Postscripts to Paradise:

Rise of the Radical Right in Iberia

Even before the international pandemic which set people against governments and governments against people, 2019 proved to be a pivotal year of critical political incidents and innuendo.

“On the American continent, it seemed easy to understand (Jair) Bolsonaro and (Donald) Trump’s electoral success,” postulated Luís Gouveia Junior in a 5 March 2021 editorial published by DemocraciaAbierta, a global platform that publishes Spanish, Portuguese, and English voices which influence debates on democracy, justice, citizen participation and human rights.

“Brazil and the USA both faced undeniable problems, and the two candidates provided simple, if racist and undemocratic answers. Bolsonaro was a strongman who proposed to crack down on the violence and crime that plagues Rio de Janeiro. Trump was a voice for the part of his country that blamed immigrants for taking their jobs.”

Yet, how does that explain André Ventura in Portugal?

“On the face of it, says Gouveia, “the social context would suggest that there’s little potential for a far-Right surge. Roma people, who are targeted by André Ventura’s rhetoric, represent less than 0.5% of the country’s population.”

The question, then, is how does Ventura manage to make his pitch under such adverse conditions?

“One possible explanation–that the far Right presents itself as the only anti-system voice and appeals to voters who are disillusioned with the system–brings the examples of Brazil, the USA, and Portugal together,” Gouveia proposes. “The anti-system argument is not new, with authors such as Boaventura de Sousa Santos having discussed it at length within the Portuguese context. What is interesting, however, is that the anti-system discourse alone seems to be enough for the far-Right to gain political ground.”

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Over the summer of 2019, 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 by a message telling him to leave Portugal or let his family face the consequences. That message was accompanied by a bullet casing.

Mamadou Ba, an anti-racism activist, received emails threatening his family [Courtesy of 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,” reported UK’s The Guardian newspaper, which lists additional anecdotes and evidence of racism and growth of the far right in Portugal:

After forgetting her child’s bus pass, a black woman and her daughter were assaulted 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. Later, 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.

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
 

A worse attack took place when black actor Bruno Candé was murdered after a man shot him four times in what ENAR 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.

“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.”

In 2019, the Portuguese Commission for Equality and Against Discrimination received 436 complaints regarding cases of racism, an increase of 26% over 2018.

Despite the growing number of discrimination complaints, hardly any 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, however, claim that crime in Portugal has decreased steadily by 20% over the past 12 years.

On 17 December 2021, however, rights groups and politicians in Portugal condemned images that allegedly showed police officers abusing and torturing migrant workers and said those responsible must be punished.

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. Source: AFP via Getty Images

The incidents took place in 2019 in the municipality of Odemira, known for its fruit and vegetable greenhouses that rely mainly on migrant labor from Southeast Asia to operate.

The prosecutor’s office said seven police officers in Odemira had been accused of 33 crimes against migrants. The GNR said in a statement that it was aware of the incidents and “promptly reported them” to the public prosecutor office.

Two of the seven officers had already been suspended, it said. Three of the officers were repeat offenders.

The GNR (National Republican Guard) officers are charged with a total of 33 crimes against immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.

To make matters worse, video evidence, filmed by the accused and broadcast by CNN Portugal and local broadcaster TVI, suggests a group of military police officers engaged in the random harassment of migrants.

“Behavior of this nature is absolutely unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

In March 2021, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Portuguese authorities to address the increasing level of racism more resolutely in the country, as well as to take additional steps to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

The Commissioner remains concerned about the rise of racially motivated hate crimes and hate speech—especially targeting Roma, people of African descent, and those perceived as foreigners. She recommends implementing a comprehensive action plan against racism and discrimination, urging the authorities to condemn all instances of hate speech and insist that politicians firmly and publicly refrain from using or tolerating racist rhetoric.

Evidently, the Commissioner’s voice carried some weight. Portugal said it will review its anti-racism laws, including those concerning fines and sanctions, the government announced in its National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021-2025.

The government committed to “assess the possible revision of the legislation on combating discrimination and hate speech … in the scope of administrative offenses.” The government also announced its goal of “strengthening the system of sanctions for misdemeanors, viewing the framework of fines and sanctioned conducts.”

Article 240 of the criminal code will also be revised in light of the international instruments that bind Portugal “to accommodate all the prohibited discriminations,” Sofia Branco reported in an article released by Lusa, Portugal’s national news service.

Nonetheless, a former TV commentator whose penchant for provocation won her fame and notoriety in Portugal by describing calls for racial justice “traitorous,” and referring to Black Portuguese people by an old-fashioned word that translates to something like “Negro.” Susana García ran for mayor of Amadora, a city adjacent to Lisbon with one of the largest Black populations in Portugal.

Says Nicholas Casey in a 26 September (2021) New York Times piece, “Ms. Garcia’s high profile and her combative persona mean she has tapped into a question far larger than who should be mayor: Namely, how a former colonial power like Portugal should deal with today’s debates about racial justice.”

Ultimately, Garcia lost the mayoral race–handily–to socialist Carla Tavares.

Yet a former prime minister, judges, top bankers, business chiefs and football club presidents have all been ensnared in corruption scandals. But with their cases still mired in a sluggish legal system, “perceived flaws in the fight against graft have become a pressing political issue,” the Financial Times recently reported.

And with this being one of the primary fields where populists prey, given the fact that government has not dealt effectively with the problem, it is expected (at press time) that the extreme right will gain from it in the upcoming legislative election on January 30th. Portugal’s legal system’s handling of white-collar crime has come to fuel greater discontent.

With every new case of corruption in Portugal becoming another “nail in the coffin of democracy,” at least those nails get driven at a turtle’s pace … just like the legal justice systems themselves.

Meanwhile, the white nationalist movement is spreading.

On 8 December 2021, The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, established in 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, noted with concern “the prevalence of systemic racism and racially-motivated violence and ill-treatment, racial profiling, abuse of authority, frequent police brutality towards people of African descent.”

Members of the Working Group visited Lisbon, Setubal, and Porto to gain first-hand knowledge of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia, and related intolerance affecting people of African descent in Portugal.

Their statement concluded: “Portuguese identity continues to be defined by its colonial past, as well as enslavement and the trade and trafficking of Africans, and racial equality efforts have not confronted the importance of a broad-based renegotiation of Portuguese identity.”

Racism. Hatred. White supremacy. Police brutality. Extremism. Prejudice. Discrimination. All are symptomatic of the so-called “alt-right” gaining strength in Spain and Portugal.

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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 towards women, the marginalization of minorities, the brutal caging and deportation of immigrants, and the overall worship of capitalism, we sold our home … packed our bags … said good-by … and emigrated from the United States to Portugal and Spain.

For 15 years, we had owned a vacation bolt in a small Spanish town (Olvera) in Andalucía, where we spent a number of weeks every year 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 four 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, 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 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.

Amid fears over the country’s far-right movement, protesters demonstrated in June 2020 against racism and fascism in Portugal.

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 a 2018 report, the Council of Europe, a European human rights organization, referred to numerous grave accusations of racist violence against Portuguese police, while complaints to the country’s anti-discrimination commission rose by a quarter in 2019.

“The move comes after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, declared 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 a 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,” wrote 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.”

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,” claimed openDemocracy, a self-described “independent global media organization.”

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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 radical renegades can carry out their 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 and fewer in Spain, entrenched racism is still very real.

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

• 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;

Black FaceImage: La Sexta

• 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;

• “Convinced he was a terrorist,” a Spanish Guardia Civil officer killed an innocent Moroccan man in 2019, veering him off the road and shooting him eleven times as he fled on foot. Sentence for his crime was reduced;

• 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.

Football 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, equally important, 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.”

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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 using the term “maricón” simply because she didn’t know any better.

Others, however, have had different experiences.

Attacks by the 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 pledged to curtail gay pride parades, heaped ridicule on diversity lessons it wants to scrap in schools and even has drawn parallels between homosexuality and bestiality.

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

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

Be Gone, Gays!”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, Get Out.”

“We will … fight this type of violent behavior with the goal of continuing to build a society that is more tolerant of diversity,” said a statement issued by Pilar’s council, as the benches were 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 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 2021 ranking, Portugal and Spain rank fourth and eighth, respectively.

Lisbon Gay Pride, officially known as Arraial Lisboa Pride, is the largest LGBTQ event in Portugal (followed by Porto’s). 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.

Lisbon Gay Pride Image: ILGA

That said, in a 22 November 2021 article in the daily Journal de Noticias entitled “LGBT Community More Discriminated in the Workplace,” Zulay Costa reported, “Those who deviate from the conventional norms in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation have added difficulties in accessing the labor market and are even more subject to job insecurity.”

The findings are contained in the Council of Europe’s study on diversity in the workplace.

“Candidates who are openly gay are 1.5 times less likely to be asked for an interview, and lesbians are offered a salary 6% lower than heterosexual women. There are cases of insults, harassment, threats, attacks, jokes, and prejudice,” according to the study.

Data from the Fundamental Rights Agency reveal that in 2019, in Portugal, 20% felt discriminated against at work, with the European average being 21%. And Costa’s article goes on to say, “L’Autre Cercie (a French organization working for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the work world) points out that 25% of LGBTQ+ people have suffered at least one attack in their workplace. The situation of transgender people is the most worrying: 43% report having suffered discrimination in their professional life in the last two years, 13% more than lesbian, gay, or bisexual people.”

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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 exact number of Jews expelled; some estimate 40,000, others say 100,000 or more.

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 Sephardic Jews, a threatened move that Jewish leaders and organizations had charged was anti-Semitic. 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. Although 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.

In 2020, Portuguese cartoon artist Vasco Gargalo was criticized for creating an antisemitic political cartoon published in the weekly news magazine Sábado. Media reports were disseminated showing Gargalo’s cartoon, which depicted former Israeli 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 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 in the same week, after a Belgian town earned a stiff rebuke from the European Commission.

Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot via JTA

It feels different now, 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 Donald Trump winning reelection in 2024, following a chaotic “Big Lie” post-election period in which he and others continue to dispute the results of the 2020 vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, stoked, or condoned by the former 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.”

Hatred and evil, unfortunately, are part of the human condition. Once we shine a light on them, however, they tend to scurry like rats. Thankfully, the incidents mentioned in this article are few and far between. Whether in Portugal or Spain—they’re exceptions, rather than the rule.

Let’s do everything possible to keep it that way!

The BBB

Photo: Tripadvisor

Have you ever entertained the thought of retiring to some romantic place and opening a bed and breakfast there?

We have.

Nothing fancy, mind you; just a comfortable, offbeat place where weary workers or disheartened folks – single or couples – can relax and find some charm (or curiosities) and respite, off the beaten track.

For us, that means Portugal and southern Spain.

In these days of AirBnB, almost anyone can open a bed and breakfast. Anywhere. Even if you only have one “guest” bedroom to spare … or a sofa-sleeper in your living room!

Not long ago, we spent several days at a bed and breakfast outside a substantial suburb at the fringes of a major Iberian provincial capital. The chaps who own the place obviously love it and lavish cook-and-clean duties diligently on it daily. They’ve invested a lot of time, funds, and creativity in establishing an attractive b&b.

But it can be the little things – sometimes overlooked by people thinking they can create an idyllic bed and breakfast – that make all the difference between a memorable experience and one that won’t be repeated anytime soon.

As many people are hoping to move away from the USA or the UK or anywhere else and open a B&B in Spain or Portugal, here are a few observations and considerations for building the better bed and breakfast (The BBB):

Warmth—Beyond the comeliness and hospitality of a bed and breakfast is the mere matter of its comfort factor. As in temperature. Nobody enjoys staying in a bone-chilling room when it’s raining and nasty cold outside. If heating is provided by a single source (i.e., the warm setting of an air conditioner), consider back-ups. Even a portable electric heater can turn an unpleasant environment into a more comfortable one. Conversely, an air conditioner is an essential cost of doing business when inviting people to stay during warmer times.

Beds—Some people prefer to sleep au naturel. So, sleeping in a bed covered only by a nice duvet cover over a heavy blanket or comforter may be okay; but top (and bottom) sheets are better. After all, do you really want guests to wonder whose skin had caressed the comforter before they did? And, of course, provide comfortable mattresses.

Breakfast—Juice, fruits, cereals and yogurt, eggs, tortillas, toast, an assortment of charcuterie, and coffee (or tea) are delicious. Tasty and fulfilling. The first day (and maybe the second). But lacking distinction in this all-too-important meal, day after day, can become tiresome and ritualistic. There’s truth to the adage that, “variety is the spice of life.”

Lighting and Electrical—By all means, have enough. Some is good … more is better … too much is just enough! Many of us like to read in bed. A light – even a clip-one to the headboard – is essential. Who wants to get up to turn off the overhead light(s) just when we’re ready to close our eyes and fall asleep, because there aren’t any lamps on the nightstands on the side of the bed? Then, too, some of us travel with quite a few contrivances: computers, laptops, devices, irons, whatever. Outlets providing 110/220-AC/DC are essential!

Slipping and Sliding—Having suffered a broken a leg (and currently saddled with five pins around my ankle and a titanium rod in my shin), I have no desire whatsoever to repeat the experience. So, please – please! – consider your flooring … especially in the bathrooms. Shiny surfaces (aka “glazed” tiles) may look wonderful, but they can become sheets of ice when wet feet come in contact with them. Especially when trying to reach for that towel at the other end of the bathroom! How much safer and simpler are those tacky plastic mats for inside the bathtub, a rug and a utilitarian hook close to the shower for hanging the towel! Similarly, you may have gorgeous marble staircases … or ceramic or tile. Remember that they can be slippery. We’ve heard more than one sad story about a top-of-the-line b&b where a guest accidentally slipped down the steps.

Hot H20—Honestly, is anything worse than running out of hot water when you’re in the middle of taking a shower or about to begin shaving? Fortunately, today’s technology can provide hot water, continuously, courtesy of relatively inexpensive, on-demand water heaters. If you’re thinking of turning your place into a b&b, please be sure your guests don’t get a cold shoulder without continuous running hot water.

Computers—They may be called “laptops,” but sitting in bed with a computer on your lap is awkward at best and doesn’t work (at worst). Better bed and breakfasts provide a desk (and chair) where one can work online conveniently and comfortably.

• Je ne sais quoi–When push comes to shove, it’s the congeniality, the ambience, the undefinable yet unmistakable personality of your place that guests will remember and why they’ll come back again and/or recommend your hideaway to others. Those teeth-gritting exercises in being pleasant to people arriving four or five hours before check-in time … the tasty treat or homemade snack … the continued cleanliness of your rooms and gathering spaces distinguish you from the downtown hotels and near-to-the-airport facilities.

Each of these little comforts and conveniences add up to a BBB: a Better Bed & Breakfast!

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You are invited to read our current and past issues on this page of its website. For those who prefer the feel of paper pages, paperback editions of the magazine are available at all Amazon sites.

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Our Strange Duet

Spain and Portugal Pas de Deux

Spanish churros

Portuguese Pasteis de Natas

We just returned from a two-week vacation at the property we’ve owned in southern Spain (Olvera) for nearly 15 years. Since leaving the USA in 2018, our primary residence has been in Portugal, divided between two properties –one in the central area (Castelo Branco) and the other near the Badajoz border of Portugal and Spain (Elvas). We’ve been legal/fiscal residents of Portugal for nearly five years–since the inauguration of Donald Trump. The pied a terre in Spain continues to be our vacation home.

When we were tourists traveling once or twice a year from the USA to Spain, we considered our “vacation bolt” the be-all-and-end-all of places we wanted to be. Now, because of our exposure to Portugal, we’re having second thoughts.

People often ask, “Why do you have property in both Spain and Portugal?” “Which country do you like better?” “What are some of the differences between the two?” “Which one is more or less expensive, all things considered?” “Why Portugal, not Spain?” (and vice-versa).

You can type any of those questions into Google and come up with a host of objective, credible answers. But I doubt that you’ll find much about the subtle differences between living in Spain and/or Portugal online. After all this time, we’ve only recently been able to pinpoint some of the subtle differences that impact and affect us.

Based on our observations and experiences in two comparable, interior towns — Olvera in the Spanish province of Cádiz and Alcains in the Castelo Branco district of Portugal — here are some of our impressions about one country and the other …

Spain caters to our spirit, Portugal to the soul. The first conjures up the Spanish word salido (outgoing, extroverted, uninhibited), while the latter is better described by its sorrowful saudade (longing, yearning, loss).

Think about how Spanish flamenco and Portuguese fado make you feel. Therein lie the differences — emotional, at least — between the two Iberian countries.

Too metaphorical and transcendental a description? Consider these for more specifics:

• Portugal may have bad drivers, but Spain has poor roads–not just in their physical condition, but in their safety zones. Highways and major roadways in both countries feature signage indicating that a single car distance between you and another signals danger, and that greater safety is achieved by maintaining two. But Portugal is very careful about the areas where you’re permitted to pass other vehicles … especially from the lane of oncoming traffic. Not so in Spain. It’s sheer terror trying to pass another vehicle in those short lengths of roadway before a curve or an incline blocks your vision of what’s coming at you ahead.

• While both countries are Roman Catholic, in name if not in practice, nearly all stores — including supermarkets and shopping malls — are closed Sundays in Spain, while remaining open in Portugal.

• Maybe you’re too young to remember John’s Bargain stores (which morphed into Big Lots), where closeouts and budget prices lured penny-pinching shoppers. Now we have Walmart and “warehouse” operations like Costco. Due to its major investments in Portugal, China is favored with many tax-exempt businesses. Every city and town in Portugal sports hole-in-the-wall and mega Chinese shops which are beginning to take root in Spain, as well. But in southern Spain, Andalucía especially, it’s the Moorish markets that lead in the whatever-you-need, something-for-everyone business. And while it’s an eye-opener to see just how many products we import from China, the truth is that few bargains are to be found in either the Chinese or Moorish markets.

• Along with supermarkets, shops, and weekly markets, both countries also allow vehicles to deliver bread, fish, and assorted sundries to homes. Although each typically follows the same routes, stops, and times, you can hear them coming by a series of short “toot-toots” in Portugal, whereas wheeled merchants in Spain can deafen you with their loud, long, insistent horns blaring. Honking is more habitual in Spain than in Portugal, where stopping to unload groceries, neglecting to move the instant a traffic light turns green, letting someone out, or having a word with a pedestrian is more allowable and less the cause of impatience and maddening disruptions requiring immediate retorts by holding down on the horn.

• The languages of both countries have quirky differences. In Spain, it’s the lisp and in Portugal it’s kind of like a shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh or, sometimes, a gargling sound. Ultimately, Spanish is easier to understand than Portuguese, whose pronunciation is much more difficult. Nonetheless, Spanish grammar and verb conjugation require far more expertise (and experience) than Portuguese.

• Perhaps it’s where we go and travel, but to our ears, English is spoken more frequently by the Portuguese than the Spanish. Maybe that’s because it’s not considered a “foreign” language (i.e., Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, etc.) in Portugal, but rather an integral part of every student’s curriculum from elementary school upwards.

• Taxes tend to be lower in Spain (where the ubiquitous IVA or sales tax is 21% v. Portugal’s 23%), except when it comes to buying property: Spain just reduced (for a limited time?) its transfer tax from 8% to 7% of the sales price plus an additional 1% in stamp fees. In Portugal, however, if your principal residence costs less than €100,000, you’ll pay just 0.8% in transfer taxes plus 1% in stamp fees. Do the arithmetic: On a €50,000 home purchase, you’ll pay €4,000 in Spanish transfer taxes and stamp fees compared to Portugal, where you’ll be assessed €900. That’s quite a difference there! Nonetheless, in addition to IVA, Portugal imposes a road tax initially and in perpetuity on any vehicle that you buy.

• Spain is five times larger than Portugal with lots more coastline, yet Portugal has historic majesties and jaw-dropping topography, as well as its charm.

• The density of buildings – a bunch of two, three, and four-level houses set atop and/or encircling one or more others – gives a sense of claustrophobia, of living in a maze, in towns like ours in Spain. Are the streets really narrower there, or is it just how we’re made to feel? Portugal’s streets in towns like Alcains aren’t much wider (apparently), but there just doesn’t appear to be as many buildings or cars crammed into the space. Whether it’s a measure of driving skill or the impossibly steep streets for parking, almost every car — old and new — has dents, scratches, bangs, and fender-benders which the folks in Olvera affectionately refer to as “Olvera kisses.” Somehow, for whatever the reason, Portuguese cars are found to be in far better condition.

• People in both countries participate in the “café” culture, sipping and gossiping daily. Yet they’ll probably be drinking coffee in Portugal, whereas wine is the preferred choice in Spain. Both beverages cost about the same.

• By and large, Spain has its tapas, extremely low-cost, smaller portion dishes with fixings (bread, olives, pretzels, potato chips, cheese, etc.) to share with others or enjoy by yourself. Two people, each partaking two separate tapas plus two wines or beers, will pay around €15 for a satisfying meal. Add an appetizer (entrada) or dessert, and you’re looking at a 20€ tab. Water and soft drinks are more expensive than beer or wines in Spain and Portugal. Both countries offer their Platos/Pratos de(l)/do día. Maybe it’s the butchering, but we much prefer the taste and the chew of Spanish meats and sauces.

• In terms of bread and desserts, Portugal wins, hands down. Spanish breads and rolls are dry and tasteless, while they’re a many splendored thing in Portugal. Yes, Spain does have its churros (which many believe the Portuguese have improved upon), but Portugal’s pasteis de natas are a classic creamy custard tart that’s incomparable in its own right.

• Garbage collection and recycling is handled very differently in Olvera and Alcains. In our Spanish town, every sort of refuse – glass wine bottles, plastic water bottles, metal cans of tuna and shaving cream, along with the usual kitchen and bath waste – are often put into the same plastic bag and hung outside one’s house, where it’s picked up by the bin men (not women) every single day (including Sundays and holidays). Few recycling “centers” are conveniently located to where many of us live. In Portugal, recycling is encouraged with billboard signage and online memes … and good deals are available on sets of home-based recycling bins. Trash isn’t picked up at your property, but at clusters of red, yellow, and green recycling bins next to plain-old-garbage receptacles within walking distance, where we deposit them.

I began this narrative with a musical headline–from Phantom of the Opera. I close here with another musical allusion, this one from Mary Wells:

“Well, I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed … two lovers and I love them both the same.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You are invited to read our current and past issues on this page of its website. For those who prefer the feel of paper pages, paperback editions of the magazine are available at all Amazon sites.

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Illegitimate, Illegal and Condemnable:

Portugal Decries Russia’s War with Ukraine

Let’s be clear: In the early hours of 24 February, Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting cities and civilians with airstrikes and shelling. As a result, thousands of innocent people piled into trains and cars to flee the unprovoked aggression, while Russian tanks and troops continued to roll across the border launching a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order of the region.  

At the request of the Ukrainian authorities, Portugal agreed to provide military equipment such as vests, helmets, night vision goggles, grenades and ammunition of different calibers, complete portable radios, analogue repeaters and G3 automatic rifles.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said that the country would be sending 175 military reinforcements to help Ukrainian soldiers on the ground secure their borders as this “is a war against the freedom of self-determination of a democratic country and therefore it is also a war against … democracy.”

“It’s been reported that close to 1,800 additional Portuguese military could be mobilized to take part in NATO’s dissuasive mission within allied countries on Ukraine’s borders. The soldiers will be made up of contingents from all three arms of the military (Air Force, Navy and Army),” reported the Portuguese Journal American. “In a second phase, another 472 military could be dispatched, along with 36 tactical vehicles and two Naval war ships.”

In addition, the United States has been reinforcing its use of Portugal’s Lajes military air base on Terceira island in the Azores, including storage and maintenance of munitions and explosives.

Ukrainians in Portugal, the second-largest foreign community in Portugal, are living in fear for their family and friends back home.

Citizens, residents, and expats of one of the world’s most peaceful nations expressed their frustration and anger, decrying Russian President Putin’s decimation of the world order.

Outside the Russian embassy in Lisbon, thousands of demonstrators held signs and waved flags to protest the Russian invasion and Portugal’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Additional protests in Porto and Algarve called for military support from European countries to Ukraine, as well as urged the Portuguese to not purchase products from Russia.

“Portugal supports Ukraine, which is defending itself against an unjustified, illegal, and unacceptable invasion,” Defense Minister João Cravinho tweeted.

On behalf of Portugal, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva also expressed his solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of Moscow:

“We have to be prepared for all scenarios. I am sorry to say it, but I cannot say anything else: today we have to work with all scenarios on the table because what is happening is that Putin’s action is not only exceeding his words, but Putin’s action at every moment is also exceeding the maximum that we had foreseen as possible …”

Santos Silva remarked that “whatever the objective” of the Russian offensive, “it is illegitimate, it is illegal, and it is condemnable,” describing it as “the biggest security crisis that Europe has gone through since World War II.”

Prime Minister Antonio Costa condemned the Russian invasion, adding that any Ukrainians who have family, friends, and acquaintances in Portugal are welcome in Portugal. Instructions to facilitate visas to those feeling the Russian invasion were given to embassies in Ukraine, as well as neighboring countries. The Portuguese Embassy in Ukraine urged Portuguese citizens in Ukraine to leave through European Union borders, particularly enroute to Romania or Moldova.

“While refugees are usually allowed in Portugal through a case-by-case analysis of the danger each applicant faces, the government acknowledged that all refugees from Ukraine are facing dangerous conditions,” wrote Lara Silva in Portugal.com. “The only reason someone might be denied asylum is if they have committed crimes against humanity or serious crimes, according to the Minister of Internal Administration and Justice, Francisca Van Dunem.” 

Unclear whether any changes will be made to the Portugal Golden Visa, “the war in Ukraine is likely to affect Portugal’s state budget for 2022,” Silva predicted. The Prime Minister, however, said it was too early to assess whether this is the case; some Portuguese economists, however, have stated that it will – directly and indirectly – impact the state budget:

“Oil and natural gas prices will continue to skyrocket, as Russia is one of the main energy suppliers to European countries. GDP is also likely to decrease in Portugal and there could be increased military spending attributed to the budget, depending on the course of the conflict.”

The Foreigners and Border Service previously announced that it would stop the Golden Visa scheme for Russian citizens. In addition, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva stressed that more Russian citizens inn Portugal would be subject to sanctions.

“SEF has suspended the appreciation of any dossier of candidacy for authorization of residency through investment, commonly known as golden visas, for Russian citizens,” he pointed out.

In addition, Santos Silva stressed that the scheme was also suspended for citizens from Belarus.

According to Portugal’s Immigration and Border Service (SEF) data, investment from citizens from Russia brought a total of €277.8 million to Portugal’s economy in the nine years since the program was created.

With a view to receiving refugees from Ukraine, Portugal’s government recently published in the Diário da República the amendment to an ordinance that regulates the regime for granting temporary protection to refugees. In a press conference after an extraordinary Council of Ministers, the Minister of Social Security announced that Ukrainians who arrive in Portuguese territory “are guaranteed to stay regular,” being immediately assigned a user number of the National Health Service, Social Security number, and Tax Identification Number (NIF).

The official also announced that the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP) has created a “task-force” “to accompany people in a personalized way and manage to find ways of real integration,” through accommodation and a platform where companies will be able to upload job offers.

According to the Minister of Justice and Internal Administration Francisca Van Dunem as quoted by CNN Portugal’s Barbara Cruz, the regime will have an initial duration of one year, renewable for two periods of six months “provided that conditions are maintained that prevent people from returning” to Ukraine.

Although no one in the West is quite sure what Putin’s intentions are, a weakening or breakup of the European Union is suspected of being one of his primary goals, says Len Port, a journalist and author based in the Algarve who writes for the Portugal Resident.

“Fortunately for Portugal, unlike much of the rest of Europe, it is not dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia, which it is feared the Kremlin might be using as a weapon in the current stalemate. Portugal’s gas originates in Algeria, Nigeria, and the US,” Port wrote on 26 January.

Nonetheless, Portugal has concerns even though it is the most distant EU country from Ukraine and, thus, perhaps the least vulnerable should dialogue fail. It is situated more than 3,000 km west of Ukraine. In past years, top Russian warships have passed along Portugal’s coast, at times as close as 26 nautical miles from the Algarve’s shores.

“As distant as it is, defence minister João Gomes Cravinho told his 26 EU counterparts at a meeting … in Brest, France, that he was delighted with the ‘absolute refusal’ by all EU member states to give in to Russia’s attempts to divide the Union by threatening Ukraine,” Port added.

“It’s clear that Russia’s attitudes seek to divide–divide the Europeans and divide the Europeans from the North American,” claimed the defense minister. He described it as “a very worrying situation that must be dealt with firmly, with a clear purpose, and in unity among all Europeans.”

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, thanked his Portuguese counterpart, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, for the support Portugal has provided to Ukraine.

Zelensky said on Twitter that he spoke to Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, whom he thanked for the closure of Portuguese airspace to Russian planes, Portugal’s support in excluding Russia from the Swift international interbank platform, and for “concrete defence assistance.”

The Ukrainian head of state called the President of the Republic, who reiterated Portugal’s “strong condemnation” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and “solidarity support for the courageous Ukrainian resistance,” according to a note published in official website of the Portuguese Presidency.

Portugal also aims to accelerate its energy transition and increase the proportion of renewable sources by 20 percentage points to 80 per cent of its electricity output by 2026, four years earlier than previously planned, a transition that is being accelerated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” according to a 2 April report by Reuters.

Unlike central European countries, Portugal does not depend on Russian natural gas pipelines, as it mainly imports liquefied natural gas from Nigeria and the USA, not importing Russian crude since 2020.Committed to become carbon-neutral by 2050, Portugal currently gets 60 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources—one of the largest proportions of green energy in Europe.

Elsewhere, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine in a ceremony that harkened back to a century-old apocalyptic prophecy about peace and Russia sparked by purported visions of the Virgin Mary to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

The pontiff invited faithful from around the world to join him in the prayer, which opened with Francis entering St. Peter’s Basilica before an estimated 3,500 people and concluded with him sitting alone before a statue of the Madonna. There, he solemnly asked forgiveness that humanity had forgotten the lessons learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two World Wars,” noted Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press.

“Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons,” the pope prayed.

The service was Francis’ latest effort to rally prayers for an end to the war while keeping open options for dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church and its influential leader, Patriarch Kirill. “Francis has yet to publicly condemn Russia by name for its invasion, though his denunciations of the war in Ukraine have grown increasingly outraged,” observed Winfield.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the magazine’s current issue online and subscribe at no cost via this link:
https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Nothing in Common (Anymore)

A couple of months ago, I received a private message from a Facebook friend who had stayed with us for a few days about four years ago, when we first moved to Portugal.

I had almost forgotten how much he got on our nerves back then, despite being a rather friendly, outgoing, boisterous American.

How best to explain how we felt around him? Try this, especially if you remember vinyl records and their players: Since moving to Portugal, our lives have been running at a comfortable 33 RPM; after spending a couple of hours with him, we rotated faster and faster, spinning at 78 RPM.

Anyway, he was returning to Portugal to reconnoiter places he hadn’t been to in planning his eventual relocation here, and wanted to see us and stay with us again.

But we had downsized and our home was too small for someone with such an oversize personality … along with me, my spouse and our three Miniature Schnauzers.

So, I tried to explain (gently) the situation in messages flying back and forth through cyberspace between us.

“I promise not to get in your way,” he wrote in a hodge-podge of upper and lower case letters, with — let’s call them typos — when I actually suspected they were spelling errors and a lack of care (speed was of the essence) that many of us take when writing emails, sending messages, and posting online. “I can crash on your couch, no worries!” he continued.

“No,” I replied. “That just won’t work. But we’ll be happy to find you a hotel or B&B nearby.” There are a couple of really charming small hotels we’ve stayed at right in central, downtown Castelo Branco. But he wanted to stay closer to us.

The offer wasn’t mentioned as he signed off and logged out, telling me that he’d be in touch when the date of his travel approached. I received one email when he landed in Porto from Amsterdam, informing us that he’d come visit us in Castelo Branco either on Wednesday evening or Thursday afternoon. A second email arrived Wednesday afternoon, saying that he was taking the “scenic” route and should be at our place by 18h00 (6 PM).

“Have you made reservations somewhere?” I replied, before informing my partner that we’d be having company for dinner. “No, not yet,” he answered, asking if I could find him either a low-cost hotel or B&B in our town. I knew there were no hotels (yet) in Alcains; so, I researched AirBnB and other sites listing home-style lodging. There were two right here in Alcains that appeared to be clean, comfortable, easily accessible, and reasonably priced (US $49 per night). I sent him links to the properties, along with a “pin” to our house.

A new message from him suddenly appeared: “I’m here!”

Though not particularly tall, he loomed large in our Portuguese doorway, casting shadows from the street light overhead. Reaching in to shake hands, he switched to bear hugs while our dogs tried to sneak past us and out the front door.

“Come on in and have a seat,” I greeted him, pointing to the sofa with chaise in our hobbit house living room. “Can I get you some wine?”

Over the course of the next three hours — including a homemade meatloaf dinner with corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits on the side — we learned reasons why we had nothing in common beyond Facebook friendship as he rapidly told us too much about his life:

• This was his seventh trip in four years to Portugal. Two were with his wife. This and four other visits, he had come around to scout areas and properties.

• His plan was to move to and retire in Portugal … four and a half years from now. He expected to live off the rental income generated by two houses he owned in the USA. The four-plus years took into account his wife’s time required before retiring from her job with the state’s government. He still had no idea where in Portugal they wanted to live (except that it had to be considerably cooler in the summers than where we are), but envisioned renting, not buying, for six-months to one-year intervals. Then, they’d move somewhere else. For this he needed to make seven trips four and a half years before being able to move here?

• Not only didn’t he wear a mask in the street (still advised by Portuguese law) or asked if we’d prefer to put them on in our tight dwelling, but he stated, matter-of-factly, that neither he nor his wife had been vaccinated (“Except for my mother taking me for a polio shot when I was a kid, I’ve never been vaccinated for anything–not even the flu.”). Both of them had come down with Covid (“the worst … very painful … aspirin and Ibuprofin only made it worse … still,I went to the gym almost every afternoon to work out, because it made me feel better … until I crashed, later each night.”). My dander was rising: He had had Covid, wasn’t vaccinated, didn’t wear a mask, and was in our faces–literally! Not particularly up on travel conditions and restrictions, I wondered how he had been able to fly from the USA to the Netherlands and onto Portugal, given his history. No idea.

• Although he had booked a room for the night, texting while driving high in the Serra da Estrella mountains, he hadn’t bothered to pull off the road and check the owner’s check-in times and requirements. It wasn’t until nearly 11PM (23h) that we suggested he make the call. Speaking in English to his mobile device, it recorded his voice and saved it as text … which he then used Google Translate to create a Portuguese message that he sent to his host. “No problem,” he recounted, assuredly, saying that the proprietor only wanted to know how soon he’d be arriving there. Russ and I looked at each other and jointly declared, “Within 15 minutes.” We still had to clean up, wash all the dishes, and deal with the dogs, before retiring for the evening ourselves.

“Thank you, gentlemen, for a terrific evening,” he said as he was leaving. “What are your plans for tomorrow … and the day after. I finished the northern part of my journey early, so I’m not in any rush to move on.”

“We’re working!” my partner and I echoed in unison.

“Well, at least you have to let me take you to lunch tomorrow,” he said while re-lacing his shoes by the door. “Just pick a place and send me the link. What time’s good for you two? How about one o’clock?”

We nodded numbly.

Three private messages on Facebook: (1) a thumbs up when we sent him the name and location of the restaurant where we’d meet for lunch; (2) a “sorry, running a bit late …” just as we locked up the house and headed to our car; and (3) “never mind, all is good, I’ll be there at one.” He arrived at 1:25. No big deal. It’s Portugal and we were enjoying glasses of wine.

Translating the nine items offered at the cafeteria-snack bar-restaurant from Portuguese to English, we ordered. Rather, I did. Russ can understand some Portuguese when spoken; but he’d rather that someone else speak it. Our luncheon companion had a hard enough time asking for “mais pão,” after grabbing and grubbing most of the bread in the basket.

Again, the subject came up about our plans for the rest of the day (and the day after).

From there, the final nails of our “friendship” coffin were driven:

• He had voted for Trump (“he’s a businessman, not politician”) in 2016; in 2020, he didn’t vote. For anyone. Blind to the monsters #45 had created, he was right in pointing out the divisiveness spreading around the world, but wrong, I believe, in the reasons.

• The television in the restaurant was showing a caravan of Portuguese ambulances, fire trucks, and other red vehicles headed to support Ukraine. Which opened another can of worms. He didn’t know — or understand — the differences between NATO and the European Union, believing it was up to the European Union to take up arms for Ukraine, not the USA.

• Nor did he understand how impeachment works in the government of the United States, insisting over and again that Trump hadn’t been impeached. Neither once nor twice. Because, he maintained, that when the Senate didn’t ratify or concur with the House’s indictment, it effectively erased those impeachments from the record. “No, that’s not how it works,” I explained. Once impeached, always impeached. It doesn’t go away–regardless of how the Senate votes. His impeachments will always be recognized.” Flabbergasted, he asked, “So that means Clinton also was impeached?” Yes it does.

Russ and I glanced at each other, kicking each other’s shins not to get further entangled.

Anyway, it was about closing time for the restaurant and we were the last ones left seated, as the owners cleaned tables and picked up chairs, sweeping beneath them before placing them on top of the tables. Catching the owner’s eye, I mouthed, “A conta, por favor.” Within minutes, a handwritten receipt showing €27.50 was handed to me (after all, I was the one who spoke Portuguese and did the ordering). Our acquaintance pulled an American Express card out of his wallet and handed it to the proprietor, who shook his head and pointed to a sign taped to the wall: cash only, no plastic cards. Honestly, I hadn’t known. I pulled thirty euros out of my wallet, gritting my teeth in the process. “I would use the ATM and get cash,” offered our (now former) Facebook friend, “but I’m having trouble with my PIN.” Determined to let me know that he wanted to make good on his promise to pay for our lunch, he asked me whether he could pay in British pounds. He had £25 in his wallet. “Doubtful,” I said. Russ thought he’d have to go to the airport to exchange them for euros, while I thought one of the local banks might accept the currency and hand him euros in the process. Whatever.

As we left and said our goodbyes to each other, I could tell that Russ was really annoyed.

“How many times has he been to Portugal? Seven? How do you come to Portugal without euros and only one credit card that’s not working? How did he buy all the junk food that he’s been eating in the car? How many pit stops and mini-mercados accept credit cards, let alone American Express? You can be Facebook friends with him, if you want,” Russ said. “But I’m unfriending him as soon as we get home. My hands are still shaking from the past 18 hours!”

What more could I say? I felt the same way. Catching his hand under the umbrella as we walked the three or four blocks to where we’d parked our car, my heart overflowed with love and gratitude for my partner who always put others first. How fortunate — blessed! — I have been to live with him for 30 years and move to Portugal together.

“I love you,” I said. “I love you, too,” he replied.

It’s good to know that we still have so much in common.

Circumstantial Heroes

The picaresque novel (Spanish: picaresca, from pícaro, for “rogue” or “rascal”) is a type of prose fiction that depicts the adventures of a roguish, but appealing hero, usually of lower social class, who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.

Most picaresque novels incorporate defining characteristics: satire, comedy, sarcasm, acerbic social criticism, first-person narration with an autobiographical ease of telling; an outsider protagonist-seeker on an episodic and often daunting quest for renewal or justice.

The Pickwick Papers (Charles Dickens), Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), Confessions of Felix Krull (Thomas Mann), and Dead Souls (Nikolay Gogol) are classic examples of the genre.

So, too, is Miguel de Cervantes’ epic Don Quijote (Quixote), which parodied the popular books of chivalry then in vogue.

After being dismissed as another picaresque novel of its time, scholars and readers concluded that the book was a lot more than that … probing the vagaries of reality and illusion. Where the visionary man of la Mancha saw giants to be toppled and a lovely damsel in distress, his loyal companion, Sancho Panza, was more pragmatic: the giants were simply windmills and the object of Quijote’s affection was merely a sturdy, lackluster peasant girl.

Despite Sancho Panza’s common sense and no-nonsense approach to their travels and life with his meandering master, we find ourselves rooting for Don Quijote and his impossible dreams.

Perhaps it’s human nature – of civilized people, at least – to cheer for the underdog … but seldom does the victim actually reach heroic proportions.

Sometimes, though, it happens.

In a biblical story, the diminutive David slays a seemingly invincible Goliath, saving the Israelites from the Philistines, who flee the battlefield.

Elsewhere in the media, ever-suffering good girl Jane the Virgin at once mocked the sudsy Spanish telenovelas so beloved by many Latinos and Hispanics … as her tales of woe evolved into the quintessential soap opera. We liked her, loved her, and cried when we believed she lived happily ever as the series concluded following 100 episodes.

Because of her diary, dear, sweet, innocent Anne Frank’s surreptitious life (and death) made her a hero to millions upon millions of school children throughout the years.

In a world dominated by systems, bureaucracies, and belligerent players with politics for the rich, we hunger and thirst for mere mortal heroes … as is the case now with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and all his people, staunchly defending their motherland against a despot intent on annihilating them.

Ironic though it may be, before becoming his country’s president, the Jewish Volodymyr Zelensky had been a comedian who starred in a TV series in which he portrayed Ukraine’s president.

Servant of the People, the satirical series that launched Zelensky’s political career, follows a teacher (Zelensky) who unexpectedly becomes president after a rant against corruption goes viral on social media. The show ran for three seasons and ended when Zelensky decided to run for president of Ukraine in 2019 under the banner of a new political party … also called Servant of the People.

He’s known as president, actor, showman, voice of ‘Paddington’ and a mean pianist, but friends close to Ukraine’s leader say the fighter we see today is the real deal.

Despite the demolition, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that there would be an independent Ukraine “a lot longer than there’s going to be a Vladimir Putin,” as the Russian leader continued his unprovoked invasion of the country. “One way or the other, Ukraine will be there and, at some point, Putin won’t.”

Blinken’s comments came as new satellite images showed widespread destruction across Ukraine.

Whether or not Volodymyr Zelensky is ultimately named Time’s “Person of the Year,” he’s my hero here and now.

I hope that he inspires you, too.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current issue — and subscribe, free of charge — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/.

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Brinkmanship

“… World War Three”

One can’t tune into a newscast or read a journalist report about the situation in Ukraine growing more deadly daily, without hearing these three words mentioned—usually in the context of why NATO (and the USA) cannot risk the wrath of Putin by participating in a “no fly” zone over Ukraine air space.

The assumption is that the Russian leader will interpret any involvement or interference in his war as aggressive, escalating the stakes to nuclear levels.

Obviously, none of us wants to die or be crippled by chemical and/or biological warfare, a nuclear conflagration, or a despot czar laying siege to all that we value and hold sacred.

How well I remember the nail-biting, nerve-frazzling “Take shelter!” drills in public schools during the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s.

Many of us believed that the world was about to end.

But, despite Kruschchev’s rhetoric and shoe-banging tantrums that “We will bury you!” we stood our ground. And our naval fleet refused to budge, as brinkmanship brought us to the edge of nuclear annihilation.

Earlier, in response to Hitler’s heinous war crimes and the massacre and mutilation of six million Jewish people, the words “Never again!” echoed around the globe. Never again would the world – governments, religions, businesses – stand by and not get involved as the Holocaust took place around and among the nations of Europe.

How quickly we forget …

Maybe, though, we’ll remember Barry McGuire’s words from this 1965 ballad:

Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say?
Can’t you feel the fear that I’m feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no running away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy

But you tell me over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction

Reporters, generals, and analysts are quick to remind us of the 2014 siege of Ukraine by the Russians:

Russia formally incorporated Crimea as two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol on 18 March 2014. Following the annexation, Russia escalated its military presence on the peninsula and leveraged nuclear threats to solidify the new status quo on the ground.

But the same experts neglect to tell earlier “russification” of the Ukraine efforts.

In the “Manifesto to the Ukrainian People with an Ultimatum to the Central Rada,” drafted by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, the Bolshevik leaders made a paradoxical statement simultaneously recognizing the right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination and denying it in the name of the revolution.

Lacking strength in Ukraine, Lenin sent Russian military units to Kyiv. In January 1918, troops began their advance and, in early February, seized the capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic by firing 15,000 artillery units on the city. After seizing the city, Russian troops shot people on the streets of Kyiv for using the Ukrainian language.

Today, Russia once again is devouring Ukraine as the world watches and takes humanitarian actions, supplying the country with back door armaments and ammunition. Still, despite its good intentions, NATO nations refuse to put boots on the ground, planes in the air, or their own borders at risk.

For fear of Putin’s retribution.

We’re back, again, at the infamous Cuban missile crisis … although, this time, we’re not soloists: We’re with NATO now. And we’re not the only “super power” (i.e., equipped with a nuclear arsenal) involved. France has the bomb, as does the United Kingdom. So, too, does Israel—even though, despite location, it’s not a member of the North American Treaty Organization. Will China risk its revolutionary status by supporting Russia, or will its leaders prefer a more cautious approach, enabling China to partake in the plunders?

Even historically “neutral” countries like Portugal, Switzerland, and Norway realize the stakes and are quick to open their doors to refugees with one hand, while sending troops and weaponry to the fringes of the battle zones.

Have we lost our honor, our way of life, our values, over the past 60 years since our brigade faced off against Russia in our own backyard? Are the world’s other billionaires afraid of stepping on the toes of the oligarchs and setting off nuclear missiles?

One of those multiple retired generals who serves as an adviser and consultant to CNN made a powerful point the other day: Russia isn’t the only one capable of seizing the world–not through its nuclear intimidation, but through the power of shutting us off to its energy supplies. Think about the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, for instance. Autocrats like Putin! Or, for that matter, countries intent on nuclear arms races – like North Korea and Iran – that must be confronted and subdued.

Is Vladimir Putin willing to escalate his war beyond conventional troops, armor, and artillery? Is he so bloodthirsty that, isolated, he’s determined not to capitulate … to continue invading other lands and reaping the spoils of war … despite the determination and concentration of power aligned against him?

Sanctions certainly have their place and can work to disarm Russia economically—down the road. But for now, the powers-that-be allowing Putin to have his way either aren’t concerned about their own welfare or are blinded to the reality of brothers killing brothers through Russian propaganda and disinformation.

Watching the “Breaking News! Breaking News!” battle hymn of the republic, I believe that we must take a gamble and prove our muster and muscle against the Putins of the world.

Damned if you do, damned – even more – if you don’t.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe — free, no charge! — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/.

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s those seemingly little frustrations while living in Portugal or Spain that can make you angry and disgruntled, wanting or needing to rant.

Like going to the dentist.

I’m not referring to being treated by the dentist, which sometimes can be painful, but the whole series of complex procedures involved. Especially if you have dental insurance.

It had been a while since we’d had our teeth and gums cleaned, and wanted to check that off our bucket list. Cleaner teeth are easier to wrap your tongue around and actually feel smoother after brushing.

Our dentist, mind you, is great … it’s the bureaucracy, finger-pointing, and “not my responsibility” attitude involved. Plus, of course, all the time waiting.

Step #1—We log on to our insurance company’s network of affiliated providers, choosing “Dental” rather than “Medical,” “Well Being,” or “Hospitals” from the options. With the pull-down menus, we select our province, district, concelho, and specialty (general dentistry).

Step #2—We’re delighted to find that the clinic where our medical doctor practices tops of the list of three area providers that accept our insurance.

Step #3—Appointments are made, rescheduled, rescheduled again, and rescheduled once more. Internal matters at the clinic, you know.

Step #4—We show up on time (the scheduled hour, not the Portuguese one), check in with the receptionist, fill out a couple of forms, and wait for about 45 minutes before I’m called – the first patient in a full waiting room – into the dentist’s office. My partner will have to wait.

Step #5—The dentist and I exchange small talk as I’m seated in the curvy horror chair with all those awful attachments. Turns out, he’s just recently relocated to Portugal from Cuba. I feel somewhat better, knowing that, whatever else may be wrong in Cuba, its health care is known to be outstanding. The receptionist is role-playing dental assistant now, getting everything ready for the dentist (and me). She speaks Portuguese, not English or Spanish; the dentist can speak Portuguese, but prefers talking to me in Spanish. Throughout my 15-minute cleaning, he speaks Spanish into my right ear, while she speaks Portuguese into my left. Apart from all the head movements and rotations required, my head is spinning from trying to sort the two languages spoken simultaneously into my orifices. The cleaning completed, I’m told to rinse out my mouth with the water in the paper cup held by one of the chair’s many tentacles. I’m escorted back to the waiting room. It’s my partner’s turn now.

Step #6—As Russ undergoes an intensely long cleaning, I attempt to deal with a very flustered man seated in the receptionist chair, trying to find and/or organize records and documents scattered all around him. I hand him my insurance card, telling him to save us both time by billing of our cleanings so we can leave as soon as Russ is finished. After pecking at the computer, he pulls out binders full of papers and folders full of files. Nowhere can he find what he’s looking for. He picks up the phone and uses the intercom button to summon the receptionist (aka dental assistant) up front. Speaking a mile a minute in rapid-fire Portuguese, she returns to the dentist as the man behind the desk turns to me. “We don’t accept this insurance,” he says. Fortunately, I have printed out the dentists covered by our insurance plan, pointing out the clinic at the top of the list. He shakes his head, obviously at his wit’s end. “I’m sorry,” he shrugs in Portuguese. I hand him my Portuguese debit card and pay the 80 euros — @ 40€ per cleaning – figuring I’ll take the matter up with my insurance representative. Russ comes up front saying, “The dentist can’t do a full cleaning … my teeth are too tartared. We’ve got to come back.” We leave and head home.

Step #7—As soon as we’re home, I send an email to my insurance representative, explaining what had happened and asking him to, please, deal with it for us. Knowing all too well that it would be a while before receiving a response, I take care of some business and then return to the clinic the next day with Russ. He is seen by the dentist immediately.

Step #8—Half an hour later, Russ is back in the reception area. Turns out he has had more than a dental cleaning, but a tooth extraction as well. I don’t bring up the matter of insurance with the receptionist (last night’s dental assistant); I just hand her our debit card . At this point, I have three invoices and three receipts documenting my payments. We’ve paid €120 out of pocket to the clinic.

Step #9—Back home, I look to see if my insurance rep has responded. He hasn’t. I scan copies of the dental invoices and receipts, attaching them to the earlier message I had sent. I await his reply, I repeat.

Step #10—He replies, stating that the dental clinic is, indeed, a member of the insurance provider’s network. He attaches a file from the clinic showing all the insurance coverages it accepts. Ours isn’t there; but the rep says that our insurance company is part of another insurance company which is listed. “You will need to resolve this with the clinic,” he says, matter-of-factly. “The problem is with them, not with us.”

Step #11—We return the next morning to the clinic, assuming that – with insurance documents in hand – everything will be easy-peasy and we’ll be refunded our payments on the spot. Yeah, right. According to the very sweet receptionist, maybe four or five years ago, with a different dentist, the clinic accepted the “other” insurance (the one our insurance company alluded to) … but certainly not – ever! – ours. Who knew that insurance follows the doctor (or dentist), not the clinic? I hand her the email from my insurance agent and ask if she would be so kind as to call him while I stand there. She does, arguing with him over the phone for about twenty minutes. Smiling at me, she then says everything has been taken care of and that I should have a nice afternoon. “So, who is going to reimburse me the €120 I paid?” I ask her. “You’ll have to talk to your insurance agent about that,” she replies.

Step #12—Home again, I check my emails once more. Still no response from my insurance agent. I send him a new email asking him how this can be resolved: I’m between a rock and a hard place, out €120 because the dental clinic insists it’s not affiliated with my insurance provider and my insurance agent claims that it is. Really pissed at this point, I end my email reminding the agent that the signature line of his email shows his title as “Client Customer Service” and that customer service means more than paying bills and processing payments.

Step #13—Not much later, I receive the agent’s response: “Thank you for your email. Regarding the insurance company’s dental obligations, our agreement with the dental clinic is done through the company I mentioned,” he begins. “According to the clinic’s website, they have an agreement for dental treatments with that company—see the clinic’s insurance agreements on its website. As you can easily confirm, we provided you the same information that is mentioned in ours and the clinic´s records … which is that the clinic belongs to our dental network.”

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

##End of Rant##

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe, without cost, online: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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What If It Were Portugal?

MANUEL DE ALMEIDA/LUSA

Oliver Alexander, a Danish businessman working in a beachfront apartment in southern Portugal, is watching war play out more than 2,000 miles away in something like real time.

With Twitter on his computer and Telegram on his phone, a flood of videos allow him to identify Russian tanks rolling over Ukrainian bridges and Russian helicopter gunships blasting away at a Ukrainian airport.

Yet for all the visuals surging across the Internet, Alexander is unsure whether they are helping most people understand events in far-off battlefields. The intensity and immediacy of social media are creating a new kind of fog of war, in which information and disinformation are continuously entangled with each other—clarifying and confusing in almost equal measure.

Alexander has become an expert at seeing the often-subtle differences between Russian and Ukrainian tanks and weaponry. He’s learned to identify key Ukrainian landmarks. Most of all, he’s learned to study the latest videos for clues to what’s happening on the ground, while ignoring the written or spoken commentary he says is often misleading.

–Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

In a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal organized a demonstration in three key points of the country: Lisbon, Porto, and Vilamoura. In Lisbon, about 100 people voiced their anger and called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine and a return to peace.

“Our Ukrainian brethren here in Portugal objected to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine – a peaceful, democratic, sovereign nation – and, in front of the Russian Embassy in Lisbon, objected to the increased threats their homeland has been suffering at the hand of the ruthless tyrant next door.”

Spanish and Portuguese officials called for Europe to co-operate more closely on managing energy supplies after major producer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heightened fears of disruption, noted The Globe and Mail (UK) newspaper.

“Unlike many European countries, which, in total, relies on Russia for 40 percent of its gas, neither country on the Iberian Peninsula counts Russia among its main providers.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that the Portuguese deep-water port of Sines – the closest European port to the United States – has the “infrastructure to host and export natural gas to Europe.” Costa told those attending a news conference that this would allow for energy imports from the United States and Africa.

Like Ukraine, Portugal is a peaceful, progressive, and democratic nation. While it doesn’t share a border with Russian (or anywhere close), Portugal’s strategic position as the westernmost country in Europe, whose coastline abuts the Atlantic Ocean, makes it a strategic target for the Russian expansionist who wants to rule over the world.

The uncertainty over the sense in perpetuating dependency on the Russian gas that flows into Europe will ultimately return focus on the long-held American dream of shipping endless container loads of liquified natural gas (LGN) into Europe through the Alentejo coastal town of Sines. The USA’s ambassador to Portugal during the Trump regime was intent on forging this deal: a pipeline running from Sines into Spain, over the Pyrenees into France.

“Global dependence upon oil, gas, and coal is not only accelerating environmental catastrophe,” commented George A. Polisner in response to a Portugal Living Magazine Facebook post. “It transforms wealth to criminals, racketeers, and those who profit from planetary harm.”

Portugal presents itself as an international technology center open to foreign investment. Located at the southwestern tip of Europe, the diminutive nation is a strategic crossroads to Africa and the Americas, featuring a great quality of life, excellent infrastructure, and high levels of security, political stability, and sustainability.

Is it any wonder, then, that more than 550 German companies operate in Portugal, where they find a well-educated, multi-lingual workforce of problem-solvers with an appetite for innovation in engineering and research?

Unless otherwise contradicted, Portugal currently represents no threat to Russia, nothing more than, perhaps, a thorn in Putin’s side:

• According to Spokesperson Ned Price, USA Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Portuguese MFA Political Director Rui Vinhas. Sherman and Vinahs condemned Russia’s “premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack” against Ukraine in violation of international law. They underscored their commitment to imposing – together with like-minded partners – swift, coordinated, and severe costs for Russia’s actions. The Secretary and Ambassador agreed on the urgent need for all members of the international community to condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine, and to raise their voices against “blatant rejection of the fundamental principles of international peace and security.”

• Former member of the European Parliament Ana Gomes asked the Portuguese government to sanction Roman Abramovich and withdraw his Portuguese citizenship. “Gomes published several tweets on the pretext of golden visas granted to Russian citizens in Portugal, reported The Portugal News. She tweeted: “We wait for @antoniocostapm to publish a list of ALL #VistosGold beneficiaries and resident family members so that we can be sure that we are not giving national and European protection to more mafiosi, kleptocrats, oligarchs, etc.”

• Russia says that Portugal has extradited Stepan Furman, a “notorious criminal figure,” to Moscow for being a “thief-in-law,” the highest title in the criminal world’s hierarchy in the former Soviet Union, alleges North.Realities. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, the probe against the 58-year-old Furman, known among criminal groups as Stepan Murmansky, was launched in 2019 right after being a “thief-in-law” was criminalized in Russia that year. The ministry said that Portugal was the first European nation that had extradited a criminal wanted in Russia on the simple charge of holding the title. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Contral (OFAC) describes the thieves-in-law as a “Eurasian crime syndicate that has been linked to a long list of illicit activity across the globe,” saying that the syndicate poses a threat to the United States and its allies.

Russia and Portugal established diplomatic relations in the last quarter of the 18th century. Since that time, they experienced natural periods of rise and fall. Russia and Portugal are not comparable on many parameters: size of territory, population and workforce, the volume of economy, etc. In its turn, the Portuguese nation also can boast of considerable achievements.

Political or ideological considerations have always dominated in bilateral relations, which, for a long time, have prevented building cooperation in accordance with strategic interests.

The membership of Portugal in NATO and accession to the European Communities in 1986 obliged Lisbon to form its relations with Moscow in line with overall negotiation processes of these international associations and with an eye on the partners’ position.

In certain periods, this fact made it difficult to engage in a constructive dialogue, forcing both sides to see each other through the prism of global confrontation between two hostile social and political systems.

At the same time, there has never been acute, intractable disagreements or open conflicts between the two countries. High-level visits and the ruling elites’ interest degree were of great importance for the development of the bilateral relations. In this respect, the period of 1990s and 2000s belonged to the most fruitful. The legal base of cooperation was expanded, important treaties were signed, an exchange of the heads of state visits took place during this time. However, in years following the global financial and economic crisis, Russia–Portugal political relations stalled, later hampered by the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis and the sanctions war. 

N. Yakovleva (2017)
World Economy and International Relations (Monthly Journal of IMEMO)
(Founded by the Russian Academy of Sciences. IMEMO is a non-profit organization which acts within the Charter of the Russian Academy of Sciences.)

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the country’s only English language, full-spectrum magazine. Read our current issue and subscribe — for free! — at: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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War and Peace in the Global Village

Photo: Militarytimes.com

Back in 1964, Canadian educator and communication theorist Marshall McLuhan coined an expression to forever be associated with his name:

“The medium is the message.”

McLuhan maintained that the forms and methods (the “media”) used to communicate information have a significant impact on the messages they deliver. He argued that modern electronic communications would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we expose, experience, and exploit the world.

Yet, the medium is the message cannot stand alone; it must be understood as part of a communication paradigm.

In its simplest form, “communication” is what happens when a sender (or source) delivers a message to a receiver. The plot thickens, however, when two essential ingredients – encoding and decoding – are added to the recipe, each of which has a tremendous impact on the flavor and taste of the message.

To communicate such that a message is understood, reacted to, and action taken (or not), that message must move from being an idea to a message by translating or “encoding” what the sender is thinking into words and images sent to the receiver.  For his or her part, the receiver must “decode” or decipher the message to be understood.

It’s quite complex when the sender’s assumed meaning of words, images, and actions aren’t the same as the receiver’s. Think about the differences between connotation and denotation. Or, for that matter, the challenge of translating words and expressions from one language to another. Though we might use words which are technically correct according to our culture, background, and experience, they may come across as something entirely different to another person in a different time, place, and/or society.

For instance, the Bible. Or the Constitution of the United States.

Experts are relied upon to adjudge the current meaning of words and phrases used back when these documents were created. We cannot assume that their meaning is stagnant or unchanging from then to now, there to here.

It is here that Marshall McLuhan’s theories must stand the test of time.

McLuhan focuses on the role, purpose, and meaning of the message itself—one of the three components of communication—downplaying the other two.

According to McLuhan, a “message” may comprise one of three elements:

The person or people involved. Think of Jesus, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Oprah, Franco, Trump, FDR, JFK, MLK, Fidel Castro, the Queen. For the Portuguese, especially, Amalia Rodrigues … who embodied the essence of fado which, in turn, defined the people she sang about—and others similarly aligned. It doesn’t matter what they were saying or how and where, as such people (and others) were the word or message incarnate.

The medium. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, blogs, the Internet. CNN or Fox News. The New York Times and The Daily News. Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn. McLuhan believed that real communication occurred by neither the persons involved nor the composition of the message. It all depends on the medium involved, he held. Fox News fans will eagerly dispute what’s being said on CNN or MSNBC, just as vice-versa is valid. Those who rely on the New York Times or Washington Post aren’t receptive to the same information if brought to them by the New York Post, The Sun, or tacky tabloids. What Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity report is acknowledged or dismissed, depending on their fans. Misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation further cloud a medium’s message, which is why so many have abandoned the mainstream media in favor of the players, platforms, and banners that cater to their own viewpoints. Welcome to the world of pandering podcasts and YouTube channels.

The message. Forget about the people and the medium, say some. They’re but extensions at best, complications at worst. The message is the message. Period. End of story. Except, as those in marketing have known forever, it’s not about trains but transportation. It’s not about clothing, but how we feel. It’s not about perfume or cologne, but allure. Most of the money spent on creating and delivering messages boils down to human wants and needs, no matter how healthy and humane or dismal and depressing: Lust. Greed. Gluttony. Fear. Thrift. Anger. Hatred. Love. Compassion. Comprehension. Prejudice. Greed. Gluttony. Selfishness. Strength. Weakness. Nationalism. Tribalism. Territorialism. Imperialism. Capitalism. Democracy. Socialism. Communism. And the list goes on …

Which brings us to today.

Today’s big issue is focused on Ukraine. What’s the intrinsic message? The people: Putin and Biden, basically. The media: Breaking news, breaking news, breaking news. (Turn down the noise and clutter, please!) The overt messages: A nation’s sovereignty must be sacrosanct and never allowed to be invaded; or, perilous forces are getting too close for comfort and we have every right to self-preservation.

Take any issue and ask yourselves what’s the overt – and covert – messages implied: Climate change. Equal rights. Black lives (Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Women’s, LGBT, et al) matter. Poverty. Human trafficking. Police brutality. Social injustice. Fiscal policy. Party politics. Pandemics. Whatever …

It’s enough to make one’s head spin and stomach churn.

That’s one of the aspects so meaningful to our lives here in Portugal and Spain. We’re able to go about our daily lives, dealing with the bureaucracy and tuning out the noise and news. Sure, we can access them through television, high-speed Internet, and mobile devices. But why? Whether on a patch of land or village row house and café on the town square, we’ve adjusted ourselves to a less complex life in a simple but satisfying country.

Perhaps we’re fools, feeling safe(r) and more secure. So what? After all, there’s always amanhã and mañana.

Walter Cronkite, the kindly father of TV newscasting, used to lament that his biggest challenge was to determine what wouldn’t air on his nightly, 30-minute newscasts. Because, back in the day, if it wasn’t part of Uncle Walt’s message, it wasn’t news or worth worrying about.

And, that’s the way it was … and ought to be again.

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Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read its current issue and subscribe — for free! — online: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/