Selling Portugal

First and foremost, let me say that we love Portugal … despite its quirks and eccentricities. There is nowhere else we would want to live, except for our periodic vacations at our pied a terre in Olvera, Spain.

It’s been five years now that we’ve been living in Portugal. Though Portugal hadn’t been on our radar — we´d had a vacation bolt in Spain for 15 years — friends who lived near us in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, urged us to consider the little country between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean where they had bought some property in Alpedrinha, a charming village between Castelo Branco and Fundão.

Why Portugal and not Spain?

As non-EU nationals, the bottom line for us was this: Portugal wanted us and did everything possible to make our residency there easier; Spain didn’t.

Over these years, we’ve seen a lot of hype and disinformation spread about Portugal. For us and many others, it’s a great place to live. But too many people get caught up in all the hype and the hoopla: How many different media and magazines have decreed that Portugal is the top place to be … to visit … to live … to retire?

Do you have any idea how many Americans from the USA (alone) are moving to Portugal in increasing numbers?

Enough to command cover and feature stories from Condé Nast TravelerPolíticoThe Los Angeles TimesCNN, and many others.

Why all the hype and hoopla about this tiny, westernmost European nation?

Lots of reasons … including the selling of Portugal.

“Portugal is a good country to live in,” reports the Goa Spotlight newspaper. “Security, the friendliness of the people, the open and tolerant culture, education, among many other aspects, are factors that lead Brazilians to seek out the country. However, promises of an El Dourado, designed by youtubers from Brazil, are bringing people from the other side of the Atlantic in search of a reality that does not exist.”

The reality of Portugal is framed by what happens on the planet. The war continues to leave its marks on post-pandemic growth, and the economic recession threatens, above all, those who cannot extend what they earn at the end of the month.

In addition, with rents rising – last year they rose by an average of 37%, with the energy bill rising, gas, water, food and transport at more expensive prices, it’s complicated for anyone looking for a better life easier, or at least with surmountable challenges, in Portugal.

Truth be told, Portugal is being oversold.

I suspect that many professionals who can’t find appropriate work (and pay) in the country are pumping up the rhetoric and joining the bandwagon of those selling Portugal. Grocers specializing in food products generally hard to find are shipping them to your doorstep in Portugal. Therapists are dealing with post-expatric syndrome and a host of other unsettling behaviors. Lawyers are catering to the big slice of business that comprises the market of people needing NIFs, bank accounts, and houses. Property agencies are a dime a dozen. Relocation experts promise to facilitate the transition. Packed tighter than sardines in a tin are webinars, blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels catering to expats, immigrants, and foreigners. We have countless scores of people and groups teaching Portuguese in a variety of formats. Others are arranging round-trip scouting trips to the destination(s) of client interest(s), as well as charter flights bringing people and their pets to Portugal. Customized trips and tours are at your disposal, as are money lenders and currency brokers. Portugal itself is subsidizing numerous public relations undertakings that lure people — as tourists, travelers, and residents — to its land of the fado and saudade.

And, yes, some of them advertise in Portugal Living Magazine. (Think of us as a Portuguese Robin Hood–charging advertisers so we can provide free subscriptions to readers!)

Still, there’s a point to be realistic and not conjure up expectations of cobble stone streets with porto flowing freely. It just doesn’t work that way.

“The sales gimmick of Portugal having the best beaches in Europe, the warm weather, low cost of living, and hospitable people was charming and very appealing. However, as reality set in, I discovered a different picture–more of a western country being operated as a third world country, or an eastern bloc bureaucratic central system,” one critic said.

This particular person itemized his disappointments with and complaints about Portugal:

Regarding responsibility: The irresponsible behavior of the Portuguese citizens exacerbated the (Covid lock-down) problem. For example, the Portuguese government imposed a travel restriction over the 2021 Easter Weekend, so 50% of the country (5 million residents) traveled to the Algarve a day before the travel restriction started to go to the beach, only to spike the covid-19 numbers with this super spreader practice. So, Portugal went from easing the restriction phases of Mar/Apr/May to a delayed roll-out easing rules for Aug/Sep/October plan, with no consequences to law breakers.

Regarding taxes: The Non-Habitual Resident tax system for expats went from 0% to 10% overnight, with the stroke of a pin starting from 31 Mar 2020. Also, that NHR expires after 10 years, leaving expats’ pensions at the mercy of the Portuguese income tax brackets of 14.5%-48%. Another thing that I didn’t learn till later was the effect of obtaining Portuguese citizenship on tax exempt pensions under the current 1994 tax treaty with the US, where federal pensions (from Fed, State, and local governments) would be subject to Portuguese income taxes once the recipient is both a resident and a citizen of Portugal. Thus requiring the recipient to stay under the 183 days per year to avoid being a tax resident, provided that the expat’s primary residence was not considered by Finanças as being in Portugal, a big grey-area open to interpretation, especially if you own a property in Portugal!

Regarding the cost of living: While in general the cost of living in Portugal is lower than most places in the USA, some things just aren’t that much cheaper in Portugal. Many posts rant about how cheap the food is here, where lunch shouldn’t exceed 10 Euros, and dinners shouldn’t exceed 20 Euros, and never tip more than one euro. Well no one tells you that locals have two menus, where an Algarve restaurant owner emailed me his Portuguese patrons’ local-priced menu, but handed his walk-in customers the overpriced touristy priced menu. I ordered a breakfast cheese omelet, a coffee, bread, and water, for which I was charged 17 Euros! The concept of exploiting your expat residents is appalling to me. The grocery stores are not cheap, and are comparable to USA prices, unless you elect to forfeit all “luxury” foods and brands you’ve grown accustomed to back home. Residential electricity cost in PT is 211.4% of that in the USA. The average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is $0.149 per kWh, where in Portugal the average residential rate [with the 23%IVA tax] is 0.262 Euro per kWh ($0.315 per kWh). The gasoline price in PT is 228% of that in the USA: The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.043 per gallon, where in Portugal the average price of gas is $6.95 (1.527€ per Liter/5.78 per gallon). Even though renting can be affordable in Portugal, the entire Algarve region spikes rents to three or four folds in the tourist season month’s May through September, asking their tenants to pay up or evict them, resulting in the entire expat population in the Algarve desperately pleading for accommodations on expat groups. Cars cost at least twice as much as they are in the USA, simply because of the outrageous taxes imposed on imported cars and the added VAT and road taxes. Used cars are unreliable and are triple and quadruple what a reasonably priced used car should comparably cost in the USA.

(Note: I disagree with several of the points the writer made above. For one, the price of electricity. Numbers can be tricky and used every which way to justify a point. Personally, we have lived from Florida to Wisconsin and places in between, where our typical monthly electric bills were U.S. $300-500. In Portugal, we’re paying €125 on average for two separate properties with aircons, washers, dryers, dehumidifiers, and hot water heaters in use. Our Internet “package” — including a fixed line telephone, a mobile phone with more minutes and data that we’ll ever use, over 100 channels — more with a “Smart” TV — and high-speed broadband is 70€ per month. Compare that to Comcast! And property taxes? For us in the USA, it was well over $3,000 per year vs. €125 in Portugal. All things considered, our cost of living is covered by my monthly Social Security payments–about US $2,000.)

Regarding health care: Everyone touts the great prices of medical care in Portugal. That may be true in emergency medicine (life, limb, or eye sight), which one could very well require if you drive enough in this country, being cut off around every corner at high speeds for no apparent reason. However the public health system is grossly inadequately equipped and understaffed, where my diabetic expat neighbor is waiting over three months to get his eye exam scheduled. I attempted to schedule an appointment with a public clinic doctor to no avail for eight months now; every time I go to the clinic they say it’s not possible or no doctors available in the next month, and refuse to schedule future appointments that are beyond a 30-day window. The fact is that the public health doctors in Portugal moonlight at private clinics during the tourist season for more income, and their staff at the public clinics cover for them. 

(Note: Free, national health care plans — from Canada to the UK and beyond — suffer similar problems. Voilà: enter another money-making service catering to confused and frustrated foreigners in Portugal–the health concierge, whose team helps you navigate the system, make appointments with doctors and dentists, and resolve any concerns you may have. All for a fee, of course. On the other hand, private health insurance is a bargain in Portugal. My partner, 59, and I, 73, together are paying €2,000 for the most comprehensive coverage we’ve had anywhere … and it includes all of Iberia, Spain as well as Portugal.)

Like everywhere these days, Portugal — and the European Union — has its share of liberals and alt-righters. There are robberies, both burglaries and advantage-taking. Not everyone is nice–some people are downright nasty. Fuel is more expensive here, at least three times its cost in the USA. It gets bone-chilling cold all over the country, a different type of cold that we’ve not experienced elsewhere. There’s mold and bugs and flies and creepy crawlers. And lots of houses that continue to be inhabited since they were built (and hardly upgraded) in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Yes, there are some people who have different attitudes about domestic pets than we do. We cringe when we hear of their abuse and abandonment. They may cringe when they see us treating our dogs and cats as children, rather than pets. But, increasingly, I see Portuguese people walking their dogs on leads, picking up after them, buying specialty foods at upscale pet shops, and taking their “familiars” to the vet to be diagnosed, treated, and inoculated.

My friend João (don’t we all have at least one?), whom I respect immensely, responded to a litany of complaints about living in Portugal with these words:

“We describe things as we are, not as they are. As objective as one can be, the overall joy of living in one place cannot be calculated from some parameters on a bullet list. I must say that as a former expat myself, what some considered negative points were truly the things that made me happy. Take into consideration that the grass is always greener … and there will always be people (seeking to) overrate their products–countries included.”

One of the questions asked of would-be members to the largest Facebook group for expats, immigrants, and others interested in moving to Portugal is “What do you like most about Portugal?” By far, the majority of those answering say “Everything!”

Give me a break, please. Most of them have yet to set foot in the country, but they already know that they like everything about Portugal. Yeah, right.

A friend, Rudi, posted this on her Facebook feed today: “I love my little village. I spent this morning emailing and calling four companies to ask if they could send me an invoice for work they had done at my place and materials they had delivered. After four texts from me, the wood guy finally did send me an invoice for wood he delivered the first week of October. I don’t think I ever before had to beg to pay my bills.

That’s the paradox of Portugal.

For some reason, I’m reminded of these lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Those who come to Portugal because they’ve been sold on it being paradise are in for some surprises and reality checks. But just what is “paradise,” anyway? One person’s paradise may put another in the doldrums.

For us, it’s living in peace–safely and securely. It’s having a diverse group of multi-lingual friends who enjoy being together. It’s marveling at the splendors of the world within driving distance. It’s integrating to the culture rather than making it subordinate to ours.

We experience that in Portugal.

“At the end it’s a wonderful country to experience but it’s not paradise,” commented Jon Collier in a post. “That’s a place you create in your heart.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds.” To read the current issue and subscribe — free of charge! — please visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Portugal Budget Busters

Have You Factored These Costs into Your Finances?

So, you’ve come up with what seems like a comprehensive budget for living in Portugal?

You’ve factored in housing (mortgage or rental) costs. Utilities–gas, electric, water bills. Gasoline. Groceries. Insurance: health, home and auto. Recreation and eating out. International and child-related expenses. Even taxes, travel, and contingencies.

Here are some buggers you may not have thought of that can impact your budget, no matter how grand or frugal:

Via Verde If you’re driving on Portugal’s highways, you’re responsible for all those tolls–whether you pay booth by booth or invest several shekels for that gadget affixed to your windshield that allows you to sail through now and be charged later. In either case, depending on how much (or little) you drive on toll roads, consider adding ten euros per month to your budget.

Fares You live in a metropolitan area served by a network of trains, trolleys, and buses? You may not have tolls to pay, but consider what you’ll be shelling out daily for commuting costs. Create a new budget item for fares, commuting, and transportation costs.

Bank Fees Unlike some countries which pay you interest for the privilege of holding and investing your money, Portugal (and Spain) charge you for “renting” space at their banks. Add five euros each month … just for maintaining your account. To this, your bank will also charge you transaction fees. Take transfers, for instance. Regardless of the amount or location to which you’re transferring funds, you’ll be charged a fee–plus IVA! At our bank (Montepio) we’re currently charged €1.15 per transfer + €0.05 IVA. Use this convenient service enough and you can spend another fifteen or twenty euros each month for fees on top of the amount of your transfers. Speaking of transfers, don’t forget to figure on the fees charged by (Transfer)Wise and other currency transfer companies. My Social Security payments go directly into my USA bank (credit union) account, from which I transfer almost 80% of it each month to our Portugal bank account. All things considered, the transfer fees on that amount to about 30€ per month.

Vet Visits and Pet Licenses Certainly, you take good care and responsibility for members of your furry family. Excluding pet food, which is part of your grocery budget, have you added the costs of keeping your pets in Portugal? Each must have a rabies shot and be micro-chipped. Each requires an official EU passport. Each must be registered at your local town hall. And, in addition to routine veterinarian visits and periodic inoculations, pet medications and special diets are downright expensive. They’re usually covered by insurance–public or private. We spend between €150 and €500 each year to care for our three miniature schnauzers.

Pharmacy Except for top-of-the-line health care coverage, prescription and over-the-counter drugs aren’t covered by insurance. Prices for most medicines are prescribed by the state, but can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. Add at least €100 per year to your budget.

Pellets and Wood for Heating Whether you’ve got one or more fireplaces, a pellet or wood-burning stove (or two) to keep you warm during Portugal’s damp and cold weather, remember that your appliances must be fed. Pellets can run between €3.69 and €3.99 per bag … and you’ll go through at least three per week during the winter season. Similarly, if you don’t have the space or the inclination to deal with multi-kilo barrages of wood, you’ll pay about the same to purchase tidy packages of wood covered with plastic from your grocery, hardware, or agricultural supply store. Figure between €50 and €75 monthly.

Tax Preparation Yes, you have to report and submit income tax filings every year here in Portugal, which can be frustrating — a pain in the arse — when winding your way through Portugal’s Finanças portal. The cost for a professional (accountant) to prepare and file your taxes here is actually rather reasonable: From most accounts we’ve heard, tax preparation costs €50 per person–whether your filing as an individual, married couple filing jointly, or married couple filing separately. So, put in €50-100 per year for having your taxes done. And don’t forget to add in the preparation fees and taxes you may also owe to your country of citizenship.

IVA (Value-Added/Sales Tax) Almost everything you buy here already has IVA factored into its price and includes the 23% due to Portugal and 21% to Spain. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Look carefully to see if stores and salespeople are trying to be more competitive by showing prices exclusive of IVA along with the words “… plus IVA” in small print. Big-ticket items like vehicles, especially, can deliver a wallop when you first see the price listed as €30,000. But, turn the page, and you’ll notice an additional €6,900 for IVA, making the actual price €36,900 or more.

Property Tax In addition to what you paid in taxes when purchasing property and transferring it from the previous owner to you, in Portugal you also will have to pay annual property taxes. The property tax is fixed annually by each municipality and typically ranges from 0.3% to 0.45%. While properties in rural areas are taxed at 0.8%, properties in more urban areas are taxed within the mentioned range. If a property has been re-valued since 2004, it will fall between 0.2% and 0.5%. If a property was valued before 2004, the rate will be between 0.4% to 0.8%. In some cases, there will be exemptions from the taxes on property (IMI). For example, if you will use the property as a permanent home or if you rent it out, it will be exempt from property tax for three years. Also, the rate will depend on the patrimonial value of the property. IMI (Imposto Municipal sobre Imóveis) is paid annually, either: in a single instalment, in April, if the tax is below EUR 250; in two instalments (April and November) if the value is between EUR 250 and EUR 500; and three instalments (April, July, November) if the amount is more than EUR 500.

Road Tax If you own a vehicle registered in Portugal, you must pay the Single Circulation Tax (aka “road tax”) every year. Probably, you’ve already received an email from Finanças regarding payment of this tax. It is a mandatory tax for everyone who owns a vehicle in Portugal. The amount of tax paid is different for vehicles registered before and after July 2007. Owners of cars registered before July 2007 pay an amount of tax directly related to the age of the vehicle and its cubic capacity. The tax on vehicles registered after July 2007 also takes into account the vehicle’s CO2 emissions and its engine power. Mine is €103.12 … but most people pay more.

Subscriptions Forget (or not) about magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals to which you subscribe. I’ve not counted them in here. Instead, I’m referring to the annual fees which Internet providers and suppliers charge you each year. Netflix, HBO, the Disney Channel. Microsoft Office 365. Malwarebytes or other protection services. WordPress and other Internet-related expenses … especially if you host a blog or vlog or do business online.

Tips and Gratuities Giving or not is a matter of choice–yours. Whether at restaurants in taxis, at the beauty salon or the car wash, there’s no expected amount to give. After embarrassing quite a few services with our (American) 20% tips, we learned that some people don’t leave tips. And that’s perfectly acceptable. For us, although we still feel awkward about leaving pennies on the dollar, we’ve found that 5% is a reasonable and perfectly appropriate gratuity.

Though not really an additional expense, here’s a worthwhile reminder: It takes a while to get used to European weights and measures. For instance, fuel is sold by the liter–not gallon. When looking at price signage, if you see unleaded (95) gas listed at €1.95, it’s for a liter. There are four liters to a gallon. So, a gallon of gas would cost €7.80. At today’s very favorable exchange rate, in dollars, that gallon costs just over US $8.00.

And then there’s this: Though eating out at cafés, snack bars, and restaurants is often quite cheap, it’s the extras that add up. See that table set with a basket of bread, a bowl of olives, and a variety of spreads — butter, cheese, etc.? While often served courtesy of the house, in not too few places there’s a surcharge for these nibbles: usually between one and five euros, which will be added to your bill.

Don’t want (or need) it? They’ll be removed from your table before the first course arrives.

No charge!

Planet of the Apps

For more years than many of you have walked on this planet, I have steadfastly rejected a mobile phone, earlier known as a “smart” phone to distinguish it from the dumb ones.

(Yes, especially for geezers like me, mobile phones without any “apps” are still available.)

I did own a mobile phone back in the day when they were called car phones … and we got along reasonably well, I daresay. I even had one of those damned digital devices back around 2008, when they were introduced to the public and known as cell phones. Even then, they were too big for their britches and proved themselves much smarter than me. So frustrated was I with the self-serving novelty that I threw it against the wall, stomped on it on the ground, and brought the broken plastic pieces back to the shop I had purchased it.

“Do you give courses where I can use to learn how to use this?” I asked. The salesman grimly nodded no. “Does the technical college provide training for adults on how to manage these infernal contraptions?” He laughed but shook his head again in the negative, saying “It might be a good idea. You should contact the public schools and community colleges to see if they would offer one.” To which I retorted, “When they give courses on how to use smart phones for stupid old men like me, I’ll consider buying another one. But not until then!”

And so, it went …

My partner (younger=more tech savvy) has been the guardian of the family phone. We said a teary goodbye to Ma Bell when Comcast squeezed us and promised to give us lots more communication opportunities for lots less money.

They lied.

So, calls come in for me on Russ’s móvil (as they’re called in Portugal). He uses Skype to make free international calls, Zoom for remote staff meetings, his bank’s cyber counterpart to scan checks his aunt sends from the USA and deposit them in his bank account over there. He knows the time and weather, can calculate and compute, determine the best way to get somewhere, take pictures and send them to me or post them directly on Facebook.

He knows his apps.

Fine. Let him have them.

As for me, I was perfectly happy doing online banking, searching for information with Google, chatting with friends from Facebook, writing my stories and books, and even printing out detailed directions for getting from here to wherever. All on my desktop computer. Somehow, over the years, I moved beyond the first-generation Macintosh into the world of wired PC operations and beyond—through the wireless realm where nothing cooperated according to the instruction manuals which came in teeny-tiny booklets written in 37 different languages. All type, no illustrations. At least Ikea instructions I can decipher.

But now, apps are taking over the planet.

Heck, I had to wait nine months for my new car (Dacia Duster) because the chips empowering the apps had to travel through war-torn Ukraine. “Production side difficulties,” I was informed. But if truth be told, apps are the driving force behind vehicles today, not motorists. Everything is digitized so I no longer need to balance my clutch, brake, and accelerator if I don’t want to lose control and slide down the hilly streets of Olvera (Spain) and Portugal. That’s because my car comes with “hill assist.” The infernal vehicle knows when to turn on the lights and the windshield wipers. It reminds me when to upshift and downshift. It makes nasty noises if I take too long in attaching my seat belts. It even thinks there are passengers in the rear seat who need to affix their seat belts when it’s just a bag full of groceries. It’s got a rear view mirror and side view mirrors with cameras and beepers to warn me when I get too close to the car parked behind or in front of me. It even has a “dead spot” monitor that tells me if there’s a vehicle in my blind spot that I cannot see. There’s a point, though, when enough is enough: I absolutely refuse to allow my car to park itself (or, for that matter, do most of the driving without me).

Have I digressed?

To use my computer, I need a mobile phone so that another computer can confirm my identity by sending a code to the phone … which I then must enter on my computer.

How many passwords do you have—and remember? Stored in my Google Passwords Manager, they’re all controlled by an app. And now that I’ve run out of space on my Passwords Manager, Google kindly reminds me that I can increase my storage (in the cloud, of course) … by renting more space. Trouble is, I can’t figure out how to make the payments from my computer—especially if I’m digitally transferred to another service, like Paypal, to pay. Meanwhile, how curious it is that if I go to my Password Manager, Google asks me for the password before allowing access to my securely guarded secrets.

And now everyone (but me) uses Whatsapp, “internationally available freeware, cross-platform, centralized instant messaging (IM) and voice-over-IP (VoIP)” service owned by American company Meta Platforms—aka Facebook!

I’d give a rousing LOL to this techno mumbo-jumbo … but it isn’t funny!

Talk about selling one’s soul in a Faustian bargain. Doesn’t Facebook (i.e., Meta) know enough about me already, which it shares with the highest bidders?

Whatever.

I discovered – or so I thought – that I could download Whatsapp directly to my computer to communicate with those (especially merchants) who use the platform. I got all the way to the fourth step in the process when – Gotcha! – I was instructed to enter my mobile number so Whatsapp could send it a QR code (or whatever it’s called) which I would then hold close to my computer for it to read. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I don’t have a mobile device. That’s right: I don’t have a mobile device. And I fear that the apps are coming to get me. It’s just not fair!

“App” isn’t even exactly a word, but an abbreviation. It’s a computer program or piece of software designed for a particular purpose that you can download onto a mobile device. As a shortened form of the word application, app represents a contemporary example of what process linguists refer to as “clipping.” Computer programs designed to carry out specific tasks other than relating to the operation of the computer itself, apps are used by end-users (us, not an abbreviation) for word processing, media playing, accounting, and lots of other nifty endeavors on mobile devices … like phones.

There are apps for everything—from learning a language to buying move tickets. (There must be an app for TicketMaster, but I’m not sure of its current status.) Apps can be bundled with a computer and its system software or published separately and may be coded as proprietary, open-source, or projects.

Some apps are available in versions for several different platforms; others only work on one and are called, for example, a geography app for Microsoft Windows … an Android application for education … a Linux game. According to Wikipedia, “Sometimes a new and popular application arises that only runs on one platform, increasing the desirability of that platform. This is called a killer app.”

Why does Elon Musk come to mind?

Still, the plot thickens: “Mobile-app quality is becoming an increasingly important issue. These apps are generally delivered through app stores that let users post reviews, providing a rich data source …”

Imagine that!

Being a writer and a poet, I wish that app was shorthand for something other than application. Like apple. In the Bible, the phrase “apple of my eye” is first used figuratively. The apple of the eye was a favorite idiom of Old Testament writers to indicate something (particularly a person) that one values above all others.

Shakespeare used the idiom in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream; alas, he was using the phrase quite literally—simply referring to the pupil of an eye.

Sometimes, the old masters knew a lot more than we do.

KISS: Keep things simple, stupid!

Who would have thought that a “killer app” is a good thing?

Or that, regardless of their shape and size, they’re running our world?

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

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Street Sounds in Spain

For 15 years now, we’ve had a vacation bolt in Andalucía–southern Spain. Our pied a terre is in a town named Olvera, which is found precisely at the point where the provinces of Málaga, Sevilla, and Cadiz intersect and collide. Except for its majestic appearance from the roadway, Olvera is a typical Spanish town, albeit one with a good share of expats and immigrants–mainly from the UK, but increasing numbers from elsewhere.

Olvera view

Since moving to Portugal in 2017, we’ve made the four-hour trek from our Portuguese home (in Elvas) at the Spanish border by Badajoz two or three times each year. And with each trip, we’re reminded of my good doctor’s prescription for old age (mine) and assorted aches and pains, including a broken leg and ankle from 20+ years ago: “Stop climbing up and down all those steps.¨(At the time, we lived in a house with 37 steps between the three floors.) The doctor went on to warn me how dangerous it was to be pulled down the village’s cobble stone streets — especially when wet and slippery — by our three Miniature Schnauzers.

“You need a single story home, a bungalow, with a small, enclosed backyard for the dogs,” she stressed. “You will feel much better and enjoy life that much more.”

The doctor was right.

Except for Olvera.

We loved our three-story 55m2 house that had “Challenging!” written all over it. It was challenging to decorate according to our taste when the small space dictated absolute minimalism. It was challenging to go up and down all those steps, which twisted and turned and had less surface area to support us. It was challenging to walk the dogs up the steepening street, avoiding poopstacles along the way.

Heck, it was challenging even to get to the place!

A tiny alley way sliced through the retail shops on Calle Llana, the main street in town. Blink and you’ll miss it. Try to make a 90 degree right turn from Calle Llana onto Calle Cantillos (yes, the alley has a name!) and you’d better pull in both of the car’s side mirrors. And pray.

It’s there that you first become aware of it …

The noise.

In abandoned, decrepit, former manor homes now falling apart, you’ll hear the constant coo-coo-coo-ing of pigeons. Whether love calls or sirens crying for times past, the pigeons are loud. They’re also dirty, their droppings plastering the street.

Continuing about 20 meters, the road widens somewhat … enough for cars to park, clinging to houses on one side of the street. Normal size cars can pass through … with about half a meter to spare. A harrowing experience driving down the street, it’s no wonder that every car exhibits what is affectionately known around town as “Olvera kisses.”

Not far down the street is a “park” which resulted from tearing down the former post office building and erecting a site to sit on facing concrete benches atop a cement slab injected with three precisely placed trees and two trash baskets on stands. Approaching this oasis set in the midst of too much crammed tightly together, one becomes aware of clucking sounds, somewhat like a brood of hens. Especially around dusk. It’s a group of about 10 senior citizens, men facing women on opposite sides, gathering to socialize.

Immediately thereafter, the road lurches left, into another alley-like connection. That’s where our house is located–directly opposite a so-called “street” branching off to the left. Though it has a name (C/Arcos), only two-wheel vehicles — bicycles, scooters, and motos — can pass through, as there’s a low-hanging archway just a few meters ahead.

In effect, we live in the middle of a man-made echo chamber exaggerating simple sounds into raucous roars.

Maybe it’s me who’s exaggerating?

Here’s what we hear:

• Despite the “no parking” sign and curb painted yellow on this leg of C/Arcos, someone parks there late at night and leaves early in the morning. Maybe s/he thinks that nobody will need to pass that way or be inconvenienced at such times. Nor would the possibility of police patrolling and ticketing the car be that great. We know that the car is old and its engine is diesel. From the series of 30-second motor cranking to the belching and burping of the engine engaged, there’s no mistaking those sounds at six in the morning.

• Not much later, a tractor shakes, rattles, and rolls, trudging its way into the vacated spot, creeping its way up the incline until it can go no farther. Stopping beside what’s left of a row house, the man driving yells something to a colleague and the demolition continues. Bang! Boom! Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

It’s just before 7:00 am.

• One by one, up and down the street, “persianas” — those built-in blinds comprising wood and other weather-resistant materials — are cranked up to let in a new day. At the same hour that evening, they will be cranked down again.

• Next door, our neighbor is having repairs and renovations done. Industrial-size bags of concrete (cement?) are parked in front of her house. Promptly each morning at 8h,the men come to begin work. There’s the steady banging of a hand-held hammer. The high-pitched whine of electric drills. And the ear-jarring rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat of a jack-hammer jamming. The men stop their work when the lady of the house begins arguing with whoever is in charge. I don’t know what the problem is, but their voices are raised and, despite bickering for 15 minutes, she is determined to have the last word. Their voices rising to crescendo, a door is slammed and we become aware of the infrequent sounds of silence on our street.

• The same next door neighbor and two others get together in front of our house — which, for whatever reason is convenient — mid-morning and mid-evening to chat. Their pitch is that of loud, overpowering shrillness that scares the sh*t out of our dogs. I wish! Instead, they are petrified, tail between their legs, refusing to eat or do their business, fearing they’ll come across what they perceive as perils.

(Fifty or so years ago, while I was attending the University of Madrid, my very proper Spanish grandmother would wag her finger at me, stating unequivocally, “No te quedes en la calle.” In other words, don’t hang out on the street. Streets had their purpose, she believed — to take you somewhere and bring you back — but were not the place for respectable people to spend time gossiping.)

• Motorcycles scream by, going the wrong way on our one direction (only) street. You can tell their manufacturers, makes, and models by the whine and howl of their motors as those driving demons rev, rev, rev their motors to make a point as they pass. Evidently, since the pandemic lockdowns, more people have discovered the convenience of restaurant food delivered to their doors, thereby increasing the number of motos (and noise) on the street.

It’s now nine in the morning.

• Rather than beeping politely, the bread truck bullies its way down the street, driver leaning heavily on his horn every 10-meters for what seems like eternities. The bread truck is followed by the gas truck, delivering full canisters of propane and fetching the empty ones. It, too, follows the same ear-piercing etiquette. Every so often, the fish monger comes along, making a trio of the cacophony.

• Meanwhile, the masters and mistresses of dogs on our street have opened their doors to let the canines out to do their business in the street. From the soprano voices of the women to the gravely, baritone tones of the men — and, sometimes, whistling in between — it can take 15 minutes for the dogs to return home from their jaunts around the neighborhood.

• Later, cats who’ve taken residence in the ruina facing us howl and screech in nighttime hissy fits. Either they’re fighting for mastery or having great sex.

Any one of these matters — two, three, or even four — could be accepted and adapted to, considering the friendships and food we enjoy here in Olvera. But put all of them together, continuously, day after day, and it’s a lifestyle … regardless of how we describe it.

Of course, there are other nondescript sounds that get muffled by all the racket: people walking and talking to each other in sotto voices or listening to their mobiles. Cars passing carefully at a sensible pace. Children playing in the street. Ladies back from their grocery shopping, dragging the carts behind them. Elderly gentlemen gingerly tapping their canes. Birds chirping. Flies buzzing. Bicycle riders gliding silently down the street. Emergency vehicle sirens off in the distance.

Maybe it’s only our street where expats and immigrants must learn to fish or cut bait. Perhaps people in other towns and villages across Iberia are comfortable living where such happenstance is routine and acceptable behavior.

Then, too, others are probably more tolerant than we.

When asked about the differences between Spain and Portugal or why we chose to live in the latter instead of the former, we tell them that there are many similarities between the two countries and cultures.

But we do believe that Spain is louder.

P.S. We cut short our “vacation” and returned to Portugal a week earlier than anticipated. We missed the relative peace and quiet of our new homeland.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. Read current and past issues — and subscribe free of charge — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Why I Dislike Supermarket Shopping in Portugal

Today is our food shopping day.

It’s one of my least favorite activities in Portugal.

Not because of the quality or the prices.

But, because:

We have to go to three supermarkets to get everything we want. (Castelo Branco has neither an Aldi, Carrefour, or Corte Inglés.) The bulk of our shopping is done at Auchan, which carries most — but not everything — we need. Next, it’s off to Lidl for their freshly bottled orange juice, freshly baked cheese sticks, and best cuts of meat. Finally, homeward bound, one of us runs into Continente for freshly bottled grapefruit juice–it’s the only store locally that carries it.

Shopping in the supermarkets is like an obstacle course. The aisles are narrow to begin with. People abandon their carts in the aisles, while they go off elsewhere looking for whatever. In other aisles, are clutches of two, three, and four people just standing there gossiping and blocking the aisles. If not customers, it’s employees who ignore the fact that their trolleys for stocking shelves leaves little room for passersby to do their shopping. Meanwhile, the stockers are oblivious, chatting with co-workers.

Am I the only one who’s bothered by people — customers — picking up fruits, vegetables, breads, and other foodstuffs … squeezing them, sniffing them, then putting them back?

Too many items are without prices. I picked up a super double pack of Dolce Gusto coffee capsules (they’re recyclable now!) because the price listed on the header said €14.99 for 64. With smaller size boxes of 16 capsules costing €5.50 or more, €14.99 is a pretty, darned good price! Except that it rings up, instead, as €17.93. In what I think is my very best Portuguese, I tell the cashier, “Mas a placa indica que o preço é €14.99.” Rather than make a fuss, I say that I don’t want it, thank you, and tell the cashier that after I’m checked out, I’ll deal with a supervisor. The people queued up behind me to pay are getting fidgety. “But you can’t come back into the store with the cart after you’ve paid,” explains the cashier, who is now getting frustrated herself. “Não se preocupe”, I assure her, “eu não vou.”

There’s never enough cashier lanes open to serve all the customers. How many times have I wiggled my way to a line, only to see the green “Aberto” light turn red “Fechado” just as I’m ready to unload. And even if everything else has gone well, I still have to deal with those cantankerous credit/debit card machines. Sometimes, they work perfectly. Other times, whether I swipe, insert, or magically wave my card, the “reader” just won’t cooperate. The cashier asks my permission, “Com licença,” to try it herself. It’s still won’t work. So, she calls over a manager, explains the situation, and hands my card and the wad of receipt papers to her. “Amazing!” I say to myself, as she hands me another receipt to sign. Reminding myself never to use that cashier lane again, I wonder how many forests have been cut down to merit all that paper.

I wait for my shopping companion in front of the store. He’s the cook in our family and always takes much longer than me to make sure that he’s got everything detailed minutely on his telephone app. Asking him to watch my cart (please), I march back inside, heading to the end cap of the coffee and tea aisle where I had found my great bargain on Dolce Gusto Sical. Aha! Just as I thought: the only sign indicating the price is hanging from the top of the top shelf, clearing showing the cost as €14.99. I politely interrupt two employees discussing whatever, and ask one to accompany me to confirm the price. The scans my Sical and €17.93 digitally appears on the screen. Then she scans other varieties on different shelves, which come up as €14.99. She tells me that “these” boxes of coffee are €14.99, but those — including my Sical — are €17.93. “But how is anyone supposed to know that?” I respond anxiously and with a bit of consternation. She shrugs her shoulder and smiles at me. Remembering all the items I had wanted to purchase until I asked and found out the prices (no, they weren’t marked), I contemplate going to the management section and making a stink. But I’m too annoyed at the moment and know that I would trip all over my limited Portuguese if I did–especially if asked a question. Knowing other opportunities would arise where I could vent my frustration, I turn and walk towards the exit. Nodding to nobody, I realized how the patience of the Portuguese was beginning to take hold of me.

Unloading the cart outside in the parking lot, I curse silently and wish I had a camera with me. Cars are parked diagonally in vertical spaces–one is even taking up three spots by parking horizontally. And several others are sticking out because they haven’t been pulled all the way in to the spots. I take all this in as cars careen around the lot at near highway speeds.

Do you recognize the man in this picture? I bet I could learn a lot about supermarket shopping and patience from him!

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Partying with the Portuguese

Imagine it’s the 4th of July, Mardi Gras, or New Year’s Eve … only bigger. Because the festivities continue day after day–typically for four days or so.

There’s food and drink, people dancing in the streets. Musicians and merriment. DJ disco. Friends and family who now live elsewhere returning to their homeland and birthplaces to celebrate with drink, games of chance, special lottery tickets and prizes. Often, even a Mass (or two). Albeit in the village’s streets, backyards, taverns, cafés, and church yards, it’s loud, begins late (10:00 PM), and continues through the hours most people otherwise are sleeping soundly..

What are they celebrating?

Perhaps they’re paying homage to a particular saint. Remembering a day from their particular history. Or momentarily singing the praises of Portuguese life.

It’s that time of the year when we see — and hear — a different side of our Portuguese neighbors … as saudade takes a break in the back seat, giving way to saúde.

No matter how small the village — our little Lousa (not Lousã) has fewer than 500 residents — these summer festivals are big events. So big, that the population surges four-fold with people staying with relatives, at their family’s original dwellings despite their delipidated condition, at lodging facilities, even commuting between nearby villages not hosting their shindigs at the moment. It’s nearly impossible to find a parking spot, as vehicles of all vintages, shapes, and sizes double (and triple) park … or are simply left wherever.

Broken beer bottles, plastic cups, and cigarette butts awaken the mornings after to the garish light of another day too hot to deal with overflowing trash bins, as streets become sticky–drunk by grit, gristle, grease, and grime fried by the day’s scorching sun.

Yet these annual festivities are good for the soul and give evidence of a spirit eager to be freed. While it may seem as though we’ve wandered into the midst of a circus or carnival, other days and times are set aside for such events.

Pause …

Of course, people need time and space to recuperate and regain their wits about them; so late mornings and afternoons are set aside for life’s more mundane tasks. Including sleep. Half-hearted attempts are made to clean up the public areas littered beyond the local bins’ capacity. But much of the time is traditionally spent with family.

In some Portuguese towns and villages — including ours! — the highlight of the doings is saved for near the end: running of the bull(s), an event that involves people running in front of a bull (or small group of bulls) that have been set loose on sectioned-off streets.

Ours is that sectioned off street in Vila Boim, our home in the Alentejo, as the usually dormant bull ring is located at the end of our road.

I guess, like most everyone else on our street, we will need to move our cars.

And stay inside, watching the wild frenzy through our windows.

Portugal has a vibrant bullfighting tradition, but killing a bull is deemed tantamount to murder by some and was outlawed in 1928. The vast majority of Portugal’s population doesn’t watch, go to, or support bull fights. But bull runs are something else entirely. Especially in Sabugal and Terceira in the Azores Islands. I’m told that in Portugal, after the running, the bulls aren’t killed but get a few weeks off because of their bravery. Maybe that’s pure … errrr … bullsh*t, said to appease this American’s loathing of animal abuse.

“It’s not a show! It’s life, it’s partying, it’s adrenaline, it’s conviviality, they are roots that hold us tight to the land that saw us born and to which we return,” insists President Victor Proenca of the Municipality of Sabugal. “The gallantry of the riders, the courage of those who face the ‘proof bull,’ the public’s expectations with each new bull that comes out, the scoundrel who calls to the calf, the nostalgia of the party that ends in the unwinding… this is Capeia, land of passions, strong emotions and feelings that are repeated year after year.”

Bull runs are also the highlight of summer street festivals held in villages throughout Terceira, where the island is big on its bulls since they literally defended the Portuguese island from a Spanish invasion during the 16th century. When King Philip sent the Pedro Valdes to Terceira for a diplomatic takeover, its crew was met by 600 angry bulls and subsequently wiped out.

Here’s how writer Robin Esrock describes the bull running experience:

“For a moment, the huge Bull stops to weigh its options. There are people everywhere, taunting him, laughing, showing no respect whatsoever. There are rock walls, and wooden barricades, and more people on those walls and barricades, exuding a cacophony of celebration. Around the Bull’s neck is a thick rope, held many yards back to several men dressed in white. They’re supposed to condition his movement, but the Bull knows, and they know, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. A nuisance like the young men who dare to step forward, threaten him with movement from jackets or blankets or hypnotically twirling red umbrellas. The impetuousness! To dare challenge such a beast, so strong and muscled that cows shudder their udders at the sight of him. A young man crosses the imaginary line and the Bull springs forward, horns primed, an unstoppable tank of nature. But the man sidesteps, deftly turning in a circle. Although the Bull is big and fast, it does not have power steering. They play this dangerous game, closely bonded, man and beast, until the man skips away safely to the applause of the crowd. The Bull pauses. He has choices. Should he charge into the crowd to send everyone scattering? Should he trample the man holding a notebook, with his baseball T-shirt and distinctly un-Portuguese appearance? Should he make an unexpected leap over a low wall where many others stand in mistaken safety? Should he turn back down the street toward the pen from which he came? The Bull turns its thick neck toward me, and I am frozen stiff. Reflected in the black orbs of its eyes, I see him weighing his options.”

Back in Vila Boim, as the annual festival wends its way to the end, one final event is scheduled. It’s the closing church service.

I contemplate the irony of bulls running down my street followed by a holy Mass–a communion commemorating the martyred body and blood of their Savior, Christ Jesus.

The next national holiday is the Assumption of Mary, marking the the Virgin Mary’s (supposed) bodily ascent to heaven at the end of her life. Assumption celebrations are accompanied by festivals, colorful street processions, fireworks, and pageantry. “Feasts” aren’t actually required, yet there is a longstanding tradition of blessing the summer harvest.

In 2022, Mary’s assumption is famously celebrated on 15 August.

Bruce Joffe is the publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. Read our current issue and subscribe — FREE of charge — to future ones at: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue

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Judicial Review

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas, origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.

Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas, a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing, a time for assessment, self-improvement, and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society.

Yet it must also be a time of self-reflection and social responsibility.

Remember the story in the Book of Exodus? Time and again, despite disasters and disease, Pharaoh refused to “let my people go!” The Israelites were seeking more than liberty and freedom; they were clamoring for freedom from bondage.

In the wake of the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020, the push for federal recognition of Juneteenth gained new momentum, and Congress quickly pushed through legislation in. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill into law, making Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government.

While celebrations in 2020 and 2021 were largely subdued by fear of contagion of the coronavirus pandemic, this year Juneteenth was observed by nationwide celebrations.

Could we do any less to honor the lives of George Floyd, Rodney King, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castle, and others? All African Americans offed by white police officers. Let’s not forget others, like Trayvon Martin, murdered by self-appointed racist vigilantes. Each was a human whose life was taken prematurely and unjustly by powerful foes and opportunists.

But, behind the scenes, a group of powerful people plotted to keep black and brown skinned people — mainly the poor and the marginalized in conservative, duplicitous states — the freedom from bondage they had suffered and worked so hard to achieve.

While Americans of color celebrated Juneteenth, the US Supreme Court handed down a bevy of decisions that will affect Americans across the country. But mostly black and brown Americans who, historically, have been the subjects of hatred, prejudice, social injustice, and inequality because certain people need to feel superior and deny the rights promised to all U.S. citizens by the country’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That’s never been the case for the poor and the marginalized, no matter how indigent they may be, as declared by the “justices” of the Supreme Court.

Recent rulings from the nation’s highest court range from topics such as gun rights to Miranda rights. The most notable ruling overturned Roe v. Wade and upended constitutional protections on abortion. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court, struck down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that federally protected a woman’s right to have an abortion. The court’s ruling leaves abortion rights to be determined at the state level. Several GOP-led states moved immediately to enact statewide bans.

Guess which states and their demographics?

“Pro-life politics in the United States used to be mostly posturing and positioning, the taking of extreme rhetorical positions at no real-world cost,” writes David Frum in The Atlantic. “Republicans in red states could enact bills that burdened women who sought abortions, knowing that many voters shrugged off these statutes and counted on the courts to protect women’s rights. Now the highest court has abdicated its protective role, and those voters will have to either submit to their legislature’s burdens or replace the legislators.”

Comparing the history, sociology, and politics of Roe v. Wade to Prohibition in this country, Frum reflects that, “many of the men and women poised to cast Republican ballots in 2022 and 2024 to protest inflation and COVID-19 school closures may be surprised to discover that anti-abortion laws they had assumed were intended only to prohibit others also apply to them. They may be surprised to discover that they could unwittingly put out of business in vitro–fertilization clinics, because in vitro fertilization can involve intentionally destroying fertilized embryos. They may be surprised to discover that a miscarriage can lead to a police investigation. They may be surprised that their employer could face retaliation from lawmakers if it covers the costs of traveling out of state for an abortion. The concept of fetal personhood could, if made axiomatic, impose all kinds of government-enforced limits and restrictions on pregnant women.”

Frum’s conclusions, however, apply to rich, white, mainly Republican women.

I’m talking about the discrimination, harm, and deaths that surely will be borne by others. Because, at the same time people were commemorating Juneteenth, the US Supreme Court was adding insult to injury for them …

By hook or by crook, on TV and in the movies, almost all Americans have heard of the Miranda Rule. The Supreme Court now ruled that suspects may not sue officers who fail to inform them of their right to remain silent or to have a lawyer present. That means the failure to administer the warning will not expose a law enforcement officer to potential damages in a civil lawsuit. It will not affect, however, the exclusion of such evidence at a criminal trial.

Given the preponderance of media coverage focused on Roe v. Wade, you needed to Google this and other rulings made by SCOTUS before adjourning.

The Supreme Court also struck down a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that placed restrictions on carrying a concealed handgun outside the home. Believe it or not, the Second Amendment refers to state militias–no longer active because we now have the National Guard, US Army, Navy, Marines, Airforce, and Coast Guard. The New York law in question was written when every male citizen was subject to being called into a militia and required to provide his own firearms, which otherwise must be kept inside his home. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his 6-3 majority opinion that the Constitution protects the right to carry a gun outside the home. His opinion changes the framework that lower courts will use going forward as they analyze other gun restrictions, such as weapons bans in California or the gun safety bill President Joe Biden signed into law after approval by both political parties and both houses of Congress.

Republican leaders of the North Carolina legislature could step in to defend the state’s voter ID law, even though the state’s attorney general, a Democrat, is already doing so, decreed the Supreme Court. The opinion will make it easier for other state officials to intervene (in some instances) in lawsuits when the state government is divided.

The Supreme Court also said that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance program that allows parents to use vouchers to send their children either to public or private schools. The 6-3 ruling is the latest move by the conservative court to expand religious rights and bring more religion into public life, a trend bolstered by the addition to the bench of three of former President Donald Trump‘s nominees.

Remember: Current U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was denied even a hearing by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans when nominated to the bench by Barack Obama. Yet two U.S. presidents who lost the popular vote in recent elections — Donald Trump and George W. Bush — were responsible for loading the Court with four of its nine justices.

With their lifetime “super majority” on the bench , we now welcome to their club the Supreme Court of the United States and its (inj)ustice system.

Except for the utterly transparent and crystal clear plotting of former president Donald Trump exposed in minute detail by the Select Committee, the new normal has abdicated reality in favor of lies and deception spread by the executive and legislative branches of government.

It’s time to include the Supreme Court in their political posturing and pressure campaigns.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably rolling over in her grave.

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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Lies

“The Internet started as a bastion for free expression,” a former Reddit C.E.O. wrote. These days, “the trolls are winning.” Illustration by Javier Jaén.

It would appear that we are surrounded — swallowed — by lies, untruths, distortions, and alternative realities or interpretations and understandings. Lies come in all shapes and sizes … spread from pulpits, political podiums, and public squares. I’ve selected three here which must be turned on their heads, despite how gigantic and rampant they are.

The Big Lie:

Donald Trump won the USA’s 2020 presidential election; Democrats, dilettantes, and demons conspired to deny and deprive him of office.

The Bigger Lie:

The best defense against bad people with guns is good people with guns.

The Biggest Lie:

The US Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to have and use guns.

Trump did not win the 2020 election. Umpteen challenges, court cases, recounts, and eye-witness testimonies show quite the contrary: He lost. But he used every tool — from lies to blackmail, conspiracy and terrorism to rile up his followers … which, ultimately, led to the Great Insurrection. On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporter attacked the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., seeking to overturn his defeat by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory. Yet this heinous moment of American history wasn’t yet over … in fact, Trumpism has been spreading by Trumpsters intent on destroying democracy.

There’s no need for gun control in the USA? Bullshit. The lie propagated by the National Rifle Association advocating for additional guns, not fewer, has become the mantra of the country’s Republican party fed by egregious sums of financial contributions and favors to their campaigns by the NRA. Even as massacres and killings — of children! — continue to rise, politicians blame (other) people rather than the weapons of mass destruction. The height of hypocrisy was only recently reached when politicians like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott addressed the NRA’s recent annual convention in Texas in the same state and time that a gunman killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school.

“The rate of gun ownership hasn’t changed. And yet acts of evil like we saw this week are on the rise,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told crowds at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Houston. Cruz’s claim about stagnant gun ownership (which is factually misleading), is among the trove of inaccurate claims made by GOP officials at the NRA’s annual gathering, making clear that the string of mass shootings in recent weeks has not influenced their pro-gun convictions. On the other side of the world, much as I cringe and cry at loss of lives and homeland during Putin’s war against Ukraine, I can’t help but shudder at the billions of dollars in assembly line armaments sent continuously by the USA to Ukraine. (In the long run, I believe, it will be the sanctions against Russia by a steadfast European community of nations and the Russian people clamoring for change that will be the determining factors for Putin and his enablers’ defeat.)

And the Constitutional basis for bearing arms? I’m neither a historian nor a Constitutional scholar, but I cannot understand how these words upon which rest vigilante injustice and bloodshed aplenty have been interpreted and blessed by the government–executive, legislative, and judicial branches alike.

Second Amendment to the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

For decades, the US has been locked in a reckoning over the breadth of the language in this amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms. But in recent months, national attention has instead shifted to the lesser-considered subject of its first clause: “A well regulated Militia …”

Armed self-described militia members have shown up with growing frequency this summer to racial justice protests held in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Their appearance, usually carrying rifles and dressed in military-style gear, has ratcheted up the tension at demonstrations and the risk of confrontation. Militia groups also attended gun rights rallies and demonstrations protesting coronavirus lockdown measures. Militia groups have, for years, argued that their actions are constitutionally protected. But legal analysts say the Constitution does not protect private military groups that are unconnected to or outside the authority of the government. In fact, all 50 states prohibit and restrict private militia groups and militia activity with several different kinds of laws as well as provisions included in most state constitutions.

If militias can be defined and defended these ways, is there any doubt that legislators and courts will accede to “pro-life” group demands to do away with abortion, denying women control over their own bodies? Or that same-sex marriage and adoptions will be redacted (at best) or overturned (at worst)? And that even issues concerning data privacy will be applied?

This is an unprecedented time we live in. We are living through climate change, a pandemic on pause, and an international conflict that has the potential to turn global. People around the world are struggling with conflicts and atrocities, at times due to the American military’s involvement, while hundreds more are dealing with increasingly dangerous heat waves as a result of the climate crisis. Still, others are trying to face the consequences of the pandemic, including the devastation left behind due to the loss of lives and the increasing financial insecurity that continues to widen the inequality gap between the struggling and the affluent. War in Ukraine wages on with what seems like no end in sight, while the Pentagon discusses options of US involvement in the fight against Russia.

This regression of rights in the democratic nation which has claimed countlessly throughout history to “spread democracy into the world” seems beyond ironic and hypocritical.

Although an ordained pastor, I’m certainly no Bible literalist. But when the same words are repeated nine separate times in one book (Deuteronomy) of Hebrew Testament Law and echoed at least once in the Christian Testament (I Corinthians 5:13), it’s time to take note:

You must purge the evil from among you.

I doubt that any of us disagrees about the importance of ridding ourselves and our society of evil; the problem arises because of our different values, beliefs, and interpretations of what constitutes “evil.”

In terms of the nine commands in Deuteronomy to remove evil, such “evils” are said to include liars (false witnesses); children who are stubborn, rebellious, gluttons and drunkards; idolaters; kidnapping and human trafficking; purity, unity, and promiscuity; showing contempt for judges and priests; prophets and dreamers advocating rebellion against God; and God’s so-called jealousy.

Moreover, Deuteronomy 17 describes three apparently disconnected aspects of justice:

  1. How to handle an allegation of idolatry. (Verses 2-7)
  2. How to handle a case that is too difficult for the local court. (Verses 8-13)
  3. How to ensure a king remains humble and accountable to God. (Verses 18-20)

I say “apparently” because they are connected by more than the overall theme of justice. For example, the sequence illustrates the roles and responsibilities of various members of the nation as their relative authority increases. The picture begins with individuals, moves to the community, then to the nation, and finally to the king.

You must purge the evil from among you.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe, free of charge, to the magazine on its website:
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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