About Pastor Bruce

Church pastor, communications professor, and nonprofit executive, Pastor Bruce H. Joffe has amassed an extensive array of journalism, scholarship, and management experience. He has taught no-nonsense public relations, media, and marketing courses at The American University, George Mason University, Mary Baldwin College, Carthage College, and Kaplan College. As president and creative director of a metropolitan Washington, DC, public relations firm, he helped to manage the reputation of his clients for more than 20 years by creating promotional materials and metrics for large corporations and local businesses to use in their branding efforts, while positioning nonprofits to raise the bar on the resources and awareness they need to make a real difference. Academically, Joffe´s most recent focus has been Media and Gender Studies. Through research and publications, he continues to explore the relationship between gender, the media, and cultural norms--including organized religion. Ordained by the International Council of Community Churches and the Progressive Christian Alliance, Pastor Bruce considers himself a progressive Christian who believes that God is love and that loving God means having compassion and forgiveness towards others. Joffe is the author of numerous magazine features, academic research, professional journal articles, and newspaper byliners. His books include The Scapegoat; A Hint of Homosexuality? 'Gay' and Homoerotic Imagery in American Print Advertising; Square Peg in a Round Hole; Personal PR: Public Relations and Marketing Tips that Work to Your Advantage; The Facebook Gospel: Social Media and the Good News; My Name Is Heretic: Reforming the Church, from Guts to Glory; and Expat: Leaving the USA for Good.

Day Tripping

Among Portugal’s extraordinary pleasures are its amazing panoramas, extraordinary places, and breathtaking vistas that can be enjoyed in a day trip.

From Algarve to Nazaré, people along the coast head to the Atlantic for a change of pace and a respite on the beach.

On the other side of the country, closer to its Iberian border, others cross into Spain along spiraling roads, with little villages dotting the way. Suddenly, we’re in another country … with different foods, related culture, and a somewhat “sister” language.

We typically travel into Spain on Sundays through Idanha a Nova and Segura, crossing a Roman bridge and aqueduct to enter Spain several kilometers before Alcántara. Apart from a few restaurants, a tourist trap or two, mini-mercado, and pharmacy, there’s not much else at this border town. For that, you’ll need to drive another 40 kms or so.

The food, however, is quite good at the area’s three restaurants: Kantara (the most expensive), Kantara Al Saif, and Gundin (our favorite). Gundin’s €11.00 Menu del Día provides the best gazpacho I’ve ever enjoyed. Except for the bread (Spain doesn’t come close to Portugal’s bread), the other two dishes are also quite tasty.

This time, though, we headed farther north – through Penamacor – to visit Valverde del Fresno for its Thursday market. The town is 16 kms from the Portugal border which, in turn, is 16 kms from Penamacor.

While we looked forward to a Spanish meal, we were on a special mission this trip: shopping for stuff at prices cheaper than in Portugal.

Textiles!

The irony is that thick, plush, absorbent, 100% cotton towels tagged with “Made in Portugal” labels cost half the price in Spain. Same for linens—from sheet sets to table cloths and coverlets.

That’s the good news. The bad?

Regardless of mattress size – including “king” and “queen” – Spanish sheet sets contain only three pieces: a top sheet, bottom sheet, and pillow case—each almost the same size. For some reason unbeknown to us (or any salespeople), the Spaniards have humongous pillows—measuring almost 200 cms across! We, however, have two pillows … each about 75 cms wide.

So, despite the higher cost, we buy our sheets and pillow cases in Portugal, where the larger size sets come standard with two matching pillow cases. (And, no, the label doesn’t say “Made in Spain.”)

Our favorite place to shop for such textile goods is the Monday market in Fundão. It’s massive! In fact, our next expat get-together will be a trip to Fundão’s Monday market, followed by a fixed-price (€9.95) buffet lunch at the city’s Principe da Beira hotel.

Anyway, I’ve digressed …

Fait accompli: We purchased our towels and took time to poke about the town, which is bigger and much more typically Spanish than Alcántara. We’d forgotten that it’s an hour later in Spain than Portugal, so most of the shops were closing … and restaurants were filling.

Tapas. We wanted tapas!

In Olvera, our Spanish hometown, as in most of Andalucía – southern Spain – menus offer meals in three sizes: tapas, media (half) ración, and a full dish (ración). Not here in Extremadura! Patrons and wait staff at restaurant after restaurant explained to us that tapas weren’t available … but complimentary “pinchos” were served with the drinks.

In southern Spain, pinchos are a type of tapa—they’re anything served on a skewer. Here to the north, in Extremadura, pinchos refer to a small, tasty dish provided gratis that accompanies your beverage.

We ate at Restaurante Casa Laura. With 120 “excellent” TripAdvisor reviews – four times more than the closest competition – we soon understood why: the food is to die for there. We began with some beer accompanied by a small dish of pinchos, potatoes mixed with egg and pieces of chorizo in a carmel sauce. Yum-mo! The cool gazpacho soup was good (enough), followed by meatballs in a thick and rich tomato sauce for me and cod (bacalao) with nary a single bone for Russ. The pièce de résistance, however, was dessert: dreamy-creamy cheesecake.

Total tab for our lunch, including tip, was twenty-seven euros (€27), somewhat pricier than what we’ve paid in Alcántara. But well worth it! Everyone working at the restaurant was super friendly and all made a point of stopping by our table to be sure we were satisfied.

Heading back across the windy roads surrounded by a lush, distinctly parceled landscape, it occurred to us how different the topography of Spain is in some ways from Portugal’s.

The two countries are close enough to be kissing cousins, but remnants of historical bitterness and jealousies remain between them. That’s truly a shame, since they’re so convenient and complementary.

It’s good to see Portuguese people visiting Spain … and vice-versa.

Throughout the Castelo Branco district’s tantalizing come-hithers, we’ve come across many Spanish tourists taking day trips into Portugal.

Turnabout is surely fair play for us to sightsee and go shopping in Spain!

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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A Bellísima

Whether expat or immigrant – however you see yourself as an English-speaking “foreigner” in a new country and culture – you’re fortunate if you have a local, native friend (or more). Not necessarily a neighbor. Nor a merchant, contractor, or service provider.

I’m referring to someone who truly cares for and about you, looking out for your welfare and “sponsoring” you, without ulterior motives or a hidden agenda. A person who enjoys spending time with you and is helpful when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of the country’s ways and means. He or she is happy to assist in your assimilation, as well as to help with the intricacies of a new language and its usage. Such a friend shares meals, coffee, wine or beer when you’re out together … and may actually feel comfortable passing the threshold of your house to join you in the kitchen, dining room, and the sala.

Sounds simple and convenient, easy enough to arrange?

Think again.

Despite their inherent goodness and welcoming nature, the Portuguese and the Spanish tend to be rather private people. A “bom dia” and “buenas tardes” shared while walking in the street or a passing wave from the car are appropriate as neighbors; but associations more intimate than acquaintances need time to cultivate, which isn’t easy when coming from a different culture and speaking another language. As anywhere, they often are the province of longtime companions.

We have been truly fortunate – blessed, if you will – to have developed and cultivated a friendship with two very special Portuguese people: Olga and Alex: our advisers, advocates and personal ambassadors.

Outgoing and personable, Olga “friended” us on Facebook while we lived in the USA, before moving to her village in Portugal. She’d heard we had planned to open a snack bar, “Tapas Americanas,” in Lousa and shared that information liberally with her village.

Our Facebook page soon had plenty of attention.

It was on this Facebook page that Olga contacted us to inform us that contractors working on our house had inadvertently left the outside doors of our living room unlatched. With heavy winds and rains, there was danger of more than water damage.“But we are here in the USA now, thousands of miles away,” I groaned. “What can we possibly do?”

Olga went into action, sending an “SOS” to everyone in our new town. More than a few people offered to help, but it was Alex (according to Facebook, she’s “in a relationship” with him), who did the dirty work … driving over with a large ladder, climbing onto the balcony buttressing the living room doors, entering the room and securing the doors. Olga messaged us his every step, letting us know in the end that our front door was locked from the inside and Alex couldn’t get out. He had to leave as he came in, off the balcony and down the ladder, shutting the doors tightly behind him.

An artist in every sense of the word, Olga was born in the small village next to ours, but spent part of her childhood in Paris, where she learned French. Returning to Portugal, her family settled in the village where we now live. As with many of her contemporaries who live close to the Spanish border, Olga learned Spanish by watching the TV.

“We had two stations, channels, here in Portugal,” she explains. “With antennas, we could watch more than 40 from Spain: cooking shows, telenovelas (soaps), game shows, and movies made in other countries but then dubbed in Spanish. That’s how we learned to speak and understand Spanish!”

Realizing the shortcomings and awkwardness of Google Translate’s (Brazilian) Portuguese, I communicated with Olga in Spanish and body language, augmented by my expanding Portuguese vocabulary … grateful for her positivism and patience with my pronunciation.

“Veeeeeeeeeee … nyo,” she’d say, holding up a glass of tinto and biting gently on her lower lip, correcting my Spanish tendency to pronounce it “Bean-o” (of course she’ll insist that she said “viiiiiiiii … nyo”).

“Peace and love,” she maintains. “Live and let live,” best summarize her religious views. No longer a practicing Catholic, she still enjoys the intrinsic beauty of some of its rituals, pageants and processions.

Olga loves the heat and dislikes air conditioning … rain, in its season, is just fine with her. As are all creatures great and small—from bees to bulls and everything in between. She embraces life whole-heartedly and loves all living things—even insects and rodents.

“Sou como sou …”I am what I am, she admits. Dozens of previously homeless dogs and cats call her quinta home, along with a gang of geese.

“Salt of the earth,” we say in English about unpretentious people to whom goodness is natural. Olga and Alex personify these qualities.

As Alex does the cooking and Olga the dishes, I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to learn that someone’s goose had been cooked for dinner.

“I hate those geese,” says Alex, complaining about their honking noise and nasty attitude towards him. “They bite!”

He’s the one who first dubbed her “A Bellísima,” a tongue-in-cheek term of endearment used much the way we Americans affectionately call someone a “princess.” Loosely translated, it means “The Truly Beautiful One.”

And that she is!

Olga works for the government, in another cámara (not ours) where she makes the hour-long drive each way daily. She earns 730 euros per month, slightly more than the minimum wage, even though she’s earned a promotion and worked there since nineteen-years-old.

“O governo congelou as nossas carreiras desde que entrámos em crise,” she explains, noting that the government had frozen salaries since the financial “crisis” (in 2008)… until recently.

“After all the accounting, I was left with another five euros—a fortune,” she laughs. “I don’t even know where to spend all that money!”

Knowing her, it will probably be donated to an animal welfare group.

Or, to another cause about which she is devoted.

I hope each of you has a special “bellísima” in your life!

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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The Rain in Spain (& Portugal)

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

Don’t you believe it, regardless of what Eliza Doolittle may have drilled into your head in My Fair Lady.

Lots of rain in Spain – as in Portugal – falls all over the place.

Especially, wherever we happen to be.

For those new to Iberia, the rain takes some getting used to (as does the sun). Because of their grit and wherewithal, they’re quite different from what we’d experienced in the USA.

We’ve lived in places from Northeast Wisconsin (Sturgeon Bay-Door County) to the First Coast of Southeast Florida (Jacksonville), and have dealt with nasty weather—both bitterly cold and infernally hot.

But, it’s different here in Spain and Portugal.

On the west side of the pond, we were accustomed to rainy days throughout the year, regardless of the season. Spring, summer, fall, and winter … each had periods of rain awash with sunny skies. Here, however, on the pond’s eastern front, there’s a rainy “season” and a blazingly hot one.

Both are extreme and extensive.

Day after day, for weeks on end, we’ll see little or no sign of rain during the sunny season in Spain and Portugal. Contrarily, during their time, we have dismal gray skies and lingering rain that never seems to end.

I respect the rain, especially in places where we live off the land’s produce. And who doesn’t? So, I’m not really complaining. But, hey, if we can’t groan about the weather, what else can’t we gripe about?

The rain, itself, is of a different sort; it has its own shelf life here. Rain cycles incessantly from cold, bone-chilling downpours to storms, showers, and/or drizzles … then, rinse and repeat: again and again and again. Even without extended exposure to it, you feel as if pneumonia is more than presumed. Duvet-diving weather, it requires an air conditioner inverter turned on to its “heat” settings, a wood burner or pellet stove, and an electric blanket (upper or lower) plugged into service.

Lower?

Yep: in Portugal, our favorite electrodomésticos stores sell electric blankets that wrap around the mattress beneath us, instead of heating the top blanket which we pull over ourselves.

The weather is fickle and you never know when it will spike ten degrees or drop twenty during a 24-hour period. So, be sure to pack accordingly. Plan to layer. One day I wear a T-shirt; the next a long-sleeve shirt; the day after that, a T-shirt underneath a long-sleeve shirt; and, following that, a sweater over a long sleeve shirt and T-shirt.

Summers are hot, scorchingly so. We’re talking about temperatures rising to and then hovering in the high 90s (F)/40s (C) range … in the shade (if you can find any) … for weeks, even months, on end.

That’s why we have siestas|sestas here–although the Portuguese will tell you that they really don’t have sestas … just long lunches.

Not (just) to relax, but to escape the ravages of the weather.

We don’t have central heating or air conditioning in our village homes and town houses. Fireplaces and wood burners, gas or electric heaters, keep us warm, room by room. Venture away from climate-controlled spaces, however, and put your hand on the walls.They’re wet … dripping cold-hearted sweat!

And, woe is me if the flame on our gas-fired water heater should go out because of the rain or wind that often accompanies this intoxicated weather. Especially during winter’s drafts.

We just replaced old, single pane glass, wood-framed windows and bedroom balcony doors with new ones of textured duplex glass, framed by vinyl and aluminum. Next on our bucket list, we bought and installedl a new water heater which, currently, is strategically located on the terrace right outside our bathroom. Thankfully, we’ve replaced our old water heater in Portugal with a new electric one.

“O gás é para cozinhar, mas apenas elétrico para aquecer a água,” the lady who owns our corner mini-marked insisted. (Gas is for cooking; to heat water, only electric will do.)

She’s right! Not only don’t we run out of hot water at the most inopportune moments anymore, but our energy bills have been reduced substantially. Between cooking and heating water, we’d been going through about three propane canisters per month in Portugal, where they cost at least ten euros more per canister than the same ones in Spain. Plus, our added electric charges for heating water electrically are less than we’d been paying for three monthly propane canisters–especially since we put them on timers!

Another tip: Don’t forget to put one or more “draft dodgers” on the list for those exterior doors under which creep currents of air (hot and cold). Houses in Portuguese villages and Spanish towns usually have been built out of concrete and cement, with no insulation, and at odd angles. Rare is the door that meets the ground squarely.

Mother Nature has issues here, even as she we does in the USA. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Floods. Earthquakes. They’re all increasing in frequency and intensity, looming larger and lasting longer. During October last year, Portugal was smacked by a rare Atlantic hurricane – the most powerful to hit the country since 1842 – which made landfall near Lisbon and then took a beeline directly to our home in Castelo Branco, close to the Spanish border.

Spain has been deluged by flooding that turns creeks into mighty rivers, carrying away heavy vehicles and causing landslides along the way. Areas of seismic activity have produced jolts of earthquakes too close for comfort to our little place in the sun.

In Portugal, we hadn’t yet recovered from the encroaching forest fires, when 800 people — Portuguese activists, surfers, fishers, youths and supporters from around the world — came together at Cova do Vapor beach outside Lisbon, where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic, to protest the country’s plans for offshore oil drilling and inland fracking.

Still, there’s something quaint and comforting about dealing with the weather in old-fashioned ways: locals providing for neighbors in any ways possible, fanning themselves with papers, and moving to the lower levels of their homes (where it’s cooler) in the heat. Lighting fires and bundling up to keep warm in the winter. Shrugging off the weather by remembering that, after all, tomorrow is another day.

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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Date Night Duos

I vividly remember our first date night since moving to Portugal.

Of course, this was before Covid-19 intruded on our lives–creating lockdowns and curfews, masks and social distancing. We’ve yet to see if the virus has killed the cinema.

Still, oh, the delicious irony of it all that night:

Together with a (Portuguese) couple watching a top-rated, first-run, American-produced movie based on a Swedish pop group, comfortably seated in a climate-controlled cinema in Portugal … listening to dialogue and music in English, while watching subtitles roll by in Portuguese … and understanding enough of the two languages to consider the accuracy and quality of the translation. Without missing a beat!

But, first, enjoying food from a variety of vendors.

It’s called “Cinema + Jantar” here at the Allegro shopping mall in Castelo Branco. Between Sunday and Thursday, it costs only nine euros per person for the movie and the meal. That’s just about US $10.

Throughout Portugal, restaurants and cinemas in shopping centers are teaming up to offer special deals like this.

It’s a win-win for all!

Where and when can one “normally” see a newly released movie in the USA for less than ten dollars (except for specific senior citizen show times and/or intervals when the theater is otherwise vacant)?

Whoever wrote the advertising copy for this film-and-fest could have worked at my public relations and marketing firm:

“Onde alguns ouvem Cinema e Jantar, outros ouvem encontro romántico, saída com os amigos, ou tempo a sós. A verdade é que ninguém quer ser a pessoa com a barriga a dar horas no momento mais tenso do filme.”

Rough translation: “Where some like the idea of a Movie and a Meal, others are enticed by a romantic encounter, going out with friends, or spending quality time by oneself. The truth is, no one wants to be the one with the grumbling tummy at the most inopportune moments of the film.”

(What’s isn’t mentioned is theseven-minute intermission during the film when you can get something to eat or take care of business, whatever it is …)

Regarding the sponsors:

Four different restaurants – each with great food – have had prime roles in the dining experience: a pizza parlor, barbecue den, hamburger haven, and “piglet border” (leitão beirão)—which is why we never should fully trust Google to handle our translations correctly. At each eating place, choose a main course, side dish, and a beverage.

Between us, we enjoyed some of the best burgers in town, pork bbq sandwiches, and a pretty darned good pizza loaded with lots of fixings. The sides – hand-cup potato chips – weren’t the greatest, but none of us were disappointed with our beer or wine … until our female friend gave me that evening’s Portuguese lesson, correcting my pronunciation of the word for wine (vinho):

“It’s VEE-N-YO,” she demonstrated, upper teeth deliberately touching her lower lip, to correct my hitherto Spanish pronunciation of the word (vino): “BEE-NO,” lips vibrating, but teeth never touching the lip.

Back to the show:

We saw Mama Mia II (Here We Go Again), which was wonderful … despite my frustration that nobody (except me) stood up to sway and swing and clap along with the music. The Portuguese, at least those attending that performance of the show, were much more constrained and sedate—although an elderly couple sitting opposite us sort of-kind of waved their arms in the air.

Showcasing a vintage Cher and Meryl Streep, the prequel-sequel movie ended with us in joyful tears, a moment blissful grace.

Words from the sponsors?

“Let yourself be swept away by the flavors and the plot.”

Climax and conclusion:

“There are happy endings that cost only € 9.”

Exit, stage left. And roll the credits …

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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Cashing Out of Medicare

I finally did it.

I ended the “should I or shouldn’t I?” tug-of-war with myself.

I decided to give up Medicare Part B.

After living three years in Spain and Portugal, first as expats and then immigrants, we began to question whether we’d do better by cancelling our “Part B” coverage which cost us $144 per month deducted from our Social Security payments and having more disposible income in our pockets. Sure, we knew that there’d be fines, fees, penalties, and interest if we wanted to rejoin Medicare Part B … but we have no intention of returning to the USA. At least not to live there. Here in Portugal, we have comprehensive, state-of-the-art health care provided both by our public coverage under the country’s universal National Health Service (SMS) supplemented by our excellent private insurace that runs us two thousand euros (€2,000) per year for the two of us–one 70, the other 57.

For those living in the USA, Medicare has formed the foundation of health care coverage for Americans age 65 and older. Here’s how it works:

A portion of Medicare coverage, Part A, is free for most Americans who worked in the U.S. and paid payroll taxes for many years. Part A is frequently considered “hospital insurance.” If you qualify for Social Security, you will qualify for Part A. You’re covered whether you want it or not, as long as you have more than 10 years (or 40 quarters) of Medicare-covered employment.

Part B, which many think of as traditional health insurance, isn’t free. You pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B.

Part A generally covers medically necessary surgery and certain hospital costs; Part B may cover doctor visits while you’re an inpatient. Part B is a voluntary program which requires paying a monthly premium for all months of coverage.

Individuals entitled to Medicare Part A cannot voluntarily terminate their (free) Part A coverage. That’s not permitted by law. Generally, premium-free Part A ends only due to loss of Social Security “entitlement” … or death.

You can, however, voluntarily terminate your Medicare Part B.

Say you’re 65, no longer working, and don’t want to pay premiums for Part B Medicare insurance. That’s OK. But if you opt out, the costs will be higher if you want to get back in.

“In general, when you’re 65 or older, you should decline Part B only if you have group health insurance from an employer for whom you or your spouse is still actively working and that insurance is primary to Medicare (i.e., it pays before Medicare does),” says Social Security.

But what if you are an American immigrant, living outside the USA?

To “disenroll” from Part B, you’re required to fill out a form (CMS-1763) that – under most circumstances – must be completed either during a personal interview at a Social Security office or on the phone with a Social Security representative. For those of us living abroad, we must deal with it through our US embassy.

Social Security insists on an interview to make sure we know the consequences of dropping out of Part B — for example, that we may have to pay a late penalty if we should want to re-enroll in the program in the future.So, why did I decide to disengage myself from Medicare Part B?

Several reasons:

• Neither Medicare Part A nor B covers any health care costs incurred outside the USA. And we live in Portugal and Spain. In other words, we’re paying for nothing–especially because, given the circumstances, we have no plans to go back and live in the USA again.

• The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B is $144.60 for 2020, up from $135.50 in 2019, which Medicare deducts from my Social Security check. That comes to $1,626 a year—for something I can’t or won’t use. The money will serve me better in my pocket than in the government’s deficit-ridden purse.

• But, most importantly, we found a better and more cost-effective option!

It’s called “travel insurance,” albeit a rather extraordinary plan:Offered by AFPOP through Medal (AFPOP’s insurance brokerage), it covers both me and my spouse for a year anywhere we go — including the USA – for up to 60 days per trip. It’s renewable, regardless of our age; there’s no age limit to enroll, nor higher costs the older you are … neither is there a limit on the number of trips we can take. Moreover, it’s international in scope—including, believe it or not, the USA!

Two plans are offered: Silver and Gold. We chose the Silver, which includes accidental death or permanent invalidity (100,000€), additional indemnity for severe loss (€25,000 for paraplegia, 50,000€ for tetraplegia), and indemnity for dependent children (€5,000 per child). We’ve got five million euros of third-party liability, repatriation, and extensive coverage for health care-related expenses: Medical expenses (10,000€ for sudden illness & 1,000,000€ for accident, which are more than enough here in Portugal) … hospitalization (full coverage, and we’re still covered by Medicare Part A in the USA) … urgent dental treatment … medical expenses in Portugal after returning, when due to an accident or illness occurring abroad … search & rescue … funeral expenses (up to 7,500€– in Portugal or elsewhere).

Also included: loss or theft of luggage (3,000€); luggage delay (750€); loss or theft of essential travel documents (2,000€); trip cancellation (€5,000); trip delay (37.50€ per hour); legal costs (15,000€); detention (5,000€); bail bond (50,000€); kidnap, ransom, and illegal detention (125,000€); political evacuation (10,000€).

Unfortunately, pre-existing “clinical” conditions and health problems aren’t covered. But, as we have none to speak of, that didn’t matter to us since the travel insurance isn only for medical issues we might encounter outside of Portugal (where we’re fully covered).

I don’t mean to come across as an advertising mouthpiece for this particular plan. But, do some homework and research: First, try to find 24/7/365 unlimited travel insurance plans with such comprehensive coverage and so few restrictions … rather than those for a single trip. Next, see if they’ll even sell you a policy if you’re older than 65. Finally, look at the price and what you get for your money.

Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

The best part of all is its cost!

We’re paying €351.64 per year for the two of us (the more expensive Gold Plan, with some higher benefit amounts, would cost €552.57).

Converted to US dollars, that equals about $400 or so at today’s currency exchange rates.

Now, compare that to the $1,626 I’d be paying for Medicare Part B this year.

And therein you have the bottom line.

*Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

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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Ten Must-Take Items to Pack before Leaving the USA for Iberia

Relocating from the United States to the European Union? Especially Spain or Portugal?

Then consider the items listed below as invaluable traveling companions.

Much back-and-forth already has been written about whether to ship furniture, cars, appliances, artwork, keepsakes, and even clothing from one continent to the other. Ultimately, that’s a personal choice you’ll have to make yourself.

But, bear this in mind:

Once you decide to ship this piece of furniture or that collection of vinyl records, this set of family heirloom dinnerware or (only) all that artwork, their shipping cost can be less to rent an entire 8 X 8 X 20 container than to divvy your stuff, sharing someone else’s container. All things considered, it costs about five thousand dollars ($5,000) to ship that container from the USA to the EU. Prices do fluctuate, so it might cost a bit less … or a bit more.

Nonetheless, that’s not the purpose of my message here. If you want more information about international shipping, please read about our experiences in my post, “A Moving Experience.”

What I want to share with you, instead, are a list of ten little items that you may never have thought about or considered when planning what to pack for your bon voyage. Yet each can make a big difference to your lifestyle once you get here. Why bring them? Because, either they’re not available (i.e., readily accessible) here. Or, the price you’d pay for them is well beyond their prices in Yankeeville. So, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself asking people you know who are traveling this way, west to east, to bring back some of this and a little of that.

Ready to scribble some notes? Here’s my list.

(1) Eye drops like Visine, ClearEyes, “Artificial Tears” or similar store brands for red, dry, and/or tired eyes. Ask for them at a local pharmacy (items like eye drops and aspirin are only sold in pharmacies here) and you’ll, no doubt, be given the local version of “Restasis,” which is prescribed for dry eyes, although no prescription is needed here for it. A drop (or two) in each eye produces an oily-like feeling that brings discomfort, rather than relief. Return to the pharmacy with the last bottle you brought from home and you’ll likely be greeted with a shake of the head by the pharmacist. Such miracle medicinals for allergies, tired, or over-stressed eyes aren’t available in Spain or Portugal. So, be sure to bring a few with you!

(2) Low-dose aspirin. You know that 81 mg or so “baby aspirin” that your doctor will likely recommend you take daily If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke–or have a high risk of one (unless you have a serious allergy or history of bleeding)? A small container of 120 or more sells at most USA pharmacies for under two dollars. In Spain or Portugal, however, you’ll pay the same price and more for a 30-day supply.

(3) Crushed red pepper and/or Tabasco sauce. Some like it hot! I’m one of them. Yet no amount of Piri-Piri can compare with those red hot pepper flakes or that patented flavor that heats up your cooking (and works great in Bloody Marys, as well)!

(4) Duplicate of your state driver’s license. In Portugal and Spain, you’re required to turn in your state driver’s license when exchanging it for one in your new country of residence. In other words, you lose your USA driver’s license. But, what happens when (or if) you return to the states for a visit, vacation, or emergency? You’ll face quite a hassle, as your Spanish or Portuguese license isn’t recognized. Best bet is to contact your state’s motor vehicle department (DMV) well before departing and request a duplicate copy. Just say you lost yours. Or whatever. Then, when you turn over your state driver’s license for a new one in Iberia, you’ll still have a copy or your original one.

(5) Authorized copy of your birth certificate. Of all the legal, apostilled documents we made sure to bring with us (plus made plenty of paper and digitized copies), somehow we forgot to bring our birth certificates. After all, it was never asked for when we applied for our immigration visas … when we appeared at SEF for our residency docs … when we went to Finanças for our NIFs and NHRs … or when we spent the better part of a day at IMT transferring our driver licenses. Who would have thought that Social Security would require a birth certificate? When registering with this service — at least in Portugal — you’re asked to provide (and prove!) your parents’ names, whether living or deceased. A birth certificate (yours) is suggested. If you think there’s a lot of bureaucracy in Portugal and Spain, try requesting and obtaining an apostilled copy of your birth certificate from abroad!

(6) Plastic lids for cans. Granted, you can always use aluminum foil or plastic wrap. But they’re just not the same as those ubiquitous, multi-color plastic lids that “seal in the freshness” of food once you’ve opened the can. Good luck trying to find any in Spain or Portugal. Not even the all-purpose Chinese bazaars (Portugal) or Moroccan markets (Spain) carry them. Bring three or four with you.

(7) List of all the medicines and prescriptions you take. This is an item for your to-do list. Sit down with all of the medicines — prescribed and over-the-counter — that you take. Copy their “generic” (chemical) names, dosage, and instructions for taking them. Not only will your doctor(s) in Spain or Portugal want to know this information as part of your medical and health history, but pharmacists unfamiliar with what something is named or branded in the USA can determine what the appropriate equivalent is here.

(8) English language computer keyboard. Whether connected to a desktop or laptop computer, the keyboards sold in Portugal and Spain have different characters, along with the standard QWERTY keys we’re accustomed to. Sometimes, they’re located in diffeent places; other times, a single key is the source for producing three or more different characters, not just upper and lower case. Sure, you can configure the computer’s system so that the keyboard acts as an English language one; what you see on the keyboard, however, can vary dramatically from what you get on your screen. Regardless of the computer (or pad), it will respond effortlessly to an English language keyboard.

(9) Genuine “Sharpies.” The markers sold here just don’t compare for clarity and precision; few, if any, are “permanent.” If you’re labeling a freezer back with its contents identified and dated, for instance, only a Sharpie won’t smear. For those Sharpie afficionados out there, pick up a pack and pack it in your m/purse, laptop carrying case, or luggage.

(10) “Liquid Nails.” Wimpy facsimiles are available, but none work nearly as well. When fixing a broken ceramic pot, affixing a knob to a door, or holding something firmly for a long time, there’s nothing like this product for strength and durability. The real McCoy is extremely hard to find in Spain and Portugal–even online, where not even Amazon sells it.

Dividing our time between Portugal and Spain after living full-time for three years in Europe, these are the curiosities and, perhaps, oddities that we wish we’d have brought with us.

Maybe you have others … items we’ve overlooked? Please share your list with us!

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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Learning to Layer: Covering the Costs of Three Properties in Iberia

We own three houses in Europe – Portugal and Spain – for less than it cost us to buy one “entry-level” property in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin … Staunton, Virginia … or Jacksonville, Florida (three places we’ve lived over the past 10-12 years).

Mind you, we’re not talking about upscale, Architectural Digest places in features and accoutrements. Just nice, comfortable, pleasant, typically attached homes. Of course, if it’s a spectacular stand-alone home you want here in Spain or Portugal, plenty are available for $250K or more.

But we’re basically “homebodies” who like to be connected to our neighbors, along with the savings inherent to “row” houses. Our last USA house was in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. A great place for tourists, but lots of limitations for residents. We bought and sold our west side of town property – 3 BR, 2 BA, LR, DR, kitchen, two garages, fenced yard, and unfinished basement – within less than a year for the same price we paid for it: $135,000. Now, according to all reports, there aren’t any pleasant properties available in Sturgeon Bay for less than $150,000. Realtors and property agents tell us that, regardless of condition, any such property sells before it’s technically been listed!

In Charlottesville’s shadows of the Shenandoah Valley, lovely Staunton, Virginia, has plenty to offer in terms of culture and quality of life! Just ask our favorite Realtor, Jenny McGuire (who’s been successfully selling the area “yard by yard”). Go to Realtor.com and see what’s available: “$135,000?” ask the Realtors, incredulously. “Maybe two bedrooms, with one full bath. But, it will probably need work!”

Meanwhile, we follow the progress of Tony Caribaltes, our friendly Jacksonville, Florida, Realtor … along with a few others. Heck, we purchased our “historic” Springfield-zoned home – with five bedrooms, no basement, but three full bathrooms – during the housing “crisis” for almost $170,000. Between a new kitchen, new HVAC units, termite damage repairs and control, replacing the grass and the weeds with colorful pavers in its small-ish backyard, ultimately the place cost us $200,000. Two years later, with the “crisis” still going, we were ready to move on and sell, but settled for far less than we initially paid—after the house had been on the market (with three different real estate brokerage firms) for about a year and reduced in price. To be honest, had we held onto that property, today we probably could have fetched twice what we’d paid for it–or more!)

But, that’s not the point here … or maybe it is:

For a lot less than that, we now own three conjugal properties: two in Portugal and one in Spain.“Yeah, that sounds great,” mockers will say. “But what about all the costs to upkeep, maintain, and run those three properties?”

Spending less than $14,000 per year on comprehensive property insurance, taxes, heating and air conditioning, furnishings, water, twice monthly cleaning, trash pick-up, and all other living expenses, we’re maintaining all three houses on my meager Social Security payments.

The take-aways?

We don’t live in the most expensive areas: Lisbon, Madrid, Porto, Barcelona. We don’t have brand new properties with all the expected amenities. We live with the locals, driving to the “big city” about 20 minutes away for major shopping, be it groceries at a variety of supermarkets, clothing, our whatever else tickles our fancy in shopping centers and malls. Ditto for cultural pursuits: live theater, museums, movies, concerts. (Not that it matters right now, with all the social distancing and Covid restrictions.) Our two, 50-year-old row houses were created from concrete and plaster, with no insulation … except for their new, double-pane windows. So, it can be hotter inside than out during the summers and colder when it’s winter. But we compensate with inverter aircon (and heating) units and a marvelous pellet stove that we use only when occupying specific rooms.

Furniture has been moved time and again among the three properties, as artwork and furnishings are rotated for new perspectives

And we’ve learned how to layer.

Electricity is relatively expensive in Portugal and Spain. But the emphasis is on that word “relative.” Becoming accustomed to Portuguese prices for everything from health care to property insurance and taxes, we freaked when we received our first electric bill (before turning down the heat from the inverters and buying that pellet stove): about $450 for those first two months. But, after our melt-down, we remembered paying about $500 per month for electricity in Florida and $350 or so for gas and electric in Wisconsin. It’s all in one’s frame of reference …

Meanwhile, without any rental income, we’re maintaining three separate residences.

Lousa Living Room

Our primary property is in a village outside the city of Castelo Branco, Portugal, in the country’s interior. It’s a sprawling, three-level townhome comprising some 1,600-square-feet with two separate entrances, two “master” bedroom suites (one for us, the other for guests), two full and two half baths, two kitchens, a “family” room and formal living room, two smaller dens for office use and storage, and outdoor areas including a large, covered terrace, a “courtyard” outside our kitchen, and a balcony off the living room. We live on the main street in town, with our bedroom facing the street … so it can be noisy, especially during all those festas and ferias Portuguese people enjoy (while we’re trying to sleep). Our annual property taxes total $150 (dollars not euros) and insurance costs us about the same. High-speed telecommunications (Internet, cable TV, a landline and a mobile phone) run $60 per month. Purchase price of this property with all fix-ups, add-ons, and improvements: US $65,000.

Olvera Multi-Purpose Room

Home-away-from-home is also in the interior … of Spain, in an Andalucian town of about 9,000 (Olvera), where the provinces of Málaga, Sevilla, and Cádiz intersect. We’ve owned this little pied-a-terre off and on for fifteen years now: We bought the three-level pad – an “all-purpose” room on the street level, a bedroom one flight up, and the upper floor divided between a bathroom and terrace with remarkable views – at the height of the market … sold it at a major loss when housing prices crashed around the world … and then bought it back from the buyer for half the price we’d originally paid. Here, our taxes are about $60 per year (including daily trash pick-up!); we pay $200 annually for comprehensive homeowner’s insurance; and our lightning-fast Internet connection is $22 billed to our bank account monthly. We paid $26,000 (not including Spain’s 8% property transfer tax—it’s only 0.1% in Portugal!) and spent another $9,000 on home improvements (new windows, doors, appliances, cabinetry, handrails, kitchen cabinets, bathroom, etc.) Total: $35,000.

Elvas Living Room

Last, but certainly not least, is our “betwixt-and-between” home, which we recently purchased in UNESCO Heritage site Elvas (Portugal), on the border with big-city Badajoz (Spain). In some ways, this is already turning into our favored place … for a bunch of reasons: About three hours from both our house in Portugal and Spain, it’s an easy drive and great get-away. The property is about half the size of our primary residence, but twice as big as our place in Spain. With a well-proportioned living, dining, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms, it benefits from a big bonus: a compact, enclosed backyard with two fruit-laden trees—perfect for the dogs (as well as grilling outdoors).

Also quite comfortable is the layout and space configuration, with a good-sized bedroom in the middle of the house. Although the “Alentejo” area of Portugal, where it’s located, tends to be a bit hotter in the summer and colder during winter, the exterior walls of this house are built from boulders between two and three feet thick. That’s what we call “natural” insulation (although we’ve replaced the windows and added air conditioning). Purchase price for this newly-renovated and refurbished property including all fix-ups, add-ons, and improvements: $50,000 in US dollars or about 42,500 euros.

So there you have it: Three very different and separate properties with a combined purchase price – including all appliances, repairs, improvements, and upgrades – of $150,000.

Capital costs are one thing, monthly expenses yet another. I did say at the beginning of this narrative that two of us live together in these three properties … at a combined cost of about $1,725 per month—my Social Security payment. How do we do it?

Here’s our budget, based on euros:

• €250 Electricity*

• €50 Water

• €120 Petrol/Gasoline for the Car

• €30 Propane/Butane for Heating/Cooking**

• €75 High-Speed Internet/TV/Telephones

• €75 Property Taxes (for all three)

• €10 Vehicle Taxes (a 2018 Ford “mini-van”)

• €150 Comprehensive Health Insurance for Two (one 70, the other 56)

• €75 Other Insurance: Car (€30)/Properties x 3 (€45)

• €500 Food: Groceries & Restaurants

• €65 Cleaning & Upkeep: Properties + Laundry

• €100 Miscellaneous (Unbudgeted)

€1,500 Total Estimated Monthly Expenses

That’s less than $1,800 per month (based upon the current currency exchange rate).

Of course, others pinch pennies or pence much better than we do and are far more frugal.

But, hopefully, I have made my point: You can live comfortably and well on a modest budget, including health care and insurance, taxes and home ownership.

The caveat? In Portugal and Spain. Probably elsewhere, as well!

*Our primary residence is all-electric: HVAC + cooking. **Our two smaller houses use propane for cooking and water heating … electric for all else.

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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Say It Ain’t So, Spain & Portugal

Over the summer, Mamadou Ba, the head of an anti-racist organization in Lisbon, received a letter. “Our goal is to kill every foreigner and anti-fascist – and you are among our targets,” it read. A few weeks later, it was followed up with a message telling him to leave Portugal or let his family face the consequences. That message was accompanied by a bullet casing.

Image: Mamadou Ba

Ba’s experience is “one of a growing number of racist incidents perpetrated across Portugal that have led the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to call for an urgent institutional response,” reports UK’s The Guardian newspaper, which lists additional anecdotes and evidence of racism and growth of the far right in Portugal:

A black woman and her daughter were assaulted in January this year because they didn’t have a bus ticket. Angolan-Portuguese Claudia Simoes was kicked by a policeman and placed in a chokehold outside a bus station in front of her daughter, after forgetting her child’s bus pass. In February, two Brazilian women were attacked by the police outside a Cape-Verdean club, and in the same month, Porto football player Moussa Marega, born in Mali, abandoned a game after fans shouted racial slurs.

A worse attack took place on a Saturday afternoon in July, when black actor Bruno Candé was murdered after a man shot him four times in what ENAR has described as “an explicitly racially motivated crime.”

In early 2019, police officers in Lisbon, called to intervene on an issue between two residents in the Bairro da Jamaica neighborhood, were captured on video beating and pushing several residents. The following day, young Black Portuguese held a demonstration against police brutality. Police forces intervened and responded by firing rubber bullets. This then sparked accusations of institutional racism within police forces.

Portuguese far-right Chega party leader André Ventura holds a banner reading “Portugal is not racist” during a Lisbon demonstration. 
Photograph: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

“In recent months, there has been a very concerning rise in far-right racist attacks in Portugal, confirming that the hate messages are fueling more aggressive tactics that target human rights defenders from racial minorities,” the organization (ENAR) said.

Endorsed by 16 members of the European Parliament and 72 civil social organizations in a letter condemning recent cases of police brutality and racist attacks, the European Network Against Racism also sought action from authorities,

Ba, who heads the NGO SOS Racismo, agreed: “There has been an obvious escalation in violence – a clear result of the growth of far-right terrorism in Portugal over the past few years.” Last year, the Portuguese commission for equality and against discrimination received 436 complaints regarding cases of racism, an increase of 26% on 2018.

Despite the growing number of discrimination complaints, hardly any have resulted in a conviction. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of convictions for “crimes of discrimination and incitement to hate and violence … is less than three,” according to police statistics provided to the Guardian.

Government data show that crime in Portugal has actually decreased steadily by 20% over the past 12 years.

Racism. Hatred. White supremacy. Police brutality. Extremism. Prejudice. Discrimination.

People shout slogans during a demonstration called by SOS Racism organization under the slogan ‘Against institutional racism’ in Madrid, Spain.
Image: EPA/RODRIGO JIMENEZ

All symptomatic of the so-called “alt-right.”

According to Wikipedia, alt-right is “an abbreviation of alternative right, a loosely connected far-right, white nationalist movement based in the United States.”

Except that the white nationalist movement is spreading.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

We left the USA for Portugal and Spain in March 2017 because of the alt-right’s growth. Disgusted by the politics, the police brutality, the discriminatory treatment of Black people, the anti-Semitic swastikas, the finger-pointing and curses hissed at LGBTs, the misogynistic attitudes against women, the marginalization of minorities, the brutal caging and deportation of immigrants, and the overall worship of capitalism, we packed our bags … said good-by … and emigrated from the United States to Spain and Portugal.

For 15 years, we had owned a vacation “bolt” in a small Spanish town (Olvera) in Andalucía, where we spent a number of weeks getting a foothold as expats in a “foreign” country. We decided to make our permanent residence in Portugal, however, so we could keep one foot in Spain and the other in Portugal.

Our status changed from expats to immigrants.

It’s been about three years now since we began dividing the days of our lives between Portugal and Spain. Throughout that time, we never have had cause to suspect or doubt the progressive attitudes in Iberia. For us, ultra-conservative-instigated hate crimes were a thing of the past.

Until recently …

Religious discrimination and hate crimes are on the rise in Spain, and are being pushed by rhetoric from far-right political movements. The country’s interior ministry sounded the alarm in its most recent report, which revealed a 120 percent increase in incidents connected to crimes of religious intolerance in 2017, with 103 cases registered compared to 47 the previous year. Elsewhere in Iberia, police from Portugal’s National Anti-Terrorism Unit arrested 20 ultra-nationalists in an operation that involved searches across the country as part of an investigation into attempted murder and other hate crimes.

“Portuguese police officers told to remove racist tattoos within six months amid concerns over rising far-right,” asserted a recent headline in the Independent, a UK newspaper. The ban refers to “racist, extremist or violence-promoting symbols, words or drawings” and also covers earrings, bracelets and rings, Portugal’s police force said in a statement.

Police gave no estimate for how many officers might be affected by the ban, which coincides, according to the Independent, with increasing racist violence in the country.

After moments of disbelief, I couldn’t help but wonder why the government had targeted the racist tattoos of these Portuguese police, rather than the racism under their skins.

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Down with Racist Violence, Justice for Claudia Simoes,’ referring to a woman assaulted by police during a demonstration against racism and fascism in Lisbon in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on June 6, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, protesters demonstrated against racism and fascism in Portugal, amid fears over the country’s far-right movement.

The Council of Europe, a European human rights organization, referred in a 2018 report to numerous grave accusations of racist violence against Portuguese police, while complaints to the country’s anti-discrimination commission rose by a quarter last year.

“The move comes after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, declared in August that there would be ‘zero tolerance’ of racism in the country as authorities launched an investigation over a number of email threats, allegedly sent by a far-right group,” according to the news report. “The threats targeted several people, including two black lawmakers who were told to leave the country and threatened with murder.”

In early September, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe and American intellectual Cornel West joined dozens of activists and academics around the world in signing an open letter calling for solidarity with the Black movement in Portugal, demanding accountability and concrete change to transform the “reality of structural racism and its manifestation in police brutality, racist violence and racial harassment in Portugal,” writes Beatriz Ramaldo da Silva in a September 2020 article for Aljazeera.

Turns out that Portugal has become a target of alt-right ideology.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, professor of Sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, frames the rise of Portugal’s far right within the context of wider global movement:

“There has always been a far-right base as is the case in Spain, Italy, Greece – the far-right was in power for 50 years in Portugal – and this basis never disappeared.”

This series of recent events described at the beginning of this post has unveiled increasingly disturbing signs that far-right internationalism is turning Portugal into a strategic target. “Clear illustrations of such signs include the recent attempt, by some intellectuals, to play the card of racial hatred in order to test existing divisions both on the right and the left and thereby influence the political agenda, the international meeting of far-right parties in Lisbon in August, and the strike called by the newly created National Union of Dangerous Goods Drivers, to take place at the same time as the Lisbon meeting,” claims openDemocracy, a self-described “independent global media organization.” 

Is Portugal so important as to deserve such strategic attention?

Yes.

Portugal is vitally important because, from the point of view of the international far right, it is the weak link through which it can carry out its attack on the European Union. 

People like to imagine Spain as a liberal paradise with sun, sea, and sangría, but its racism continues to be an open secret, according to the Olive Press.

With approximately one million black people living in Spain, that represents about 2% of the population–much lower than the 13-14% of African-Americans in the USA. While chances of seeing acts of racism are less in Spain, entrenched racism is still very much real.

In a June 2020 article, the Olive Press, an English language Spanish newspaper noted that:

Image: La Sexta

• Every Christmas, locals around the country use black face as they dress up as King Balthazar for the Three Kings Parade, a tradition that goes back to 1885;

• In 2017, a black British stage actor was refused entry to a Málaga nightclub. A worker at the club later told the Olive Press that it had a “no blacks” policy;

• Just last year (2019), a Spanish Guardia Civil officer, who killed an innocent Moroccan man after veering him off the road and shooting him eleven times as he fled on foot because he was “convinced he was a terrorist,” had his sentence for the crime reduced;

• Elsewhere, a Honduras woman selling sweets on the beaches of the Costa del Sol was allegedly strangled and dragged along the floor by police, who told her that she “was not human”;

• Increasingly worrisome is the flagrant racism that continues to be shown by young people in Spain, particularly in the world of football (soccer), where racial slurs are printed on the back of jerseys worn by members of immigrant teams.

Image: The Olive Press

It’s impossible for white people to know how gut-wrenching such discrimination feels, but it means that we must rally around and support the likes of Black Lives Matter and similar movements fighting for justice in the USA and around the world.

“So, while we may not be in the US, don’t disregard the fight (against racism) as an American problem,” the Olive Press urged. “Tragically, both in Spain and around the world, the fight to end racism will not be over anytime soon.”

Same-sex marriages have been allowed in Portugal since 2010 and offer equal rights to the couple regarding property, taxes, and inheritance … since 2016, married couples of the same sex can adopt and foster children. (Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, along with its adoption rights.)

People often ask us about homophobia: do we feel it or are we aware of it in either Spain or Portugal. Not really, I’d respond. Except for an elderly (90+) woman talking to her equally old widowed neighbor in Portugal referring to me with the word “maricon” because she didn’t know any better, we have never felt ridiculed or denigrated anywhere in Iberia. We’re accepted, just as we are.

Others, however, have had different experiences.

Attacks by far-right Vox party on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are testing years of political consensus on the issue in Spain, which in 2005 became the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. Vox has pledged to curtail gay pride parades, heaped ridicule on diversity lessons it wants to scrap in schools and has even drawn parallels between homosexuality and bestiality.

Since the 2005 approval of the same-sex marriage bill by the parties of the left, center-left and center-right even the main conservative People’s Party (PP) which vehemently opposed it has changed tack, various bills in defense of LGBT rights have been approved. Some of its politicians have come out as gay and married their partners.

Yet, this month — October 2020 — homophobic “slogans” were painted on rainbow benches in Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Image: The Olive Press

Bigots in Pilar de la Honrada, a city-town-district of Alicante, smeared ugly graffiti on rainbow colored benches installed by Pilar’s council to celebrate June’s World Pride Day as an acknowledgement of local LGBTQ residents. Two of the benches were emblazoned with the words “Gays Out.”

“We will continue to fight this type of violent behavior with the goal of continuing to build a society that is more tolerant of diversity,” a statement issued by Pilar’s council said, as the benches were being restored to their original rainbow state.

ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ advocacy group, released its annual Rainbow Europe Country Ranking, funded by the European Union, which ranks 49 European countries from most to least LGBTQ-friendly. The ranking is based on how the laws and policies of each country affect the lives of LGBTQ people, and the nongovernmental organization uses a number of indicators, including nondiscrimination policies, hate speech laws and asylum rights to create its list.

Of Europe’s ten most LGBTQ-friendly countries, according to ILGA-Europe’s 2020 ranking, Spain and Portugal rank sixth and seventh, respectively.

Lisbon Gay Pride

Lisbon Gay Pride, officially known as Arraial Lisboa Pride, is the largest LGBTQ event in Portugal. It’s an important event that aims to shine a light on the various issues of injustice that still affect the LGBTQ community. A much loved and celebrated event, it attracts huge crowds each year – with over 70,000 visitors attending in 2018. Since 1997, Lisbon’s Gay Pride has aimed to bring visibility to the ‘queer’ community. Pride is equal parts celebration and political demonstration of achieving equal rights for LGBTQ people.

Attempting to atone for a 500-year-old sin, both Spain and Portugal are offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews whose families were expelled in the 15th century. Historians debate the number of Jews expelled; some estimate 40,000, others say 100,000 or more. 

The Jewish Museum of Belmonte, Portugal, houses an historic stone with this inscription.

Yet Portugal’s government found itself reconsidering the plan to change its ‘law of return’ for Jewish people. The ruling party of Portugal stepped back from an attempt to severely limit applications for citizenship from descendants of Sephardi Jews, a threatened move that Jewish leaders and organizations had charged was anti-Semitic. In mid-May, members of the Socialist Party submitted a draft amendment to change the 2015 law that grants citizenship to people who can prove they are descended from Jews whose families fled the Iberian Peninsula following the Inquisition, a 15th-century campaign of anti-Semitic persecution in Portugal and Spain. Under the proposed change, beginning in 2022, only people who had lived in Portugal for two years would be eligible for citizenship. This change would have sharply restricted the number of people who could apply. Currently, there are no requirements for applicants to live in Portugal or learn the language. Experts brought by the Socialist Party testified that within 100 years, a few thousand returning Jews could swell to 250,000 people and pose a demographic threat to Portugal’s identity.

“I felt like I was in a room in the inquisition in Lisbon and they were asking me to prove my Judaism,” said Leon Amiras, a lawyer in Israel who works closely with the Porto Jewish community on applications for citizenship. Though he was not present at the hearing, his personal family story was mentioned. “Suddenly these two members of parliament are testing me and trying to figure out if I’m ‘Jewish enough,’ [to deserve citizenship],” he recalled, as reported by the Times of Israel.

Earlier this year, Portuguese cartoon artist Vasco Gargalo was criticized for creating an antisemitic political cartoon published in the weekly Portuguese news magazine Sábado. Media reports were disseminated showing Gargalo’s cartoon, which depicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing an armband like that of the Nazis but with a Star of David rather than a swastika on it.

Meanwhile, Spain’s foreign minister condemned a carnival parade featuring gun-toting Nazis and lines of dancing Jewish victims in June this year, a day after Israel’s ambassador expressed outrage over the spectacle. The display, which also featured a parade float designed like a gas chamber, was the second such incident this week after a Belgian town earned a stiff rebuke from the European Commission.

Carnival float in the Spanish town of Campo de Criptana features uniforms of Nazis, concentration camp inmates, and crematoria trains, in February 2020.
Source: YouTube screenshot via JTA

This year feels different, say immigration lawyers and others who work in the cottage industry of Jews permanently crossing borders. Much of the drive to leave has to do with the prospect of President Trump winning reelection, potentially after a chaotic post-election period in which he or others dispute the results of the vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are also chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, some of it stoked or condoned by the president.

The history of bigots linking disease and depressing news with Jews, immigrants, people of color, or other minorities is a long and ugly one. The Holocaust teaches us that in times of instability and fear, people who didn’t previously express or tolerate racist views may find them less offensive … or even appealing.

In one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies, Dr. Martin Luther King preached: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Whether in the USA or Spain and Portugal, enough is enough is enough.

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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What €50,000 (U.S. $59,000) Can Buy You in Portugal … or Spain

Location, location, location.

Wherever you want to buy (or rent), the same general rule applies: Housing costs more in Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve, Silver Coast and their suburbs (Portugal) or Madrid, Barcelona, Ibiza, and Málaga (Spain) than comparable inland properties.

But, if you know what you want and are willing to reside away from the major tourist traps, you can get one heck of a deal in both Portugal and Spain.

Having already purchased townhomes in Spain and Portugal, we knew pretty much what we wanted in our “halfway house” between the two countries:


• We preferred a village or small town with quick and easy access to a large, metropolitan area;
• The property had to be a single story without staircases, but with a good layout and ample-sized “divisions”;
• We didn’t want to be on the main street or have our bedroom in front, facing the street
• It had to be in good condition both structurally and in terms of infrastructure;
• Required was a small backyard (quintal) for our three dogs;
• The property needed to be more-or-less “move-in ready” with a minimum of two good-sized bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, and bath;
• We wanted to be in Portugal, somewhere that could cut our travel time between homes in Portugal and Spain substantially;
• Our total budget — all things included — was no more than €60,000.

Quite a list, huh?

But these were among the imperatives we had learned about our own personal preferences after living in Portugal for two years and having a vacation bolt in Spain for fifteen.

We narrowed our choices to the Elvas (Portalegre) area, a UNESCO “World Heritage” site that abuts big city Badajoz and the border with Spain. Not only would this location cut two hours each way from our trips to and from Spain several times each year; it would also be relatively close to such special places in Portugal as Évora, Estremoz, and Vila Viçosa (among others) … and just a two-hour drive from our primary residence in Castelo Branco.

After looking at what was available in the historic section of Elvas, a number of locals — police, hotel personnel, even shop owners — advised us to buy in a nearby village instead, rather than in Elvas proper. Villages even five (5) kilometers outside of Elvas would be cheaper, calmer, and more in line with the lives we wanted.

We toured a number of properties in Santa Eulalia, Campo Maior, Boa Fe, and Sousel, but decided to buy in Vila Boim–the village closest to Elvas. With a population of about 1,200 (twice that of our Lousa hometown in Castelo Branco), there are restaurants, cafés, mini-markets, a pharmacy and bank with a Multibanco … even a “pedestrian” shopping street.

Listed for €39,500, the house we bought had been on the market for several years. It needed some work after being vacant … yet there was no smell of rot, mold, or mildew. The room sizes, spaces, and layout fit our needs perfectly. Negotiating back and forth with the property agents representing the seller(s), we ultimately agreed to purchase it for €34,000.

The following pictures depict the house and its condition when we purchased it.

Front Façade
Dining Room
Kitchen
Living Room
Bedroom
Office + Despensa (Pantry)
Bathroom
Quintal (backyard)

There was plenty of work to be done!

Initially, we invested €2,500 in “prep” work — repairs, fixes, replacements — before we could even begin to think about “what next?” or “when can we move in?”

The ceiling alone in the bathroom (and the strips of plaster hanging off the wall on the outside of the exterior wall) needed to be gutted, plastered, and repainted. The cabinets hanging precariously off the wall in the long, narrow kitchen had to be removed and replaced with new ones to make our long, narrow, “galley” style kitchen functional and attractive (€3,000). Appliances — a high-efficiency gas water heater (€750) and three separate inverter aircon units were purchased (€2,259) and installed: one 18,000 BTU unit to cool and heat the large dining and living room area, and two 12,000 BTU units: one for the bedroom and another for the office and kitchen. Several rooms needed to be repainted (€500). Lighting was paramount for the dining room bedroom, kitchen, and office (€500). New appliances — a stove and oven, washer and dryer, and dishwasher — added €1,500 to the tab.

Upgrades included three new, double-pane windows with fly screens (€500) and upping the electrical power from 3.45 > 6.9 kWh which, in turn, required us to have an electrician add new wiring throughout the house to carry the added load (€1,250). We learned that there was no roofing above our bathroom and adjoining bathroom — which had caused the ceilings inside to buckle — so a new rooftop was added above that part of the house (€750). Because rain water came in under the front and rear doors, we added awnings and replaced the doors (€1,500). Because the dining room was so dark without a window, the door we chose for up front had glass on the top and a metal protective casing behind it. Finally, we bricked in the small backyard with cobble stones (€750) so that the dogs wouldn’t track mud into the house every time we let them out back.

Furniture, furnishings, and artwork already were ours, just waiting for a new home.

Total cost?

Just about €50,000. That’s less than $59,000 USA greenbacks!

We’ve got great neighbors, a low-maintenance yet comfortable home, and easy access to big city shopping in both Portugal and Spain.

How much do you think all that building and buying would cost us in the USA?

Here is our home as it now looks:

Front Façade with Awning, New Door, and Inverter Aircon Unit
New Front Door with Triple Locks, Double Pane Glass, and Protective Top. Electric and Water Boxes behind panels.
Dining Room
Dining Room
Living Room
Living Room
Living Room
Bedroom
Bedroom
Kitchen
Kitchen
Office
Bathroom
Quintal
Quintal
Quintal – Laundry Area

P.S. Our vacation “bolt” home in Olvera (Andalucía), Spain, cost even less! But, that’s quite another story. You can read all about it here: https://pastorbrucesblog.com/2020/09/12/then-again-but-better

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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Travelogue

Spain is relatively familiar territory.

From our vacation home in Olvera at the intersection of the Málaga, Sevilla, and Cadiz provinces, we’ve spent time visiting many of the charming “pueblos blancos” (white towns) of Andalucía: Ronda, Grazalema, Pruna, Villamartín, Algodonales, Morón de la Frontera, Antequera, and many others.

Olvera

We’ve flown into and out of Madrid, Málaga and Sevilla, passing through this big city on our treks to and from Portugal. We’ve taken day trips to Granada and Cádiz … the latter usually to shop at Ikea. Weekend getaways have found us in Martos, just outside Jaén, the provincial capital. Longer vacations were spent in Alicante, Ibiza, Barcelona, Sitges, and the Benedorm playground; Valencia was a port of call on a cruise.

“Casas Colgadas” (Hanging Houses) of Cuenca, Spain

Attending the University of Madrid for my undergraduate degree, I got to know this special city and notable nearby places: Toledo, Segovia, Ávila, La Granja, Salamanca, and the “casas colgadas” (hanging houses) of Cuenca. During the time of my studies, I traveled to Barcelona, bicycling around this most cosmopolitan city and marveling at Gaudi’s La Familia Sagrada. I visited Sitges–one of Spain’s first gay destinations during the Francisco Franco regime … and booked passage on a boat to Ibiza and the Palmas, Mallorca and Menorca.

Portugal is another matter entirely …

It’s been several years now since we’ve moved to our village of Lousa, 20 minutes outside of Castelo Branco. In addition seeing the sites of this often overlooked city – the Episcopal palace gardens, the white castle for which the city is named, its museums and cultural centers – we’ve wandered around places outside our own backyard: Alpedrinha, Castelo Nueva, Covilhã, Lardosa, Louriçal, Penamacor, Sertã, etc.

Episcopal Garden in Castelo Branco

We’ve have crossed over the awesome aqueducts in Segura on way to and from lunch in Spain … visited (several times) Monsanto, touted as the “Most Portuguese Town” … frequented the marvelous Monday market in Fundão, quite possibly one of the district’s best … feasted our eyes on the spectacular scenery and unparalleled topography of Vila Velha do Ródão and Foz do Cobrão, enjoying the food at one of the best restaurants around. Not unlike the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem, the Jewish sanctuary of Belmonte is a spiritual experience–regardless of one’s religion.

Now where?

Cutting short our catastrophic “vacation” at a TripAdvisor (aka FlipKey) beach property, we missed out on planned excursions to Porto, Espinho, Tomar, and Aveiro—the “Venice” of Portugal. We’ll go back, but we’ll do it differently, leaving the dogs at a highly-commended canine “hotel” near us (in Alcains), enabling us to stay at somewhat more comfortable and convenient places.

Also on our list of must-see places is Lisbon – where its expansive aquarium fulfills an exhilarating but exhaustive day – and heading north towards Santiago de Compostela, capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, for the “Camino” pilgrimage. Still, we did enjoy a birthday weekend in two very special suburbs: Cascais and Estoril.

But, for now, we wanted to devise a series of day trips … places within a 90-minute drive … so we could go, do some sightseeing, and be back in time to feed and walk the dogs. If we were hosting out-of-town guests for a few days, what would we want them to see?

Here are the places on our list:

Sortelha

Sortelha Somewhat along the lines of Monsanto, Sortelha is one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in Portugal. A visit to its streets and alleys enclosed in a defensive ring and watched over by a lofty 13th century castle takes us back to past centuries among medieval tombs, by the Manueline pillory, or in front of the Renaissance church. Home to the legendary Eternal Kiss—two boulders resting on the slope below the castle walls, just touching, it’s not difficult to imagine that they are kissing. Another odd looking granite formation in Sortelha is referred to as The Old Lady’s Head (A Cabeça da Velha). Neighboring town Sabugal provides a bonus castle and museum to visit.

Sabrugal

Belmonte Tradition has it that the name of this town in Castelo Branco region’s northernmost district came from its location (“beautiful hill”). Near a 13th century castle is Bet Eliahu synagogue and the Jewish zone, with its own special museum.

Belmonte

Idanha-a-Velha Reportedly invaded and looted throughout history, Idanha-a-Velha is one of the oldest towns in Portugal. Extensive Roman ruins and epigraphs refurbished as a modern museum, a restored 16th century church, and ancient oil press all make this place very special.

Idanha-a-Velha

Penha Garcia Situated on a hillside next to the road between Monsanto and the Spanish border, a walk leads up to the castle and a dam below. On the lowest point of the trail, beneath the castle, you can go for a swim in the cool mountain lake. But what makes Penha Garcia truly outstanding is its geology, with huge fossils plentiful.

Penha Garcia

Serra da Estrela Even from our lowly house in Lousa, we can see the snow-capped peaks of the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal, whose highest point – Torre, accessible by a paved road – is 1,993 meters (6,539 feet) above sea level. Three rivers have their headwaters in the Serra da Estela, the only place in Portugal during the cold weather to ski, go sledding, snowboarding, or ride a snowmobile. We moved here from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin … so, seeing the snow from a distance is quite enough for now.

Marvão Perched on a granite crag, Marvão is the highest village in Portugal. An old, walled town with gardens and a castle, it’s one of the few nearby places included in the New York Times #1 bestselling book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Access to the village is through a narrow medieval archway, close to which stands a Moorish-looking building known as the Jerusalem chapel. People tell us that Marvão – deep inside Portugal’s hinterland, within a whisker of the Spanish border – is probably one of the prettiest places in the whole of southern Europe because of its views and lunar-like landscape.

Piedão What could be more romantic than a small town of homes hidden in the middle of the mountains? Astounding architecture attests to mankind’s ability to adapt harmoniously to the most inhospitable places, with blue schist and shale houses standing sentry along the sloping terraces between narrow, winding streets.

Guarda Built around a medieval castle on the northern cusp of the Serra da Estrela mountain range, the dominant 12th century Gothic cathedral is a star attraction and allows you to step onto its roof to survey the city, with a Jewish quarter where Hebrew inscriptions have lasted since the 1100s.

And there’s more: Almeida, a fortified village whose 16th-17th century castle with all the proper fortifications still remains in tip-top, textbook shape, along with its military museum … Manteigas, a glacial valley …Even its name, “Well of Hell,” makes Poço do Inferno tempting …Mira de Aire, with its largest caves in Portugal … Castelo de Vide ‘s red-roofed, whitewashed houses clinging to the side of lush mountain slopes and an old quarter described as one of Portugal’s best make this small town one of Portugal’s gems.

Abrantes Castle

After this bucket list of placeholders has been completed, we can take a train ride on the Beira Baxa line to Abrantes in the Portalegre province and visit the 14th century Almeiro do Tejo castle. Will I have the nerve to walk across the castle’s steep ramparts—which have no guard rails? Or the truly frightening new 1,692 foot long suspension bridge called 516 Arouca about an hour from Porto? Considered the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, it’s situated 575 feet above the ground with a see-through bottom to the sheer drop below, connecting the Aguieiras Waterfall and Paiva Gorge. It’s not a place to visit if you’re afraid of heights. But, if you do go to this new bridge, remember: Don’t look down!

Not even a chance.

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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