Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Daily Grind

Man, regular life in Lisbon is tough.  I wake up at 7, get ready for school and eat the breakfast my host mom already put out for me the night before, and head to school with another girl who lives in my building.  I spend my morning in CIAL's Beginning Portuguese with my professor Orlando and seven other students all from different backgrounds, including a German couple, an older Belgian man, and three Brits and a Ukranian girl, all in their twenties.  We feel like we're in pre-school, learning to say our names and how to count and spell, but we have so much fun because we're all there genuinely wanting to learn.

After class, I usually come home for lunch and chat a bit with Maria Jose' Mendes, my host mom.  She doesn't speak a word of any other language, but our conversations expand greatly each day as I learn more and more of hers.  She is very sweet and speaks often of her late husband, her children, and her grandchildren, who call her every night before they go to bed.

In the early afternoon, I leave the house to go on some adventure or other.  One day I decide to get out of the city and head for the nearby fishing village of Cascais.  As I'm walking around the harbor, who do I run into but the German couple, Peter and Anka, from my class!  We decide it's fate and head to a nearby waterfront cafe for drinks.  They are so sweet, telling me about all their travels and suggesting beaches I must visit and port wines I must taste.

As I'm sitting taking in the view or walking along the beach I can't help but think of the phrase, "It will all be over in the blink of an eye."  In rebellion, I blink my eyes hard and open them, satisfied to find myself still on the beach in Cascais.  So happy, in fact, at this small victory, I do it again, and before I know it I'm the crazy sporadic blinking girl who can't seem to stop because now all she's doing is thinking about blinking instead of enjoying the beautiful scene before her.  So I manage to stop, and now as I'm writing this, I'm no longer on the beach in Cascais.  I guess the phrase won after all.

The German couple and I enjoy each other's company so much that we have lunch together the next day, at a speedy yet delicious spot around the corner from school, where we each order the special of the day, octopus with potatoes.  You can just see the group of worker men behind me, who Peter and Anka say are there everyday washing down their lunches with a whole liter of wine.  We just hope they don't work with children or operate heavy machinery.

My other afternoon activities have included shopping at artisanal Portuguese shops in the Chiado district, taking a traditional old trolley car ride around the Alfama, getting a mani/pedi, and stopping for a drink or dessert at one of the city's many rooftop restaurants (at one place I ordered port wine gelato: Come to Mama). 

Friday night I go to a jazz concert near the Campo Pequeno Bullring, featuring the American pianist Ran Blake and Portuguese singer Sara Serpa.  It's a beautiful, unique concert with a variety of songs including a cappella, Fado, American jazz from decades long past, and three accompanying silent movie scenes.


Walking through the streets of Lisbon, completely independent and carefree, I feel like I'm floating on a cloud.  Everything makes me happy: the smell of the ocean, old ladies yelling at each other, swiping my bus pass, uttering my Portuguese phrases ("Desculpa!" "Obrigada!") whenever applicable, even the sharp wind of a passing metro train or the cooky man walking like an Egyptian down the street make me squeal with pleasure.  My mouth almost hurts from smiling so much and I have to stop myself from literally skipping down the cobblestone streets, or singing fado at the top of my lungs. "Cheira bem, cheira a Lisboa!"

On my last day of class, I receive a Certificate of Participation (surely, mom, you'll want to frame it and hang it in the living room).  I wish I had another week, another month, of Portuguese lessons as I am enjoying so thoroughly learning the language.  I'm teeming with excitement each time I have a successful conversation, whether it be with a police officer for directions, a waiter, a shopkeeper, my host mom, or my professor.  I've lost count of the conversations I've had, but glow with pride when people understand, and even compliment my efforts.  I call a hotel to cancel a reservation and immediately cop out, asking the woman, "Fala inglês?" She replies that she can understand, but as it seems I speak Portuguese very well, we should just speak Portuguese.  And so we do.


I leave Lisbon tomorrow.   I've learned so much more in the few days here than I ever thought possible and am feeling very confident now about my trip to the Azores with my grandmother.   I feel so blessed to have had ten days here-not enough, to be sure-but a good chunk of time.  Enough time for the city to have stolen a big chunk of my heart and to ensure that I will come back.  Tomorrow I'm off to retrace my family's steps through Terceira and I cannot wait.

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