THE PORTUGUESE PARTY
My entire life- the part when I started to remember- like four or five-was spent surrounded by Portuguese people. Men and women of all ages, sewing, measuring patterns, steaming clothes with five foot presses to be sure that the suits just hot off the final sew would literally be hot off the press, wrinkle free, ready for shipping to whomever was on the receiving end. My experience of this phenomenal group of people all took place at my grandfather’s textile factory in Fall River, Mass, some of the best years of my childhood memory.
The harsh sounds of the language have an almost guttural sound, unlike their romantic sisters, Italian, Spanish and French. Those languages are more singsongy, light with lots of upended intonations at the end of each word giving the listener more of the feeling of being sung to then spoken to. Portuguese, though has a meaty and throaty quality and for those fortunate to have been raised as a voyeur to the culture because of close proximity, can feel often like you are being yelled at and bossed around by a commanding army, rather than a gentle conversation between two people. Watching and listening to Portuguese women talk with their flailing arms and hands, and their tsk tsk sounds layered with the throaty and outer artichoke leafy sounds is a feast for the senses reminding the listener that as much as the man of the house wants everyone to think he is in charge, we all really know it is the female in the lead.
My experience of Portuguese women is alpha. There have been times in my life when I have been determined to speak of feminism to this strong group, as I have learned of their seemingly subservient ways, preparing their husbands morning outfits, their lunches for their workday and dinners at five pm, but I have withheld my own belief system often realizing after much conversation that they are really the ones in charge. Maybe not always with every woman and man, but for the women I know, there is a strength in them I have watched and learned from. Their ability to run a household is a force of nature. Now these traits I mention may be a broad paint stroke, but every single woman I have met who is over fifty or sixty is of similar status. Cleanest house, kitchen in the basement for their regular cooking so they don’t get the “good” kitchens a mess, incredible cooks.
Starting with the first one, the cleanest house, I am not talking about just neat and tidy; I am speaking of houses built in the seventies that look like they were just finished by the contractor. I am talking about houses that you could eat off not only the floor, but the bathroom floor. Clean like nobody’s business. Cooking falls into the same category. It is full throttle cooking. Four people coming for dinner? Food for forty. I am not joking. I have been at my friend Jane’s mothers house for a graduation party that about fifty people came to and I am not exaggerating when I say there was enough food for well over one hundred. Waste? No. Jane and her mother bought convenient Styrofoam to go containers in bulk (like five hundred bulk) and insisted that every guest pack a doggie bag or two or three.
It would seem obvious to most to simply just make less. This is not possible. This would be like saying don’t take down the winter curtains and wash and press them before putting up the spring curtains. This would be like saying not to worry about cleaning the master bedroom from top to bottom before guests come because there would not even be a remote change that someone would be stepping over the threshold. I am not sure why this is a common trait of Portuguese women, to clean and cook like there is no tomorrow. But I don’t know a single woman who does not fall into over achiever status in this category. What I most enjoy about it though is its familiarity in my life. I have watched it and been an observer of it like it is my own family since I was five. Forty eight years later, when I still see and feel its presence, I feel like it is home away from home and for me I always love (and need) more of this feeling.
This is why I think I decided to surprise my dear friend Jane with an appearance in Sao Miguel, in the Azores, smack in the middle of the Atlantic, only four hours from Bristol, RI. She is coming here with her mom, her mom’s sister, her best friend and her best friends mom and daughter and has no idea that I arrived three days before she has. She is arriving at six am on Thursday and I am going to be waiting in the hotel lobby hopefully behind the area behind the desk so when she checks in the receptionist will say, “Welcome Mrs. Medeiros, so happy to have you, I just need to get the manager to check something with your reservation.” Jane, of course, will be noticeably annoyed because she will be tired and cranky after a four hour flight and a four hour time change. The woman will come get “the manager” and I will be that person coming out to a very surprised Jane who will promptly flip the fuck out. There will be yelling, and screaming and disbelief and the only person who is in on this is her best friend who I got the thumbs up from before doing this crazy stunt.
Traveling alone is one of my greatest joys. Total control over my destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with my partner Michael, my son Michael or a few friends for special occasion and if any of them chose to come, I have welcome them with open arms, but when they say, no thanks, I can’t wait. Life is too short to not see the world and to wait for people to do things with. I must march forth and I love the challenge of speaking to people, to learning about cultures and rhythms and food. But what I love even more is the chance to be in the company of women who are from the area.
I have done this with Spain and my friend Ro, Denmark and my friends Inge and Sten, Israel with my friends Kalman and Tsipee and what is the most joyful is learning their towns and cities and love of country from their eyes. The best way to travel for me anyway. And if I miss something, I don’t know what I missed. It doesn’t matter because having a Galau in Ponta Delgada in a small seemingly hole in the wall bakery recommended by a woman who grew up here is better than seeing six sights in six days on some hideous tour bus promoting twenty minute tourism to people who barely want to get off the bus. Tourists who can’t make it up the short climb to the view or they have already lost interest because they are too busy on their phones to notice and slow down to the pace of the island time they have found themselves in.
I sat here Tuesday evening at 11:08 pm on my ocean view deck in the moonlight with the planets in full view and the town abuzz with activity in this busy tourist spot finishing off my glass of glorious Douro knowing that this writing will not be posted until after the surprise. I am so grateful I have chosen to take a crazy risk and jump in to the deep end of the pool, naked and free. My friend Jane will be here much longer than my trip so we will get to spend four days together with her crazy and glorious family. This is what life is about, isn’t it? Jumping in, looking up and leaping when you can. I can and this is why I am here and I can’t wait for Thursday.