(Just happened to notice that this will be my 300th post on this blog. Since it’s now been going for almost three years, that’s not exactly a stellar average, but I seem to be more than making up for it this year!)

It occurred to me yesterday that Americans don’t really know the meaning of running errands. We use that phrase all the time without realizing that there are two very distinct words in it, each of which has a whole new meaning in Europe.

First comes the word “running,” which rather loses its significance when done in a car. Yesterday, we left the gym at 4:15 and returned to our apartment at 4:45. We spent the entire half hour in between walking, largely uphill. So when you run errands here, you actually do run them, or at least walk them at any rate, and usually with at least one heavy bag in your hands. Quite a far cry from driving from one store to the next.

The other word of that phrase, “errands,” also becomes especially meaningful in Europe. Here you really do run multiple errands, plural, because you can’t possibly hope to buy everything you need in one store. The day after we got back, for example, we went to the biggest supermarket we could think of that’s within a reasonable distance by subway. Even though they have an entire wine section, an olive counter, a deli counter, and they sell fruit in shrink-wrapped packs of six, they still didn’t carry light bulbs.

No, for light bulbs we had to go to the tiny little junk store just around the corner from our gym. There, the guy rummaged around in the back and came up with two 40-watt bulbs, one of which he had to stick in a 60-watt box because he couldn’t find the right box for it. But light bulbs he had, along with nail polish, cleaning solutions of various kinds, brooms, hairbrushes, and entire glass-fronted cabinets and floor to ceiling displays of other stuff that I couldn’t possibly identify in the short time we were there. (The store was maybe ten feet square, by the way, most of which was taken up by the counter in the middle.)

So that was one stop. Next up, the fruteria for me (where the guy as usual tried to sell me grapes — at least he recognized me!) and the butcher for Gabe. I bought at least four different kinds of fruit and half a dozen eggs for about six dollars, and walked down to find Gabe, past a jeweler whose window featured gold and silver jewelry inlaid with… walnut shells. Odd, yet kind of pretty.

Gabe’s mission had been to get some chicken breasts for our dinner, but as I walked in to the butcher, he was only just paying for them. The butcher had had to pick out the breasts, then cut them into smaller bifinhos, or flat pieces, which is a process that cannot be rushed. Never mind the batty old lady in front of Gabe, who had been telling the butcher an interminable story while he waited on her — which Gabe says has happened pretty much every time he’s been in there.

Finally, on our way home we stopped at the paderia around the corner from our house to buy bread. It wasn’t fresh out of the oven this time, which it often is if you time it right, but still amazing nonetheless. The lady working there then indulged us with explanations of what all the various savory things in the counter were, from something that looked like fruit bread but actually had bits of meat baked into it (all pork of course) to a Portuguese version of a calzone (which of course had ham in it).

We at last arrived home, half an hour after setting out on our errands, plural. Four stores and thirty minutes of walking later, and all we had to show for it was two small grocery bags’ worth of shopping. However, out of those bags came an amazing dinner, chicken and roast veggies, followed by a comice pear from the fruteria that quite literally felt like it was melting in your mouth.

So our errands, although lengthy, were well worth it, both for the adventures and for the food that they produced. Somehow, doing one stop shopping and then driving home in my car will never be the same again.

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