Today was Friday and was going to be the “visit the family” day as we were scheduled to go to tia Ana’s house at 11 am for a visit and lunch and then her tio Luis’s house in the afternoon. This meant we had a free morning, so I got up early and did some writing while the rest of gang had a sleep-in. I haven’t been getting up as early as I normally do on vacation. Usually I am up by 6 am, either to go for a walk or do some writing, but I’ve just been sleeping like a rock here and not wanting to get up. I think part of this is because the houses here generally do not have heating systems, so when it gets chilly at night, the house gets chilly, so you put lots of blankets on the bed, making it ultra-cozy, but also making the prospect of getting out of that cozy bed to face the chill rather unappealing. So, I will blame it on the weather.
The visit and lunch with tia Ana was great. She cooked up some delicious fish and vegetables and we ate up every scrap. Tia Ana has a little dog named Ruby that the kids have fallen in love with. Ruby has a nice little doggie basket and lives in tia Ana’s shower stall. They get along very well together, but I do think Ruby holds a bit of a grudge against her. You see, Ruby is a boy dog, but she gave him a girl name. So everybody thinks he’s a girl. But maybe that doesn’t bother dogs too much - who knows? As long as tia Ana doesn’t start making him wear pink shoes or frilly doggy jackets in front of all the other manly dogs in the neighbourhood, he will probably be okay.
I learned something new at tia Ana’s house. I learned that Fridays in Portugal is Sex Day! They even put it right on the Portuguese calendar, just to make sure you don’t forget. What’s not to love about this country?
Tio Luis is the youngest sibling on Ana’s mom’s side and is a real happy guy. He’s always smiling and has these deep smile lines embedded in his face because he’s been smiling his whole life. One of his sons, Filipe, who lives in Canada, once told me he has never in his whole life seen his father get angry or raise his voice. That’s the kind of guy tio Luis is. And his wife Genoveva is just as lovely. We spent a couple of hours with them visiting and hearing all the tales of adventure in recent years on the island. Luis recently retired from a lengthy career at the Nestle manufacturing plant on the island whose main product is powdered milk. We learned that one of the primary uses of powdered milk is mixing it up and feeding it to calves. They take the momma cows away from their calves and send them to a milker, suck them dry, ship the milk to the Nestle factory where it’s evaporated and turned into powder, and then the powder is sold to the farmers who add water to it to make milk and feed it to the calves. I’m pretty sure we’re missing something in this economic value chain because that just doesn’t make much sense.
We returned home and went up to the park for a mandatory game of soccer. Before long the entire family had arrived at the house. We didn’t know about the weekly Friday ritual where they all gather at their father’s house to have dinner together and discuss the week’s events. Natercia said it was a chance to blow out all those emotions that gathered up during the week from people pissing her off. Paulo Fernando said nobody’s leaving until somebody cries, or at least that’s how the Friday evening get-togethers normally panned out.
So we ordered up chicken, beef stroganoff and cod casserole from the nearby Sol-Mar store and had a great meal, but it was one of those meals that lasts for two hours where people come and go, some eat standing up, some sitting down, and others just pick away at the food on the table the entire time, bit by bit. I fell into all three categories.
After hanging out with the family this week, I’ve discovered that the Portuguese language is missing one key phrase. Natercia can really get going, and when her and Ana start talking the noise from their conversation can blow the windows out, like verbal dynamite - a whole keg of it. The only time there’s a pause in the conversation is when one of the little kids running around bangs into a table corner or a wall and starts bawling. But the pause is very brief. Sometimes, when Natercia is letting loose with a barrage of Portuguese and is telling a story about something that happened that was unbelievable or incredibly stupid, she will say “What the fuck??” in English, out of nowhere. It happened several times this week and made me laugh each time. It must be that Portuguese does not have an equivalent for WTF. I love how English brings people together through vulgarity.
Paulo Fernando was telling us about the economic situation on the island. Despite the increased tourism and infrastructure developments, he said the situation now for regular people is much worse than it was years ago; in fact, Paulo (and many friends of his) make less money today than they did 20 year ago, which seems crazy. He said that Sao Miguel doesn’t produce anything anymore and the factories that used to be here are now mostly gone, so their main exports now are limited to dairy and beef products. Ana’s family are all regular middle-class people, but they do struggle to get by at times, and it’s not easy. It does make me wonder how tourism is supposed to fit into all of this, and how do you try to ensure that the benefits flow evenly to everybody? I would say that so far, from my limited exposure, they are not fully capitalizing on the opportunities presented by tourism, but also the benefits from increased tourism are probably only going to a very small chunk of the population.