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Lisbon, Leiria, God, and a Shower Knob

I´m here. Yesterday was jet lag, heat, and Lisbon. I was disoriented, but I took refuge at the end of the day in a sweet little attic room with a bath, where I lay in a tub of cool water for about an hour, pouring water over my head. It took half an hour to bring down the temperature of my hair. Sign on the back of the door: “All values left in the room, are the entire responsability of the costumer.” Wonderful. A Portuguese person could look at the sign on the back of the door in any American hotel and wait a long time to get a message in Portuguese. I brought the Texas heat with me. It was 41C (around 104 F) today as I was stumbling around a castle in the blazing sun here in Leiria (pronounced lay-REE-uh). The pilgrimage actually began at five minutes after 1 p.m. when I staggered into the Cathedral to get out of the sun. It was cool, and the light was muted. I sat down in a pew, noted there were only two other people in the whole place, both women, praying. I took a couple of deep breaths and suddenly a great wave of sound, followed by more and more, filled the vast darkness. It must have been the organist´s practice time. The echoes bounced off the stone walls and resonated in my veins. I have never heard such pure waves of sound. I could feel the sound as if it were water, washing through my bones. The pilgrimage had begun.

The organ concert lasted about twenty minutes, and I just sat in the echoing stillness for a long while after that, before beginning the climb up to the castle above the city. But the real purpose of the day was the castle guard, Leo, 44, father of Laura, who grew up in New Jersey and was happy to find an American to talk to. I was too tired to move by then, so I sank down on a stone step beside him and rested in the familiarity of language. Leo´s family fled the dictator when he was five; he lived in NJ until five years ago, when, on one of his visits to Portugal to see family, he fell in love with a Portuguese woman who refused to go to the States with him. He has a son, 24, and a failed American marriage, but when his Portuguese woman told him he was going to be a father, he moved here, married her, and she gave birth to Laura who is, he says, “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

He hates living in Portugal because he can´t make a decent wage. In the US, he ran his own gym and was a personal trainer (big, muscular guy), but here people don´t do gyms. He works as a castle guard “doing nothing and getting paid a few cents for it,” he cooks, and does “a little a this, a little a that, don´t make nothin” (in his NJ accent). He wants to move to Spain, “there you can make a living, not like here.” I said, But the pace of life feels more human here. “Yeah. When I first moved here, I was like, ´Slam on the brakes, man!´ But the people may LOOK happy. To you, a tourist, everybody´s all smiles. But this is a nation of stressed-out people. Everybody´s on Valium because since they switched to the Euro, nobody can make ends meet. All they got to do is worry about money and talk about each other, yap yap yap, gossip.

“Last year I got viral meningitis. Where´d it come from? Nobody knows. Worst two weeks of my life. I got a blind doctor tryin to give me a spinal tap, took three men to hold me down, he kept missing the spot, jabbing me with a needle in the back, and then they said maybe I was gonna die or be quadriplegic. So I had a talk with God. I said, ´How can you put this beauty on the earth,” and he pulled up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo about five inches in diameter, the face of a little girl who could have been one of the cherubs in a Raphael painting, “this is Laura. How could God put her on this earth and then take away her papa? I had words with Him. I was angry.”

I asked, Did He listen?

“I´m here. But I don´t know if that was me or God. I´m not too sure about God. I look at this country, full of religious people, and I gotta wonder if He listens to anybody.” Leo says I should look for him and Laura on Sunday if I go to the tidal pools near San Pedro do Moel. “I´m takin her there on my day off.” I will look for him.

Now it´s 9:30, and the coolest place in town is here in the internet cafe. I´ve checked into my first-ever HI Youth Hostel in a gorgeous old building that has, of course, no air conditioning. No bath tubs. A shower that you have to PUSH (I pulled and the knob came off in my hand) and when you PUSH, you get five to seven seconds of water, and then it shuts off. You have to PUSH again. But great people–four young French women, a German couple in their thirties, a Portuguese woman of about forty, and me. Tomorrow a school tour arrives for a classical music event: twelve teenaged conductors. I got a bottom bunk near the window, and the sound of cars on the street, dogs barking, and people shouting convivially to each other echoes in spirals and seems to come from every direction. Tomorrow I can add to that the presence of teenage conductors in the remaining bunks, excited and full of energy. I wanted adventure. It has begun.

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One response to “Lisbon, Leiria, God, and a Shower Knob”

  1. cathy says:

    Bright blessings to you, Kendall, on your amazing journey. Was thinking of you yesterday and finally decided to check today. Didn’t remember the dates, but there you are!

    Loved the “costumer!”

    I’ll check in. Be well.

    love ~ C

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