Portugal Trip : Day 4

Day 4, 16 August: Drove from Pinh’ through Lamego to Coimbra, the university city. In Lamego we stopped long enough to admire the pilgrimage church, Nossa Senhora dos Rem’os, high above town. The truly repentant ascend to her on their knees.

Portugal is like West Virginia: full of ambitious and expensive roads through the mountains. Only, Portugal’s aren’t finished yet. So we made do on the two-laners. It’s a pretty country, but most of the forest I saw was pine and eucalyptus.

In Coimbra we stayed at Quinta das L’imas. Are you going to Coimbra’ Invest in a night in this classy establishment.

Cathy had business in the area, so we met up with Sergio, her co-worker from the plant down the road. Sergio is a lucky Portuguese: He found a good job in the region he was brought up in. I was about to say “born in,” until I remembered that Sergio is a young retornado, one of the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese who fled the African colonies after their independence in the mid-1970s. Sergio was born in Angola, says he’s one-sixteenth African, and was an infant at the time of the revolu’.

He drove us to the old section, to a parking area, where we saw a ragged man directing things. Sergio parked and handed him some coins. Otherwise, Sergio said, the man wouldn’t “protect” the car. Apparently the protection is well worth having, because of the uncanny way cars get scratches without it.

Over dinner I heard fado for the first time. Fado means fate; it’s usually sad music, in a minor key; the Portuguese blues. Two men with guitars, men and women sitting around a table singing, no microphones. Not everything was fado. The man sang in Spanish, “Comandante Che Guevara,” a tribute as stirring as its subject was undeserving.

Everyone was smoking, Portugal not having yet joined the war on nicotine. I joined in, with a cigar. A lady with a bloodhound’s nose sniffed me out from a few tables away and climbed over to our table. What is sport to you is death to me, and all that. I was going to make a fuss; I was going to say, “Who do you think you are, Michael Bloomberg?” But I merely acquiesced. The key to it was, I really didn’t like the cigar.