Proximity and Social Distance.

The tiled steps up to WOW, The World of Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia.

So close and yet so far. That is how it feels living in a foreign country during a pandemic. One could say that is how it feels living in a foreign country in general. We are close to others physically but, the language acts as a barrier that keeps us from connecting. And with lockdown and social distancing and masks, even more so.
Having been stuck at home for the past three months, we have got to know our neighbors through observation. Since we live over a café, there is plenty to observe. It is sort of a neighborhood hangout. The guys stand around and chat off and on at all hours of the day.

Here’s what we have perceived about them.
Our neighbors upstairs are very sweet octagenarians. They are friendly and thankful to have us. Apparently, the previous tenants were not so desirable and routinely trashed the place. Isabel always says, if we need anything, just let them know. I just wish I could understand her better. I figure I get about half of what she is saying when we interact. Their daughter is friendly as well. Happily, she speaks English, which helps. They warmly welcomed us to the neighborhood, which was great.

The dudes in the hood, however, were another matter. They have been very wary of us. Finally, after six months, they will say good morning or afternoon when we see them. One of them has two dogs, and he has become friendly. His dogs and our dog have become buds. We have even chatted once or twice, with my limited Portuguese. He seems nice enough but somewhat downtrodden. He wears a sweatshirt sometimes that says NOTHING. This, to me, speaks volumes. He appears to be kind of sad at times and sometimes looks positively beat up.

Then there is the talker. He has a distinctive voice that carries. I get the feeling that he does not like us. Or maybe he just doesn’t like foreigners. He doesn’t seem as threatened by us now as when we first moved in. Just a feeling I get. Xenophobia is everywhere.
The funny thing is one evening, I overheard him saying what I construed as something derogatory about the English and Americans. Full disclosure, English and Americans were the only two words that I understood of his would-be diatribe. Then, in a moment of the universe laughing in my face, I saw him wearing a sweatshirt that said USA on it the next day!

For comic relief, we have the Oxford yodler and Alice Kravatz across the street. The O.Y. seems like a lost soul. He has severe psoriasis and wanders around, looking bereft a lot of the time. He wears an Oxford University sweatshirt most of the time. He likes to sing and yodels occasionally in the street. He actually has a pleasant singing voice. The yodeling is a bit odd but always makes me laugh.

And then there is Alice. I call her Alice Kravatz as in the character of the same name on the old Bewitched sitcom. The nosey neighbor. She was always looking out the window and getting into the business of others.
This Alice likes to look out the window of her front door. Or she stands just outside of the front door in her slippers. A blanket draped over her shoulders while watching what is going on in the street. Occasionally, she will sport a red hat reminiscent of those worn by the band Devo. Her ensembles are noteworthy. In a, I’m an old lady, and I don’t give a shit kind of way. She is the neighborhood watch.

The neighborhood watch captain’s front door. (It is the white one.)

I wonder if we would have noticed our new neighbors as much if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Because we certainly would be out and about much more. Since we are always home, and our place is like a fishbowl, watching the goings-on in the street has become a form of entertainment. I guess we all have some Alice Kravatz in us in the end.

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