Portugal: A Cost-Benefit Anaylsis

Ana and I returned about a week ago from our feria to the land of fado, and it’s about time that I posted an entry on our adventures. In 20 words or less: great weather … parrot that speaks in portuguese swears … “estou cheio” (I’m full) … flat tire on the A2 … “What, there was a topless woman on the beach? I hadn’t noticed.” … going to a bullfight solo.

Alright, that wasn’t quite 20 words, and besides, I’m not one for the short pithy blog entries anyway. You know that.

Perhaps a better way to summarize the trip would be to look back what I liked/didn’t like about the country on this, my second trip there. Think of it like a cost-benefit analysis, with ratings on a 1–10 scale.

1. Graffiti: 5
Hyperliterate and almost always legible, on the one hand (see the example here, which says “It’s already Christmas. Go buy your happiness.”) On the other, it appears that the country has developed a massive graffiti problem in the last five years, since I last visited. It was all over the highway to the Algarve, and quite bad in Lisbon, too. Worst of all was Coimbra, where I saw a number of swasticas near the university. Whatever coolness the anti-commercial, Fight Club-esque messages gave to the country’s spray-paint art, the Nazi logos negated all of it.

2. Foul-Mouthed Birds: 10
It never ceases to amaze me how many people in Portugal keep birds for pets. I know we do that here, too, but in Ana’s parents’ village, it seemed like the average family kept at least three in the yard. Best of all was Ana’s cousins and aunt, who had a parrot that liked to say “shit.” He could also immitate a cell phone ring, and mock Ana’s youngest cousin, Patricia.

3. Water That Cures Rheumatism: 3
Alright, so technically it didn’t cure my rheumatism, but the spring in Luso at least gets bonus points for making such an outlandish claim. Plus, the gorgeous castle in nearby Bucaco Forrest, with its sprawing outdoor garden and azulejo murals, made it well worth the day trip.

4. Kick-Ass Relics: 9
Call me shallow or sacriligous or just an arm man, but if given the choice between a relic in a gilded box and a relic in a golden braco (arm) fashioned after a saint, I’ll take the latter every day of the week. I especially like how the arm bone in the relic is still visible. Kind of reminds me of Skeletor. Now that’s my kind of saint!

5. Homemade Wines: 10
OK, so they might not be as refined as what we usually buy in the store or at professional vineyards, but the wine that Ana’s dad and Ana’s uncles grow ain’t half bad. And the pride they take in their vinos — not to mention the firewater moonshine they make from the wine byproducts — makes drinking it all the more sweet. As an added bonus during our trip, we actually got to see part of the grape harvest (just the white ones) going on across the street from Ana’s folks’ house.

6. Relatives Out the Wazoo: 7
They stop by the minute you arrive, sometimes literally flagging you down on the street. Then they come over for coffee, lunch, a snack, the futball game, dinner, more coffee, and to tuck you in at night. On my last trip I was spared a lot of the courtesy visits to family members (after all, at that time the odds of me joining the Mendes clan were, oh, 1,800 to 1). But this time I met literally dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles, and chickens. Alas, Ze Doydo was nowhere to be seen.

7. Stunning Beaches: 9
Alright, I know the people in this photo aren’t so pretty to look at. But try to mentally photoshop us out of the shot and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This was a beach in the Algarve, near where we stayed in a little village called Sesmarias. It was located between Feregudo and Carvoiero. All of the beaches we saw in the south were much like this: breathtaking rock formations, amazing cliffs lining the beach, and small little inlets of sand with a healthy number of topless suntanners and fat men in Speedos (hence the reason this isn’t a 10). My favorite quote from the whole trip was from my dad, as we were packing up from the beach, where we had been lying next to two very obvious and very exposed boobie melons. As we walked to the car, Diana commented on them, and my dad said, “What, there was somebody in front of us topless? I had no idea.” Yeah. Right.

8. The View From Our Room: 10
This may not be as general as the others, but I couldn’t resist bragging about how totally rockin’ our room in the Algarve was. The view of the ocean every morning was well worth the villa’s fee, an extra thousand Euros more than we anticipated (serves us right for choosing a place without noting that the cost was in euros, not dollars).

9. Snakes on a Beach Path!: 1
Our villa wasn’t actually on a beach, but I was determined to hike down through the gulley that separated us from what I was fairly sure was a small hidden patch of sand. Sure enough, after a little poking around I found a small path to just that. But along the way, I also crossed paths (literally) with two fairly large snakes. This picture was taken when I reached my destination, although I cropped it so you wouldn’t be able to see the pee on my pants. After taking it, I ran back as fast as my urine-soaked legs would take me, literally bounding through the scrub brush.

10. Bullfights Where the Bulls Live: 10
Listen, I don’t want to get into yet another argument about how, despite that, it’s still torture. And I’m some kind of sadistic, sicko, wanna-be Hemingway for wanting to go. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ana laid all this on me during out last night in Lisbon, but having talked about my desire to see a torero all trip, and realizing this might be my last chance ever, I leapt at it. And although Ana refused to go with me, no regrets.

The Praça de Touros was georgeous, like a version of St. Peters church in Russia, or something like that. Inside, the arena looked like a scene from the Kentucky Derby, full of preppy, upper-middle-class Lisboners out for good time. Ironically, it was one of the few times in Portugal when I didn’t feel out of place! From the first fight, which was led by a horesback-riding cavaliero, to the main matador-led events, I was utterly fascinated. As promised, the bulls were not killed, but rather speared in the back, and then, once sufficiently defeated, led out of the ring by a herd of cattle. One of my favorite parts was when some bandielleros stood in a slow-moving line, inched up near the bull, and then were suddenly charged. The plan is for the bandiellero in front to jump onto the bull’s back, and the others to pile on him, one after another. However, on the second attempt, this all went horribly wrong and the bull essentially trampled two of the men. Good times. The picture here is of my favorite bullfighter, bloodied from getting a little too close for comfort.

All in all, our trip was a huge hit. Although the country may have gotten a little more expensive since 2000, between the wine harvest, seeing our two families booze it up, the eastern Algarve beaches, shopping with Ana in Lisbon, it was a blast. And yes, if following in Papa’s shoes for an evening of self-indulgent, solitary slaughter is wrong, well, then I don’t want to be right.

If you haven’t seen enough of our Portugal pics yet, you can see the Snapfish album here.