Woke up early this morning, after a dream that we visited our house in Santa Cruz to find that the tenants (who somehow couldn’t see us) had completely redecorated, including putting new doors on and painting the bathrooms. It looked great, but we were a little surprised to see that their rental contract had allowed them to remodel! How funny. Guess my brain is really getting the fact that we are going home… too bad we won’t be going to that home, but shh — don’t tell my brain.

So as I said, I spent the day at home sick yesterday. In the end though, I didn’t mind spending the day curled up in bed with my Kindle. As I said earlier in the week, I doubt there’s going to be much quiet down time at least for the next couple of weeks, so I should make the most of it while I can. And while I’m still not feeling 100% today, I’m definitely not as sick as I could be, so it looks like the worst has been avoided. Thank God.

I did rouse myself from bed long enough yesterday to go to this week’s bonus Portuguese lesson (since we’ll be gone, I have one to make up.) Luckily I was back with the Greek guy again, as he is much more at my level — and even somewhat beyond, when my head is full of cold-induced cotton. I now have one more lesson to go today, and then no more, for over a month! I find that kind of sad — my lessons have become so much a part of my life here. Alas.

On the way, I gathered a series of anecdotes to share with you, which I can’t quite string together with any more art than simply listing them…


Walking to class, I saw the most wonderful dichotomy of people within about ten feet of each other. First, I saw a man standing outside a tattoo shop, who had tattoos all over his face and hands and a pair of bone spur “horns” embedded in his forehead. I tried not to stare at first, but then decided that clearly this guy actually wants people to stare at him, so I was more than happy to oblige.

Shortly afterward, a man walked by me in the opposite direction carrying a large golden statue of some sort. Having seen the stuff my restauradore neighbor across the street works on, the statue was most likely religious, and probably very old.

The timing of this conjunction was marvelous, and really summed up one of the basic contradictions of living here. Portugal wants so badly to be cutting-edge and modern, and competes for all kinds of status symbols (including not only Europe’s largest Christmas tree but also its largest mall, among other things.)

At the same time, their old beliefs and ideologies (religious state holidays, abortion illegal until 2007, etc) are also alive and well. This tug of war between past and future is quite foreign for us ‘Mericans, who are used to progressing forward at breakneck speed, never mind the consequences.


On the way home, I stopped first at my regular fruiteria. The guy now recognizes me, and immediately came up and asked if I wanted more grapes. I said that yes in fact I did, and he picked out a gigantic bunch for me. I’m pretty sure he still thinks I’m buying for 5 people, as I did when I got them for Thanksgiving, but since I really don’t have the vocabulary to disillusion him of that fact, I said, “OK! Looks good.” I was shocked when he then rung them up at nearly 4 euros — that’s some expensive grapes! They are quite large, and thus very heavy. Guess we’ll be eating a lot of grapes. Again. Good thing we like ’em!

At one point he asked me, “Don’t they have grapes in America?” I said that yes we do, but not like this. And it’s true — we don’t have grapes that resemble small apples, and have a similar crunchy consistency, with three or four huge seeds inside. Nothing like it, in fact.


I also stopped in another promising looking store on the way home, hoping to buy a small stocking stuffer or two. The lady inside was busy preparing giant gift baskets of gourmet foods, which are apparently quite a hit for Christmas here. After rattling off a long commentary in Portuguese, she took one look at my blankly smiling face and said with great suspicion, “Do you speak Portuguese?” I admitted that no, I don’t, really.

That revelation didn’t deter her one bit, and she proceeded to answer each of my halting questions with far more information than I could possibly hope to either take in or understand. I did manage to keep her from selling me anything else, but only barely.

So instead of a mere stocking stuffer, I walked out ten minutes later with a Gift, personally selected for me by the lady and then beautifully wrapped in red paper, complete with a bow and a silver bell on it. How can you beat that?!


These rather disjointed anecdotes are my way of illustrating why I truly love this country sometimes. And, just to add a taste of home to the day, Gabe arrived back at the flat shortly after I did, equipped with the makings for a fabulous salmon curry in honor of our favorite Anglo Indian’s birthday yesterday. A spicy and tasty end to a similarly flavorful day.

So strange to think I’ll be gone soon, and in a week, when we’re sitting in my sister-in-law’s house, catching up with our families after almost 4 months away, this will all seem like a dream…