Illegitimate, Illegal and Condemnable:

Portugal Decries Russia’s War with Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nothing in Common (Anymore)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We nodded numbly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circumstantial Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, though, it happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that he inspires you, too.

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

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Brinkmanship

“… World War Three”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How quickly we forget …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For fear of Putin’s retribution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brotherly Betrayals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what we chose.

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

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

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

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

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What If It Were Portugal?

MANUEL DE ALMEIDA/LUSA

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

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

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

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

–Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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War and Peace in the Global Village

Photo: Militarytimes.com

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

“The medium is the message.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Prophets and Poets

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

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

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

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

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

O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …

Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.

¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?

O, que, ya vives,

pudriéndote cada dia?

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

I think of my Spanish poem often these days.

Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.

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Algorithmea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings up another symptom of my algorithmea:

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

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

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

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

Maybe it all started with radio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Auld Lang Syne

Historians call it “the song that nobody knows.” And yet we’ve all tried to sing it. There are scores of Christmas songs, but New Year’s  just has the one: Auld Lang Syne.

“Auld lang syne” is the title and key phrase of a 1788 Scottish poem by Robert (Rabbie) Burns. The phrase literally translates to “old long since” and basically means “days gone by.” Or, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the good old times.” The original five-verse version of the poem essentially gets people singing, “let’s drink to days gone by,” an appropriate toast for the New Year. 

As Scots immigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Eventually, North American English speakers translated Burns’ dialect into the common lyrics we know today, made famous in part by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians band, who performed the song on New Year’s Eve from 1929 until about 1977. It’s his version that plays after the ball drops in Times Square every year. 

Auld Lang Syne, along with making New Year’s “resolutions,” is a tradition recognized – if not practiced – all around the world.

I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions, which I don’t really keep (for long, anyway). Instead, I use this time of the year for reflection and meditation: the good and the bad, things I’ve done and haven’t, where—and who—I am now at this time, in this place.

It’s been four years since we left the USA and moved to Portugal, dividing our time between two cozy homes … one in Castelo Branco, the other in Elvas. We also have an even smaller vacation bolt — which we purchased 15 years ago — in one of the “pueblos blancos” of Andalucía (southern Spain), where we head twice each year for three weeks at a time … plus quick getaways whenever.

Any regrets? No, not really. Except for the major stuff, like exploding empires and an imploding world. I can’t honestly say we’re “glad” that we left the USA, although I can unequivocally state we’re glad to be here, not there. Watching the republic, this lauded experiment in democracy, knowingly unravel before our eyes is among life’s saddest spectacles … along with reactive (not proactive) efforts to confront the immeasurable havoc wreaked by record-breaking hurricanes, flooding, draughts, heat waves and chills, tornadoes and earthquakes, and unquenchable fires.

Nor the mind-boggling numbers affected by the Corona virus.

Looking back isn’t easy; but looking ahead is even harder. While we video chat every Sunday with my son, his amazing wife, and our (almost) two-year-old granddaughter, who knows if, when, or where we’ll ever get to hug them in person. They live just outside of Dallas, Texas, surrounded by tightly knit in-laws and we are resolute about not returning to the USA … especially to a state that’s become a litmus in limiting voting rights, where a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body is relentlessly restricted by handmaiden tattletales, and wiping the slate clean of books parents (especially) dislike has become a cause célèbre for librarians everywhere.

No, no, we won’t go.

Unfortunately, neither will our children and grandchild come to visit us in Portugal. It’s not an issue of money (we’d be delighted to pay their expenses) but more a matter of disruption and complications for them—especially in terms of work, family, and business.

We understand; they do, too. Not that we like it — nor do they — but there are more than principles and challenges involved.

Selfish we can be, but hypocrites not. Honestly, how could we go and turn a blind eye, ignoring life-altering evils for the sake of our personal satisfaction and contrivance?

Unlike a number of immigrants, we choose to live more of a typical Portuguese life than do others who emigrate. For some, that means living in “expat” communities surrounded by others like themselves—with all the bells and whistles, notions and novelties, they enjoy … all without learning the language or hobnobbing with the natives. They love that they get more for their money here.

Others, whom I refer to as “quintassentials,” are here for a simpler and healthier life, living on and off the land … with renewable energy and wholesome produce that sustains them without upsetting Mother Nature. They love that the cost of living is much lower here.

They’re not the same, you know, in terms of the bottom line: getting more for your money v. spending less on life’s essentials.

For us, however, we’re betwixt and between, neither there nor here. While we live in typical row houses in typical towns and villages populated by Portuguese speakers, we’re still — in many ways — different from the natives …

Take language, for instance. No matter how much vocabulary we master or practice we pursue, we’ll never speak like they do.

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

Still, we can communicate. Ask lots of questions and reply to them. Complain. Deal with contractors and repairs. Joke and poke fun at our lopsided Portuguese.

Other matters – usually financial – also separate us, both from other immigrants and our neighborhood Portuguese. It’s our background. And our money.

We keep ourselves warm in the winters and cool in the summers with inverter aircon units, several of them in each house. Our neighbors might have one. Maybe. We’ve equipped our homes with furnishings and appliances that few Portuguese find reasons to need. Although using these gadgets and gizmos costs more in electric bills than our elderly neighbors receive in their monthly state pensions, we condone and rationalize it: after paying between $300 and $500 (or more) per month in the USA for electricity, we’re spending far less – €125-€150 during the five or six months of peak usage — in Portugal. Yeah, we tried using our kitchen fireplace and installed a pellet stove on the bedroom level … but the cost of the firewood and pellets added at least €60 per month to our budget.

Yet we feel a bit awkward and uneasy around our neighbors, who hear the almost constant hum of our plugged-in existence.

The past couple of years have been times of change and upheaval—both personally and globally. Climate crises hit as the world suffered through draught, fires, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, and abuse by humankind. Social upheavals, like most malignancies, took no prisoners. From nations united, we became societies divided. Covid, the first “pandemic” most of us experienced, took the lives of too many … even as it was added to the arsenal of politics and propaganda.

Like lots of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, we learned that our “dream house” in Lousa, Castelo Branco, Portugal wasn’t (really), when the doctor told us that we couldn’t continue living there: Going up and down the 37 steps dozens of times daily between our street-level kitchen and upper-level bedroom was crippling my 72-year-old bones. And those charming cobble stone streets meandering throughout our quaint village became slippery and dangerous for someone without balance or sure-footedness (me) when walking the three dogs several times every day.

“It would be best for you to live in a single-level residence,” the doctor insisted … ideally one with a backyard (quintal) for the dogs.

Easier said than done.

We looked everywhere in Lousa, asking our Portuguese friends and neighbors for help in finding a proper residence. No luck. Everything needed too much work or was overpriced and still needed work.

After living there for three years, we had learned what we could deal with in a property … and what we couldn’t. As mentioned, it needed to be a single story. With a (small) attached backyard. In a nice neighborhood. We didn’t want to be on the main street anymore—too much noise, especially with all the church processions and festas. Preferably, the bedroom would be in the middle of the house, not facing the street. The rooms and divisions had to be of adequate size. And, of course, it had to be within our budget.

We found what we were looking for in Alcains, the next municipality over, and moved up the municipal hierarchy from village to town.

Meanwhile, much to our distress, we had been grappling with a case of liver failure in our littlest family member, Manny, our nine-year-old Miniature Schnauzer with a heart that melted ours. Despite all the tests, medications, veterinary consults, and hospitalizations, he passed across the rainbow bridge comfortably, in my lap.

We spent three months mourning and grieving our loss. But the heart is a lonely being, and we ached to fill the void Manny had left in our hearts. Nobody could ever replace him … but our newest furry family member, Toto, is an endearing ball of fluff whose unique personality has enchanted and endeared us to him.

Loss can also mean giving up, in the sense of losing something.

Learning that as EU residents, we didn’t need a separate bank account in Spain for our bills and taxes there, we closed our CaixaBank account – which, as “nonresidents,” cost us €35 every three months, compared to the €3.50 we paid in Portugal – and transferred all direct debits from Spain to our Portuguese account. One of the benefits of no trade barriers among the EU nations!

In the process of exercising creativity by birthing and balancing Portugal Living Magazine – a broad spectrum, English language magazine that covers all of Portugal, not just the Algarve – I was forced to learn how to tweet and post on Instagram. If only I could give up Facebook! But, what’s the alternative?

Life goes on, ooblah-di, ooblah-da …

With all its pathos and saudade, we continue to be in awe of Portugal, our small democratic nation, thinking of it as that “little engine that could.” Portugal administered at least 19,137,482 doses of COVID vaccines so far, enough to have vaccinated about 93.2% of the country’s population with two doses. Most of us already have had our third (booster) shots.

Where else can you find such determination in anti-Covid regulations that prevent crowds from congregating than a country that declares there shall be no retail “sales” between 26 December and 9 January? How many shop windows does one pass devoid of any “SALE!” signs? Or stores that haven’t removed marked-down merchandise from their full-price inventory?

The words of the song ring true:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne.

Now, por favor, let’s drink!

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