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Archive for July, 2006

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Melgaço and the Deep Stillness of Meeting My Self on the Way

Monday, July 31st, 2006

I was the only person on the bus when I arrived in Melgaço near 9 p.m. on Friday, and I needed a taxi to take me to the hostel, which is not actually in Melgaço but is about two miles away, in a pine-woods area of the mountains designed for sports, with two enormous football stadia, a swimming pool, a four-star hotel, walking trails, and the offices of Melgaço Radical, an organization that runs white-water rafting trips. There were no football games scheduled, so I was almost the only person in the hostel. On Saturday some families appeared in three and four generations, but no single (nor even coupled) travelers. The only bus for Viana do Castelo, where I am now and about which I will talk in another post, did not leave till 7 p.m. Sunday night. So I had a weekend of astonishing quiet and the first boredom I have experienced since my year and a half of being bedridden as a child. I was forced to confront what I have avoided, even in lengthy meditation retreats: the bare and embarrassing truth of who I have created as my self, the humiliating truth of my habit of discontent, and the possibility of letting it all go. It was an experience more uncomfortable than bed-bugs and more startling than any adventure I have had yet. [read on]

São Gualter and Other Surprises

Friday, July 28th, 2006

The lights in Guimarães are not ALWAYS lit. This happens to be the biggest celebration in the town in 100 years. The patron saint of the town is St. Gualter (St. Walter in his English manifestation), and on the first weekend in August since 1906, there has been a big celebration, homecoming, festival, hoopla. That´s why I had to leave: every room in the town is booked for the weekend. That´s why the streets are full of lights and people. The brochure for the event (available only in Portuguese) quotes Jose Saramago as follows, “a memória que temos e a responsabilidade que assumimos porque sem memória não existimos e sem responsabilidade não mereciamos existir.” I love his dry sense of humor. This morning as I left Guimarães, the streets were not sleepy, as usual. They were packed with people shopping, hauling great plastic bags of things up hill and down hill, buying flowers and foods and gifts for relatives arriving from out of town. There was a feeling of intense excitement. There will be food and music and dancing in every square of the town tonight. I´d love to be there, but it can´t be, so I´m on my way to Melgaço, which apparently is the one place in Portugal nobody else wants to be this weekend. [read on]

Guimarães at Night, Apologies

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Guimarães at night is unbelievable: the city THROBS with energy, life, and light. There are flashing, twinkling, twirling LIGHTS all over the main streets. I got several pictures. It´s like a huge fair, only it´s every night. It´s ten American cities at Christmas. Where do they get the electricity to run all these lights? I don´t know, but it is joy, and it belongs to everyone. Families are out with their dogs, their kids, and their grannies, walking, talking, playing, competing at chess or card games in the park with many onlookers. The college students are dancing to their own beats, or rubbing against each other, or arguing and drinking many beers. There is such life here. I´ve never seen anything like it. There is even a “Museum of the Night,” but I was too tired to check it out. So this is just a quick blog, the morning after, to add that, and also to add a couple of qualifications and apologies for my offenses. [read on]

Best Birthday Ever! Guimarães is Spectacular!

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

I thought Lisbon was terrific; Porto was even more lively than Lisbon and would have been fabulous but for the bed-bugs; then Braga blew me away; Ponte de Lima was the perfect place to be sick and watch the river and let my eyes land on beauty and peacefulness till I could walk again. But lemme tell ya: Guimarães (pronounced gee-ma-RYE-sh) beats everything. This is it, this is the top, this has to be the most exciting city in Portugal, if not in the world. It has incredible art, jaw-dropping architecture, a castle with parapets you can stroll on, a cable car up to the nearest mountain top, a slammin University community full of pierced and tattooed people reading books in the park and listening to MP3s and kissing and sitting in cafes that blare out heavy metal and doing what college kids do, a cyber center that´s open till 2 a.m. and only charges one Euro per hour, and GET THIS! A washer and dryer available FREE in the hostel. So I will wash all my clothes again and dry them for a very long time tonight, freeing myself at last of any possible bed-bug eggs left anywhere. And it´s my birthday. And I am so happy, if it weren´t for my all-terrain Beppi´s I´d be levitating. [read on]

The River Lethe, Peace, a Dream, and F**king Ugly Shoes

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Here I am by the River Lima, and like the Roman soldiers, I had a trip with memory loss yesterday. Man, I haven´t had a high like that since the hash parties of the 70s. After the IV antihistamines, I blogged in for a few minutes, and then I went to sit by the water. It was absolutely fascinating. My brain turned off entirely, and it was just the speckles, the water, the movement, and time passing in silence. It was just like deep meditation; only of course with meditation, you can stop the experience when you want to. But hey. I´m not complaining. It was hilarious. The light, at some point, started bothering my eyes, so I reached into my new cheapshit daypack to get my sunglasses, and as soon as I got the bag open I sat there staring into it, wondering what the hell I opened that thing for. I thought about it for a long time, then looked back at the water, and Voila! sunglasses. That was it. The evening went sort of that way, till I fell asleep in my room around 7 p.m., and that was it for July 24. I missed the sunset and everything. But it was a delicious sleep, and I had a dream that was remarkable. I´ll save that till the end of today´s blog though, because I know other people´s dreams can be boring, and this one is only of interest to other writers anyway. So I´ll say more about the beauty of Ponte de Lima, the market, the shoes, and then finally the dream. [read on]

More Privileged Views of Portugal: In the Hospital

Monday, July 24th, 2006

This was going to be another day of silence, but life happens, and it feels good to blog right now. It turns out I´m severely allergic to bed-bugs. I went to the Farmacia to ask for something a little stronger than the gel, and the pharmacist looked at a couple of my bites and sent me immediately to the hospital. She said I am having an “urgent event.” I like that term, it seems so much less frightening than an emergency. I got to see another side of Portugal that most tourists don´t see. Sick babies, old men having heart attacks, women with pain in the stomach, and me, with seeping welts. The camaraderie in the waiting room was wonderful, and everyone was eager to know exactly where I encountered the Pulgos, and they asked to see my most dramatic welts, which I was a little embarrassed about showing, but the worst ones are on my legs. Only the doctor got to see all of them. I apologized to the other people in the waiting room and said it is not a very big problem, but they were wonderfully sympathetic, and the doctor gave me intravenous antihistamines. Wow. Cool drugs! I´m really floating now. [read on]

Braga! Public dancing, bed bugs, Bom Jesus

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

Christopher´s reply on bed bugs is very helpful. I did some research on the internet myself yesterday and was reminded of a few helpful things. First, the bugs are visible (and I remember what they look like from Africa), so I inspected everything I own and didn´t see any, which is good, although as Manko can tell you, my vision sucks, even with glasses. Second, they lay eggs which hatch in two weeks, and I almost certainly have eggs in the backpack, my journal, etc., so all that stuff will have to go just before the two-week mark unless I can find a reliable insecticide that will kill the eggs (unlikely). Third, clothing can be salvaged if washed and then dried at high heat. Given that I may encounter still more bed bugs before the trip is over, I have decided to keep everything for two weeks. I walked two miles to the university area this morning and found a coin op laundromat and washed & dried (hot) everything I own except what I had on. I discovered that very hot, almost scalding water, applied to the bites, helps more than the ointment I bought at the farmacia yesterday. I didn´t yet have the right word for the bugs (thanks Christopher), but I called them insectos de cama, and that got the point across. Otherwise, this is the best part of the trip, with song, dance, and great joy. [read on]

Bed-bugs! Yeow! And a sad day in a beautiful place.

Friday, July 21st, 2006

The day started out with a sad omen: I got up with a few of what I thought were very itchy mosquito bites, went to breakfast, and the TV was on. There was Kofi Annan, saying the UN has three missions right now: to prevent more violent deaths, to give refuge to those who flee the violence, and to help negotiate a lasting peace. I broke down and sobbed. Such worthy missions. So unlikely to be successful. There I was trying to eat my bread and milk, sobbing. And then the “mosquito bites” began to blossom, swell, and fester. At first there were only three along my pantyline, two on my neck, and two between my fingers. Now those are hard lumps, rashy on top, yellow underneath, and surrounded by large red rings about the size of a fifty-cent piece. During the day more have appeared. Perhaps the critters are eating me as I write this. I have a new one on my right ear lobe and on my right wrist. Please, if anyone who is reading this has experience with this, will you send me a comment? Must I destroy my backpack and all the clothes I have with me and start over? Does the journal have to go, too, and the postcards and envelopes? Is there anything I can do to salvage my clothes? If I have them in my hair, will a shower and a headwash help? [read on]

Fingering the Lace-Bones, Roads Not Taken, a Scrape with the Law

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Before I left, I knew that there would be surprises, and that some would be unwelcome. Every journey has those. The trick is using those skillfully. Today I ran afoul of the Metro police and was threatened with a 77 Euro fine for my ignorance. Roads not taken: two places I wanted to visit were Obidos, the beautiful walled city that appears in every travel brochure on Portugal; and Tomar, where the Luso-Hebraic Museum is, a tribute to Jewish history in Portugal. I thought I could make them day-trips from Leiria, but it turned out that Leiria is in a different “district” and although each place was an hour or less from Leiria by car, it was impossible to get to them and get back in one day because of the bus schedules. On the other hand, Leiria was the home of the first Jewish printing press in Portugal, where books were printed in Hebrew. I know that from a book, not from finding any vestige of it in Leiria. Instead I found what I found, let go of the desire to see Obidos and Tomar, and had the adventures I could not have had if things had gone according to plan. Since meeting Paula Luttringer yesterday I have been letting myself enjoy taking pictures of walls–the textures, colors, interruptions, shadows, and shapes that appear on walls. In addition, I have finally been to the Atlantic, and I think it´s the first time I´ve ever been to an unpolluted stretch of the Atlantic. It smells just like a plate of fresh oysters. It´s clear, clean, icy cold, and it smells so wonderful I was tempted to drink from it. [read on]


Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Rode a bus three hours north, through vineyards and pine forests to Porto. (Yes, Pam, I have a camera. I´m not taking hundreds of pictures, but I am taking a few.) I spent the day staggering around in Porto, which is vertical, so I´m either going up or down with every step. People walk faster here than in Lisbon or anywhere else I´ve been in this country. I had a bowl of the famous “Caldo Verde,” a creamy soup made with some kind of greens that are piquant, not bitter like most of our greens. It´s like eating mouthfuls of springtime. A street musician was playing wonderful music on his accordion. Businessmen in Porto wear their suit jackets over their shoulders without putting their arms in the sleeves (how do they hold them on?) and carry thin briefcases under one of their arms. Their shoes are highly polished and slightly pointy. Women come in every imaginable variety: rich and fashionable, poor and begging, tattooed, pierced, in black mourning, in short shorts and bra-tops, in khaki shorts and polo shirts, all jumbled together. My tiny fourth-floor walkup room in a Pensao (toilet in the hall, shower down on the third floor) has a single bed, a window onto a maze of tiled roofs, and a slanted floor, so when I am in there (so far only for about half an hour), I don´t know if I´m dizzy or if it´s the floor, or both. I´m dazzled, dazed, a bit sore of foot, surrounded by gorgeous tile decoration in the most unlikely places, laundry billowing above cobbled streets, the bustle and hurry of a CITY, and best of all I met a woman whose work may change my life. Seth said I would be blown away by Porto, and I am. [read on]