Days of Summer Past

It’s just about six o’clock Friday afternoon in our village, and it appears that everyone is out in the street.

After a relatively mild and overcast day, the sun suddenly is bright and burning off the sticky skies.That is rather unusual here in Portugal, whose weather tends to feel more like a sauna than a steam bath during the summer season … and cold, dreary, overcast skies with rain in the winter.

Little old ladies wearing their black widow’s weeds move slowly, some clutching canes and others with walkers, heading towards the church. There are services tonight, not to be missed, although the widows let me know that church services are held every day here.

Seated on the wall which encircles the church, elderly men, solitary yet together, form a ring. They won’t go inside. For them, it seems far safer to comment on their world, to cuss and complain about whatever, than to seek shelter or solace in the sanctuary.

Others, too, sit outside, in front of their houses, where it’s cooler in the shadows cast by houses so closely facing theirs. Men use handkerchiefs or rags to wipe sweat from their brows, while the women – some of them, at least – fan themselves, slowly but surely, with advertising circulars.

People are arriving home from work, with far too many vessels clogging and clotting the capillaries doing the work of major arteries on our tight little “main” street. They’re impatient.

Already, they’ve been held up by a tractor inching slowly, cobble by stone, down the road, as a shepherd and two dogs herd some sheep along the way. Then, there’s a truck, blocking traffic, as it stops to unload groceries at the corner market.

Once the sheep and the truck and the tractor are out of the way, some drivers speed down the little road as if it’s the Grand Prix, cell phones held up in one hand and cigarettes dangling from the other. Several mostly older men, with their wives as passengers, steadfastly refuse to press the accelerator and go any faster; why risk losing control, when they’ll get there soon enough?

The smell of diesel fumes is intoxicating, anyway.

Ironically, unlike other places filled with anxious people squeezing too many vehicles into hold-your-breath spaces, nobody honks a horn.

It’s just not the way things are done here.

Just about now, the bus pulls up to the periphery of town, discharging a stream of people who’d left early this morning to work in the big city. They, too, crowd the street, trekking tiredly towards their homes.

But, first, they must stop for coffee.

Vehicles – cars, trucks, vans, tractors, and trailers – jockey for position to park three deep by coffee shops on streets where founders and planners hardly envisioned vehicles when building such towns and villages. Maybe they didn’t consider the implications of getting around in a place with three coffee shops, but not a single place to eat here in Lousa. So, vehicles are unattended momentarily, motors still running, while their occupants dash off for their evening coffee fixes.

Meanwhile, the young folks – old enough to drive Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, souped-up Fiats, Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots … and roaring motos, especially – are eager to escape, to get out of town and go elsewhere. Somewhere. Anywhere but here.

Right about when things seem to be less hectic, disaster unexpectedly strikes: a truck too big for our street and driven too fast, lops off the balcony of a nearby house. Concrete and balustrades topple heavily onto the street. Everything halts, as the momentary shock and silence quickly yield to a collective gasp that grips and takes hold in the village.

Suddenly, everyone is drawn, like a dragnet to the magnet, flies to a spider’s net. People stand around, beers (not coffee) in hand, some puffing on cigarettes, opining on what happened.

No, it wasn’t a “hit-and-run” … the driver, head hung sheepishly, is there among the crowd, too, looking up to the missing terrace and around to the scrapes along the side of his truck and its missing mirror. He shakes his head in amazement.

Somebody hands him a beer.

Slowly, as the sun sets, people disperse and quiet returns to our village, except behind the closed doors and fly curtains. It’s cool now. People are inside, watching television with the volume turned up too loud. The church bells peal.

It’s Friday night in the village.

Tomorrow, the days of counting – segunda, terça, quarta, quinta, sexta-feira – will be over for now and days with real names, Saturday and Sunday, will have begun.

Welcome to the weekend.

Bom fin de semana!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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