Friday, May 30, 2014

Poor Portugal (Revised)

Monday, May 26, 2014
We landed in Lisbon yesterday, thinking that our 11th wedding anniversary would be the biggest event in town. Instead, we learned that the European Champions League soccer finals on Saturday brought 150,000 Spaniards to town because the finalists were two teams from Madrid. Fortunately, by the time we arrived downtown in Lisbon the Spanish Invasion had receded leaving surprising little evidence of its presence. While our hotel seemed full, the other guests were fellow social security collectors from a number of western nations, not particularly inflamed by a passion for sports, present company excluded. By chance, one member of our tour group is a lovely lady from Montreal, who naively believed that the Montreal Canadiens would leave Madison Square Garden Sunday night tied with the Rangers. As we all know, the series is now 3-1 and the Rangers should should wrap it up tonight in Montreal, but I won´t stay up for the start of the game at 1 AM local time. By the way, only the Internet supplied me with this vital news. Television sports news here, when not fixated on the Champions League, keeps a careful eye on badminton in Pakistan, darts in Wales and boules in France, but no word of ice hockey in North America. If it wasn´t for Al Gore, I´d be in an information vacuum.     

As big as football (soccer) is in Europe, even bigger for some was the continent-wide elections for the European Parliament held on Sunday. Generally, the local versions of the Tea Party made strong showings, possibly bouyed by the overt racism and xenophobia that our domestic breed have kept on low boil so far. Political posters and billboards are all over Lisbon and I was drawn to the PCP, the Portuguese Communist Party. Not only does it eschew revolutionary red as its signature color, choosing almost-royal blue instead, its slogan is Democracy and Patriotism, and who is going to argue with that? It does have a hammer and sickle as its symbol, but much of its display is taken up by a picture of its leader, Leopoldo Mesquita, dressed in suit and tie, with a button down shirt, easily mistaken for an accountant, and I mean Grandpa Alan´s accountant, not Mitt Romney´s accountant.

So, poor Portugal -- It has no hockey and no revolution.

Soccer fanaticism is as close as much of Western Europe comes to revolution these days.  While the Spanish fans left Lisbon standing, Lisbon that is, not necessarily each and every fan, tales of soccer hooliganism leave me baffled at times.  While I am not completely disdainful of soccer, it is slow, low scoring and often marred by melodramatic attempts to draw fouls.  The action on the field (pitch) simply doesn´t seem blood-stirring enough to stir enough blood to explain this headline for the upcoming World Cup: "Soccer Hooligans Will Face 170,000 Brazilian Forces." 

Why then are the normally violence-prone, heavily-armed Americans so pacific when following their favorite sports teams, by contrast?  The answer is simple: Variety.  Allow me to modestly step forward to illustrate my point.  Right now, I am engaged by the professional ice hockey finals, the Stanley Cup tournament, where the New York Rangers are moving inexorably to glory.  At the same time, I have been going to New York Mets baseball games since their season began two months ago and have tickets to another 6 or 8 games this summer.  Admittedly, the Mets continue in their weak epoch, but I remain loyal.  By summer´s end, my New York Giants start their professional football season, weekly battles with the evil folk from Dallas, Philadelphia, and other degraded locales.  With the onset of cold weather, the hockey season will resume, when I hope that the Rangers will be defending the (still-to-be captured) Stanley Cup.  You see, unlike so many Englishmen, Argentineans, Italians, Brazilians, Spaniards, Germans and other monomaniacs, I have a variety of teams in different sports to live and die with.  I can´t spend time rioting in the streets when any one of my teams crushes my hopes, because another awaits my devotion and support, or at least the opportunity to crush my hopes again.  While professional basketball has made some inroads in many foreign venues, the path to civility throughout the overly-stimulated soccer world may be exercises in peace and friendship as practiced by the National Football League and the National Hockey League.     

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Written Portuguese looks a lot like Spanish with an random extra "i" and an unexpected "x" in some words.  However, spoken Portuguese sounds nothing like any of the versions of Spanish I am accustomed to hearing around New York City, even if I can only undertand about a dozen of the words uttered.  What is most offputting about spoken Portuguese is how "s" comes out sounding like "sh".  The lends a Teutonic note to what I hear.  While we have had some interesting lectures on Portuguese history, which often contains an unfavorable look at Spanish behavior, no one has explained who or what went wrong in pronounciation. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Lunch in Nazare, Portugal, a city on the Atlantic Ocean often filled with tourists, was pleasant on this quiet pre-season weekday.  Jim. B., a retired lawyer from Buffalo, joined us strolling down the street along the beachfront as we sought a place to eat. We chose Restaurante Celeste, Avenda Republica 54, which featured seafood as did most of its competitors.  Jim and I shared the Celeste fish stew (25€ for 2), a dish similar to cioppino, although less spicy, served in a large pot, that is a large amount of fish, potatoes, onions, green and red peppers, and pieces of toast, served in a large pot. 

Suddenly, harkening back to my experiences in Greece and Bulgaria 11 months ago, I found myself ejecting a small, hard, off-white object from my mouth.  Some of you may recall my futile attempt on that trip to keep all of my newly-installed teeth in my mouth and the unsuccessful efforts of dentists in Salonika, Greece and Sofia, Bulgaria to keep my grimace intact.  Histroy seemed to be repeating itself.  Southern Europe and my mouth were simply incompatible.  Well, it looked like a tooth, but as I moved my tongue over and under, back and forth, I couldn´t find a vacancy in my mouth where a tooth most recently rested.  The tooth-sized, tooth-shaped, tooth-colored, tooth-hard object wasn´t a tooth, at least not my tooth.

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Our charming traveling companion from Montreal drew some encouragement from the Canadien´s victory bringing the series 3-2 favor of New York.  Tonight, however, the teams play in New York for what, I hope is the last time in this round.  This trip, though, has been so enjoyable that defeat would not be as stinging for me as under normal circumstances.  Our crew consists of well-traveled, friendly folk from all over the US, Toronto and Montreal.  One woman lives three blocks away from us in an apartment building that we looked at when we made the Great Leap.  Our guide, Helena Baltazar, resident of Porto, incorporates an almost unimaginable amount of charm, warmth and knowledge of her country.  It´s been such a good trip that I feel no need to itemize the points of interest; instead, I urge you to visit and see for your self.  Food has been good, wine has been good, weather has been good, and I have not had to test the local dentistry.

Friday, May 30, 2014
Rangers win the series 4 games to 2.  No evidence of rioting in the streets, according to NYTimes.  I´ll be back in New York for the ultimate round against an opponent still to be determined.  At least, it won´t be Brazil. 

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