Catching My Breath on Saturday Morning

As it turns out, my Fridays here in Lisbon are full of surprises. Yesterday I wrote my blog entry early in the morning before leaving for work (bizarre, I know, but I find it calming to write at dawn), so I had the full adventure still ahead of me. Let’s begin with my Uber adventure.

In the three weeks I´ve been here, I´ve only been driven twice by women, and yesterday was the second time. I noticed by her name and accent that she definitely wasn’t a local, and when we fell into a conversation, she turned out to be a Pakistani Portuguese, and what a story she had to tell! I don´t want to betray any confidences, but I have to salute this woman´s determination and guts to go against the grain of the culture she was raised in, navigate through the situation she is stuck in now, and how she works herself to the bone each day to make ends meet for herself and her two children. We laughed, danced and had a wonderful time in the short ride to work, (she had some wonderful Bollywood tunes blasting in the car so we jammed together with gusto). But honestly, if I could have, I would have simply taken her for a long breakfast so she could continue pouring her heart out. She clearly needed a shoulder and a sympathetic ear from another woman who dared to break free, and I would have loved to offer that to her. Perhaps I will run into her again, who knows; after all the Uber world is not that big here in Lisbon, so my chances of finding her again are pretty good. It is still woman´s month, and this is definitely one of those who need to be lifted and saluted for daring to defy convention and fight for a good life.

Remember my bank adventure from the previous day? Well, I dashed over during my lunch break, hoping to find into the same account manager who handled my account with infinite patience and humour the day before, so that I wouldn´t have to explain myself all over again. The previous day I had my guardian angel with me, aka my broker and interpreter, but yesterday was a solo flight. I have to keep reminding myself that I am no longer in Berlin, so the Berliner schnauze is far behind me and am surrounded only by friendly and helpful Portuguese. True to form, the woman who attended to me didn´t even bat an eyelid when I explained why I needed assistance, and took charge. So I am all set with the bank, except I went home in the evening and tried to set up my internet and mobile banking. Once again I assumed it would be a simple matter of keying in codes and voila! I would have activated apps in a matter of minutes!
Gosh darn chocolate fudge!
I should change my name to Alice because I truly feel catapulted into Wonderland, rattled by the peculiarities and madness of the new systems in Portugal. I´m not a technical neanderthal at all, but when the bank issues you a seven-digit code with not much explanation, and instead of TANs as you may be used to from other countries, you get sent another code for the code… huh? After five initially failed attempts I was convinced I was missing a set of codes to activate any of these apps. I kid you not, it took me a bloody hour to figure out that the codes had not gone AWOL or underground, but rather I had failed to wrap my head around the fact that you get seven numbers and each time to make an online transaction, you are asked for three of the seven digits in random order. For example, if I was issued the code 1234567, and the system asks for the third, seventh and fourth number in this particular order, I have to key in 3-7-4. Madness, absolute madness. I drowned my sorrows in salmon sashimi after that.

I am so ready to leave hostel life. House hunting is chugging along and I have one in sight that I could basically sink my claws in, but the feng shui is off, so I requested a couple of other options. My current hostel landlady asked if I was pushing through with the extension, and I truly wished I could say no, but I have to wait until next week to see what my chances are.

In any case, this morning, I stumbled into the kitchen and found a young Asian man who had just finished frying eggs and cooking something in a pot. The moment he opened his mouth to ask if I needed the frying pan I knew he was Filipino and I grinned with glee. We immediately switched to Tagalog and compared notes. He and his travel companion are both Filipino nurses from London on a short holiday here. When he bent over the stove and began scooping out rice from the pot and placed it next to the fried egg, I had to chuckle and remark that this was confirmation of his Filipino authenticity because of the combination. He grinned back explaining that he was so sick of potatoes and desperately needed rice. We made the same mistake and assumed that you get rice when you order fish here, but much to our horror, fish is always served with potatoes in Portugal, and rice is more of a side dish. Sure, you can always order additional rice with my fish but you’ll end up with a carb festival!

Much as I want to put hostel life behind me, it is precious moments of human  interaction that keep me going. Last week I met a lovely Spanish couple from the Basque region and we had a blast chatting in the kitchen comparing travel adventures. You hear all kinds of languages and temperaments here, at all hours too! Like the Canadian who had a heated altercation on the phone with someone in the middle of the night. He took the conversation to the staircase so as not to disturb his roommates, but that meant I got the full audio in my room. This is not the kind of disturbance I need when my alarm goes off at 5:30.

Am I beginning to feel more at home here? Absolutely! First of all, it is such a relief not to feel like Frodo among Teutonic giants anymore. Gone are the days when I have to crane my neck each and every time I talk to a German. I can actually talk to people at eye level here, and the kitchens are at an acceptable height to work in. Secondly, new and unfamiliar as the settling process is in Portugal, there is a viable system to the madness, and everything is taken with copious amounts of salt, not just the proverbial grain.

My daughter asked whether the Portuguese had an equivalent to the German holy coffee hour, where you sit down for coffee and cake around 15:00. I retorted that I live in a city where there is a pastaria (bakeshop, pastry shop) every ten meters! Walk down any street here and there is always a pastaria sandwiched between every second or third shop. It can get pretty bizarre at times, like you will walk past the funeral services, medical clinics, a pastaria, home furnishings, mobile accessories, a pastaria, the laundromat, butcher, pharmacy, and another pastaria. So no, the Portuguese don´t have a holy coffee hour with cake, because the whole day (life? City?) is coffee and cake time!  

Last but not least, while exploring one of the pastarias on my way home, I peered in and saw a familiar sight. The cream filled doughnuts are known all over the world as Bavarians (except in Bavaria) or in the German-speaking world, Berliners (except in Berlin where they are called Pfannkuchen, which the rest of Germany uses to refer to pancakes), or in North America, the Boston Cream pie. In any case, I always call them Bavarians, but here there are indecently called Bolas de Berlim (Berlin Balls). It takes balls to call them that if you ask me. I can´t unsee the name and everywhere I turn where doughnuts are served in Lisbon, there are the Bolas de Berlin staring back at me. No thanks.

That, in a nutshell was my Friday Madness!

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