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Slow And Low, That Is The Tempo

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In America, I’m different.  I didn’t  grow up the way everybody else did because my mother was not like everybody else.  In Portugal, you’d expect it to be more like a homecoming, where I’d have these things in common with others.  Um…. no. For one, all of those things about my childhood had to do with a Portugal that hasn’t existed since 1958, but that is another post.  Two, everyone thinks I am completely deficient by default and that the US is basically the moon populated by crack whores with no long-term memories who freebase burger patties.  During my trip to Portugal, I was asked:

If I knew what cough syrup was and if we had it in America.

If I knew what a delivery driver was.  When I remarked that pizza delivery drivers rode motorbikes instead of cars, my cousin spent about a full five minutes mansplaining pizza transport in shaky English.  One, I’d have understood the Portuguese.  Two, I realize pizza isn’t from Hogwarts.

I was asked if I knew what “faldas” were.  They’re diapers.  My Portuguese grandmother died at 94.  You bet your incontinent relative’s ass I know what a falda is.

If I’d seen a Lamborghini.  My cousin got in a car accident (A CAR ACCIDENT!!) while pointing out a Lamborghini at about 40 mph.  I went to college in La Jolla.  There is a dealership there.  I nervously sidled up to many a Lamborghini in my half-unpainted 1991 Dodge Shadow.

If I could possibly know anything in Portuguese to begin with. My cousin and her mother were shocked I could read the inter titles in the news on Portuguese TV.  Um… Hello.  Those words are almost identical in English and French; “primeiro-ministro” isn’t a huge challenge to understand with someone with any sort of brain activity.

If I figured out how to feed myself.  One cousin declared, with some grave concern, that I must be so fat because I eat rissois for breakfast.  Dude, I haven’t had a real rissol in 18 years, so I’m not holding back.  And despite shoving rissois in my mouth at all hours, Portugal is a giant stair master where I dropped ten whole pounds while eating dessert for breakfast.  BTW, folks, he’s in his 345th trimester.

If I had ever seen fish.  I was asked numerous times if I had seen any dish you can imagine eating in Portugal.  Um… yeah…  the LAST time I came to Portugal, the sardines and cod were not hiding.

Someone asked me once if I’d ever had broth.  Seriously.   America, no soup for you!!!

If I understood the function of the suburbs.  Several cousins seriously thought that because I went to stay with a cousin in Oeiras, I would never venture into Lisbon again.  Let’s review the reasons why Oeiras exists in the first place….

If I knew basic stories about my family.  You should have seen the shock on my 83 year old cousin’s face when I spouted off names of peripheral relatives.  Um… I’ve met these people!!

If I could handle watching international television.  I was perusing the channels and stumbled on a version of the Golden Girls’ episode where Blanche dates the younger jazzercise instructor reenacted by a Spanish cast.  They made comments the ENTIRE time I watched it as to why I would do so if I was not a Spanish speaker.  Come on, transposed Golden Girls?  HOW COULD I NOT WATCH THAT IN ANY LANGUAGE?!?!?

If I ate anything else but hamburgers.  This was because they saw Americans only eat hamburgers on a cruise.  Because I was on that cruise?  If only they knew what I spend on cheese at Whole Foods.

If I could figure out my own reproductive system.  One cousin gave me a speech about the dangers of giving birth after 40.  Someone should tell him that the most dangerous thing about motherhood after 40 is repeating that speech to someone facing down that illustrious birthday.

IF I COULD REGULATE MY OWN MEMORIES.  I was there because I wrote about my memories of Portugal and of stories about my family.  But many relatives said to me and to my mother “OH  HOW COULD SHE REMEMBER, SHE WAS SO LITTLE!!”  The last time I was in Portugal, I was almost 21.  I went there also at age 8, and remember it like it was yesterday.

And of course, it was assumed I have 392,384,298 guns in my house.  Obviously.  In America, I am an anachronistic freak.  In Portugal, it is assumed that I am Ted Nugent.


I have no suggestions as to why people believe such silly things.  I don’t remember having conversations like this when I was a student in France.  And you would think that people who know and speak to my mother on a regular basis would realize that if she is intelligent, her daughter might not be stupid.  And they know my mother is a damn brain trust.  Some of them even make fun of her for it.   But some of them are shocked I can remember being 21.  I don’t get it.




Tim Pawlenty Now Can’t Use John Philip Sousa Tunes in His Campaign Without Irony

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There is nothing like a Portuguese-American who is chafing inside upon hearing  Portugal being defamed by snickering hordes laughing at its small stature.  Judge my ancestral homeland by its size, do you?    And every time you poke the bear of the Portuguese community, at least for those who are chafing, it is no joke.   It’s a personal shot heard ’round the world.  Remember THE FINLAND VIDEO?

I found link to this  floating around in my PL Facebook feed.   It’s a response to a remark  by  2012 presidential challenger, Tim Pawlenty, by the head of the National Organization of Portuguese Americans (NOPA), a non-profit that serves the political well-being of the Portuguese community in the United States.

Sorry I missed this in June, but I was hopped up on  painkillers and watching Vingança after having surgery. Anyway, Pawlenty said this little juicy morsel the New Hampshire Republican debates:

“This president is a declinist. He views America as one of equals around the world.

We’re not the same as Portugal; we’re not the same as Argentina”

If you don’t believe me, watch it!  You can do the whole 14 minutes of glory, or just speed to :43 and listen to Tim stammer and then say the above quote.  Woo hoo!

No, you’re right, Tim, Portugal is not the same as America.  But I found this out at eight years old when I went to Portugal, and realized that black and white tiled patterns in the sidewalks were cool.  And that my cousin Suzette’s Gomes de Sá beats Ronald Mc Donald any day of the week.  I realized it the first day I was in Portugal with my grandfather, and we went to the first cafe outside our apartment building, and he bought me a bica and a pastel de nata and told me how he this was part of his ritual every day after work.

You realized this when some aide handed you a paper of talking points to vomit.

Every Portuguese  defensive PR statement falls back on Portugal’s history.   But I’m not going to beg anyone to realize what Portugal or Portuguese-Americans are worth; NOPA’s open letter did that quite nicely.   No, I am talking about common decency and not propagating the prejudice that “foreign” means “less worthy.”   It certainly means “less power” sometimes.  But Pawlenty didn’t bother to qualify that, because frankly, the people to whom he is appealing really do not care and are wont to look at world politics as some sort of sick Super Bowl with tanks.

America is also not the same as a herd of wildebeests because it’s not destined to be eaten by a cheetah, or sticky ghostly ectoplasm residue (bear with me while I’m silly) because it isn’t a dead individual.   But that didn’t need to be pointed out, either, since it’s not anyone’s business to throw wildebeests or ghosts into a psychically harmful statement where the subtext is obviously “These entities are inferior.  Everybody laugh at what they are at the core: less legitimate and less worthy than you.  GO!”

And you know, you KNOW that he and his little test marketing committees tried to find the least offensive countries with an “inferior” reputation.  He’s not throwing around Ireland, who also has the same damn fiscal crisis as Portugal, because he would no longer be able to sit on a float at St. Patrick’s Day parades during his campaign.  But he’s figuring bolo de leites aren’t generally televised in the US, so why the hell not use Portugal?

In the end, the question is this: do you have to use Portugal to make a grossly inflammatory comment?   Whatever party you’re in, whatever you believe about our current President, do you have to use the country where my mother was born and whose culture has informed most of my life choices and really means something to my heart and soul to prove that my President is Sir Wussypants?   Can’t you slam Obama without using anybody’s country?

I’m deadly curious to know to what the Argentinians think.

“Cidade Despida” Snuck Out The Back, Jack

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Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the end of this, and think you might, go away.  I’m not holding back, folks!

So my mom and her RTP-palooza has broken my heart.  Kind of.  I mean, don’t send flowers or anything, but if there’s one thing my mom and I love, it’s a detective show.  And if there’s another thing she loves, it’s one in Portuguese where for some weird reason, I can understand a large portion of the dialogue and don’t have to ask a million questions.  Why I understand better a show about mayhem and murder rather than shows about say, kids and their grandparents (Pai a Força might as well be in Russian), I have no idea.  My grandparents didn’t bequeath me a huge vocabulary concerning police blotters and arrest warrants.

Cidade Despida  (The Naked City) was the story of a policewoman who is head of a unit in Lisbon.  Apparently (I didn’t see this part) when she is transferred in from Porto as the lead cop, the boys’ club of her police station doesn’t respect her, but she is awesome and prevails over the sexist twats.  And their twattiness begins to melt away.  Kind of like S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Van Buren in the original Law and Order with Lenny and Benjamin Bratt.  Except this one looks and dresses like Aeon Flux grew her hair out so much it won’t do the cool flip thing anymore.

Seriously, the whole time I was watching, I wondered, why did it take Van Buren till almost 50 to be sporting lines like “You don’t like me because I’m in a skirt?”  when Ana (Caterina Furtado) is doing it at, say, maybe 30.

Ana has felt for a long time that someone is watching her.  She doesn’t sleep.  She habitually runs- I mean, really RUNS–  in the wee hours of the night in locales so beautiful you will have your fingers on your dial to your travel agent.  If there were affordable flights.  Or still travel agents….

But she can take care of herself.  She packs heat.  I’m not sure what the gun laws are in Portugal, but I’m pretty sure that my mother’s fear of knife-weilding white slave traders says something about the relative rarity of the heat-packing over there….  at least it 50 years ago (laugh at me now…).  Ana’s boyfriend, an arty, sweet, concert pianist, regularly makes her dinner with all the wine and roses fixings a woman could hope for, but she prefers to let work-related stress eat her alive.  In the shower.  Fully clothed.

But this is just the story arc that runs over the whole series – each week has (had) its own separate plot.  Episodes have a beginning, middle, and end and a social message.  For example, “orgies are a complicated emotional minefield that can end in murder after 30 odd years of being forced to partake unwillingly.”   Okay, I’m being a bit flippant about it, but seriously, this isn’t just a junk soap opera where you get a tiny morsel of goodies each time you watch.  This is a whole, juicy sandwich with a pickle spear garnish.  Each episode, the viewer is teased with a haunting detail of the  larger story of who exactly is haunting this woman.  MMMMM!!   Each week, I got ready to order a bigger and bigger sandwich.

She just found out about the boyfriend.

So imagine my surprise when I figured that last week, when it was revealed that (Woah!) it was her BOYFRIEND who was  taking pictures of  women he murdered in puddles and then submitting them to art galleries anonymously.  His ultimate goal was to eventually square the collection off with a picture of her body….  I thought it was just another episode.  I thought that next week, she’d simply show up, just like Lt. Van Buren after she fired on a suspect at an ATM, with her kids on the scene in the family minivan.  She had some ‘splaining to do to the mucky mucks, but Van Buren stayed afloat, even in her skirt.  Ana would hold her head up high and come back to work and just be single now, solving crime. Eating sexism.  That really old guy that didn’t like her, he’d be arguing for her not to get transferred back to her native Porto by the end of August.

No.  Not so.  This week, instead, the same actress was in a period piece about Porto in the 19th Century.  That last shot of Despidea, of her finally getting some sleep in her bed, in the apartment with the amazingly hot, brown, mod (MOD!) wallpaper, that was it!  

Dick Wolf has totally skewed my expectations.

But on the bright side, this series did win “Best Detective Series” at the Moscow TV and Film Festival in April.  I’m glad for them.    And I wish, wish, WISH they were all so easy to understand.  And had fewer women acting like crying fools and more women kicking ass.

Yes, I mean you, lady who looks like Melissa Gilbert on Vingança.

This morning, I had to be content to watch João Baião introduce the Museu do Porco.  Yes, that means “Pig Museum.”  It was reminiscent of a collection of merdinhas collected by a crazy person in an attempt to fill their empty lives with cute, pink animals.  I was crying inside.

A Tribute to My Portuguese Mother

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My mom and grandma sharing a birthday cake in 1966.

My mom and Grandma. Two amazing Portuguese moms.

My grandparents sent my mother to America in 1959 to learn English,  and then turn around, and come back to Portugal to work in the American Embassy.

As you can see from the date, on the picture, that didn’t happen.

And my mom (right) was busy doing things that I will always not only admire, but scarcely believe are possible, except in that my mom is proof.    She got the opportunity to go to university in California, and she knew the tuition was expensive (though nothing at all like what it is now!!)  so she went to work up in Sequoia National Park cleaning hotel rooms.    A lot of foreign students worked up there;  Mexican students, Japanese students, an Indian guy whom she still laughs about how funny he was, but how equally sure she was he had a wife somewhere in the Old Country.

So you’re wondering, how can anyone pay their entire tuition on cleaning hotel rooms?  And Elsa, my mother, realized the same thing.  So she summoned her courage and asked for a job in the poshy-posh restaurant.  And she got it and spent her summers and weekends there for years.

Leslie Caron in the 60s

Elsa! May I pleeeze have my ham and eggs now?

She even once served the great Leslie Caron.   Caron’s family requested my mom day
after day, because she was the only one who was businesslike enough to not swoon and act like an imbecile in front of a Hollywood giant.  That’s my mom; polite, kind, and she will take care of you because you deserve it, without being impressed by your star credentials.

She finally became a Spanish and French teacher in Easton, California.  It was not an easy assignment at first; they gave her English students who were beyond remedial and the school seriously expected her, as a foreigner, to teach them to read.  And to recognize grammar.  And by golly, in the great tradition of her grandmother and great-grandmother who were English teachers, she did!  She is the only foreigner I know who can accurately correct people’s English.  She can sit there in front of the television, with a look of dismay, and correct grammar better than the ad campaign writers ever will.  And she’s (arrrgh!) always frigging right!  She also made sure I got my BA, even when it was hard for me to stay in school.  And she has supported all of my Don Quixote career dreams.

My grandma (left) was amazing, too.  She wasn’t allowed by her parents to attend high school.  That sounds like child abuse, but you have to remember my grandma was born in 1907 in Portugal.   It wasn’t that her parents were being cruel, or locking her in the basement until she was 30.  It just wasn’t necessary to get a job at the time.  Teachers at her primary school begged her parents to let her go, but her parents were concerned she would get a little too big-headed, since they had fourteen children, and none ever had gone, and everybody was doing just fine.  So Grandma was sent to work.  But my grandma, Irene, she didn’t last long at the factory without being moved up into bigger and bigger jobs.  This was a woman who taught herself to read Spanish so she could read the “Great Books” that weren’t published yet in Portuguese.  She ended up being what would be an equivalent of a day-to-day manager of an office of a German pharmaceutical company in Lisbon.   A boy who was sweeping her offices began to drive her crazy at one point in the 50’s with rehearsing plays at work, and marched in  with no more and got him a spot at the drama school in Lisbon.  He now owns a world-class theater in Cascais.  She finally did go to high school, and graduated weeks before I was born.  There even was a streaker at her graduation.

My mom at her High School Graduation

All Grandma ever wanted for us- right there!

Both these women made their own way and made their childrens’ education the most important gift of their lives.  I’m always grateful for all they’ve given me.  Their strength inspires me to go on, to keep trying, to keep getting my work out there, even in this ridiculous economy, even with all the strikes I have against me.    I come from great, strong, accomplished women who overcame much.   I must do the same.  I will.  I have to.

I was going to write a funny post about my Portuguese mom feeding me too much, and how, I’m willing to bet, when I come home from her taking care of me after my surgery in June, I will be the first person to have surgery and gain 50 pounds of meaty muscle, but how could I do that when the strength and heart of my Portuguese mom has given me so much more than the meals have?

So it’s more important that I say “Thanks” to my two favorite Portuguese mothers, instead of laughing about the meat-obsessed quest of the Portuguese mom in stuffing the throat of her adult children like baby birds.

Thanks Mom for everything you did, and everything you do!   I only hope someday that I really knock it out of the park.  But I know you love me the way that I am.   And thank you Grandma- I miss you more than anything, every day!  Without your strength and your stories, I would have long given up.  You keep me going.  You both keep me going.

So now I go to call my mom, apologize for not calling earlier because I took a nap after class (I worked like 12 hours Saturday, gimme a break!) and thank her for all the pushing, all the grammar correcting, and all the love that like a circle, never ends.

little heart

Love MOM!!!