I have to admit that 4 years ago I didn’t expect Portugal to make a tremendous impact on me. If my religiously Portuguese husband had not dragged me to Lisbon to “live for a couple of weeks”, I would not have discovered an enigmatic Portuguese soul. After being a restless, independent metropolitan I turned into a member of a strong, relatively provincial community. I was among people who knew how to relax and not feel guilty for that.
A foreign me had plenty of questions in the beginning of my partial assimilation: “Why everything works so slow?”, “How comes you showed up at 6 p.m. , when we had agreed to meet at 5 p.m.?”, “Why all the sweets are loaded with eggs, have the same taste, but different shapes and names?”, “Does it make sense to even bother to dry cod fish if you would have to soak it to reach its original texture again?”. Not only I found the answers for those questions, but realized the importance of all the mentioned rules and habits.
Portugal is a slow – cooked delicious tomato sauce. To receive a spoon of fabulous high quality substance, you need to reduce its amount and generously spice it up – that’s what the Portuguese did: let all of the colonies follow their own path, but embraced the Brazilian “caipirinha”, the Goan curry, the Angolan kizomba, the Mozambican “tipo tinto” and the Macanese rice noodles.
Portuguese history is glorious, no doubts, but who they are today is far more important. They preserved their essence and managed to errase Old Europe’s mistakes: chauvinism, racism and delusion of grandeur. So many nations, traditions and habits fit in this tiny land, like a puzzle completing the picture and making Portugal so diverse, rich and colorful. Every tourist finds himself at home here: unbelievable friendliness and fluency in many languages make them perfect hosts.
After a couple of years I learned how the locals act, what they eat, where they prefer to go out. If I had to organize a perfect trip, I’d begin with Lisbon: would start my morning with a glass of “galão” and a “tosta mista”, catch a famous tram 28 to scratch a surface of the most important districts, observe the city from the 360 ° panoramic spot – “São Jorge” castle. Then I’d go for the best seafood place – “Ramiro”; ramble around some of the most charismatic European streets in the districts of Bairro Alto and Baixa Chiado.
The next day would be solemnly dedicated to the famous Belém, where I’d get my teeth into heavenly delicious “Pastel de Belém”, and the most romantic place – Sintra. Well, evenings should be spent with a glass of red “Adelaide” or white “Primus 2008”. Add savory chunks of “Queijo de Azeitão”, “Queijo Serra da Estrela” or “Queijo Rabaçal”- a gastronomic orgasm is guaranteed.
Summer offers the entire coast of divine beaches – Porto Covo, Troia, Lagos, Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Adraga – the list goes on endlessly. Green wine, fresh grilled fish or crispy “Sagres” with gastropod snails are the best garnish for a sunny day out.
Porto will offer you mouth-watering “francesinha” and some of the best wine tastings; Algarve area– the best Mediterranean dishes and sweet brandy “medronho”; Alentejo – paradisiac bread and olive oil, and the Northern districts – best “chouriços”. Anyhow, it’s very relative, because Portuguese cuisine is a vast chapter and can’t be squeezed even in a “Zettels Traum” kind of volume.
Each region is well – defined by its specific landscape, cuisine, dialect, the way they cook codfish and football club fans. If you have an intention to find friends
among the Portuguese – either avoid favoring a specific football club or divide them into logical groups: praise “Sporting” with green fans, sing “Benfica, oh glorious!” with a red scarf on, and proudly wear a blue dragons’ T-shirt in Porto. Football is more actual than politics. Belonging to a club is a matter of national pride; it runs in DNA, infects generations.
It seems that Portugal has immunity against globalisation. Even though “Starbucks”, “Burger King”, “Zara” made their way to this land, people religiously drink their “cafezihno” at traditional houses like “Nicola”. They learned how to appreciate sushi not so long ago, but also don’t skip on a traditional “bifana”. Trend is trend – habits are the nation’s core.
Religion is strongly rooted. They are still blissfully looking forward to marry at churches, have the first communion and visit the catholic Mecca – Fatima. Grandmas have gigantic statues of Jesus and Mary in the relatively small houses. My first lunch at a traditional house I spent with a jumbo monument to the Son of God silently judging me by the table. I washed my sins with a sip of his finest “blood” and felt relieved.
There are 3 words that pretty much define Portuguese essential features: “amanhã”, “talvez” and “saudades”. “Amanhã” (tr: tomorrow) shows the country’s productivity. If by any chance you hear that word, don’t rush for the results the next day – the time range is elastic: tomorrow could possibly mean “in a couple of weeks or months”. “Talvez” (tr: maybe) reflects how polite the Portuguese are. They are not capable of cutting you off by a sharp “no”, therefore leaving you with hope. There is a huge probability to never go out with people you invite, if they genuinely smile and say: “Talvez!”. Finally, “saudade” (tr: hard to define), which has no analogues or closest translations in any language, explains us the Portuguese soul – loving, nostalgic, childishly pure. It could describe anything between missing somebody or something, a will to repeat or return to keeping sweet memories and savoring them.
My almost 4 year transformation from a foreigner to a local was one of the most fascinating experiences. I figured I can’t live anymore without sun, ambrosial wines, aromatic coffee, ocean, seafood, shabby buildings, paved streets. I will conserve the memories of grilled sardines on the St. Anthony Feast, the earthy smell of roasted chestnuts, permanent blue colour of the sky, chicken house in the neighborhood, powerful energy of the Atlantic, joyful days with our friends, the authentic happy faces. My experience brought me to a conclusion that people – happy, slow, able to enjoy life, full of southern charm and rumours – are Portugal’s most powerful resource. Well, the sort of people you fall in love with and always feel “saudades”.