Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I spent the weekend in Santa Cruz, Portugal, which has blue blue blue blue -- CRAZY BLUE -- ocean water, and some of the biggest waves I´ve ever seen.

Santa Cruz is a second-home community for the wealthy of Lisbon, and because it was supposedly ``cold`` that weekend (the Portugese seem to have a liberal definition of the word ``cold,`` perhaps because they do, after all, border Africa), the second-home dwellers stayed in Lisbon, rendering the beach empty. This, of course, only added to the beauty.

I was there with a pack of about 25 or 30 people, all united though Lisbon´s active local Couchsurfing.com group. These people, all residents of Lisbon, met though Couchsurfing and engage with the Web site as though its their hobby.

Some people play sports, some paint, these guys host couchsurfers.

Many do it in order to meet people from around the world -- for them, its almost a way of traveling abroad vicariously, by bringing the world to their couch. Others do it because they take a lot of pride in Lisbon. The spirit I´ve seen here is one of patriotic pride mixed with a strong hospitality ethos.

In Santa Cruz, we enjoyed the quintessential ``weekend in a beach house`` -- beach during the day, dancing though the night, 3 a.m. group meals, more than two dozen people speaking various languages living in a four-bedroom townhouse.

Now I´m back in Lisbon and couchsurfing with a new couple, a police officer named Jorge and his Brazilian wife, who have a spotless, minimalist apartment and a quiet, placid existance. They´re a stark contrast to the energetic youth culture I´ve been around for the last week, and a welcome reprieve. They go to bed by 10:30 p.m., serve me breakfast in the mornings and dinner in the evenings, and like to engage in conversations about wine and global warming.

Some further observations on Portugal:

  • Both Spain and Portugal, being nations so close to Africa, have a surprizingly small number of black residents. The ones I do see, however rare, are extremely dark-skinned.
  • The Portugese flag is green on the left, red on the right, but it has more red than green, symbolizing too much blood for too little land. Appropriately, when they had their last revolution in 1974, overthrowing nearly half a century under a dictator, the revolution was completely bloodless -- soldiers lining the streets had red carnations in the barrels of their guns.
  • Its common for a drug dealer to approach you, holding a bag of hash in the palm of his hand, as you´re sitting at a sidewalk café drinking espresso. In fact, its common for this to happen several times before you´ve finished your sandwich.
  • Speaking of espresso, the Portugese are very, very particular about their espresso. They will only drink the kind made from a fancy machine, which only cafés (not residences) can afford to buy. If someone invites you over for a dinner party, its normal for all the guests, plus the host, to leave home after dinner, walk to the nearest café, order espressos, and then return to the hosts´ home.
  • The people of Portugal speak fondly about their heyday as the world´s imperial leader, back when they were the gateway to Africa, South America and India. 500 years later, they still revel in that memory.
  • They also retain close ties to their former colonies -- Goa, Cape Verde, Brazil -- those are the most popular spots for the Portugese to vacation.
  • For many Brazilian immigrants living in Portugal, this country is the ``gateway`` to Europe.
  • The seasons are changing rapidly here. Four years ago, summer used to mean July and August. Two years ago, it began meaning June and July. Now it means May and June. The so-called springtime is fluctuating wildly too, becoming rainier and hotter, to the point at which people say they´re turning into Africa, with not so much a ``spring`` as a rainy season and a dry season. What concerns everyone is how quickly this change took place. To boot, Portugal also had its first-ever recorded tornado last year.