The holiday season officially closed Friday, 6 January with Three Kings Day or as it is called in Portugal Dia dos Reis. Perched on my second floor terraço with my morning coffee and my morning view of the bay, the sound of little voices singing called me to look up the rua. Crianças all holding hands, with school made golden crowns on their heads are led by their professoras through the village. From the street below they sing a song of the Reis, when they are through they skip off as the citizen and I clap and shout “Excelente!” One of the professoras calls up to me to remind me of our night of drinking at the Pateo de Baco in Caldas da Rainha. I call back, “Prazer! (meaning pleasure to see you again), Ola to Elia (a mutual drinking buddy)”. .
Such a difference a year makes. Last year we were like the little silver balls in a pinball machine, aimlessly bouncing around depending on what we were told, much like the paddles hitting the little balls. Not knowing if we will end up scoring or rolling back into the dark unknown of the machine. No longer are we a couple of estrangeiros (foreigners), we are a part of life, not just in Salir but also in the big city of Caldas da Rainha. Shopping trips into the big city include stops at my friend Alda’s for a pedi, Maratona’s for a café and a chat with Rita. Visit to the favorite garlic vendor at Praca da Fruita, another café at Central to catch up with city friends. Then the random passeio where I see someone from the village, then we have to tell each other in detail what we are doing, like we haven’t seen each other in weeks.
Christmas was with some of our newly made family, English family if you can believe that. Sir Bob, our first landlord wanted a traditional British Christmas, since he is English (as is the citizen) that made sense. He is my unofficial big brother, a role he deserves because of our continual teasing of each other, the citizen is his favorite political dueling partner, a little dysfunctional family all of our own. We decorated the natal tree a week before, ordered the turkey from our neighborhood butcher. The citizen looked up all the funny sounding recipes. They debated parsnips and turnips and I was able to be a test subject for Yorkshire pudding, which is from Yorkshire but is not a pudding and is addicting and wonderful.
Around the table, with a fire in the hearth was Sir Bob, his heir who had flown in for the holiday, João, his neighbor and my favorite local artist and crazy person with Leonora his esposa and her mãe. We all wore our paper hats and tucked into a meal Charles Dickens would recognize. From the hilarity of an afternoon of cooking together to the wee hours chatting over a guitar and single malt, the heir telling stories about growing up with his father. Not all good, but all funny, yep definitely a family Christmas.
Ano Novo 2010 (New Year’s Eve) in Caldas da Rainha was dismal. We went to see the fireworks in the square and then eagerly to our favorite café. The town was deader than a slab of bacalhau. We saw happy people disappearing into apartamentos carrying champagne, but the bars were shut down tight. That night, the two of us quizzically celebrating our first Ano Novo in Portugal, we swore 2012 was going to be brought with feasts and friends.
The town across the bay, São Martinho do Porto has a street party with two stages and fireworks. Our friend Ana’s mãe, Lina had a feast her apartamento near the festa. Miguel their friend (and now our friend) Miguel was the chef da casa. It was a Portuguese style of house party, one person shops and everyone splits the cost. I ate like a porco (pig). Cheese, shrimp, sapateira (get this; it is stone crab with some made in a crab salad and the claws served cold with it…heaven). Also, local cheeses, fresh bread, a chorizo and cheese melt and yes, bacalhau. I ate bacalhau, and I liked it.
We strolled the short distance to the bay front. Big white balloons floated above the bay like lanterns. I had seen them on TV commercials and in real life they are just lovely and ethereal. Happy people of all kinds crowded the sidewalk. Vendors made sure every need was met and 2012 was mightily celebrated Portugal style. Well fed, bottles and raisins (you eat 12 at midnight for good luck) in hand we made our way to our spot on the water’s edge. The skies were splashed with colors; everyone was splashed with champagne and drenched with kisses. Our raisins carefully counted and washed down, 2012 had begun and we watched the fireworks above our small village across the bay.
The holidays just confirmed what I already knew. When I walk into Dunes café, Pedro and Carlos know what cigarros I smoke, Damion at Lua knows I think his coffee is the best in the village. The little market stocks cerveja preta for the citizen, a certain vinho branco for me (although, when the citizen is not around I have been known to buy a better vintage). And they stock butter sem sal just for us. In fact, if you need something, you just tell them the day before. The postman knows to climb the steps and puts our packages on the thick stone rail on our terraço, so we will see them. Fatima, our bread truck senhora has our fresh baked bread and rolls hung on our doorknob each morning, Heldor the fish truck guy makes certain we know when he has arrived with the catch of the day. Partying in Asia Bar, we are no longer the estrangeiros in the place, just one of the locals.
And I feel I am at home.