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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Brotherly Betrayals

What is it about brothers that we can learn from those familiar Bible stories?

● Cain and Abel showed us anger and resentment, blood on our hands;

● Jacob and Esau foretold greed and deception, taking what’s not ours;

● Joseph’s brothers sold him into servitude among strangers because of jealousy and bitterness;

● Abraham and Lot enlightened us to the value of land, the potential of negotiation, the importance of hospitality, and the dangers of looking back.

And, now, we have Russia’s aggression, war, and genocide against Ukraine: Gog and Magog?

Our first instinct is to cry out, “God, help us!” But God, thus far, hasn’t intervened. Maybe later, perhaps. Let’s remember that God gave us freewill and self-determination, a choice between good and evil.

You know what we chose.

Adam and Eve put people (themselves) before God, blaming others for their own lack of righteousness: “The woman made me eat it,” whined Adam. “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat,” replied Eve.

Ever since, the trajectory of mankind’s path may already have been determined.

Lord, forgive us and – through your spirit which abides in us – enable and equip us, please, to humble ourselves.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe — at no charge! — online here: 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/

Shoo, Fly

They’re back.

Already.

And it’s only early February.

Maybe they never really left?

I’m talking about flies, gnats, buzzy buggers, and hovering hoodwinks. Not to mention ‘squitos, dive-bombers, and flying ants.

They land on our food, swim in our drinks, nest down our drainpipes, lodge in our eyes, sing trebling love songs in our ears.

And no matter how we try, we can’t get rid of them.

Invest what you will in window fly screens, swatters, battery-operated boomerangs, electric gizmos or gadgets that zap them, hang sticky strips that grab and hold them, or buy old-fashioned “natural” aerosols that claim to remove them in an environmentally friendly way.

The only sure-fire way to get rid of them – one at a time – is to have someone as talented as my partner, Russ, around. (Except, perhaps for David and his Goliath slingshot, I’ve yet to meet anyone else who can precisely target flies with rubber bands, hit them with bullseye precision, and watch them drop. One of these days I am going to shoot a video of his perfect aim and conquests, then post it on YouTube or submit the vid to America’s Got Talent.)

Like cockroaches and rodents, the swarming wings of insect brigades — or even an errant fly out of season — refuse to surrender. Ever notice how the bigger (older?) ones don’t have the get-up-and-go of the smaller, swaggering, bolder ones? The latter always seem to get away, staying around to tease us again and again. Their fatter friends are easier to smash as they languish lazily on a windowpane, drawer, or refrigerator door.

Heaven help us when those invasive Asian tiger mosquitos descend!

Of all the places we lived before Portugal and Spain, only West Virginia came close to the number of flying demons and little lady bugs – Japanese beetles – that committed collective hari-kari on the inside tracks of our sliding doors. What a stink, sweeping them up or emptying the vacuum cleaner bags. Mountain folk wisdom was to hang a clear plastic bag full of water on your entry door. That would keep them out. Curiously, it often did.

But not here in Iberia, where they’re everywhere we want to be. Basically, our choices boil down to being oblivious and ignoring them, as the natives do (even when the darned nasties are crawling all over their skin). Aren’t you tempted, honestly, to reach out and smack that litter bugger crawling up and down the cheeks of the person sitting opposite you, his or her tearful sweat creating swimming pools for flies?

If you can’t – or won’t – learn to live with them, you’ll need to live without them. You know what that means …

In my role as a public relations executive, one of our accounts was a homeopathic bug spray company that promised to do away with the bugs harmlessly and recycle them back into the earth. Their packaging and cans were idyllic—using pastel colors and lyrical wording to make shoppers feel less guilty about destroying the predators. But, despite all good intentions, customers weren’t buying it. My job was to find out why. We used focus groups. Here’s what we learned: When it comes to killing these stealthy pests, people bypass the pretty cans in grocery store aisles and head for the skull and crossbones, instead.

RAID: KILLS BUGS DEAD!

That’s the message most consumers like me want to hear.

Because bugs make themselves at home with us (not contributing to the mortgage or rent) in our kitchens and dining rooms, or – worse – our bedrooms and bathrooms. Can there be anything more annoying than sitting down to take a wiz or do a #2 … only to discover that you’ve got insatiable company in the loo? Or, for that matter, more satisfying than smashing their innards out with a magazine, newspaper, advertising flyer, or paperback book in hand before taking care of your business?

Except for a mention, I’m not planning to discuss the flying bombasts that cling for dear life to our car grilles, mirrors, bumpers, and painted surfaces. Florida calls them “love bugs,” probably because they love to hug and kiss these objects of our desire … leaving their residues behind to clog the namesake lattices and bumpers of our vehicles and ruin the luster of extra-cost metallic paints with their kindred clusters.

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me is *a minstrel show song from the 1860s that has remained popular since that time. It was sung by soldiers during the Spanish–American War of 1898, when flies and the yellow fever mosquito were a serious enemy.

I’ve got news for *Wikipedia: they still are.

Whether in Portugal or Spain, this American is tempted to scream these words in his war against the flying, hovering whizzes from hell, marauders that would make me their prey:

Shoo fly, don’t bother me!!!

Bruce Joffe is Publisher and Creative Director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current issue online and subscribe at no charge:  https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Welcome to Portugal Living Magazine

With the steady increase of Americans and other English-speakers in Portugal, it became evident — while living in the country’s interior — that news and commentary was focused on one region (the Algarve) with nods to Lisbon and Porto … and presuming that all English-speakers here are British.

Something more than fragmented Facebook groups and online “expat” forums was needed to cover stories of interest throughout all areas of Portugal to people residing here or in the process of relocating to Portugal … from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Belgium, South Africa, and other English language countries.

That’s why we created Portugal Living Magazine.

Layering a variety of engaging features, integrated departments, continuing columns, commentary, photos, and original artwork, Portugal Living Magazine presents a wide variety of stories about people and places, invaluable information, and answers to questions about living happily in Portugal.



Offering free digital subscriptions and promoting a national community orientation for expats and immigrants, Portugal Living Magazine took root and flourished. In addition to growing issues from 48 to 70 pages, the magazine hosts this popular Facebook Page, a website, and a new YouTube channel.

Different in content and purposes than Facebook groups and online forums, Portugal Living Magazine is delivered directly to subscriber email inboxes. Our Facebook Page is updated daily with dozens of news stories and a wealth of irresistible pictures, while our website includes everything from current and future issues to blog posts, linked resources, and advertising or sponsorship information. Our YouTube channel with original content premieres 1 February.



Read our current issue and subscribe at no cost–for all future one. Complete past issues are also posted on our website, as is a peek at upcoming issues. Some of the best blog posts about Portugal living are conveniently grouped on our website. Adverting data and details, links grouped categorically to indispensable resources from our sponsors and supporters, and complete contact information for reaching us are all on Portugal Living Magazine’s website.

Our continuing commitment is to provide free subscriptions to everyone who wants to read Portugal Living Magazine, with advertising covering the publishing costs of production and distribution. Alas, we’re not there yet. Deficit spending has been funded from the pockets of our founder.

We’ve created ways that you can help: Our Patreon page encourages donors to contribute one, three, or eight euros monthly. Prefer to make a one-time gift? Deposit it directly to our bank account at this IBAN: PT50.0036.0136.99100034067.63.

Felicidades from our team to you and your loved ones!

Upcoming

Bruce H. Joffe
Publisher/Creative Director

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Of Prophets and Poets

Much of what I like most about the King James Version is the beauty inherent to its prose. Whether Psalms, Proverbs, Peter and Paul, or Prophets, I almost always find the version’s way of saying things – even when (mostly) inaccurate—poetic. Which version of the 23rd psalm can compare with the beauty and eloquence of the King James?

My undergraduate education was at the University of Madrid, during the days when Francisco Franco reigned. The world was a frightful place with Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights marches and riots, assassinations of beloved leaders, Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations while threatening “We will bury you!” and campus crusades ending in pools of blood.

In Franco’s Spain, however, the armed civil guard stood sentry on every street … ready to shoot first and (not) ask questions later. Especially when it came to students—university students—who were considered radical rabble-rousers causing trouble.

Young and old, many of us took up the arts for solace—playing music, painting, writing—to quell the anguish in our souls.

Some 50 years ago, I worried these words out in Spanish:

O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …

Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.

¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?

O, que, ya vives,

pudriéndote cada dia?

Roughly translated, my words mourned about the search for a painful and elusive truth, asking if it had died in a short, bygone era … or whether it still lived, albeit diseased and decaying, every day.

I think of my Spanish poem often these days.

Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.

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Algorithmea

I wish I could find a doctor to treat – and fix – my algorithmea in the same way s/he deals with my allergies and arthritis.

Here in Portugal and Spain, that usually means a medical consult followed by lab tests, more consults, and meds.

If only it were so easy dealing with the algorithms causing my algorithmea!

Like the “Bogie Man” and “El Coco,” they’re invisible (to me, at least), yet have taken hold of my life. Sarting with Facebook:

I realize that every single bit of data about my personal profile – age, income, locations, friends, preferences, politics, education, what I like (or don’t) and follow – is mixed and mingled by Facebook’s manipulations. So, whatever I see on my feed is custom-tailored for me. And, perish the thought that I click on a “sponsored” link! Within minutes, I’m deluged with ads for similar services or products that last for days. Sometimes after a hiatus, they return to haunt me again.

The good news, I guess, is that I’m only receiving promotional messages which, supposedly, will interest me, instead of other junk scattered through the great commercial diaspora.

(The bad news, of course, is that I’m not interested. If I want to buy something or learn more about it, chances are that I’ll be more responsive to my own Google searches than anything that Facebook sends my way.)

Which brings up another symptom of my algorithmea:

I am absolutely certain that these pillars of the Internet’s most powerful platforms collude somewhere in back rooms filled with smoke and mirrors, shaking hands and hand-me-downs of yours truly.

What makes me suspect this conspiracy of complicity against little, old me? Simple! No matter which “social” medium – Amazon, YouTube, LinkedIn or even so-called customer service websites that supposedly provide price comparisons and reviews for whatever I want in my geographical area, they’re almost instantly followed, cloak-and-dagger, by successive posts on Facebook. Heck, even weather channel sites are involved. Whenever I check on the forecasts, wouldn’t you know it that appropriate clothing and accessories for the climate crises appear, ipso facto, on my Facebook feed.

Amazon is just as bad. It keeps records and reminds me of what I bought (when), acknowledging my (good) tastes and encouraging me to reorder. And if I don’t want to, because I’m looking for something else? Presto: Amazon provides slews of suggestions. Next visit, it anticipates my needs and wants, recommending that I take a look-see at the products it recommends. To think, this bazaar, the whole enchilada, started as an online bookstore!

Netflix knows what I like to watch on the screen and is always there – even when the action is paused for a potty break – to recommend others it presumes I will like. Gee, how I miss my school librarian who got to know me and my favorites (genres, authors, styles) before doling out book recommendations.

Maybe it all started with radio?

Pandora, a subscription-based music streaming service owned by Sirius XM Holdings, was founded in 2000 (as Savage Beast Technologies) focusing on recommendations based on the “Music Genome Project” — a means of classifying individual songs by musical traits. The service originally launched in the consumer market as an Internet radio service, which would generate personalized channels based on these traits and songs liked by the user. In 2017, the service launched Pandora Premium, an on-demand version of the service more in line with its competitors: Spotify,YouTube Music, AccuRadio, and a bunch of others that allow you to choose a constant stream of music based on your favorite singers, styles or genres, or even topics.

Let’s say I want to hear Christmas music. Even “Jingle Bells,” despite its huge number of versions and singers. All fine and good. Of course, my one or two cringe-worthy crooners play repeatedly, over and again. Is there a way I can further fine tune my settings so that I get Christmas music including Jingle Bells—except for when performed by Singer X (and Y and Z)?

It’s not just online that I’m plagued by algorithmea.

Consider my car. In addition to telling me when my fuel or tire pressure is running low, it also warns me when it thinks I should up-shift, slow down, correct course, and/or if I’m getting too close to something behind (or before) me. It decides when to turn on my windshield wipers — even if there’s no rain or condensation – and fog lights. I have no desire whatsoever for a self-parking (or -driving) car. Lord, have mercy!

Nor do I want a refrigerator that probes the condition of its contents and informs me of what foods are rotten and should be tossed. Or, somehow, knows what I’m running low on and creates a shopping list for me—complete with suggested menus.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do appreciate, even value, some features of certain “smart” appliances. For instance, my washing machine and dryer. It’s good to know that they’ll compensate for the weight of my load and adjust water levels, spin speeds, and drying time as needed.

“I think; therefore I am” was the end of the search Descartes conducted for a statement that could not be doubted. He found that he could not doubt that he himself existed, as he was the one doing the doubting in the first place. In Latin (the language in which Descartes wrote), the phrase is “Cogito, ergo sum.”

Nowadays, I no longer need to think, as algorithms crunch my data, analyze the findings, and direct my paths accordingly.

“I input, therefore I am output” may be our new mantra.

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Getting to Know the Portuguese:

Some Observations about the People

No country’s population can summarily be described or branded by words—regardless how precise or generalized the terminology. Only by engaging and interacting directly with people do you get to know them, observing how they behave in given situations. And so it is with the Portuguese, a people long associated with a sentiment (saudade) and a song (fado). Yet the Portuguese are smart, motivated, progressive, eco-friendly, compassionate people.

Many Portuguese have a better handle on English than we do on their language. In school, they’re required to study English not as a “foreign” language, but as part of their core curriculum. With certain people, I’ve learned that it’s best to engage with them as they prefer – in English – rather than to insist on practicing our Portuguese.

By no means am I an expert – neither sociologist, anthropologist, nor psychologist – but, in some offbeat ways, I have come to understand a handful of habits and willful ways of these western Iberia inhabitants.

While scientific reasoning objects to reaching collective conclusions about a people based on the experiences of one person from another country, perhaps such indigenous “tendencies” might be better ascribed as cultural. We can better understand Portuguese behavior – and react accordingly – if we are aware of cultural norms and traits.

Our initial encounters with Portuguese people took place online: Facebook. I received a message from the son of the woman we purchased our property from in Lousa — a village of about 550 in Castelo Branco that gets confused with Lousã in Coimbra — informing me that it had been raining quite hard for over a week and, now, the wind had pushed open one of the doors on our second floor balcony. Who knows how or why it happened, but the point was to get that door firmly closed asap. We put out an emergency call for help to members of several local Facebook groups we’d joined–using Google Translate, of course. Shortly thereafter, we heard via Messenger that a man and woman from the village had taken a ladder and toolbox to our house. The soaked wet senhor climbed up onto our balcony and succeeded in securing the door. Unfortunately, trying to leave, he discovered that the front door had been locked from the inside. No key was found. So, he went back to the second floor living room and let himself out, securing the errant door behind him before retreating down those slippery ladder steps.

Alex and Olga are among our closest friends in Portugal now.

While friendly and caring, the Portuguese are essentially private people. They’ll make you feel welcome by bringing baskets of fruits and vegetables from their gardens, ironically, they will never intrude. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll even step inside your house, no matter how long you are neighbors. Knocking on the door and conversing outside is one thing … but coming inside is quite another. It’s just not done.

This isn’t the case only with “foreigners”; it’s how the Portuguese treat each other. Of course, they get together for meals and camaraderie, but such festivities usually take place in a café or eating establishment—not in their homes.

Like many of us, Portuguese people are “caught up in the moment” and totally focused on whomever they’re dealing with or speaking to, often keeping us waiting for their attention. Go into any supermarket and you’ll see workers talking to customers (or other workers). They won’t even make eye contact with you until they’re finished with their current interlocutor. Curiously, however, there are some Portuguese who will disregard etiquette and break into line or interrupt a conversation.

Supermarkets bring up food and another interesting aspect of Portuguese customs: their time in restaurants. Unlike the USA (and elsewhere?) where – miraculously! – everything takes the same amount of time to prepare and cook so that everyone at the table is served simultaneously, dishes in Portugal are brought out helter-skelter, independently. You can be finished your meal before your tablemates get theirs. A classic case of eating alone, together. Good thing that wine is so cheap and bread plentiful!

Food and meals are taken quite seriously in Portugal—at least as regards their times allotted. Lunch time, especially, is revered. No matter what they are doing, it stops between 13h and 15h (1:00-3:00) or 13h30 and 15h30 (1:30-3:30). After all, we need a half-hour to get where we’re eating and another 30 minutes to return. Those 60 minutes sandwiched in between are necessary to be served and eat with gusto (gosto). To savor and digest the food slowly, with beer or some wine.

Our expectations don’t always jive with the Portuguese’s when it comes to work being contracted. They will perform their jobs meticulously … but if it’s not in the job description or contract, the Portuguese don’t believe it’s necessarily their responsibility.

Example? We had the electric wiring throughout our house upgraded, which necessitated the installation of a new circuit box, as called for in our contract. After days banging and chiseling out the old cement surrounding our antiquated panel to accommodate the space required for the (larger) new one, the circuit box was installed. But all the plaster and dust settling everywhere following the wall surgery? Not their problem. Nor was the awkward frame of new, off-white plaster which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb needing rendering and painting to match the beige wall. Another time, Portuguese workers installing new windows and doors in our house (accidentally) cut the door bell wires. Our problem to fix it, not theirs. They’re installers, not electricians.

Of course, many Portuguese tradesmen and contractors clean up after themselves and go the extra mile in their work. Point is, don’t take it for granted or expect it to be done. We’ve learned that old ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure by spelling out our expectations precisely when negotiating contracts and agreements.

Whether forgetful, negligent, or devil-may-care, some Portuguese people take days to answer an email … if they respond at all. Immediacy just isn’t that important. Promptness or priority isn’t often the issue; it’s just that the Portuguese often don’t see any reason or need for responding. To their credit, sometimes we foreigners don’t know when enough is enough: I send a digital greeting card to family or friends. They reply, thanking me for the card and thinking of them. I reply with a thumbs-up or smile emoticon. They feel obliged to respond in kind. And, so it goes …

On the road, the Portuguese may be daredevil (or slowpoke) drivers, but they actually stop at pedestrian crossings, yielding way to people. It’s a lesson in civility (and safety) that many of us should take more seriously.

Like Covid, the Coruna virus.

It says something special and relevant about the people of Portugal that the country has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. So far, Portugal has administered at least 19,476,353 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 94.8% of the country’s population–with booster shots not far behind. People wear masks and follow directives issued by the state’s national health department. Not only do they care about themselves, they’re concerned about others.

Often considered the “Canadians of Europe,” there’s one thing capable of angering the Portuguese: They don’t appreciate being compared to the Spanish.

And, why should they?

All nationalities have quirks and idiosyncrasies that set them apart; that’s part of the charm of the people and the place. After the initial culture shock, you’re sure to find the Portuguese welcoming and wonderful people!

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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