A reenactment of a successful medieval battle against the Spanish in the village of Santar
I have been reading the big Saturday edition of Expresso newspaper, and I have been watching Portuguese television. My pronunciation has become much better, although Caladon does not miss an opportunity to tell me that it embarrasses him. I can remember being embarrassed by my mother’s Belizean pronunciation of American English and not understanding why she could not get it right. What goes around comes around.
My ease in the language was enough to have me stand as a witness to a legal document for Ute and Peter. They asked Huw and me. We went to the office of the notario, or notary public. In Portugal, the notario is an essential component of legal transactions. When we signed the escritura, or title deed, for our property, it was at the office of a notario.
So, the four of us walked into the office. The clerk asked whether we spoke Portuguese. Peter and Ute and I said, “Pois, pois,” yes, of course. She persisted and said that the witnesses must understand Portuguese. Again, they and I insisted that we were well-versed in the language. This was the first hurdle over which we leapt successfully.
Then, the clerk asked whether we were family, or familia, to Peter and Ute. No, no, they said. We are not related to each other. Second hurdle.
Now, the clerk asked whether Huw and I were familia. Were we married? Yes, we were married. She said that the witnesses could not be family to each other. Third hurdle, down.
In a whirl of manic energy, Ute and Peter dashed out of the door. Peter said that they would find someone on the street. Huw and I followed them to the outside of the office and waited for them to come back. Minutes later, they returned without a second witness.
Have you asked the gentleman at the car insurance office a few doors down, I asked. Yes. Jose said that he would gladly do it if there were someone else in the office. He was on his own. Huw suggested their lawyer and ours, Pinto Correia, whose office was around the corner in Oliveira do Hospital. Peter telephoned him on his mobile. Minutes later, Pinto met us at the office. Huw and I had not spoken with Pinto since the day of our escritura. A year ago, after we first arrived, we had exchanged greetings while Huw was parking the car in town. So, it was good to see him again.
In Portuguese, I told him that we have been here one year and that we love it. I told him that Caladon was in school at Cordinha in Ervedal and was speaking Portuguese well. Pinto left his identification card with the clerk. He asked her to telephone him when the notario was ready to proceed with the signing.
Ute and I sat on the other side of the clerk’s desk and talked, in English, about family. When I hand over any identification, which was, in this case, my U.K. passport, I do not like to leave its side. My passport sat beside the clerk.
Eventually, the clerk phoned Pinto. Minutes later, we were in the notario’s office. Pinto and I sat next to each other; Peter and Ute sat on the other side of the conference table. The notario sat at the head. Pinto talked with Peter in Portuguese. Peter talked about arriving in Portugal on Aeroflot, the Russian airline, after many hours in flight from Asia. I hoped that no one would say anything to me that I could not understand.
The notario began the proceeding by asking whether everyone was conversant in Portuguese. “Pois, pois.” However, I sat there hoping that I would not be caught out. So, I spent an uncomfortable 30 minutes waiting for it all to end. The four of us signed our names to two documents. Pinto and the notario talked about a legal case. Then, Pinto turned to me and said something about my husband waiting in the other room…well, I did not know what he said exactly. Ute said, “Do you know what he said, Cynthia?” No, I don’t, I thought. So, I laughed, and Pinto laughed, and the room laughed. The notario opened her door, and we all exited to the front office.
I, quietly, asked Ute what Pinto had said to me. She said that she did not know.
So, I am learning that I do not have to understand every word to be conversant in Portuguese. Mostly, I have to relax with it.
*** *** *** ***
One year ago, shortly after we arrived, Huw and I attempted to connect the house with electricity.
This was a mistake on our part.
No one had asked us for electricity. We had not even received planning approval for reconstruction of the house. We had simply thought that we would get ahead of the game and make it easier for everyone.
The subject of electricity did not come up until the builders had begun their work. Patricia, the engineer, contacted the electricity company, EDP, for us in May after Scoplano had been on the job for a few weeks. She said that we would hear from them in the post with quotes for having the cable underground and above. She thought that the cost for subterranean work would not be so different from above-ground work. This news shocked Huw and I. However, we were happy to believe it because we preferred not to see cables and posts, which we view as eyesores.
In mid-June, Caladon and I left for a holiday in the States. Still, we had not heard anything. Neither were we worried because we were more accustomed to business moving slowly and because the builders had electricity from their generator.
While in New York, Huw sent me an e-mail saying that we had electricity. Only after I returned to Portugal, after six weeks away, did I realise that he meant electricity meter boxes, which Scoplano’s electrician had placed in the courtyard wall. After my vacation in my first meeting with Patricia, her father, Joao, and Steve, I learned that EDP had written me at Patricia’s business address. The company had used her address just as Oliveira’s planning office had used our architect’s address for me. Consequently, she paid them the initial cost. This was in July.
August came and went without a murmur from EDP.
September came and, one Saturday, Huw, Caladon and I walked to our house to find “A pole,” as Caladon triumphantly shouted. Huw and I threw him an icy stare.
We go to our house most days. However, on the previous day, it had been raining torrentially. We did not walk there; we did not see the EDP worker; we did not see the monstrous pole being erected on the road next to our courtyard wall in view of the house. It was impossible, now to photograph this side of the house without The Pole.
We telephoned Steve so that EDP would not continue work with The Pole. “No problem,” he said. “EDP will move poles.”
On Monday morning, Patricia’s father, Joao arrived early. He examined the area, including the huge granite boulder that sits across from our courtyard. He foresaw potential difficulty in burrowing the cable underground. Also, he said that subterranean work would be expensive. Okay, the expense made sense to us. He telephoned the electrician who went to EDP.
Later, Steve arrived, and we were able to think more clearly about possibilities. If we chose subterranean, a conduit would be left empty for solar energy cable. If subterranean proved to be too much money, we suggested moving The Pole directly beside the house. Steve said that EDP’s mandate stated that there should be the least amount of cables passing over a neighbour’s land. This spot was where they had put The Pole.
Then, Steve added that EDP often places a lamp on its post!
No, no. We, definitely, won’t have that. City lights. We moved here to be away from light pollution.
So, Huw asked me whether we should go subterranean if the pole could not be moved to a more out-of-the-way place.
Let’s talk more, I said, when we have more information from the electrician.
However, as we talked with Steve, I said, “Yes, let’s go subterranean if we can’t move The Pole.
Then, Steve said, “Wait until later.”
Okay, we waited for a telephone call from Steve later that day. No, The Pole could not be moved to another location. The cost of the pole was 400 euros; the cost of subterranean 2,200 euros.
Think about it, Steve said.
Expat websites and a book on moving to Portugal had quoted 1,000 euros for a pole. The true cost was much less. We never had an estimate of subterranean cabling.
We asked ourselves whether we should go ahead with EDP. After all, we plan to install solar electricity. Both Huw and I had agreed that we would connect to water and electricity so that we would have alternatives. We decided, again, to choose caution.
Do we want to spend the money on subterranean electricity? For days, we looked at The Pole; we talked about it. Poor Caladon did not dare mention it.
Huw and I knew that we were being the difficult foreigners. Why wouldn’t we want a lamppost?
In the1980s, Mommy and I, annually, met each other in Belize for vacations. She was living in New York, and I was in Long Beach and, then, San Francisco, California. At that time, Belize was in the midst of an electrification program. One year in Bermuda Landing, which is Mommy’s village, we spent quiet time chatting with friends. We sat inside their wooden house, which was built on stilts to avoid flooding of the Belize River during rainy season. The next year, Bermuda Landing had electricity for several hours each day. We sat inside our friend’s house on Easter eating turtle soup and watching television programs about geographical sites in Belize.
I thought it deplorable then. Now, I can understand the wonder of it. Electricity offered possibilities. It still does. Light posts, however, were restricted to the main road. And I remember only one in Bermuda Landing.
One evening in Fiais, I walked to the house to check on a bonfire, which I had left nearly out but smouldering. It was dark, so I brought a torch with me. The fire was out. I switched off the torch on leaving the house. It was black, even though there is a lamp on the electricity post across the road on our neighbour's land. I hated to admit it, but The Pole was situated in a good spot for lighting.
I told Huw that I had changed my mind about The Pole. Let’s keep it, I said. In the next phone call from Steve about another matter, we gave him our decision. Huw asked him to apologise to Patricia, Joao, and the electrician for the time that they had taken to negotiate our cause.
More than one month later in October, Patricia handed me a folder of her copies of the electrician’s licence, his citizen card, letters stating his intention to work on our house, and a map of the locale with our property highlighted. Could we go to EDP?
Yes, I said. What am I asking for? What word should I use to set the wheels turning?
Contrato, or contract.
Okay, I said. Wow, I thought. We still have not received what we attempted to procure one year ago!
May we go to the EDP office which is inside the bookstore in Oliveira?
I was doubtful, but I went there anyway. Along with the sheath of documents from Patricia, I brought the building permit and one page of the house plans. It turned out that I only needed the building permit along with the packet. However…
It’s not here on the computer, the clerk said. I do not see any work done at your house, no Pole and no cabling waiting to be connected to the house. Your electrician must have done it.
No, EDP erected The Pole and left the wiring.
I don’t see the work here. Your electrician must have done it.
No, I insisted. EDP put up The Pole. Then, I felt Huw jabbing me in the ribs to stop, which is what I had said I would do if I encountered resistance.
Okay, then. Do I have the correct documents?
So, I will talk with the builders and electrician. Thank you for your help.
Huw and I telephoned Steve from the car. He talked with Patricia who spoke with the electrician. Later, that day, Steve phoned to say that EDP’s computer records would be updated with our information by the following Monday. We could return to EDP, then, to request a contract.
We decided not to return on Monday because it might be too soon. On Tuesday morning, we waited for Steve to come to the house to clarify with the builders a change we wanted on the outside granite steps to the house. He phoned to say that he could not be there until after lunch. So, we went to EDP in morning.
I handed over the documents and said that I would like, or the polite “queria”, a contract.
The same clerk took a few minutes on the computer before saying that she could not see The Pole or cabling. Your electrician must have done it.
Huw said, our electrician was nice enough to put up a pole and cabling. Later, in the car, Huw said that she did not catch the sarcasm.
I asked whether the computer information was the same as the previous week.
Yes, she said. Nothing has been updated on our records. She said that we should return with the electrician who should write a letter saying…
I apologised for taking her time. She smiled and said, Nao faz mal, or don’t worry about it.
We left the bookshop.
When we saw Steve that afternoon, we suggested that we go to the EDP office in Mangualde, which is devoted to EDP alone and is near Scoplano. We asked that Patricia or the electrician accompany us. He agreed to this arrangement.
Next Tuesday, we will visit EDP in Mangualde. I am looking at it as a day out in Mangualde. Steve has told us about a good café there. I will have a galao, or latte, and, maybe even, a pastry.
*** *** *** ***
On the glass-covered bulletin board in Fiais da Beira, I read a notice about eye testing. In two weeks in November, villagers can have their eyes tested free of charge from 14.00 to 17.30. This is great news because this is one annual medical test that Caladon has not had done this year.
In late August, days before school resumed, we took him to a dentist. His teeth are fine, she said. He will be getting many more teeth. Don’t bring him back for one year, she said.
In February, we had filled out forms at the health clinic in Oliveira do Hospital. We wanted the doctor whom I had seen for a check-up at his private clinic. He had said that all I needed to do was see his secretary and fill out a form.
Huw and I went to the public health clinic. We found the doctor’s office and stood on line at the desk of his secretary. She ignored me for awhile. Then, I saw the doctor leaving his office and tackled him along with two or three patients, who were all elderly.
I shook his hand and reintroduced myself. I told him that he had examined me for a Portuguese licence application and that I was there to sign on as his patient. He said that I should speak to his secretary. I did this so that she would see me talking with him.
She gave me a two-page application. She, also, asked for copies of our Atestado da Residencia, a residency document, and our fiscal numbers. Huw wanted to return with everything another day. I thought that we should finish the application that day. So, we drove to the copy shop in Oliveira and prepared our documents. I filled out the application, leaving blanks where I was uncertain.
Back at the clinic, I rejoined the queue, which was not long. His secretary ignored me, again, for a span of time. When she turned to me, she asked for our son’s residency document. He does not have one, I said. Does that make a difference, I thought. Can a minor get one, I thought.
Where were our European Union health cards? Before we left Britain, Huw had filled out medical forms at the post office in Tavistock. He walked over with them.
She turned to my application and the blank spaces. She explained what I needed to fill in. Then, there was the date. “Fevereiro,” she said. “Don’t you know how to spell “fevereiro”, she might as well have shouted to the room.
I don’t get embarrassed easily. However, I am proud of my spelling in English and not of my spelling in Portuguese. I did not know how to spell “fevereiro”. Was it “b” or “v”?
I felt flushed. I took a shot and used “v”. She seemed satisfied. She did not ask me to rewrite the application in clearer handwriting. She said that we would receive notification in the post from the clinic in two weeks.
In February, we received nothing. In March, the same. In April, we remembered it occasionally. Neither Huw nor I wanted to return to the doctor’s secretary. In August, when Huw went to Cordinha school to fill out forms for Caladon, he was asked for Caladon’s doctor. We still had not received notification. So, one August day, we returned to the clinic.
Luck was on our side.
The doctor and his secretary were on holiday. We dealt with a helpful young man. It was right before lunch when we arrived there. We explained that we had filled out forms and not received confirmation. Minutes later, he found our forms and told us to come back after lunch.
We ran a few errands in Oliveira and returned to the top of the queue. It was boiling hot inside the non- air-conditioned clinic. We were perspiring just standing still. I took out my floral hand fan which I bought nearly 20 years ago in Sicily. I fanned myself and him as he filled out tedious forms on the computer. Dates had to be filled out by scrolling through 100 years. It was slow, and more and more patients queued behind me. He finished Caladon’s form first but, unfortunately, had typed in the wrong fiscal number. He did it again.
The line grew longer. The temperature mounted. I kept fanning.
More than one hour later, he had registered the three of us. I had the three forms in my document holder. We had a family doctor. I thanked him profusely.
None of us have attempted to see the doctor. We have been healthy, thank God.
The eye examination will be held in the Largo de Sao Domingo, or the plaza in the center of the village. How many people will take advantage of it? Will there be mostly old people or young people?
Since the testing ends at 5:30 p.m., Huw and I will collect Caladon from school at 5 p.m. We will be quicker than the school bus.
I keep reading news stories about the emptying of the Beiras. The birth rate is down because the young leave for Lisboa or other countries. Fiais da Beira reminds me of Luckett when we first arrived in Cornwall in 1996. Huw and I were the youngest in the village. He was 35, and I was 41.
The Cornish could not afford to stay in Cornwall. So, the young people emigrated to other countries. Things changed, however, in Cornwall.
Eventually, young families moved from Hampshire and other London-area towns to live a more wholesome life. Some wage-earners worked at home online. Others worked away from home for part of the week. Luckett and other Cornish villages became young again. Schools, churches and social clubs were rejuvenated.
Will the same thing happen in the Beiras? I don’t know. I do believe that fewer people will move to Lisboa, and more will leave the country entirely. In a recent Expresso story about new emigrants to Paris, an electronics engineer in his 30s said that he receives more money in unemployment benefits in France than he would in a top-paying engineering job in Portugal. Of course, he would need more money to live in Paris.
I do envisage more foreigners moving to the Beiras. In small Fiais da Beira this year alone, the Dutch couple, who bought our landlord’s house, have moved here. We have heard that a Finnish person bought the old bakery, which has been re-roofed and renovated for occupancy.
We missed the second foreigners’ meeting for Oliveira do Hospital. Huw picked up a brochure that gave the date. I was convinced that it was a Sunday. I was wrong. It was during my time of grape-picking anxiety, October 4th. The next day, I realised my mistake. I am very sorry. We will catch up with them at the next meeting.
Foreigners bring revitalization to the Beiras because we are young and middle-aged. However, the majority of us are not starting new businesses.
Most foreigners moving here do not have good business heads. They moved here to escape the demands of capitalism on their time and money. At first, they try to live without working, which is fine for most receiving pensions. Those who need money to pay for tax and extras tend to do what the Cornish did in the end. They advertise themselves as people who can clear your land, house-sit and care for your animals, and do any number of jobs.
When we first moved to Cornwall, we asked for tradespersons’ recommendations from our neighbours, Grace and Colin Kent. That was how things were done at the time: word of mouth. When we left, I don’t know how many cars and trucks advertising their owners as painters and landscapers I would see on the road.
Portugal is not good at publicizing itself. It never has been good, even during global maritime exploration in the15th and 16th centuries, Spanish rule in the 17th century, vast gold and diamond revenues from Brazil in the 18th century, the thwarting of Napoleon in the Peninsular War in the 19th century, nearly 50 years of dictatorship in the 20th century and, now, in the 21st century amid radical technological advances in communication.
How can this be?
Simply put, the Portuguese are humble. One author wrote that they will deprecate a place rather than tell you about its wonders.
Last month, I read a travel book, which was published in the 1970s, about undiscovered Portugal. I have come across another more recent book about undiscovered Portugal.
There are few books about travel in Portugal; there are no books about travel in the Beiras.
Belize also was an undiscovered gem in the 1970s. Few people had heard of it. Then, it latched onto ecotourism. Landscapes and ethnic groups are incredibly varied in a country only the size of Wales. Belize’s barrier reef is the second largest in the world. It is dotted with hundreds of cayes, or islands, where snorkeling, scuba diving and sports-fishing are at their best. Rainforests are home to ancient Mayan temples. Howler monkeys live near Mommy’s village, Bermuda Landing, which is on the Belize River. Citrus groves populate the savannahs, and mammoth caves and waterfalls are found in the mountains. Birdwatching is a delight throughout the country.
Now, Belize has name recognition, especially, in Britain and the United States. Yet, it is considered unspoiled and an attractive tourist destination.
In Portugal, it is difficult to get information about things to do and places to see. Tourist brochures often lack rudimentary information such as time and place. If Professora Isabel had not told Caladon about the medieval festival at Canas de Senhorim, we probably would not have found out about it. Festivals are advertised by word-of-mouth and by posters that go up in the local area. Even the posters, however, often offer incomplete information.
Portugal is personal. People tell you about events and places and other people that you would enjoy.
After we had dinner on Halloween and we were ready to sit down to an evening of classic horror films (“The Wolfman” with Lon Chaney Jr. and “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff), Caladon said that there was a fair at the village of Villa Franca da Beira, which is between Fiais da Beira and Ervedal da Beira. He said that most everyone was going, including Professora Isabel and other teachers.
When had he found out about it? That day. It had been scheduled for the town of Seia, but Seia, for some reason, could not accommodate it.
We had had a tiring day and did not want to go out again. But if we had known beforehand…
The next day, Caladon said that there were three roller-coasters there. The fair was great.
I have written it down in my engagement diary along with the eye tests, so that I look out for them next year.
*** *** *** ***
As Huw and I walked to our quinta one morning, we talked about acquaintances who regularly vacationed with their families in France and other countries.
“That’s something we’re not doing,” Huw said.
It has been a long time since I laughed so deeply. Huw joined in when he realised his meaning.
I said, “You must feel very comfortable and at home in Portugal, then.”
The three of us returned to E.B.I. Cordinha, Caladon’s school, for our second Sao Martinho harvest fair. Once again, Professora Isabel Rosa, Caladon’s head teacher in Year 6I, and Professor Carlos, Cordinha’s head, and the other teachers organised ambitious stalls of harvested fruits, vegetables, and products made from them.
This year, I was not lost as to what to bring to the fair. Last year, I brought diospiro, or persimmon, muffins, and butter biscuits. The persimmon muffins stayed on the class stall longer than anything else. And it had taken me several tries to find a good persimmon recipe. Persimmon biscuits, for example, were incredibly unappetizing.
This year, I made lemon and chocolate biscuits. Also, I made 12 lemon possets, or puddings. The possets used only three ingredients – sugar, cream and lemon – and took only 15 minutes on the cooker, or stove. Easy. I knew that the possets also would be a hard sell because they are not a known dessert to the Portuguese. But because they did not cost much time or money, I did not mind.
Near the end of the fair, students walk round with unsold goods and approach potential customers. So, when Huw and I noticed a foreign couple at the stall, I approached them. I made a sale of one 50-cent lemon posset, and we met Ana Riet and Jan, a Dutch couple who live in a modern glass house in Fiais da Beira for part of the year.
“You are Kirkwood,” he asked.
My name is listed as the owner on the billboard outside our house. Builders are bound legally to display this information along with the building licence number and their name.
So, we talked for awhile, and they invited us to drop by for a cup of coffee. The following week, we did just that. Their house is as attractive inside as outside. The glass walls bring the Caramulo Mountains into the rooms. The terraces expand the house and the views.
It is light, light, light inside, which is so different from Senhor Raul Oliveira da Costa’s folly, which is where we are renting now. It is so different that the light jarred me at first. Our house, which now has a roof, falls somewhere between the two with regard to light.
We have some large windows looking out on the Caramulo mountains. But we have kept the feel of the old granite house, so that the house will look similar to its past incarnation.
Ana Riet and Jan were kind and welcoming. We had coffee on one of their terraces with the bright sun on my back. Huw and I kept talking like folks who do not see much of other people.
They invited us to stay for lunch, which was a delicious spread of vegetable tart, olives, salad and a full-bodied white wine. Then, we realised that it was after 2 p.m. and time to pick up Caladon from school on his half-day Wednesday. Last year, he finished at 12 noon on Wednesday; this year, he finishes at 2:30 p.m. School, normally, finishes at 5 p.m. Disappointingly, we had to rush off before partaking of Ana Riet’s tiramisu and more of their hospitality.
On another November day, we went to Meruge for the pork festival. We went last year, and we were impressed by this village on a rock. Both years, we bought the pork dinner for a few euros and brought home the commemorative plate. This year, we saw a play among the people. The actors stood out because they wore old-style caps, capes and long dresses. We, spectators, circled round the actors. A theatrical fight broke out, and one of the players fell against me. So, I made my debut in Portuguese theatre.
After lunch, we decided to go to the soup festival, which we have not attended, in a village near Seia. Last year, Huw saw a television news story about it. Twenty stalls were set up inside a tent. Before entering, we bought a ticket for one bowl and one soup. There were lots of chestnut soups, stone soups, vegetable soups, and lots of people in the center of the tent, sipping soup. It was a fantastic event. Unfortunately, we were full from the pork dinner at Meruge and had only one chestnut soup.
There are festivals all year round, but the ones in the autumn highlight harvests, chestnuts and jeropiga, which is made of must, brandy and sugar. Delicious!