View from another’s shoes

Blowhard

I was young
Lively curious
Loving the outdoors
Because it nurtured me

I was young
Fragile brittle
Hating classes and books
Because they humiliated me

As more was expected
My Self became squashed
Tumbling ever deeper
Into “idiot” label abyss

Cell-defense, self-defense
I’ll bully, I’ll badger, I’ll blow hard
So you won’t know
So I can forget

When you strike back
It’s too harsh
I crumple, I’m crushed
I am laid open

I am a pile of tears and whimpers
In private
Alone
Convinced I’m not good enough

I’ll just be louder, meaner
I can scare it away
I’ll just deaden my senses
I can escape it

But it always survives
The hatred of me by me
It aches, it burns, it’s excruciating
I endure the life sentence
Of being in my own company

~Barbara Miller

despair

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Skin Game

 

SKIN GAME
The skin separates from the onion
After losing moisture
And drying out
It breaks free, becoming papery thins
That scamper out the openings
Of their wire basket home
Floating weightlessly to the floor
When the breeze breezes through
They dance across my white tiles
Until the wind corrals them
By the room’s edge
A bother, a nuisance
It just adds to the dirty
What’s that internet?
Twenty uses for onion skins
I hear a snicker from the corner
~Barbara Miller
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Dog Days And Dog Poets: 31 Agosto ’17

Portugal recently celebrated the feast day for Saint Roche, the patron saint of dogs, which is one theory why this time of summer is called the dog days.  It’s certainly the slow time in Portugal.  Everything shuts down in August.  Our language school, swimming pool, restaurants, even the doctor’s office closes its doors.

The weather has been intensely hot and dry, such that wildfires have raged all over the country and more than 60 people have been killed.  Even the New York Times had an article a couple weeks ago about Portugal’s fires.  Seems the entire timber industry is given over to eucalyptus trees because they’re fast growing.  The problem is they’re full of oil so they burn easily.  Next time you pick up a vial of eucalyptus oil, think about it.

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Not long ago we watched a fire just on the edge of town from our balcony.  A big famous luxury hotel had to be evacuated and a main highway out of town was closed.  One day we had to shut our windows because clouds of smoke drifted over the city from a fire up North.

July and August are also the holiday season in Europe, which in Portugal means the beaches and tourist towns are jammed with people.  We were cautioned about the crowds and so are waiting until next week for a trip up North to Oporto, Portugal’s second city.  The beaches are pretty much blanketed – pun intended – by sunbathers who stake out territories in the morning and keep them all day.

The question is, since we’ve heard so many people complain about the crowds and recommend staying home during the season, who are all the mobs of tourists out there?  My theory is the Europeans just trade countries – the British and French all come to Portugal, the Portuguese go to the UK and Spain, the Spanish to Germany, Germans to France and so on.

Even the government – heck, especially the government — shuts down in August.  Why is it you can never find a bureaucrat when you need one?  (Although we ran into the Setúbal mayor last weekend – at a fair.  Nice lady, even if she is a Communist.)

Which is why not very much has been going on lately.  We did spend an afternoon at Albarquél beach on the Sado River here in Setúbal with our friends Milu and Dave.  Unlike some other beaches in the Lisbon region, the water on the Sado is clear and clean – but it’s also freezing!

Back In Touch With Jules

Referencing the dog days takes me back earlier in the summer to our stay with Jules the
Labrador Retriever.  We got off to kind of a rocky start that week, and I guess I’m at fault
for that.

Like most in the public eye, Jules is skeptical about those who exploit her position for
personal gain.  Perhaps this is why she had become noticeably aloof from me when Barbara
and I were put in care of her while her companion Rita went to the US a couple months
ago.

I had previously interviewed Jules on her insights about Portugal, in which she criticized relationships in this country between the human and canine populations.  However, I failed to fact check it at the time, assuming Jules would not object to what I had written.

Boy, was I wrong.  This fact was painfully obvious upon meeting her again in Cascais.  Her greeting was noticeably frosty,

“Where ya’ been, bro?” Said with with a sour expression, pointing up 16the irony of the overly familiar greeting.

“You got me in a lot of trouble, you know.”  It seems criticism she leveled about a breakdown in Portugal of the pack structure so important to canines, had caused a lot of resentment in the park.  When some Portuguese dogs read translations of the post, she lost a lot of friends.

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Ella the poodle

The tide turned when she was pressed into a confrontation with her old nemesis Ella, some kind of poodle mix and one of the fastest and strongest local animals.  Ella had a habit of stealing balls and frisbees from other dogs and she was usually able to outrun most of them in their races around the park.  She also tended to butt other dogs out of the way whenever she wanted.

The other dogs were unhappy to have such a bully in their midst.  She had taken advantage of the breakdown in pack organization to take over as leader but things weren’t going well (similar to recent events in the US involving the rise of a certain person whose name we won’t mention).

Finally, Jules had enough.  One day when Ella started pushing some of the other dogs
around, Jules jumped on her and, despite the fact the two are both females, started humping her.  This of course shamed Ella in the scents of the other dogs and left her an object of ridicule from then on.  The others were all so grateful that Jules was welcomed back in and became de facto leader of a group of other yellow Labs.

Pack Leader

The Lab Gab, as it’s dubbed informally, is an international caucus including British, French and German Labs along with Jules and the Portuguese.  After a few days of accompanying her to the nearby dog park where she spends her time interacting with the group, she began to open up about her recent activities. Whatever she pretends, Jules is way too sociable an animal to keep quiet for very long.

“What would you say,” I asked her, “is your main objective in organizing the Yellow Lab
group?  By the way, what do you call it – a caucus, a Lab Gab, a pack – what?”

“It’s my crew, bro.”

“Okay, your crew.  What’s the objective?”

“Sniffing.”

“Sniffing?”

“We like to sniff things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Oh, y’know, fire hydrants, each other’s crotches, important stuff like that. There’s a patch of sticky stuff up the street we sniff every time we go by there.”

I had noticed that patch while escorting her to the park for her morning meeting. It looked pretty disgusting, a long lasting remnant of something rotten that she not only sniffed every time we went by but insisted on licking until I had to fight her away from it with the leash.

“Why do you do all that licking?” I asked.

“So we know what things are.”

Changing the subject, I asked her what the group did at its meetings.

“We usually run across the lawn over that way.”  She tossed her head to indicate the
direction.

“Then what do you do?”

“We stop and run in the other direction.”

“Then what?”

“We jump up and down.  Then we wrestle.”

I’ve seen them wrestle.  One of them raises up its front legs and brings them down
on someone else, then they both fall down on the ground and roll around a while.  Then one of them forgets what they’re wrestling about and starts rolling back and forth on its back to scratch while waving its feet in the air.

“What would you say is the overarching goal of your group?”

“Chewing things.  Also, pooping.  And then chewing the poop.”

OK, so I didn’t get very far with this.  However, I later listened in to one of Jules’ daily
missives to her crew, and I’ve reproduced it here.  I had wondered why she refers to her lectures as “raps”.   It’s because, I discovered, that’s what they are:

“We all get together and we smell each other,
sister and brother find things to discover,
We run and we jump and we tussle and we bustle.
The dog who gets the ball ain’t the dawg with the muscle but the one with the hustle.

“We’re sniffin’, we’re riffin’, we’re smellin’ our world
Everything’s a mystery, it’s all a curiosity.
We nuzzle with our muzzles till we figure out the puzzles.

“We’re on the hunt for stuff to chew, it’s kind of like a job we do
It’s our nature to be driven, it’s how we know we’re livin’.
We don’t know what we’re learnin’ but our DNA is churnin’
It keeps our noses burnin’ whichever way we’re turnin’ but we never sort it out.

“When it’s time we be done with our play, we go off and break away,
Head for home down the alley way.
Where it smells familiar and we dine on paté
Then hit the hay (if I can use a cliché),
Lickin’ where we’re spayed till another day.

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To anyone who doesn’t believe dogs can rap, I admit my chats with Jules are subject to some freedom of interpretation.  After all, talking with a dog, even purebred, involves a considerable amount of nonverbal communication.  In addition to barking, there’s a lot of whining, moaning, snorting, tail wagging, and crotch sniffing going on.

I believe, however, we’ve reached a level of understanding whereby I can interpret her
moods and body language.  For example, if she rears her head suddenly and one ear goes
out, she’s probably saying, “I wish you’d get out of my way so I can get to that stuff behind you.”   If she turns and looks over her shoulder then shakes her head a little, she’s saying, “Wait a minute while I snap at that fly biting my butt.”  If she puts her head on the ground facing forward and blinks her eyes, she’s saying, “Can we talk about this later, bro? It’s too hot and I can’t be bothered.”

If you want the literal transcription of what she said, here it is.  If you don’t like how I
translated it, well then, do it yourself:

Jules’ Rap Real

“Crrrh  phoof , scrishhh scrishhh, Yuuayyuahh!
(Scratch scratch) (head toss), GrrrOwwuh.
(head shake), pfuvhnuh, Raowwwuh, sniff.
GrrrOwwuh . . .  pufh! Sniff . . . Uh! Uh! Uh!
Farrrt! Scrinch, Yuff . (fire hydrant nuzzle)
pffpff  pffpff pffpff pffpff, (chew-spit) (tongue droop)

Schnuvvv! Scratch . . . , Thump, (bite flea) Yaoww!”

Jules The Literary Sensation

As a matter of fact, Jules recently revealed she’s developed a serious interest in writing poetry.  Apparently, she found in a gutter an old copy of the book Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the one with the famous poem “How Do I Love Thee?”  By the time Jules finished chewing it into little pieces she had ingested several of the poems and was hooked.

She has therefore started her own collection which she’s titled Sonnits For The Portugeese.  Get it?  “For The Portugeese?”  Well, I think it’s funny.  Anyway, here’s just one example of her work:

When light shines in my eyes, I wake to see it bouncing on my bed,
My ears flap winged flies away my head.
The holes behind my legs get full of poop
Anon it’s time for me to head on out the stoop.
I summon one with two legs less than me
To let it know it needs to let me free.
Around myself she puts that thing she calls a leesh
And out we go into the park where I can get relief.
I know the way, I go there every day
To where I poop and pee and run and play.
When there we turn and head on thru’ the grass
And trees, the place whereunto pass the members
Of my crew already there who bark at me
And call me late but lick me anyway.

The reader will note that Jules’ sonnet fails to maintain any of the traditional 14-line
sonnet rhyme schemes, neither the Petrarchan, Spencerian nor Shakespearian.  It starts off in Shakespearian iambic pentameter but then ends up int a monotonous A-B- A-B
repetition.  Still, it’s not bad for a Labrador Retriever.

Some may criticize Jules’ poetry as limited, since it’s mostly about chewing, smelling and pooping, but I disagree.  I mean, Elizabeth B. Browning only ever wrote about things like love and stuff, and everybody makes a big deal about her.

Ordinarily, Labs are more into social interaction than intellectual pursuits. Poodles make
the best poets because they combine the intelligence and refined sensitivity; but nobody
likes poodles because they’re so . . . well, y’know . . . “ARTSY”.  Border Collies make
talented writers, but instinctively they’re more into outdoor activities – it’s hard to keep
them chained to a desk.  There are a lot of Border Collies in the Cowboy Poets Association,  but I think that’s kind of a waste.

That’s why Jules is unusual in the canine universe for her literary talent. Barbara and I
have encouraged her to continue pursuing a writing career. We look forward to all the
insights she has to offer about the expat life in Portugal.

The August holiday and summer heat are finally at a close.  Barbara and I are
heading for Oporto, so we’ll see what’s happening in them there parts.

Até logo.                    IMG_0519


Editor’s Note: Our regular readers met Jules several posts ago when Wayne featured her with quotes and paraphrases. Jules was not entirely happy with the portrayal in those posts and has put her paw down to demand that only she be the one to write the posts that featurjulese her. After an extensive vet-ing process followed by negotiations involving kibble, bones (marrow in) and a slobbery ball, we here at xpat-whimz.blog are proud to announce an additional, if somewhat occasional, contributor, Jules. 
Disclaimer: Jules’ opinions are strictly her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors.


 

 

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Chance Encounter

Last month, when my sister visited, we took a personal tour of the Arrábida natural park with Nuno Duarte.  He is very professional and also has a big heart.  This is his story of an encounter with an abandoned baby bird that he found at Lapa da Santa Margarida.

Chance Encounter

 

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progress

IMG_0678 (Edited)

From our balcony, we view a lovely pastoral scene of a stone farmhouse, occasional grazing sheep and a stone wall next to a stream.  This area is designated for an extensive renovation into a city park containing two lakes.  So, one recent morning…

no longer

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a poetry aside

On a morning walk the other day, I commented on a scene we encountered.  Wayne said, “that’s very poetic, you should write that down.”  And so I did.  He helped me considerably as an editor and advisor.  I think I have some more coming.  Maybe there’s another writer in the family. Go figure.

———————

Presentation1

 

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Cascais Casual: 28 Julho ’17

It’s been several weeks now since we took a bus from Sintra to  Cascais to stay with Jules, Rita’s traveling companion and President You-Know-Who’s personally appointed ambassador to the International Animal Kingdom.   After being in Sintra, Cascais felt like clearing the sinuses, the chance to loosen the waist cincher after the formal dinner. Like when you were a child and your mother made you dress up to go to church, how you felt after it was over and got to change back into your regular clothes.  I could go on like this but you get the idea.

Though it claims some of the same trappings as Sintra, Cascais is really just a friendly laid back beach town that manages to avoid Sintra’s pomposity and pretension.  Where Sintra is Portugal Disney, Cascais is Portugal Lite, or maybe Portugal Jersey Shore for them as knows what that means.  I gotta hand it to the Portuguese, they know a good thing when they see it.  In Cascais, they’ve created a destination for people who want to visit a foreign country but don’t want it to be really foreign.

Nobody in Cascais speaks Portuguese.  We spent a week there and I’m not sure we heard the native language more than a half-dozen times. The waiters and store keepers all speak German, English, French, Spanish and maybe even Italian; but I wonder if they remember how to speak Portuguese – maybe their mothers make them speak it at home. 

In fact, we met a man named Bertie, or Birdie, I never found out which, a Portuguese native who moved to the US as a teen and lived there for several decades.  He admits that, coming back to Portugal after all that time, he indeed had forgotten the language and it took him months to get it back. He still feels unequipped to use Portuguese in business settings.  

For my part, after a week in Cascais, I forgot what little Portuguese I had learned up to then for want of practice.  I just kept repeating “The turtle sleeps under the pillow,” the last thing I could remember from my lessons.

Mostly we heard a lot of British accents.  I suspect some Brits may think of Cascais as part of the UK.  Is it possible that when King Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza 1662, this was already in his mind?

“This union will benefit our great country for centuries to come.  Not only will it give us access to lots of sweet wines, but we will finally have a sandy beach for people to visit on weekends, instead of those filthy stretches of rock we have around here.”

Never having been to the UK, I can’t comment on it; but hearing all those people in Cascais speaking with English accents gave me a serious case of dislocation.  To my American ear they all sound fake.  They sound like they’re making it up, like when Americans imitate English accents to make fun of snobbishness.  I couldn’t get used to the fact that people really talk like that.

On the other hand, I found the range of accents fascinating. I’ve read that the English are traditionally protective of local speech because it gives them a greater sense of place and home but costs less than a T-shirt with their home town name.

From listening to them in Cascais, it sure sounds like they have more different dialects than anywhere else.  I can believe they’re able to tell from hearing someone where that person lives within a few kilometers.  I’ve been watching BBC television programs most of my life, but I never heard some of these accents.

Coincidentally, I recently ran across a New Yorker reprint  from a couple years ago stating that since the whole concept of tourism was invented by Thomas Cook in 1841, Brits have become the most touristy people in the world.  Reportedly, upwards of 56 million of them go abroad every year, possibly to escape their own weather; and, the author comments, “I would wager that more of my countrymen have seen the inside of Faro Airport than have seen the inside of York Minster or Lincoln Cathedral.” 

The piece also describes British travelers as pretty raucous and alcohol-fueled.  At the time of the article, Croatia was the favorite destination for hordes of young Englishpersons whose idea of sightseeing was spilling out of bars on a round the clock basis. They were all said to be dressed in “Morphsuits”, which I gather are some kind of inflatable Halloween costume for so-called adults.  I guess they’re inflatable to keep them from hurting themselves when they pass out.   

This is all ironic since the aforementioned Thomas Cook started his travel business as an evangelical Christian missionary escorting groups to temperance rallies.  In any case, all we saw in Cascais were nice, normal family groups and couples. The Brits were all very pleasant people — they just talked funny.

We met Birdie at the dogpark a couple of blocks from Rita’s apartment where the F4722C1E-DB24-460F-928E-B259CABFE85Ecanines are let off leash to chase each other around, steal tennis balls from each other and wrestle to their hearts’ content.   Jules is part of a gang of Labrador Retrievers who get together every day pretending to be the dominant breed, although none of the other dogs pay any attention to them.  

The dog owners have their own club; they’re all very friendly, they  know whose dog is whom and stand around chatting while the animals play.  Sure enough, though, whenever we showed up, they switched mid-sentence into English.

Like Sintra, Cascais is chock full of tour bus loads marching along the boulevard; but here, at least, the boulevard is big enough to accommodate everyone. We saw a lot of Chinese and Japanese groups tromping around with cameras draped from straps around their necks.  

Cascais has its share of public spaces, like the expansive municipal park with its private zoo and the Museu de Castro Guimares, which like a similar site in Sintra is an eccentric mansion owned by a nineteenth century industrialist and decorated by an Opera set designer. There’s also the Casa das Histórias which, despite its name, is an art gallery devoted to the work of Paula Rego, a contemporary Portuguese artist whose work has ranged from Surrealism to a style of feminist themed cartooning.

We highly recommend the Museu Do Mar, which is about the sea and Portugal’s fishing heritage.  It also features the story of Don Carlos — not the reggae singer of that name but King Carlos I, who ruled the country from 1889 to 1908.  Carlos was a devotee of oceanographic research who financed several expeditions to map the ocean floor and catalogue its multitude of organisms.  He was also an excellent artist of sea life with a number of illustrations and paintings hanging in the museum.  Unfortunately, he was assassinated by a couple of radicals while traveling through Lisbon in a carriage.    

The beaches are conveniently located, or rather the town has located itself conveniently on the beaches, so you can walk the whole way from one end of town to the other and choose your piece of sand.  The shoreline has several beautiful spots; but the water, emptying out of the Tagus River after flowing past Lisbon, is polluted.  Makes me nostalgic for the New Jersey shore, where the all-time favorite beach game is “Count the used hospital syringes washing up in the surf.”

If you want to go swimming near Lisbon, I strongly recommend our own Setúbal, where the water in the Sado estuary is clear and the river bottom golden.  The guidebooks recommend sunbathing in Cascais instead of swimming, but the rocky cliffs are pretty spectacular places for clambering over, around and on.  

A big draw is the Boca do Inferno, or Mouth of Hell, famous for its “thundering waves . . .  carved a wide hole in the cliffs.”  Of course, the thundering waves only occur in bad weather when  you don’t want to be there anyway, so the mouth of hell is usually more of an irritable whisper. There’s also a plaque there commemorating the 1930 suicide of a well-known occultist, which turned out to be a hoax.  I can’t think of many other natural wonders that commemorate fake suicides.

Overall, Cascais’ big advantage is convenience.  For example, the restaurants are open from 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM straight through, unlike in Setúbal, aka Our Home Town, where they close from 4:00 – 7:00 PM, aka Our Usual Dinner Time.  Because of the tourist trade, there are also a greater variety of restaurants.  We ate some great Indian food for here for the first time since leaving the US and also enjoyed a terrific South African place.

The whole area by the sea is lush and beautifully landscaped. As a matter of fact, we wandered through an open gate one day into a virtual Eden of a garden, assuming it had to be a public space, and toward a mansion we figured was a museum.  Suddenly, a woman drives up behind us, parks by the building, gets out of her car carrying a bag of groceries, and starts screaming at us while waving the grocery bag threateningly.  We think she was screaming in Portuguese but we didn’t wait around to verify that.  Obviously having wandered into a private residence, we backed out at top speed while making apologetic gestures.  

A 40-minute hike along the ocean brings one to Estoril, a resort area with luxury hotels, two golf courses right next to each other, and a casino in the center of town.  I read that Estoril was a hotbed of activity for spies during WWII, due to Portugal’s neutrality; and that Ian Fleming used it as a model for his James Bond novel Casino Royale.  In fact, the international character of Cascais and Estoril gives one a little of the feeling of a 50’s movie in which spies try to outwit each other and stab each other in back alleys.

Rita’s apartment is in Cascais’ old town, a nicely preserved enclave of narrow streets and two-to-three story buildings, surrounded by and hidden from the commercial district as though keeping itself a secret.  It’s a great place for restaurants so removed from the tourist spots you have to hunt for them.  On some streets every other building houses a restaurant, but they’re all unmarked in courtyards behind stone walls.  Presumably, they thrive on their regular patrons; but for newbies like us, the way to find them is to wait for sundown and walk down the street.  When the shadows start to lengthen they all suddenly turn on the lights to reveal themselves and are immediately filled with the sound of customers.  They do nothing else to advertise.  I can’t think how anyone knows about them other than word of mouth.  This phenomenon is new to us; maybe it’s common elsewhere in Portugal, but we haven’t seen it in Setubal.   

At night, the old town is a concert venue playing outside the bedroom window.  Groups of drunks in a celebratory mood because their futbol team won; the father of a clan in a family gathering singing off key at the top of his lungs; couples pretending to casual conversation just a little too loudly on their way to consummate their trysts.  Then, no sooner does the evening shift end and suddenly it’s 6:00 AM.  Delivery trucks grinding through the narrow streets in first gear.  Street sweepers with corn brooms coming down the street at dawn with a steady “Swoosh . . . swoosh . . . swoosh,” that you get to listen to as they make their way through the neighborhood.  Restaurants emptying their garbage in the public bins on the corner.  Chattering kids bursting out of their houses ready to take on the world.  Birds, cats, dogs calling out to the sunrise . . . .  

So, we’re lying in bed listening to all this and we hear the patter of paws paddingFullSizeRender around the apartment.  Jules is definitely an early to bed early to rise kind of girl.  Promptly at nine PM she disappears to her doggie bed, flops down and goes out like a light.  Conversely, at six AM, we hear her telltale “PHOOSH!” announcing she’s in imminent need of a morning constitutional. If no one gets the hint, she starts licking bare toes.

The couple of nights Barbara and I slept in separate rooms because my back was acting up, we separately and simultaneously jumped out of bed and threw on our clothes in response to Jules’ announcement.  Both times, we met in the hallway and looked blearily at each other to determine which of us had first taken possession of the leash.  We each got our turns taking her for an early morning romp in the nearby dog park.

All in all, Rita’s neighborhood is a lively place, but the sound sleeper definitely has an edge. 

We enjoyed our time in Cascais.  If we decide to stay in Portugal permanently after our projected two-year trial period, it would be easy to settle there.  It’s convenient and comfortable in that run-down beach town way.  On the other hand, it feels a little like cheating — it doesn’t seem like Portugal.  Our attitude has been that if we’re going to live in a country, we ought to embrace the language and culture of that country.  In Cascais, I’m not sure we’ll keep that sense of place. 

We could use it the way Rita does, as a jumping off place from which to explore the rest of the country.  Besides, Portugal might change a lot in years to come.  The country has staked its future on developing a tourism industry.  Who knows but every major town in the country may turn into a Cascais, and that exotic foreign country feel may disappear.  The world gets a little smaller every time we pass a McDonalds or read about the German supermarket chain Lidl opening 1000 stores in the USA.

Jules our favorite canine intellectual has a wealth of insight into these issues.  However, after I wrote about her once before, she’s demanded prior approval of any future posts.  I’m still waiting to hear her response to the latest one.

Até logo.

 

 

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