Tanya and I have been over to Portugal to take a look at how our ruin is progressing. Here fo those that are interested is shot of what it is looking like now.
We decided to make a little bit of a holiday out of it so booked an apartment in the beautiful town of Vila Nova Da Milfontes. How it has changed since we first discovered it so long ago. Lovely though it is, I got a parking ticket! I unintentionally parked where I should not and ended up with a €130 fine. How times have changed. This is what happened last time!
Twenty years ago, on my first visit to the Alentejo, I visited a small town, hidden in the folds of some cork covered hills and baked dry by the August sun. We arrived at about 1 pm, and apart from a few old men sitting on a bench in the shade, and a little café, the place seemed deserted. This was a time when there were much fewer cars, many more donkey carts, and paved roads ran the length of a village, then petered out till you came to the next village. I still have to remind myself what it was like in the countryside in those days.
We parked our hire car, walked around the small town square and settled down in the café for some lunch. This was a typical country café, so the choice was basically, take it or leave it. So, with a mixture of sign language, pointing and oinking like pigs, we settled on a pork stew (that was all there was) and bread. There were four of us in our party, and the stew was delivered in four vastly different sized and patterned bowls. The small, plump lady that run the café, held a huge round loaf to her aproned breast and started to saw towards her heart with a wickedly sharp looking knife. It made our eyes water to think what would happen if she slipped and it was with some relief that the hard, heavy slices final stopped falling on the table.
We got stuck into a delicious thick soup. The bread though was so hard we had to soak it for minutes at a time be able to bite into the crust. I don’t know if you have had the bead in the Alentejo, but if so, you will know what I mean when I say my jaws have started aching in memory of the many such loaves we have eaten. In those days it was not unusual for bread to be baked just once a week, and by the end, it really was like a stone!
Eventually, satisfied and feeling full, we ambled back to the car…. Only to find we had a ticket!
Fortunately, there was a sign in the road pointing to the GNR office. And so off we went to pay the fine.
We arrived in a small GNR office which (believe it or not!) had a bar as it’s counter! There behind the bar was a shelf with three optics for spirits and on the counter a large plastic bleach bottle. Also behind the counter, looking, ‘a little worse for wear’, was a rather large GNR officer in a creased and faded green uniform.
We offered the little Portuguese we knew, “Boa Tarde”, to which he responded with a grunt. We then, like all English abroad, started to talk to him, slowly… and …with …great …emphasis… on …each… word. We explain the purpose of our visit and held out the ticket. We got out our wallets and asked how many escudos. We did our best to look like law abiding citizens, happy to comply with all reasonable requests, and ready to pay back to society for the wrongs we had committed. (It turned out that we had parked facing the wrong way)
The GNR officer, on the other hand, said nothing. He looked increasingly uncomfortable as he took the ticket from us with huge hairy hands, and started to back slowly away. Fumbling behind him, without for one second taking his eyes off us, he opened a door and shouted loudly, to someone inside. He was clearly not best pleased.
With disturbing speed, a smarter, energetic young man with three chevrons on his immaculately clean and pressed uniform darted out and looked sternly at us. The first officer said something in lightening fast Portuguese, and to us, he sounded annoyed. The young office looked at us and asked “English?” in a thickly accented voice. “Yes.” we replied.
Encouraged that he at least spoke some English, we started off again with our explanation and offer to pay. But as we attempted to explain, his colleague butted in with a string of urgent Portuguese, waving the ticket in the face of the young sergeant. We tried again but the first officer held up his hand in a demand for silence, put his fingers to his lips, and pointed to the single wooden chair in the corner. Apparently, we were to sit and be quiet.
He spoke softly to the first officer. We could tell all was not well. The huddled closer together, their whispers got lower and clearly, there was some sort of disagreement going on. All this time the younger man kept looking over at us, shaking his head slowly and then returning to the hushed conversation. Eventually is was the young sergeant who spoke to us. “Wait”. And with that, he returned to the back room.
The officer behind the counter looked at us and raised the bleach bottle, he nodded and raised his bushy eyebrows. We must have looked as confused as we were because he sort of shrugged, reached under the counter for a cloudy looking glass, and proceeded to pour some red wine from the bleach bottle. Again he nodded, holding the glass out to us. As I recall this event I am struggling to believe it myself. Here we were, in a rural police station, having broken the law, unable to communicate in anything much more than gestures, being offered a glass of wine whilst we waited for what? we did not know.
This then led to another slight confusion, as we awaited our fate, the officer poured four glasses of wine and handed them to us without a word. I, by the way, am teetotal. Should I refuse it, or would that cause offense? Why were we being offered wine? Were we going to be breathalyzed? Was this a trap? It was all very odd. As the others sipped their wine, and I nursed my glass a single fly buzzing at the window was all that could be heard. We waited in silence, each with a glass for about 15 minutes when the GNR captain entered from the back. He spoke excellent English and introduced himself as Captain António something or other.
His opening remark, after introducing himself was to ask. “Why are you causing me trouble?”.
We looked confused. I explained about the ticket, and our desire to get it paid and get on our way.
“Yes, but why?” He asked.
“Err, well because we have been given a ticket” I replied.
“Yes.” He said, “That was my sergeant, he is new, he is from Lisbon, I will deal with him”. “But now you are causing me problems”
“If you pay me for this ticket, I must give you a receipt. If I give you a receipt, then when headquarters visit they will see that I have given you a receipt. Then they will ask me why I have only issued one ticket. They will want me to issue more tickets, they will be greedy for more money. Is this what you want? That I should become a money collector?”
“No”, I replied. I felt guilty as if somehow, I was responsible for making his life a misery. “But we have a ticket!”
He looked as if I had insulted him. “Yes, I have told you, it was a mistake, I will deal with him!” So, if I tear up this ticket, will you tell anyone?” He held the ticket by both hands ready to rip it in half.
I shook my head, “No”
He tore the ticket in two, reached under the counter for a glass and, topping up the near empty glasses as well as his own, he looked up, smiled brightly, and in a perfect BBC English accent he declared, “Chin Chin”.
Ok, so Portugal has changed a bit since then, but it is still a most wonderful and friendly country and we can’t wait to see this business found our retirement out there.
If you want to find out how we are planning to make £10,000 a month by giving stuff away for free, then why not attend our webinar? http://TonyandTanyaOnline.com/webclass.