The Frog, A Cafe, An Umbrella

Once again Friday crept up on me, and this week I felt it in both my bones and soul. As I write this, I don’t think there is a bone or muscle in my body that doesn’t ache from exhaustion. The feeling of doom and gloom that reared its head in my life at the beginning of the week pretty much shadowed me the entire time, catapulting me into a round of sleepless nights, worrying what the next steps would be. Wednesday evening I found myself doing another round of house-viewing, visiting apartments that met my requirements budget-wise but nothing else fell into place otherwise. So by the end of the round, I had climbed more stairs that I ever wanted, was drained mentally and physically, and my mind went into overdrive, planning the next phases of my grand plan, if you can even call it that.

I am no closer to finding a new abode than I was last month, but at least I have a wonderful landlord in my current residence who has graciously extended my stay until the end of May. Yes, end of May. I completely underestimated the real estate situation here in Portugal, and with half the planet intending to move here for one reason or another, there is stiff competition that has inevitably catapulted the rental prices in Lisbon into a parallel dimension. One thing is clear, I am definitely staying out of the city, and with any luck, in Vila Franca. I got used to the long commute, and finally figured out a way to sleep on the train without ending up in Bumfuck Nowhere.

The morning commute is a great challenge, because as I told you before, I have to take the 06:13 train, and arrive at Sete Rios almost an hour too early to start work. At first I began hanging around the train station, but that got old very quickly, not to mention uncomfortable, so took to taking walks around the area hoping to stumble on a little niche to sit and meditate, read or even photograph. Again, this was one of those ideas that seemed excellent in theory, but didn’t really get me anywhere. Until Thursday morning, when something drew me into the little cafe next to a grand hotel near the train station. The sleepy and taciturn older man standing behind the counter wasn’t exactly the best advertisement for the locale, but it was small, quiet, clean, and with only two other people in it, a shelter from the cold and wind, so I decided to take my chances. Story of my life…

Never the judge a book by its cover, because Grandpa Grump (GG) makes the best capuccino on this side of the peninsula! He is more than generous with his cinammon, and takes his time to achieve perfection in a cup. Armed with my liquid fortitude and a pastry, I sat to listen to the morning news and watch GG go about the morning as other customers trickled in. Needless to say, by the time I returned my dishes and bid him farewell, turned and smiled, promising to return the next day. His eyebrows rose, thinking I must have gotten my Portuguese mixed up, but he nodded politely.

The next day, I marched in and sat down for my breakfast, craving for the cinammon-laden capuccino again, and I was actually greeted with a genuine GG smile. He didn’t approve of my ordering two sausage rolls, but he gave them to me anyway and added even more cinammon to my coffee. This time I was armed with my laptop as well, but got so engrossed watching the people come in and out of the cafe that I lost my train of thought. I finally found the perfect writing place to disappear into the background and watch human behaviour as I have been desperate to do over the past two years! Another milestone falls into place in my Portuguese life.

When I arrived at the end of February, I was greeted my a ceremonial burst of Portuguese sunshine that quickly metamorphosed into rain and wind. I resisted buying a new umbrella because I am very picky about them, plus, I felt well protected by my hooded jacket. Alas, the April rain clouds seem to have endless reserves and there is really no way around it anymore – I needed an umbrella. Umbrellas are more than a simple accessory to me, they are a sign of settling down, an indication that they have a specific corner in the home where they belong. I ook at an umbrella a symbol of stability and permanence, regardless of how many umbrellas I may have lost in the past. I suppose it has everything to do with the fact that I asosciate umbrellas with family, home, and sharing. My mother in particular always shared her umbrella with someone. In younger years she held it up to protect another person from the sun or rain, and as she grew older, she would hand over the payong to whoever was walking with her, so she could loop her arm around that person. It was a small and intimate gesture, and I miss sharing an umbrella, if truth be told, hence my inate reluctance.

There came a point in my life when I considered umbrellas to be weapons. Sigh. I suppose this statement requires the revelation of a backstory. Before I went on my first Camino, my martial arts trainer (for those of you who are not aware, I am a blue-belter in Taekwondo) gave me a couple of special sessions with hiking equipment, i.e. how to turn your gear into weapons if the need arises. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea of me trapsing around Spain alone, so he wanted to make sure I could defend myself. Always remember that your feet have a license to kill, he quipped, your bare feet are weapons, not simply body apendages. I burst out laughing when he scowled at me, because I said that in the event of me being attacked, provoked or taken hostage, I can’t possibly tell my attacker to wait and let me take my boots off! His eyes twinkled with mischief and then we began our kickboxing sessions with hiking boots, waking sticks umbrellas and backpacks. Water bottles and mountaineering rope do wonders too. Long story short, that was the beginning of my life motto Don’t mess with Tess and I have never held an umbrella in a dainty ladylike manner ever since.

I couldn’t help but think of Rihanna’s Umbrella song…

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