BootsnAll Travel Network

Travel tips, well-tended spaces, objects ejected by animals

After a glorious, gorgeous, sweet, fresh morning, it´s too hot for the beach. There are warnings to tourists that the ultra-violet rays are severe. Global warming. The German women who arrived yesterday and who teach sports and went jogging in the evening after rowing in the mid-day and are the color of old leather are going anyway; they don´t care about a few more ultra-violet rays. The Canadian actresses are headed south for more heat, as are the two Dutch guys in their thirties. Bring it on, they say. They are storing the heat away for their winters. The Polish couple who were at the Cathedral yesterday confirmed that it was an ordination, not a funeral, but they are going home to Poland and cancelling the rest of their vacation because of the heat. Ditto the Spanish woman. She says (we speak a mixture of Spanish, French, and Portuguese together, and when we become animated I don´t even know which language is coming out of my mouth; the only problem is that the occasional Sesotho word slips out and puzzles her), she says if she wanted to sit around and suffer, she might as well stay home. She has asthma and is fifty-five, her feet are swollen, she can´t breathe, and she can´t cope with the heat. I´m sorry to see her go, because she´s the only lone woman traveler I´ve met. We´ve been watching the news together in the evenings and mourning the violence in Lebanon and Israel. I almost wish I didn´t know it was happening, but then again, I do want to know. I grieve with both sides and rage at the Bush-Blair horse and pony show of Blame the Others. When will they ever learn that violence begets violence? But I am heading north on Wednesday, and I´m having a splendid time despite the heat and the terrible world news.

I decided to stick around Leiria again today, do some housekeeping, finish reading Saramago´s incredible GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST (it takes my breath away, it is so shocking; I´m sure it´s banned in Braga–the lovemaking scenes between Jesus and Mary Magdalene are so erotic that the pages burn my fingers, and yet there is a beautiful sweetness to the telling, as Saramago blends Biblical and modern English, which sends electric shocks through my brain on every page). I put on my old-lady Arcopedico house shoes (made in Portugal, glad I brought them) and took my hiking boots, Katahdin water filter bottle, and velour jacket to the post office and mailed them back to Sugar Land. I also tried to buy airmail stamps for postcards to send to my friends in prison and those who don´t do the internet. But get this: for an airmail postcard, you have to buy three large stamps (I mean LARGE stamps) and they won´t fit on a normal postcard. Not enough room. In order to send post cards you have to put them into prepaid airmail envelopes and mail them. So I´ll do that. Each envelope can hold 20 grams. I have no idea how much that is, but I figure two or three postcards. At this rate I´m spending more on post cards than food. But let me muse about the morning.

One of the German sports enthusiasts was in the bunk above me, and at about 5:30 a.m. her 1.5L bottle of water came crashing down beside my head like a bomb. I stood it upright and went back to sleep, and then a little before 6 she must have had a nightmare, because her novel came down, POW! And that was it for me. But I was grateful to be the first up and to have the back garden all to myself. I went out and soaked in the beauty. The trees and rooftops are full of songbirds. They don´t just coo, peep, caw, and whistle like the birds I´m used to. They trill, develop fugal melodies, build to crescendos, call and respond to each other. The teenage musicians (not conductors, just musicians, here for a workshop with a French conductor) were put in a different dorm (thank the Angels), so I could hear them practicing last night from a slight distance instead of from the bed above me. They could take lessons from the birds.

My eyes revel in the old mottled tile roofs, dormer windows, and aging paint. Saffron houses have rosy faded spots where a former coat of paint shows through; cream-white houses show patches of yellow, the cobble stone streets are laid in patterns of black and white: diamonds, ovals, fleurs-de-lis, and the dusty gullies at the sides of the streets are outlined in white cobble stone lines. Most windows have tiny balconies and wrought iron railings. Many spill petunias, geraniums, or ivy over the streets. Cars rumble along the streets, just barely able to make it between the buildings. I remember Seth telling me the tour buses for rock stars drive through these streets at night, tearing at the geraniums hanging too far into the air above the street. I don´t think those tour buses could make it through the streets of Leiria. Every inch of the town has been thoughtfully planned, tended, mended, repainted, and cared for. There is no litter of any kind, anywhere. Occasionally there are garbage cans, always with plastic liners in them and no litter lying beside them, and here and there I see dog-poop bag dispensers with polite notices saying, if I understand correctly, “Please use the sacks to pick up objects ejected by your animals.” Apparently, people do. The guide books said to look out for poop on the streets, but that is not my experience. No poop. No dogs, for that matter. I´ve seen two, but they were leashed and behaving properly, and anything they may have ejected had been carefully picked up. Another surprise: condom dispensers outside the pharmacies. Everything is so well-tended. I suppose if people have lived in a town for a thousand years, they have had time to get things right. If a roof-tile rots, someone replaces it. There is not the sense we have in the US that all is expendable, all is temporary, and everyone will soon be moving on to somewhere else, so why bother.

I have had to book the rest of the trip at hostels. The guide books said I would be able to rent rooms cheaply from little old ladies by going to local tourism offices, but that is not the case if you are a lone traveler. The little old ladies rent DOUBLE rooms, and if you are a single person you must pay double the going rate, which is about 15 Euros. Hostels, on the other hand, run between 8 Euros and 13 Euros a night, but they have to be booked ahead at this time of year. So I will not be meandering aimlessly about, as I had imagined, following my whims. I´m booked at hostels in northern Portugal till the 1st of August. That´s when I want to cross over into Galicia, see the pilgrims arriving at Santiago de Compostela, and possibly travel to the end of the earth. But the hostel people in Portugal can´t help me book for Spain, so I´ll work that out when I get to it. I had already made hostel reservations in Sintra and Lisbon for the end of the trip, so I´m glad that´s done. There´s a web site that pays $7 U.S. for hostel reviews, so I´ll see if I can do a few of those and recoup a little of the housing expense.

After I get my lunchtime bowl of soup I may go listen to the teenagers rehearsing with the French conductor. They´re doing Mozart, Poulenc, and a Portuguese composer whose name nobody at the hostel knows. Then again, I may hop a bus for Batalha, another ancient monastery far more elaborate and decorative than the Gothic splendor of Alcobaca. Or I may go home and take a nap. The wonder of such choices. I get tears in my eyes when I contemplate my good fortune in being here. Thanks to John and Christopher for the encouragement. I did bring the camera, but I´m not using it much, so it isn´t distracting me. Nor is the blogging. I may or may not find a place to continue in the next place I end up, and whatever presents itself will be what it is. John, if you´re going to Silvado I have a contact for you. I met a Brazilian accountancy student on the hot bus; his family runs a market in Silvado, which I gather is in the north, where you´re going. Let me know if you want the info.

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