Friday 28 February 2014

Into the Algarve

Last night at a swell pizzeria on the waterfront, next to the USS Bataan (from which bean-shaved young men, shirttails out, disembarked for a night in Lisbon), Eva, the waitress, persuaded me to try the mousse for dessert, expertly taking advantage of my new-found habit of taking chocolate with my red wine. “Chocolate mousse,” she said. “Yes,” I said.

Today I’m heading out of town with Eva, the bus line, not the waitress. That’s me in seat 6. The driver, on this fancy bus with a cabin crew of 1, sits somewhere out of sight down in front. Once we get down to the coast in the A2, Eva will take me across the fabled Algarve, vacation getaway for much of western Europe. She’s bound for Sevilla, flamenco territory, as I am, after a four-day stop in the seaside town of Tavira, just this side of the Spanish border.

This morning I read that flamenco guitar master Paco de Lucia died of a heart attack while on vacation in Playa del Carmen, down the beach from my Mexican haunts of last month.

Eva’s running a movie and serving cokes and sandwiches and playing Portuguese pop. Some of the sunscreens are down and the blinds pulled.

Eva’s heading south to the sun. I’m following Eva.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Streetiquette, Continued

Trams tremble along on their ancient tracks, immune from all this. Since no steering is needed, all the operator must do is decide whether to brake--done by cranking a horizontal wheel counter-clockwise--or let the wooden tram move forward, as its electrical motor wants it to do unless told otherwise. But braking is necessary for every curve and descent and intersection with other tracks--all frequent--as well as for red lights and stops for passengers, so the operators are busy.  Just dealing with tourists keeps them busy enough, in these heavily photographed old attractions. Part of their charm is the tramtrack of metallic groans and cracks and hums with which they (the trams, not the tourists) announce themselves, and the hard ringing that tells any double-parked vehicle to move along or I'll keep ringing. But who'd want to block a tram.
As for the Bolshoi, filmed in glorious high-def audio and visual in their home theatre, I can't begin to express the beauties of "Jewels", the Balanchine-choreographed ballet to music of Faure ("Emerald"), Stravinksy ("Ruby") and Tchaikovsky ("Diamond"). However, I note that the dancers do, in fact, make noise when they land; that for "Ruby", Balanchine has Stravinskyesque fun by making the dancers walk heels first at times; that the Bolshoi Theatre features a sprung floor; that the snub noses of the women's shoes look scuffed and a little comical when not en pointe.
All in all, very little slouching throughout, and legs that could kick your ears off.

Wednesday 26 February 2014


Obey traffic lights (of which fewer stand in Lisbon than in Regina), and drive on the right. After that, pretty much anything goes. Park on sidewalks and in the middles of streets (in either direction or, in the case of the many smartcars, perpendicular), as long as room is left for at least a single line of pedestrians on the sidewalk and single lane of traffic on the street.
You'll thus encounter frequent multi-point backing up and turning, for which you wait patiently--having no doubt engaged in such maneuvers yourself today--unless the driver stalls or takes too long, whereupon you lean on the horn. As soon as you can, step on it. Expect tailgating and lane-hopping, even from buses and trucks.
Pedestrians on the often-narrow sidewalks run a system of their own--especially in times of umbrella (which everyone carries)--involving stepping down onto the street to let someone pass, or into a doorway.
All of this is highly unregulated, by North Am standards. Forget crosswalks, walk signals, or other rights of way. What matters, at least on streets and sidewalks laid down centuries ago, and on hills, is what and how you (as driver or pedestrian) communicate with the other. And quickly.
For highly regulated movement, check out the film called "Jewels", a three-part Balanchine choreography for the Bolshoi Ballet. Gorgeous.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

A Simple True or False for Today

The Spanish embassy was no help.
I was early for the cinema.
I looked down to the sea.
The Marques do Pombal rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake.
This is my brain on Looking For Things.
He shone my boots down at Rossio.


The boots are camera shy.
I caught the tram home.



Monday 24 February 2014

Estrela Garden

I'm back in Pessoa territory, the garden of Estrela (1842) where the poet spent many hours, just a block from his final house, now Casa Fernando Pessoa.
It's been a morning of looking for things, not finding them, finding them.

Tea's my punctuation go ahead tease it.
Or sun is, ducking in and out.
Picture now the wind picking up.

Sunday 23 February 2014


I don't announce this as news, now that it's a few hours in the past, but man, it was pretty tense in the Irish pub, especially with a couple of dozen Liverpool supporters needing numerous beers, courtesy of me and my Canadian mates, to let the Olympic gold medal hockey feed superceed (how do you spell it?) the routine English football feed.
But never mind all that. It was just fucking deeply pleasurable to witness how well the boys played--so patient, skillful, opportunistic, unfazed. How I wish I could congratulate every one of them.
I did shake the hand of all the blue-eyed Swedish supporters (which was all of them), telling them that my favourite player ever was the magnificent Swedish/Maple Leaf defenseman Borje Salming, which brightened them up a bit, though they filed out of the pub into the Lisbon afternoon so quietly.
The second half of my national passions day in Lisbon--nash-pash mash-up, I call it--was the L'Arpeggiata concert ("a musical journey from Portugal to Turkey in homage to the cultural cross-fertilization stimulated by the Mediterranean") at the Gulbenkian Centre. The group consisted of piano, five different guitars, a percussion set, woodwind, dancer, voice--11 performers in all. Full house, fabulous venue, and could those people ever play/sing/dance. I didn't know it when I bought the ticket, but one of the group is the superstar fadista named Misia. When she strode slowly to the front of the stage in her black gown and started to sing, accompanied by traditional fado guitar, well, those Portuguese love their fado, which is one thing I love about the Portuguese, and the place went crazy when she was done. I haven't seen many performers who command a song like she does. The cries of "bravo" and whatever else they were shouting exceeded any drunken whoops I'd heard down at the pub (even the Frenchman belting out La Marseillaise before the rugby match against Wales).
Call me thrilled and exhausted by all this. 

Saturday 22 February 2014

Miradoura De Sao Pedro De Alcantara

Just for the fun of it, from a sling chair in this grand miradoura, or viewpoint, where I can pan from the sea to the far north, let's hear things--chairs and voices in the café behind me, those double thumps of the espresso gizmo on the plastic tub, traffic beyond that, the fountain fifty feet to my right, footsteps on the crushed stone (the same Swedes I saw watching hockey in the pub yesterday), Portuguese pop, shutters releasing, bags put down, aircraft (and I don't mean pigeons, though I hear them too, flopping from the lampposts). Oops, there goes a broken plate.

Let's imagine a few while we're at it--a map opened and routes to Graca explored, what those lovers say, what's next ordered at the café, a "won't need the umbrella after all," and sounds of a hat taken off, a chair shifted to face west.

Earlier, a pack of tourists on Segways rolled in. "Hey, let's shoot some video," one of them said, initiating races around the fountain.

I hear my own "small glass of beer, please" and her "of course". Later it's the sound the glass of beer makes set down on a plastic table, rattling a spoon. My own thoughts seem noisy, and the clouds have moved in again, I hear. That was my yawn, too. Time to head home.

Friday 21 February 2014


What my friend Dave knew, when he sent me a Dave Hutchinson hockey card years ago, was that Hutchinson was my kind of player—a stay-at-home defenceman, as the polite term goes, with zero offensive skills, a big body and a long stick (handy in the old NHL for tugging on whatever skated by). Thought to be a gentle giant off the ice, I was, let’s face it, a goon once the puck dropped. In my best NHL season, my stat line would have looked like this: 1 goal, 7 assists, 354 minutes in penalties.

(That one goal? I jumped on the ice during a line change and found myself breaking in alone on the goalie, who fell (over) for my flail move, letting the puck trickle across the line.)

That all brings me here, to O’Gillins Irish Pub in Lisbon on the afternoon of the two Olympic hockey semi-finals. Right now, early in the 2nd of SWE-FIN, the Fins have scored—the puck trickling over the line on a goof by the Swedish goalie, Lundquist—and fans from both sides are gripping their Guinesses tightly.

I might stick around or leave and come back for CAN-USA at 5:00.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Textures / Transience

Like the various textures of the passage up to the signal tower yesterday—rocky and sharp, muddy, rooty-uneven, loose, concrete—the passing of time seems to vary in its registers, as in:

Me, in Quillan for three days.

The French-speaking anglo I met in the Lavaria who lives there. Her English crackled to life as we tried to work out how to get the dryer going.

The locals, who have always been there, including the legendary “washerwoman of Quillan” who, according to an interpretive sign along the Aude, used to anchor and sloped washboard on shore and beat their laundry to cleanliness, laying it out to dry on the lavender scrubland.

Stone, used first for the chateaus and towers and castles, later for houses and bridges and tourist backgrounds.

Hillsides bombed in the quarries, changing land.

What used to be cars, crushed on a flatbed outside Quillan.

The Tour de France through any village cut open at both ends by its highway.

“Nomads” banned from overnight stops along the river in Couizo.

How long the river takes to gorge.

Seasons, as noted by the guy in Quillan oiling the blades of his roto-tiller.

The wound on my head (a scrape yesterday).

Bank machine: “please wait, your money is going to come out.”

The schoolkids kicking a ball for however long they’ll stay in their village.

That moon again, the one was saw over the Caribbean, debating its fullness, on the beach of Puerto Moreles.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Any Aude Day

I just checked, and the river's still there, the river Aude, rushing right to left a couple of doors down from where we're staying in Quillan. The Tour de France passes near here in July, but I can't imagine a more impressive sight--never mind sight, just the sound--than the Aude, which runs all night.
The same can't be said of my companions, one of whom is drawing a bath, the other of whom (they're husband and wife) is, well I don't know. Today we headed up for a look over the pass at the Mediterranean.
Windy as hell up there. Is hell windy? We popped back down and bought some wine from the area and drank it and bought some pork chops cut from the area and ate them.
It has been so much fun for me to hang with these Regina friends. I tend to be a solitary fellow, like that signal house up there behind us.
I'll see the Mediterranean again, closer, in a week or so. Tomorrow it's back to Toulouse and from there via Paris to Lisbon.


Tuesday 18 February 2014


When last we checked, the boots were taking the sun on the west balcony of the Hawthornden House near Edinburgh. Four years ago.
This morning, in Quillan, France, the bed was barely long enough.

The boots threw open the shutters

and did their morning flexercises, as usual.

Straight into the shower after that.

All fresh and clean, they poured a cup of tea.

Next, duties of the day: step out to mail a couple of postcards.

Not too busy at the post office.

How pleasing to sit at the square and watch the village go by.

Why not dip a toe into the Riviere Aude.

Or just sit back and watch.

A spot of sunbathing seemed right on a day like this.

At one point they had to go back for the book.

Feed the ducks, why don't we.

Look, graffiti!

They decided to take the steep walk up to the chateau.

Once they got up there, they couldn't get out.

In the end, some bugger walked off with them.

Monday 17 February 2014

I Can Always Tell

Today began, for me, with a walk along the canal in Toulouse.
Waiting for my friends to pick me up in their rental Nissan, I took a picture of my boot.
They drove me to a market near Quillan, SE of Toulouse.
They bought some fried duck fat, which they love. The rest was sausage and cheese and bread and apricots and wine. The rest was moon which, as I write, has yet to appear over the Pyrenees foothills east of Quillan. The last time I saw it so full was in Puerto Moreles, where we debated over tonight or tomorrow night for the fullest, though I can always tell.

Sunday 16 February 2014

I Got Here By Language

It's late now, even the hockey game is over, and with my friends Mark and Carmen I've had enough wine for four or five, but the day began under a near-full moon, just as it was over the beach at Puerto Moreles a month ago, when we were saying "Wednesday, I think" or "looks pretty full tonight" or "the ocean looks it full". This morning before light, as I was saying, I muttered something in Portuguese to the taxi driver, enough to get me to terminal dois for my 07:00 to Madrid, on which the flight crew (one of whom seemed to be, judging from her failure to understand any of the systems on board without the help of crew-mates, undergoing severe on-the-job training (this discount airline so cheap they don't spend money on training)) spoke Portuguese, English, Spanish in that order. From Madrid to France it was Spanish, English French, in that order--pause here for me to insert this quote from the seat-back in front of me: "tray table should be stowed in the upright position whilst landing" (and how I've loved to tease my students who use "whilst" or "amongst")--and here in Toulouse, in a series of cafes and restaurants it was, of course, French, but English if it had to be.
I'm amazed I know as much French as I do. In high school, now 50 years ago, the French teacher, Mr. V.,  was a buffoon--at least, we treated him that way. One year we did have a proper teacher--a brilliant teacher, in fact, Mr. G., who was actually French. My French is still better than my Portuguese, though recent time in Mexico (and even the stopover in Madrid) and Portugal have interfered plenty with that old French sense I seem to have.
Anyway, vin is vin. Vinho is vinho, as we say in Lisbon.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Grocery List ($CAN)

Two chicken breasts, $2.63.
375g bag of granola, $3.75.
6 bananas, $1.50.
Onion, $.12.
6 Granny Smiths, $1.60.
Liter of milk, $1.18.
6-pack of stout, $7.00.
2 bottles of decent red wine, $6.30.

Portuguese breakfast: sweets and coffee (always espresso unless you ask for something else).
Portuguese lunch: full meal, anytime from noon to 3.
Portuguese snack: something lightish and briefish (coffee and sweets always an option) around 5.
Portuguese supper: full meal, 8 at the very earliest.

I'm going with BLTs at my place tonight around 8.

Off to Toulouse, nothing Toulouse, tomorrow. There I hook up with some pals from my workplace in Regina. They're shopping for retirement homes. I'll ride in the backseat of our rental car.

Friday 14 February 2014


Lisbon, Portugal.
A thin young Portuguese woman took the "Love Poem to Fernando Pessoa" contest today at the Casa Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon. Among the also-rans was Canadian poet Gerald Hill, whose "You Love" failed to convince the judges, who awarded first prize of a dinner for two to the young woman and her companion. "I couldn't understand much of her piece," Hill remarked, "but I liked it."

In accepting his consolation prize of a book of Pessoa photos and text, Hill added, "I would have given the dinner to that young couple anyway. It was pleasure enough just to be here. I even enjoyed the wildlife over at the Garden earlier. I'll ask my friend Brenda what it is, but I'm guessing duck."

As Happy Hour had arrived at about the time Hill had uttered his fifth line--"three woman under one umbrella, blocking the sidewalk of Rua do Sapadores"--Hill congratulated his fellow poets and headed out for red wine. "I sure hope that Atlantic low doesn't claim my umbrella," he said.

Thursday 13 February 2014

"Come and read your letter of love to Fernando Pessoa"

That's the invitation for tomorrow night's event at Casa Fernando Pessoa. I think I'll read a piece that may go something like this:

You Are In Love (for F.P.)

Where the sea sings its rapture at the shore, you are in love.
With the wooden ecstasies of trams, you are in love.
Translating pen to paper, you are in love.
Three women under one umbrella, blocking the sidewalk of Rua do Sapadores, in wide sunglasses though skies are dull and they're standing under one umbrella, after all--with these women in the dark coats and silk scarves you are in love.
The dogs for whom love is water, you protect with your love.
Holding a key to any room you are in love.
Sacks of potatoes wheeled into the pastelarias, cervejarias, snack bars and restaurants on Largo dos Cominhos de Ferro you love, knowing that, like love, these treasures will be consumed.
With the secrets of your own body concealed against winter rain you are in love.
With the hand that sets the pratos do dia before you, you are in love, hungry for it.

[to be continued]

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Getting There

The location I'm trying to find becomes obvious only when I've found it. Somehow, in the approach to the place--which tram to get on, where to get off, how to orient myself to get to the right street--the flurry of looking obscures the finding. Such was the case today in my visit to Casa Fernando Pessoa, where the poet lived his last 15 years. Now an excellent museum and library, the building holds his famous trunk--from which his literary heirs are still pulling new work--his glasses, his box of matches, his hat. And much else, most notably his library of 1100+ books, heavily annotated, now available for digital viewing. (I asked if I could hold his edition of Poems of Walt Whitman but was politely told it would not be possible.)
I thought I'd sit in the library and let the Pessoa vibe into some editing of my own writing. Here again, the arriving prevented arrival.
But I'll be back, with nothing but time and my notebook, now that I know how to get there.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Atlantic Low Pressure: Brelly Wrecks


Monday 10 February 2014

Morning Walk to Rossio


School. They're all behind walls in Portugal.

Stopped here for tea, one of a hundred such places along this walk.

Looking back up the hill toward Graca viewpoint (near my place).

Police in Rossio plaza, popular centre of downtown Lisbon, where two guys offered to sell me some pot.

Detail of Rossio fountain.

Bought a cap to replace the one I bought here in '10 and lost in Regina in '13.

Evidence of yesterday's Atlantic Low Pressure

Followed the tram tracks home.