Archive | September, 2013

ilhavo, portugal

9 Sep

Oh Ilhavo! You are so crazy with your slow, steady movement, your baked goods and your tiny town feel. The people here are happy and they are even happier when they find out you are staying with their neighbour. “Come, come! You have coffee with me tomorrow. No, you don’t leave Portugal yet, you stay.”

*Tonight we are in Ilhavo, Portogal. We started our day late and decided to make it a beach day instead of exploring Aviero. When Lucas brought a load of laundry next door to put into the washer, (for goodness sake, it got stank up in here), Lucas told Fernando, our happy host, of our plans:

“We’re going to head up to Costa Nova to have a beach day today.”

“No, you stay here. You can go around town, have a coffee, maybe go see the river but you stay in town. You stay and you eat with my family and we drink. We will go see the fireworks later.”

“How late will this go?”

“I don’t know, 11pm? 4am?”

Fair enough, Fernando. You, your friends and you family out weigh, by far, any beach that we could go see.

First, we showed up for dinner a bit late but everyone shows up late in Portugal so it’s relative. And besides, there was enough of them that you could’t really notice us anyway. Wait, what am I saying? We were two white people coming in, smiling, yelling, “Hola!” and waving. Who waves at people at a dinner table? wtf?

When we first sat down there was a few moments of awkwardness for me, the introvert: do we get up and get our own food? That means that I’m placing my armpit right by someones head. Do we pass our plates down? That might be too presumptuous. It didn’t matter: they took our plates and filled them. And refilled them. And refilled them and because the main dish was lamb and beef, I had a lot of potatoes and rice (because who doesn’t want delicious Portuguese starch with delicious Portuguese starch?) and these incredible cod cakes with onion, flour, cilantro, cod, salt and pepper. They were amazing. Fernando called them fish cookies because you could just scarf them down like cookies. Instead of milk and cookies, I had fish cakes and wine. I wasn’t saying no.

Fernando’s brother in law brought out a guitar and started playing and singing Fado music, a beautiful, traditionally sad music that is home to Portugal. There is a difference between Lisbon Fado, and Coimbra Fado: In Lisbon, there is a snail like shape at the top of the guitar and men and women can sing. It’s also more sad in nature. In Coimbra, only women traditionally sing and there is a tear drop shape on the top of the guitar. Fernando’s brother was excited enough by the fact that Lucas and I could play guitar that he left and returned with a second guitar and an amp. Heaven.

As the wine poured, the bubbly was poured and people poured into the ground floor deck we were sitting in. Ah, pinch me!

As the guitar was being played and the snacks were being nibbled, I suddenly realized that I was the only woman out on the deck and that all of the women were inside. I asked, “Is it usual that the women stay inside together after a meal and the men come out to drink?”

“Yes. You are lucky to be here with us. You’re a guest so it’s ok.” They laughed. I smiled. Tread lightly, Tana.

“Yes, but we are outside; the guitar is here, the sun is here, they should be here too?”

“They aren’t being separated, they are being protected.” Somehow coming from Fernando’es brother-in-law this seemed sweet with his soft accent.

“I am sure they can handle it. The women sitting in there are strong women, yes?”

“Yes, but we run things, still!” This was said by a lovely Portuguese business man who just moved back from living in Australia for 20 years.

I threw my head back and chuckled. “Your women make you think you run things. It’s the way of the world!”

They laughed, I laughed and we played guitar and at that moment, the women come out and it was the most beautiful night of my travels yet.


*I wrote this almost a week ago but could only post it now.


lisbon, portugal

9 Sep

The old city of Lisbon is a bizarre world of speedy cars, trams and sidewalks so arrow that if you don’t turn yourself said ways as the busses pass, you will in fact, die.* It really is a party town with much to give the senses, especially taste. Late one night after going out for dinner and getting completely ripped off, (that was how much?), we decided to head back to the hostel we were staying at but took the long way about so we could see more of the city. Lucas was still hungry so we stopped at tiny corner store that sold french fries. I was thirsty so I got water which I grab myself right out of a fridge. This isn’t uncommon in Portugal: there’s a fridge, you grab your drink of choice, you pay.  Lucas grabbed his french fries, I grabbed a water and we stood on the steppes outside. While I was talking away with Lucas I opened up the bottle and I put it closer to my mouth. Wait a minute, “Babe, I”m not sure that was difficult to open.. I mean, I don’t think that I opened the little plastic tabs, but I was talking and I can’t be sure.” Lucas took the bottle from me . Smelled it. Drank it. Threw his head back.” “Thats’ not water,” he said with a hoarse voice. We grabbed the bottle out of the fridge ourselves, the bottle that stood among all of the rest of the exact same water bottles.  “What is it? What do you mean.” “That’s home made alcohol.”

We walked back into the store and gave it to the small Indian man that was behind the counter. “I don’t think this is water.” He looked at us and took the bottle. “Smell it.” He smelled it.

“Oh! It’s alcohol. Some for you?”

“Uh, no thanks.”

Lisbon, you and your moonshine were wonderful for a first stop. I like you but I don’t feel the need to ever see you again; I grew up in a big city and there is much of Portugal to see. Although, you were my first stop in Europe so you will always have a piece go my heart. A very tiny piece. I mean, really, really tiny. It’s me, not you.

*This is not a fact.

grief is a leaky, sneaky bitch

9 Sep

1150790_10153148919135277_2074439964_nI am a part of a club where members want to give their membership back no matter what the penalty is for early cancellation. The grieving club is the worst; it’s not like one of those fancy golf clubs where you have attractive women drive up to you on the course and bring you beer. My club doesn’t have shiny toilets or a newly paved parking garage with valet. My club leaves its members with challenging life lessons, guilt, headaches and heart ache, and the task of finding the person you have lost, in a new way.

I know that grieving for a loss never ends.  Only recently have I learned that it morphs into different shapes and sizes depending on what is happening in my life and traveling has opened up a new kind of wound inside of me that I had no idea could exists: I relive her death again and again in the very first moments of the early mornings.

This is what happens: I wake up in a strange, beautiful place. The warmth from the Portuguese sun streams onto my bed from the window. The ray isn’t on me but, instead, lies beside me like a warm gentle presence that slowly coaxes me awake. I turn my head towards the window and look up to the sky because it’s blue and beautiful and happy. Then I experience that fleeting moment where I think to get ahold of her; to tell her where I am, that I am safe and that I can’t wait to see her in Paris. I become happy at the prospect of hearing her voice talk to me over the phone. Only after a slight, soft moment do I feel the heaviness and sorrow quickly weigh in on me. I get a feeling that starts in my very core and works its way upwards where my heart starts to pound while it sinks deep to the back of my chest. It’s a purging feeling that drains me and I have to realize, again and again, that I will never be able to phone her and hear her voice.

This, by far, is the hardest part of traveling.