It was smoky with cigarettes and car exhaust. Other restaurants were closed for Sunday. We ended up at a British Blues Bar, where English women served up turkey and lamb dinners with all the trimmings (canned peas and carrots a spot of cabbage two kinds of potatoes and popped popovers. The food was dull, the patio lovely and the novelty of popping over to England for lunch, fun. They had no tea however. I had decaf and Dave had a beer. Walking back we found a path that went down, down, down, to an exclusive beach with only one way in for the public and a private entrance for others. Hard to rate beaches here but yes, this one was exquisite – a cove with a pristine feel. On the way back as we rounded the corner and saw Armacao de Pera with its line of apartment buildings jutting in slightly different directions, I felt grateful to be staying in this town with its open promenade and inclusive feel. Its beach is not pristine, but it is welcoming and mesmerizing. I love watching how it changes, the tides, the weather, the time of day. It does not get boring.
Gorados. Diario de Noticias says the Portuguese people have gorados: a feeling they are in for more and more bad luck. Most of the coverage of the removal of political leadership focuses not on concerns about democracy, corruption, or energy ( the crime committed by the Prime Minister had to do with lithium mining operation) but about economic issues: the budget, salaries, minimum wage, rents.
This morning I decided to be even more intentional about slowing down. Old habits die hard. I feel as though my brow has been furrowed since 1979. The lines are deep. The muscles do not easily relax. I will –slowly – work to let them go. I do not stop wars with my eyebrows.
We begin our day with yoga. David makes a three course breakfast while I shower. Eggs with vegetables and goat cheese from the farmers market, oatmeal with chia seeds, and almonds and walnuts from the farmer’s market. A bowl of fresh fruit. We take a walk—the town, the beach, the ridge. A cup of tea at an outdoor café in the afternoon, where, like now, I sit and write. If ever there was a recipe for unfurling brows, this is it.
At lunch we listen to Democracy Now and check out socials for news of Gaza. Here we have a trio of tiny things we can do: post, write our representatives, donate. We go from one to the other. I know it is not much and also not nothing. It all matters. Doing this from Portugal, a place with 3,500 Jews and 65,000 Muslims—where both were banished in centuries ago, I am thinking about this concept of homeland. Is this a place where I belong? I want to believe that everyone belongs everywhere. No borders. That the power we bring to each place is what is important. Wherever we make a home, do we displace, engage, enhance, horde, contribute.
Proportionality lets deal with the greatest harm. Remove the bombs and guns first, then the quidar recurcos basicos por todos. Then tell me about your identity and your ideas; then I want to hear your poetry.
The first time we tried to go to Silves, county seat of the Algarve, we didn’t make it. We caught the bus to Lagoas, getting on a bus filled with working people. We got off at the bus station to transfer, but missed our connection. The next one was in two hours. We spent that time at an all-you-can-eat Asian fusion place. Instead of a buffet you order off the menu. If you finish your plate you can order more. David ordered the whole menu, eating everything in front of him, like he’s been starving for weeks. We barely made it back to the station in time to catch the bus.
We caught the wrong bus, and ended up back in Portimao. This time we walked further down the river, underneath the blue and yellow railroad bridge, to a dead end, and abandoned park area with olive trees along the path.
Yesterday we made it Silves, taking what turned out to be a public bus mostly used by high school students. It took a roundabout route, picking up the youth, before heading to their school in Silves. The students were so quiet, a handshake or nod to each other. We figured they were tired in the morning. But then we took the school bus back in the afternoon, and they were still quiet. A few teenage couples quietly made out. Others quietly greeted each other on and off the bus. The radio played 80s US music. Stressless young people. Or so it seemed. We admired orange groves on the mountainside.
In Silves, we visited the anthropology museum, built around a Moorish cistern uncovered in the 1980s during a construction project. Rather than try to move it, they built an exhibit around it, filled with artifacts, primarily from the Muslim era: the 8th to the 13th century. The city is proud of its Moorish roots. I wonder if that is what is behind the statue of the conquistadors trampling people whose heads lie on the ground: A clear message that Christian missions were genocidal. On Spanish TV we watched a procession, celebrating the anniversary of the reconquista. A very different scene.
The city of Silves felt more real—whatever that means—fewer people likes us, more of a chance to observe how Portuguese people live. The café we went to had the most amazing vegetable soup, and great people watching. I bought a Communist Party paper to see how their coverage differed. They see the fall of the Socialist Party as an opportunity for change -MUDAR – though their focus is on economic issues, not corruption, which nobody seems too concerned about. They also covered the protests around the world and in Portugal against the war in Gaza. There was one in Faro which is in the Algarve region.
In Silves we passed an elementary school. Kindergartners are climbing on slides and swings to the sounds of Staying Alive by the Bee Gees
… I’ve been kicked around
Since I was born
And now it’s alright, it’s okay
And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.
I walk the rest of the hill to the rhythm, Ah, ah, ah, ah Staying Alive, Staying Alive–step step step step foot ball change, foot ball change In our apartment I look for Fado on my phone and find a Tiny Desk concert on National Public Radio in the US, from November 15. Marta Pereira da Costa strums a wordless song about the river traveling to the sea. The music is sweet. The river flows to the sea in an easy rhythm, without people on its banks struggling to stay alive.
We visit the Cathedral in Silves that sits on top of the Mosque built by the Moors. We light three candles, for Palestinians, for Israelis, for a loved one in crisis.
It is Thanksgiving in the United States. We will connect with Emily soon. This morning we walked the beach again to the next town. Such a pleasure- a meditation. The waves turn my brain on, yet when the walk is done, they go out with the tide. We argued about shopping at Lidl. I didn’t want to participate in the international corporate world. We found some small markets, Indian markets, found a bottle of Tikka Masala, some hot peppers. – a mini market for oatmeal and green tea, and soy milk. Yesterday we did the farmer’s market. Still have fish from last time. Committed to not wasting food, and to not acting as though we are on vacation from responsibilities, we cook it up, this time boiling it, then removing the bones, making a fish paste and putting it on a salad. That is our harvest feast.
We go to church in the evening. It is a humble building by Catholic standards, low in ornamentation, unlike Cathedrals in Mexico, or the ones in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The stain glass depictions and sculptures are of Mother Mary standing in the ocean protecting fishers. The music is beautiful and unrecognizable. None of the singsongy sound of hymns I am familiar with. The service is entirely in Portuguese of course. I understand nothing, which is wonderful. Nothing to make my cringe. The priest’s voice is soothing. No fire. No Brimstone. And he is a beautiful singer.
We are packing up, writing, saying goodbye to our town by the sea that was our home for 30 days. Tomorrow, Spain. Sevilla for a day, and the Cádiz until after the New Year. Wish us well!