It seems that people in the US continue to show more and more epic levels of stupidity. (Thanks, Jordan Keppler. Or not, it is horrifying to watch.) Meanwhile, here in Portugal, we have just celebrated the feasts of the popular saints. St. Anthony in Lisbon and St. John here in Porto.
When we first arrived, I had heard many stories about São João and the attendant epic party that overtook the city to celebrate it. I couldn´t wait to experience it, grilled sardines, fireworks, and just an epic good time to be had by all. Back in 2019, we had to be in another city on that day, so we missed it. And then the party was canceled due to the pandemic.
Enter 2022, and the party is on! And here is where the New World Order comes in. (Besides even more stupidity in the US with rampant idiocracy). Since Covid, I don´t want anything to do with people. Much less hordes of people in a packed environment. Can you say super spreader?
So, we stayed home, ate sardine salad, and had an excellent Douro wine to celebrate instead. We watched local fireworks from our balconies and saw our neighbors launch Chinese lantern balloons. It was quiet and enjoyable. And we avoided all the potential diseases we would have been exposed to due to proximity to huge numbers of people. Sad but true, my days of attending any event with lots of people are over.
And in 2019, had we been in Porto, I would not have thought twice about joining the throngs to celebrate the day of São João. A lot has changed since then. Sadly. I guess I am lucky to be older because I would rather stay at home now anyway.
Sardines are a polarizing comestible. You either like them, or you don´t. And as much as I have always liked them, they are not as good stateside as in Portugal. In Portugal, they are a national treasure. The little fishes are deliciously grilled fresh throughout the country from June through September, the best months for them.
Canned, they are a delicacy that comes in many flavors. They come with olive oil, tomato sauce, spicy olive oil or tomato sauce, or mustard sauce, to name a few. They are available at the supermarket for about a buck. And gourmet versions run about four or five euros.
We had the immense fun of touring the Pinhais sardine factory in Matosinhos. Matosinhos is just west of Porto and is famous for the fish and fish restaurants. The Pinhais sardine factory has been in operation since 1920. And they operate pretty much the same way today as they did back then. The front office and entry have remained unchanged since the 20s.
The Ajuelos tile work is beautiful. Much care went into the design of the factory. The staircase to the second floor looks like a fish when viewed from below. It is artful and ingenious.
Only the best sardines are chosen for canning by the women who work the floor. They sort and prepare the fish on long marble tables.
After canning, they are hand wrapped in colorful paper. The ladies doing the wrapping
are quick and efficient. We got to try wrapping cans ourselves, and we were slow and inefficient in comparison.
No surprise there. After taking the tour, we sampled the tinned fish, and they did not disappoint. Our sardine factory adventure ended with a glass of Vinho Verde wine and a sampling of sardines. It was the perfect mid-day snack. Who knew that canned fish could be so much fun and so delicious?
Winter has arrived in Portugal. We have been lucky to have had mostly sunny days through November. But now it is cold and rainy here in Porto, as is expected this time of year. The pleasant weather is one of the things that attracted us to Portugal. And we chose to live in Porto to avoid the heat of summer that can be extreme in the southern parts of the country. Mission accomplished there. The summers have been beautiful, and in the 70s for the most part. Fall is fabulous, with warm days and cool nights through the end of October. Spring can be very hit or miss, some cold rainy days interspersed with sunny days.
Last year, we suffered through the coldest winter in 30 years here. And our electricity bill showed it. 300-350 euros for the coldest winter months. Yikes! We are used to paying 35-50 per month.
When we first visited Portugal, I noticed the lack of heating in most buildings. I thought, wow, the weather must be so mild that heating isn’t necessary. Silly human! Au contraire, mon frère. Here is what I have learned after living here for almost three years. The Portuguese are incredibly stoic when it comes to suffering through cold weather. Yup, it is winter, and it is cold. Suck it up! That is the attitude. I don’t know if it is a holdover from the Salazar dictatorship or what, but doing without heat does not seem to bother most of them.
As wussy Americans, we are not keen on freezing our keesters off for months at a time. So, this year we got a more energy-efficient space heater and ordered some heavy draperies in hopes of warding off the worst of the winter cold. If that does not help, we may have to install heating. We are crossing our fingers that window coverings will be the answer. In the meantime, we will be drinking lots of spiced wine and doing plenty of cooking and baking to keep things warmed up.
The US specializes in urban jungles. LA, New York, and Chicago all personify types of urban jungles. They all have areas that are asphalt jungles. Full of hard surfaces and danger. Los Angeles, especially since they concreted over most of the city in the first half of the 20th century. All three specialize in plenty of urban violence, which is epidemic throughout the states.
Here in Portugal, we have entirely different types of urban jungle. There are oases of greenery everywhere if you know where to look. And then there is the wildlife. Avian wildlife predominates. Followed closely by cats and dogs coming in a distant third. (We are talking urban wildlife here. The number one spot, of course, goes to the humans. Far and away the most dangerous of the lot!)
I have mentioned the Atlantic seagulls before. They really are kings of the coasts. As near as I can tell, man is their only predator. The Portuguese Atlantic gulls can be vicious pigeon killers. It is actually pretty scary to witness. And with so many pigeons, the gulls will never go hungry. I wonder if pigeons are a delicacy to them since they mostly eat fish. It is pretty horrifying to hear the screams of the city rats when the seagulls go after them. I have seen them feed their chicks with fresh rock dove meat. Yum. It gives one new respect for the seagoing warrior gulls. And the screaming of the sea pterodactyls is near-constant in the cities near the coast.
On a lighter note, we have what seems like a flock of parrots in the neighborhood. They fly by so quickly, it is hard to tell if that is what they are. Given their screeching and small green bodies, we guess they must be renegade parrots. Songbirds are very popular as pets here and, you know they must escape from time to time.
When it comes to screeching, there is nothing like a peacock. The peafowl really makes the most Jurassic park sounding noise. Several parks have them in abundance and, they tool around like house pets in various parts of town. It is entertaining to see.
We hear about the shootings du jour in the US, and we think, wow, it just seems to keep getting worse in the not-so United States. We are happy to have traded the concrete jungle for a peaceful urban oasis.
Happy Porto garbage trucks. That’s right, I said happy Porto garbage trucks. The color of the city of Porto is a bright navy blue. Which is appropriate given the proximity to the river and ocean. And even the garbage trucks are painted this color. They are shiny and new-looking and have digital signs on the back with public service announcements. Use máscara. Use a mask! Obrigado. Thank you. We have lived here for a while now, and we love the city and most everything about it. When I remember the nasty-looking garbage trucks in the US, and I see the trucks here in Porto, all I can think is, happy Porto garbage trucks! The atmosphere in Portugal is happier and more relaxed than in the states, by far. And as far as the superior quality of just about everything here, I think it is a case of smaller is better. I like to say that Portugal is a lot like California only, smaller and better. No offense Cali, but it is true! Bigger and bolder are not always better.
Sundays. Remember when Sunday was a day of rest? Probably not. That concept has somehow been lost in the US. It does not matter what day it is. It’s, go, go, go, all the time. Here in Europe, Sunday is still a day of rest. Shops are closed, and the streets are quiet. It is my favorite day to go out strolling. The Portuguese say, calma! Calm down, take it easy. America has forgotten what it means to take it easy. In so many ways.
And the flowers. There is a profusion of flowers everywhere. The trumpet flowers are enormous, and the perfume from them is intoxicating. And then there are the giant multi-colored hydrangeas. They are mind-blowing.
And, once more, I have to mention the food and drink. I wish I could convey how good it all is here. You have to taste it to believe it. Again, I think it is a case of a smaller place that has superior quality. We have never loved having salads as much as we have here. And the country is a wino’s dream. There are fabulous wines to be had for less than five euros. Portugal personifies the saying as an embarrassment of riches. We are so happy and fortunate to be here to enjoy them.
Above, mustard pork Niçoise salad with shrimp, greens and bechamel stuffed bread. And this was created with leftovers! Thanks to Feito Prati for the amazing pão trança, braided stuffed bread, and the mustard pork.
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.
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.
On Monday, April 19th, Porto and parts of Portugal will reopen. Albeit with limited capacity. This means that a person can go out to a restaurant and eat inside if they so desire. Whoo-hoo! We have missed dining out so. It has been a long haul since the country shut down back in January. So much has happened since the beginning of the pandemic, it is almost too much to consider. As stated in The Princess Bride, there is too much, let me sum up. At the start of the Covid crisis, Portugal did a stellar job of keeping the virus numbers down. And the public also kept it together very well. It was a stark contrast to the chaos in the states. We held it together quite well through the first few lockdowns.
Then, after Christmas, we had some of the highest virus numbers in Europe. The downside to how family-oriented the Portuguese are. After nearly a year of lockdown, folks traveled and got together during the holidays. It was game over for low virus numbers and hello new lockdown. Still, people heeded the warnings and hunkered down for the better part of the next three months. Here is the thing, it was not too bad. Again, a contrast to the continued pandemonium in the states. Besides the general peacefulness of Portugal, the food and wine saved the day. Portuguese food and wines are some of the best in the world. And when you can get pretty much anything you want delivered fresh to your door, there is no need to leave the house. One of the many things I love about living here is that COD still exists. (And not just the omnipresent fish.) One of the surprising things about finding food to order online is that there were many local, homemade food services to be found on Instagram, of all places. We have had some of the best food, ordered on IG or Whatsapp, and paid cash on delivery. No worries, no questions asked. This speaks volumes to me about trust here. Virtually everything ordered online in the USA must be paid for in advance. There is no trust for anyone, anywhere over there anymore. It is a sad commentary on American life. Well, because people in the US are A-holes in a lot of cases. And psycho nut-cases. Just look at the news.
Here are some of our favorites. Casa Guedes. Yup, the ubiquitous pernil pork sande. Still one of the best ever. Delivered with love notes. You gotta love it.
Feito Prati. (It means made for you.) A Brazilian woman who makes the most delicious bread and entrees. Delivered fresh and hot to your door. She has a weekly menu with different entrees every day. We have been ordering lunch and a giant loaf of stuffed bread every week for over a month now.
And Flagrante Delito. An outfit that does a special menu weekly to be delivered during the weekend. They make food from different nationalities every week. We have had Cypriot, Mexican, and Italian so far. All were outstanding. Each menu has an omnivore and a vegan option and includes a starter, entree, and dessert. And all of this for about 24 euros for two, delivered. 🙂 I sent pictures of the food to my Mom in California, and she said I wish we had something like that here.
The Easter dinner we got had from The Wine Box in Porto was outstanding. As was the wine we had with it. The Wine Box is a wonderful restaurant and wine bar near the Ponte Luis I. We had cabrito which is traditional for Easter in Portugal. Baby goat. Sorry, it was delicious.
After such a long time staying home, my reclusive tendencies have increased. If I continue to stay home and not interact with people, I could stay healthy for the rest of my life. So, now that the country is about to reopen, I am ready to be a complete shut-in. It is tempting.
Every country has unique aspects. Good and bad. Generally speaking, Portugal has overwhelmingly agreed with us. When we first visited, I was amazed to see that most dwellings did not have heat or A/C. Our first visit was in February and March. There were space heaters in our first Airbnb, and they were all we needed to be comfortable. I took this to mean the weather is so mild that outside climate control is more of an option than a necessity. And in general, that is the case. This depends, of course, on which part of the country you want to inhabit. It snows, and there is skiing in Serra de Estrella, and it gets wicked hot in the south and interior parts of the country. In fact, we went almost three years with only a couple of space heaters, which were quite adequate. This brings to mind the phrase, average temperatures. One should ask, what are the extreme temps? And gauge accordingly. We bought a flat in Porto, and the first winter was anything but average. In December, the worst cold snap in 30 years came along. For the first time, our space heaters were not enough. We froze our asses off and racked up 350+euro electric bills. (Which usually run about 60-90 euros.) Ugh. Temporary, right? I am thinking there is some form of permanent heating in our future. I have read that many ex-pats choose Lisbon and points south because Porto and environs can be cold and rainy in the winter. The weather is Seattle-like here in the winter and, I am ok with it. The heat is what I hate. And happily, it is very moderate in the summer.
On a lighter note, here are some odd but amusing observations. Giant mutant seagulls. Yup, they grow them big here. Apparently, the Atlantic seagull is one of the largest varieties. And they rule the coasts. They are enormous compared to the gulls I grew up with in California. They are also pretty bold and like to perch on cars. I do not know why, but I think it is hilarious. They are also notorious trash pickers. If you see trash strewn all over the street near a dumpster, it was probably seagulls. I have seen them in action. One day, I almost got brained by a walnut that a seagull dropped while it was flying overhead. Retribution for closing the lid of a dumpster that they were raiding, I am guessing.
The Obamas put the Portuguese water dog in the spotlight when they had one in the White House. The funny thing is, I have never seen one here. However, the Portuguese Podengo is very popular. And no one has ever heard of this breed in the states. The Podengo is a hunting hound dog that varies from small to large in size. They are adorable and intelligent. And, I am told, they are very Jack Russel-like in temperament. This means they are a handful and not for the faint of heart or dog novice. Independent and intelligent dogs require a lot of interaction and training.
There are many fascinating differences between Portugal and the states. And many similarities. One could write a book about driving in Portugal and Europe in general, for example. Parking on the sidewalk is quite common. You see this in Italy as well. Lack of space explains it.
European cities are ancient, small, and compact. Parking is a much more recent concern. And the Portuguese love their cars. Since I am originally from L.A., I can relate to this. I have always loved cars but, at the same time, I do not miss having one. The cost is one reason. And then there is the parking. Good luck with that. However, I am amazed at how many huge garages there are in Porto. They have small entrances, so you would not notice them at a glance. But they contain cavernous spaces that hold scores of cars. This is crafty because even parking a Smart car on the street can be a challenge. I say, forget about it and take the metro!
I have railed against most things American but, sometimes one must give credit where it is due. The hamburger, for example. Named after the city of Hamburg, Germany, where it is argued to have originated. It has become a symbol of American food. And nowhere have I had better burgers than in Portugal. Ok, I admit that I have had some memorable burger moments in the US.
But as with many things, the Portuguese have taken a great concept and made it better. This is where I applaud the Portuguese affinity for things from America. In Porto, CURB burgers make outstanding examples. Simple 50s style with Angus beef. When random Americans say this is the best burger they have ever had, you had better believe it. Also, a word about the fries, in the US, I avoided fries like the impending heart attack that they were. I keep coming back to the fact that all the food in Portugal is better than that in the US. Chalk it up to freshness, preparation, lack of genetic engineering, and I do not know what else, but the fries in Portugal are delicious! An entirely different flavor animal. I try to keep the quantity down, but they are too good to pass up.
And, this just in! Hambúrgeres à Lord. Like a Lord hamburgers. The Portuguese comedian Rui Unas has started a burger concern here in Portugal. Now being delivered by Uber Eats in Porto and Lisbon.
«Foi a sua paixão pelos hambúrgueres americanos que inspirou o menu do novo restaurante digital do Uber Eats. Peça irresistíveis smash burgers, loaded fries e brownies com bacon (sim, bacon!) – e acompanhe tudo com uma cerveja à altura: a melhor cerveja norte-americana Bud King of Beers.»
Translation: “It was his passion for American hamburgers that inspired the new digital menu of Uber Eats. Order irresistible smash burgers, loaded fries and, brownies with bacon (yes, bacon!) and accompany it all with the best North American beer, Bud, King of Beers”. The United States at your house in 30 minutes!” I have to laugh. I did use to like a good Smashburger. (Without the shooting du jour or political insanity, thank you very much.)
Ok, so the beer thing is where they lose me. Super Bock (Portuguese beer popular in Porto) is way better than Bud! Just saying. And I have the German heritage and beer drinking experience to make that statement.
In any case, I can’t wait to try a hamburger à Lord. And don’t forget the brownie and fries! And forget the beer, I will pair it with a nice Portuguese Tinto, red wine. Any of the three above would go nicely. Now that is a great mash-up, Portuguese wine and a good burger.
Visão is considered to be the Portuguese Time magazine. They say that it is the most read news magazine in the country. I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of an article on ex-pat Americans living in Portugal. This month’s cover story is titled, The Portuguese dream that attracts the Americans. The sub heading is The stories of those who have left the American dream behind to move to Portugal because of the quality of life, property investments, the wines and to escape Trump. Resident permits for US citizens have almost doubled, and golden visas have multiplied six times.
I have translated the article and share it with you here.
Lisa Graziano, wine specialist, and teacher. From Denver. Before moving to Porto, Lisa Graziano thought about moving to Valencia, Spain. However, when she visited Portugal, she discovered that the country had a more stable government, friendlier people, and a lower cost of living. Besides this, the North American had for years had a passion for Portuguese wines. In the Invicta (Porto), she learned a new way of being. “We were used to doing everything right now, but now we have learned to be calm.” (To live more calmly.)
The attraction of the Douro. “The USA is a bagunça,” (mess) says Lisa Graziano, mixing English and Portuguese in the eagerness of justifying the move to Portugal. “The election of Trump was terrible. If people thought it was a good idea this man should be president, I had to go”. The only thing left was to decide where to go. Years earlier, she had come across Portugal at a wine tasting in Denver, the capital of Colorado, where she lived for more than two decades. She worked in a wine shop and was used to trying the best vintages. But she was impressed by the quality of the national wines (Portuguese), especially the whites.
“One of the reasons for leaving Denver was the extreme heat that was becoming more and more common. “This is why we decided to live in Porto because it is cooler,” she says happily. The family, and their dog, moved to the Invicta (The unconquered, Porto is known as the unconquered city, a cidade invicta.) two years ago. But it was during the pandemic that they purchased a T3 (three-bedroom) apartment in Cedofeita. (A neighborhood in central Porto.) Lisa gives lessons in English to Italians online, and her husband is a graphic designer for a company in the US.
The North American feels very much that “the United States is not a country for older people.” To start with, “the health system is a joke,” she says. “We are close to retirement age, and we have access to the national health system that costs a small fraction of the cost in the US and has much better quality. That is important to us,” she admits. Besides social protection, safety has been surrendered in the country. “The US is no longer a safe place. There is always a shooting du jour, and we did not feel safe,” she laments. “Those who live in the US think that everything is better there, but that is a lie. It is a good illusion when you cannot leave, but here (in Portugal), everything is much better,” she believes.
Lisa would like to become a type of ambassador for Portuguese wines, and for this reason, she is writing a book. She has the objective of visiting all of the wine regions in the country. The Douro was the first region that she got to know, “one of the most beautiful in the world.” Also, the adventures told in the blog The Road to Portugal, about the move to and life here in Portugal will be published. What’s more, that digital showcase has already given origin to various contacts from north Americans asking for more information about the country.
Although now, “there is an adult as president,” the couple does not plan to return to the USA.” For this reason, the response to the question about how long do you think you will live in Portugal is unequivocal, “Forever.”