Gun Shots Heard Round the World

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network, via Reuters

Eight people were killed and many more injured at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, a couple of days ago.

Actually, there have been at least 21 mass shootings over the past five years, according to a database compiled by the Violence Project.

Each new attack is a gruesome reminder of all that came before it:

On March 22, a gunman opened five at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, killing ten people, including a police officer. CNN reports that the Colorado attack was the seventh USA mass shooting massacre in seven days.

On March 16, eight people — including six women of Asian descent — were killed at spas in the Atlanta area. That same day, a shooting spree across five miles in Springfield, Missouri, left five people dead–including a police officer and the gunman. Also on March 16, five people preparing a vigil in Stockton, California, were victims of a drive-by shooting.

Four victims were taken to the hospital after a shooting in Gresham, Oregon, on March 18th. Five people were shot on Saturday, March 20, inside a Houston club. In a different part of Texas, eight people were shot by an unknown assailant in Dallas that day. Also on March 20, one person was killed and another five injured during a shooting at a party in Philadelphia.

These deaths are a predictable outcome of the USA´s lack of political will to make major changes in firearm legislation.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades, according to the Washington Post. But we’re barely into the second quarter of 2021.

Gun control is a weapon of mass destruction among politicians — especially Republicans — who enjoy the largesse of the National Rifle Association, despite the NRA’s decades of deception, corruption, bribery, and fraud.

Hiding behind the Constitution’s Second Amendment that reads, “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,” gun enthusiasts and their congressional loyalists steadfastly refuse to deal with the destruction.

When will they realize that the only ¨militias” around these days are far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others that planed and participated in the January 6th attack and insurrection on the US Capitol?

Well regulated? Who’s kidding whom?

Studies and proposals to reduce gun violence include sensible actions which must be mandated and enforced by the government: Expand background checks; raise the age to buy guns; ban assault weapons; restrict the sale of “bump sticks” attached to semi-automatic weapons; and increase “red flag” laws that give courts more authority to confiscate weapons from people considered to be threats to themselves and others.

All boil down to one simple solution: reducing easy access to dangerous weapons through sober, sensible laws.

Because not only are guns used by madmen in massacres, but brutally, at times, by police.

Guns aren’t only political grenades, they hold each of us individually hostage.

As Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, someone I never met, succinctly put it:

“I need to run some errands this morning. To ensure I arrive alive, I won’t take public transit (Oscar Grant). I removed all air fresheners from the vehicle and double-checked my registration status (Daunte Wright), and ensured my license plates were visible (Lt. Caron Nazario). I will be careful to follow all traffic rules (Philando Castille), signal every turn (Sandra Bland), keep the radio volume low (Jordan Davis), and won’t stop at a fast food chain for a meal (Rayshard Brooks). I’m too afraid to pray (Rev. Clementa C. Pickney) so I just hope the car won’t break down (Corey Jones).

“When you run errands today, be sure not to dance (Elijah McClain), stop to play in a park (Tamir Rice), patronize the local convenience store for snacks (Trayvon Martin), or walk around the neighborhood (Mike Brown). Once home, don’t stand in your backyard (Stephon Clark), eat ice cream on the couch (Botham Jean), or play any video games (Atatiana Jefferson).

“I guess I’ll watch a movie around 7:30pm, I won’t leave the house to go to Walmart (John Crawford) or to the gym (Tshyrand Oates) or on a jog (Ahmaud Arbery). I won’t even walk to see the birds (Christian Cooper). I’ll just sit and remember what a blessing it is to breathe (George Floyd) and I definitely won’t go to sleep (Breonna Taylor).”

The gunshots and murders of innocent people by shooters are being heard all around the world–including Portugal, one of the world’s three most peaceful countries., where I live.

Whenever the news covers yet another shooting in America, I can’t help but feel that my Portuguese neighbors — Spanish, too — look at me incredulously, seeking an explanation.

There is no explanation for these shots heard around the world.

Yet, I am relieved that we live in Portugal.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Nursery Rhyme Conspiracies

As we grow older, we subconsciously return to the years of our youth and adolescence, remembering – in dreams as well as when awake – the words of songs, TV tunes, and even advertising jingles from back in the day … nonetheless, we can’t remember where we left our spectacles, why we went to a room in the house, or what we were saying.

Lately, I have been awakening from fitful night sleeps with nursery rhymes running through my mind.

Have you ever revisited them and wondered — whatever was their genesis, meaning, and purpose — how they may have affected our later lives? I believe I may have put my finger on the primal source of our fears and frustrations, anxieties, neuroses and psychoses—sadistic or masochistic.

Maybe it’s my own paranoia, but I’ve come to suspect that nursery rhymes are nowhere nearly as benign as Mother Goose and her ilk would have us believe!

Consider, if you will:

“Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had a wife but couldn’t keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell. And there he kept her very well.”

Peter, Peter may well have been the first real vegan, an organic and sustainable living diehard. But why couldn’t he keep his wife? Was it something that he did or didn’t do (perhaps he couldn’t satisfy her?) or something which was her responsibility, not his? The plot thickens in the second verse, where we learn Peter had another wife and that he didn’t love her.

In terms of double names, another nursery rhyme speaks quite negatively of women. Is this how women would like to be described—or your wife, daughter, sister, friend?

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary.” And then, out of nowhere, Mary is asked, “How does your garden grow?” She answers: “With silver bells and cockleshells. And pretty maids all in a row.” Contrarian, indeed! (Not to mention sexist.)

If there ever was a case to be made for women’s health, reproductive rights, and the potential for child abuse, it dates back to that old woman who lived in a shoe:

“She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread; Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”

Maybe, in fact, Old Mother Hubbard was really that old lady living in a shoe? Talk about problems. And we blame the dog, not her, for being misanthropic:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, to give her poor doggie a bone; When she came there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none. She went to the baker to buy him some bread; when she came back, the dog was dead! She went to the undertakers to buy him a coffin; when she came back, the dog was laughing.

Cupboards and pantries bring up the matter of eating disorders. Along with bulimia and anorexia, who ever would want to eat something less savory or nourishing than this:

“Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old; Some like it hot, some like it cold, Some like it in the pot, nine days old.”

Evidently, expiration and use dates didn’t exist back in the day when children would pair up and clap their hands to the rhyme. Talk about bad influences! Is it any wonder that some youngsters reject proper table manners, with Jack Horner as their example?

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, eating his Christmas pie; he put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said, “What a good boy am I!”

Why was that poor child eating in the corner, in the first place … especially during Christmas? We’ve all heard of holiday fruit cake and even plum pudding; but a plum in a Christmas pie? Give me a break, please: What a self-serving egotist Jack Horner must have been, anyway!

And the discipline – punishments! – doled out by these sing-song voices and verses …

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey; there came a big spider, who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Poor little Miss Muffet. Not only did she have to eat while sitting on a tuffet, but her food sounds rather unpalatable. Then a spider (a big one at that) decides to sit down beside her. It’s truly frightening, I daresay.

Spiders figure prominently into nursery rhymes. Remember this one? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just imagining:

The itsy-bitsy spider went up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

Ugh!

Of course, spiders aren’t the only creatures and critters whose plight incites fear and terror. Consider mice:

Three blind mice, three blind mice. See how they run, see how they run! They all ran after the farmer’s wife. She cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did ever you see such a sight in your life as three blind mice?

Danger lurks in harm’s way amid many nursery rhymes. There’s the tale of those mischievous siblings who made it to the top of the hill, only to roll all the way back down: 

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Falling down and breaking more than a crown is the lot of Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And then there are those nursery rhymes that, seemingly, make no sense whatsoever … unless they’re coded chatter messages to co-conspirators:

Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon; the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.

There are lots more cases to be made against nursery rhymes and their nightmarish world to which children are subjected. As is the case, as well, with our favorite fables and fairy tales. Woe to Hansel & Gretel! The trials and tribulations of three little pigs against the voracious wolf.

Just thinking about these nuggets of childhood innocence devoured by such demons sends shivers and goosebumps up and down my spine!

Reality Check Observations

From the daily and mundane to more complex matters that we tend to take for granted, the ways people in one country do things often differ quite a bit from how they’re done in another.

Take banking, for instance.

Checks are virtually unheard of here in Portugal and Spain. Instead, one does almost everything through “Multibanco” machines that do much more than disperse cash from your account, or allow you to move money from one account to another within the same bank.

You can pay bills and/or transfer money to other people, businesses, and government agencies … regardless of their bank. And those recurring charges—like your electric, water, car payment, insurance, and telecommunication bills? They’re billed to and paid directly by the bank, without you needing to lift a finger. Forgotten your personal IBAN number? You can obtain it — as well as a history of your transactions, withdrawals and money deposited — electronically through your home computer or mobile device and, of course, the Multibanco!

Driving is another activity that’s quite different on this side of the pond than the other. No, I’m not referring to which side of the road we drive on or where your vehicle’s steering wheel and pedals are located. It’s much more complicated than that.

Consider speeding …People where we live in Portugal tend to be either speed demons or slow pokes. They’ll tailgate your butt before pulling away and leap-frogging several vehicles to get ahead of you (even if you’re driving over the posted speed limit) … or they’ll drive you bonkers because of their motorcycle-cum-cars with sewing machine engines that slow everyone down, since they just can’t get up to and maintain speed.

Keeping up with (if not ahead of) traffic is the name of the game here. And, whether or not you’re driving fast “enough,” there are always those who want to drive faster. So, move onto those special “laggard lanes” on the right, where available, and allow others to pass you!

Speed “bumps” are serious here, big and high, rather than the puny strips usually found in the USA. Then there are those “rumble strips,” urging you to slow down—especially when approaching a stop or yield sign. And, each time you enter a village on a paved, country road, heed the “Velocidad Controlada” signs. Exceed the designated speed limit and you’ll automatically trigger a red traffic light. Those striped lines where passengers have the right-of-way to cross the street? They do! And roundabouts (???!!!) Personally, I loathe them; but many swear by them—no matter how convoluted or complex. Give me a good, old-fashioned red, green, and yellow traffic light any day—blinking or not!

Without rhyme or reason, and in no logical order, here are some other curious or odd observations we’ve noticed while living in Portugal and Spain, which make living here quite different than back in the colonies:

• Coin-chained supermarket carts cut down the clutter and damage caused by shopping carts abandoned, helter-skelter, in parking lots.

• I’m not particularly a fan of “soft” drinks or soda “pop.” But, every so often I do crave a Coke or Pepsi. Sugar (not artificial sweeteners) is used here. Likewise, I’ve yet to pick up a bottle or can of almost any condiment and found the equivalent of “High Fructose Corn Syrup” listed as an ingredient. Someone told me that such preservatives are prohibited here. If so, good for us!

And forget about meals eaten at “American times.” Restaurants don’t even open here for dinner before 7:00 PM … and few tables are taken earlier than 20:00.

• Food and drink beg mentioning the sensitive topic of tipping. In the USA, where restaurant workers and other service providers frequently earn less than the minimum wage, tipping is appreciated and practiced – especially for superior service – typically to the tune of 15%-20% of the bill. (Some restaurants now automatically add a “courtesy charge” gratuity to your tab.) While certainly appreciated, tipping isn’t expected or necessarily proffered in the smaller towns of Spain and Portugal. Most people we know who do tip, will leave one euro or fifty cents for a €20-25 bill. Still, the workers are surprised … and genuinely grateful.

• Vehicle license plates (“tags”) stay with the car in Portugal and don’t change with each new owner. Look at the plate: you’ll know the month and year when a vehicle was first registered and put on the road.

• Used cars come with an obligatory full year warranty in Portugal, rather than 30-60 days of “power train” coverage. But, there’s more paperwork required before you drive a car off the dealer’s lot: among other things, you’d best bring acceptable documentation attesting that there’s adequate insurance coverage in effect on said vehicle.

• Pets need to wear seat belts when out in the car, driving with their families. It’s the law here. We’re not talking about those improbable imitations of baby car seats adapted to dogs (or cats), but a leash that attaches to your pet’s collar on one end and gets inserted to the seat belt buckle/clasp on the other. There’s plenty of leeway for the dogs to sit, stand, lie down, even roll over … but they can’t jump out the car window or bolt from a door that accidentally opens. Rather not tether them using these pet seat belts? Then, you’ll need to transport them in appropriate pet carriers.

• People, by and large, tend to treat their pets (especially dogs) differently in Portugal and Spain than do Americans. It’s not that they don’t love them or consider them part of their families, it’s just that the psychology – between both people and pets – differs from what we’ve been used to in the USA. We’re those “Americanos lo/u/cos” who treat their pets like surrogate children and walk their dogs on leashes, picking up after them and depositing their litter in refuse receptacle bins. Most small town Portuguese and Spaniards open the door and let their dogs (and cats) out to roam the streets and take care of their business. After all, it’s their business … not theirs.

• Expanding into more personal hygiene, at the risk of being offensive, it behooves me to mention bidets and toilets. Most Americans know what bidets are, even if we find them somewhat redundant. All I will say is, “Try it, you’ll like it.” As regards the even more sensitive subject of toilets, let’s just say that the paper here isn’t what Charmin has led us to expect. Few small towns and villages here have plumbing that can accommodate anything other than human waste, which means that tampons, tissues, paper towels, and even toilet paper must be disposed of alternatively (and appropriately).

• Houses shouldn’t be money pits—so, people, not houses, are heated and cooled. Outside the USA, fuel and petrol-based products cost more. Why heat or cool an entire house, when we’re occupying only certain rooms or areas? Unlike the USA, where whole houses often are “air conditioned” — heated or cooled — including rooms and spaces that aren’t in use or occupied, Europeans use “inverter” units in separate rooms. When sleeping, the bedroom aircon is turned on. Feeling cold while entertaining company? Only wood burners, pellet stoves, or space heaters in the kitchen, dining area, and/or gathering space need to be operating, while the rest of the house isn’t consuming energy. No need to keep a tank heated–just heat the water when/if you need it. Gas-powered water heaters provide an unending stream of hot water (until the gas tank runs dry, usually at the most awkward and uncomfortable moments).

• Mediterranean Europeans – those from Portugal, Spain, and Italy especially – enjoy their long lunch “hours.” They wouldn’t think of working on vacation days or many “ferias” and holidays celebrated throughout the year. Often, they don’t begin work before 10:00 AM and pace themselves according to their internal dictates and physical needs, rather than external schedules and time clocks.

• Is Portugal alone among the Romance languages in the way it counts and designates days? Spanish, French, and Italian all have similar words for Monday (Lunes, Lundi, Lunedi) through Saturday (Sábado, Samedi, Sabato) and Sunday (Domingo, Dimanche, Domenica) … but, when it comes to Portuguese, except for the weekend, the days of the week are determined by when they fall in terms of Sunday as the first day of the week and market days: Segunda-feria (Monday), Terça (Tuesday), Sexta-feria (Friday). It’s too confusing for me to keep count!

• I’d be doing us all a disservice if not mentioning the need to come to grips with international weights and measures. With my trusted tape measure, I can deal with centimeters vs. inches. But I always go online to convert kilos to pounds and kilometers to miles. Forget about converting temperatures between Celsius vs. Farenheit. Nobody will ever convince me that an infernal 118ºF isn’t hotter than 48ºC … or that 0ºC isn’t colder than its 32ºF equivalent!

Obviously, these are just my personal observations … and some may be skewed or faulty. Nonetheless, Russ and I believe ourselves better off now because of these differences that teach us to value the customs of one country – and its culture – even when compared to another.

Maybe you have observed other comparative distinctions between life as an expat here and your prior experiences elsewhere. Please, share them so that others can be better prepared to appreciate the value of our diverse ways and means.

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

A Capital Solution?

“Para trás fica o Portugal rural, com as suas cidades e aldeias envelhecidas, onde prolifera o desemprego e o abandon das infraestruturas.”

Some startling statistics from (the bank) Montepio’s *magazine:

> In 2018, more than 40% of Portugal’s population lived in the Lisbon and Porto metropolitan areas—a trend which will continue to rise.

> To maintain its population, Portugal will need 50,000 new inhabitants per year—all the way through 2040.

> Cities and towns in the country’s interior – especially those close to the border – need at least 10,000 people per year over the next two decades to put a stop/hold to their population decline.

> 60% of Portugal’s people live within 25 kilometers of the coast.

The author asks: Can technology – including broadband digital access and telecommuting or working from home – reverse the cycle of rural exodus by building new, sustainable societies from the north to the south of interior Portugal?

Portugal’s Parliament

Vacating age-old villages isn’t an occurrence isolated to Portugal. In Spain, France, Italy and other countries, too, the same fate occurs: small and remote locations are left to decline, decay, and loss when young people leave seeking jobs and opportunities elsewhere, leaving only the elderly to cope with the dwindling resources that remain.

While many immigrants and expats enjoy the expansive lifestyle afforded by beaches and life’s little luxuries found in major municipalities and metropolises like Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, and even Coimbra – mirrored by comparable cities in Spain – others (perhaps even more of us) are attracted to the charm of Iberia’s interior villages and life off-the-grid on organic quintas, fincas, and farm land.

Through its “Work in the Interior” program launched February 3, 2020, Portugal’s government is offering financial incentives of up to €4,800 to anyone – workers and students, especially – who will help to repopulate the region. To encourage hiring, financial support will also be given to business and companies.Due to its popular “Golden Visa” program which encouraged foreigners to invest in Portuguese real estate, Lisbon, Porto, Algarve and other coastal cities have become too expensive for the Portuguese people. With all of the positive publicity about Portugal, buying property in these areas above others continues to be popular (even though the government recently revised and removed many of the program’s potential benefits).

Some, like the article’s author, propose that broadband digital will figure prominently in the regentrification of Portugal’s interior–by creating telecommuting jobs and work-from-home opportunities. Perhaps that might be a bright side to the current Covid-19 pandemic: Historically and traditionally, Portuguese companies have been hesitant to embrace new ways of working. Maybe now, their reluctance might be minimized after having experienced their labor force working off-site remotely and successfully.

Financial inducements and greater penetration of speedy and accessible broad bandwidth are but two of the tools being considered and implemented to bring back a flourishing interior. But there’s another, more integral and resourceful option that shouldn’t be overlooked … one that real estate and property agents are well familiar with: location, location, location.

Look no farther than Portugal’s next-door neighbor, Spain, whose capital is quite centrally located. Sure, there are plenty of places from north to south and east to west with large, self-sustaining municipalities and resort areas — notably Málaga, Valencia, Alicante, Bilbao, and Barcelona — but the interior regions — Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba, Burgos, Badajoz, Toledo, Salamanca — do equally well, supporting their nearby towns and villages.

Brasilia

More to the point, consider Brazil. The largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world created a completely different solution: Founded on April 21, 1960 to serve as the country’s new national capital, Brasilia was planned to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location atop the Brazilian highlands in Brazil’s central western region. With a unique status, Brasilia is an “administrative division,” rather than a legal municipality. The novel city’s accession as the new capital of the country prompted the development of an extensive interior region.

According to Brazil’s 1960 census, there were almost 140,000 residents in this new federal district. By 1970, this figure had grown to 537,000. By 2010, its population surpassed 2.5 million. Seeking public and private employment, Brazilians from all over the country migrated to Brasilia’s satellite cities, towns, and villages.

Why can’t Portugal consider doing something similar?

Leave Lisbon (and all its attractions) where it is, along with its problematic airport. People will still want to live there, as well as in its affluent outskirts like Cascais and Estoril. But reduce the congestion, pollution, and skyrocketing prices by moving the government and its operations elsewhere … to the country’s interior.

Many factors would need to be taken under consideration and the country’s core would compete for the privilege of hosting a new capital city in Portugal, boosting employment, infrastructure, and prosperity in the process.

Which of Portugal’s interior regions would best suit these purposes?

My own personal favorite, of course, would be Castelo Branco!

* “O digital pode salvar as cidades do interior?” Texto: Carlos Martinho. Inverno 2020 (#33)

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

For Whom the Bells Toll

The rhythm of life in the villages of Portugal and Spain’s small towns is measured more appropriately by “ding-dongs” than “tick-tocks.”


That’s because church bells – not timepieces sans striking mechanisms or apps on digital devices – effectively (and efficiently) call us to come and go, awake and sleep, to accommodate time … with chimes whose claims remain diligent reminders in the background of our lives.


After a lifetime living near the deafening roar of airport jets taking off and landing; the blaring alarms of late night and early morning trains approaching crossings closed by mechanical arms; and the deeply mournful bass horns of ships passing in the night harbor, we sought a simpler life with sounds that relax and reassure, rather than jolt or jar.

Our favored vision of an idyllic retirement was marked by two indelible images: meandering cobble stone streets for walks and wandering. And church bells nearby, easing our todays into tomorrows with yesterdays’ bygones … periodicity to their perennial peals.


Peals before swine?


The church bells at our village’s central plaza echo the pulse of the people, their ebb and flow, undertaking life’s daily tasks and rituals. They summon morning strollers and diesel drivers; elderly men that sit on the church walls to jawbone about this and that; women who rise and shine to stop and shop for necessities at the local market; and youngsters going to or coming from school.


The bells ring four times right before each hour to alert us that the full hour count(down) is forthcoming. They toll once at 15 minutes after the hour, twice on the half hour, and thrice every 45 minutes past the hour. At sunrise and sunset, they peal serially: three times three. To alert the village of urgent news and “special events” – the beginning and end of Sunday services, the baptism of a new life or a cadence for the dearly departed – the bells ring rapidly, continuously.


Minutes apart, earlier or later, bells of the other churches in our village momentarily repeat the offbeat chant.


Elsewhere, church bells play a major musical intermezzo at 7:30 and 18:30 each day, calling the faithful to prayer. Some swear that their own village bells play Clementine, an American folk tune, albeit with medieval disco vibes.


It’s said that, originally, the bells rang to let workers in the fields know they had a few minutes to begin work, break for lunch, and finish … ringing a couple of minutes before the hour to let them know it was nearly time. And that there were different timbres so, when out on the land, you recognized which of the bells to listen for—yours.


In some places now, the bells don’t ring between 22:00 and 5:00.But not here in Lousa. They’ve become biorhythms, conditioning us to sleep through their nocturnal and diurnal tirades.


Based on a sermon by John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls is the title of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel about the 1930s Spanish Civil War. The phrase refers to church bells that are rung when a person dies.


Donne says that, because we are all part of mankind, any person’s death is a loss to all: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”


Hemingway suggests that we should not be curious as to for whom the bell is tolling—it’s tolling for us all!


Ding-dong. Ding-dong. Ding-dong.

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

A Bellísima

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

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

Sounds simple and convenient, easy enough to arrange?

Think again.

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

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

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

Our Facebook page soon had plenty of attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that she is!

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

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

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

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

Or, to another cause about which she is devoted.

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

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Rain in Spain (& Portugal)

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

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

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

Especially, wherever we happen to be.

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

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

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

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

Both are extreme and extensive.

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

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

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

Lower?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Date Night Duos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a win-win for all!

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the sponsors:

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

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

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

Back to the show:

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

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

Words from the sponsors?

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

Climax and conclusion:

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

Exit, stage left. And roll the credits …

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Say It Ain’t So, Spain & Portugal

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

Image: Mamadou Ba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except that the white nationalist movement is spreading.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

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

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

Our status changed from expats to immigrants.

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

Until recently …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Portugal so important as to deserve such strategic attention?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

Image: La Sexta

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The Olive Press

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

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

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

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

Others, however, have had different experiences.

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

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

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

Image: The Olive Press

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

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

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

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

Lisbon Gay Pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.