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Longing for A Moment in The Sun

Updated: Apr 8

The Beco Opens

The Beco Opens (photo by author)

In week 37, the rains fell relentlessly, leaving us residents of Lisbon longing for a moment in the sun. A trip to the mall brought shopping success and a fast-food debacle.


The rains in Lisbon are relentless. There are days when I barely leave my apartment except to crawl down the hill to the local café for my galão. The air is so heavy that it feels like an extra layer of clothing. However, it is not a warm cozy layer of clothing but instead a damp blanket that wraps itself around you and never leaves. It’s hard to get your laundry dry as there is very little space into which the water in your clothes can escape in the thick air.

They certainly left this bit off the brochures in the immigration office.

One afternoon, I came home to find a huge hole in the beco, inconveniently located right in front of my favorite neighbor’s apartment. Apparently, the monsoons had taken their toll on our little slice of Lisbon, and washed away a huge bit of it. While I was sure the neighbor had seen the crater by now, I was worried he might forget one day and stride out with little Graça in tow, both disappearing into the abyss.

There was nothing I could do but hope the workers from the city who come by from time to time to trim the grass and wash away the algae from the stones, would make the necessary repairs. One afternoon I arrived to find a board over the crater. Perhaps there is no need to fill the hole until the monsoons subside. However, I am very grateful for the quick fix as the poor man has had his fill lately with health issues. He certainly doesn’t need to be swallowed by the beco.

From what I’ve learned from the locals, this is a particularly rough rainy season. All we can do is wait it out.

Graça Enjoying A Rare Moment in the Sun

Graça Enjoying A Rare Moment in the Sun

A Cruel Joke

One day as I was working beside my tightly shut French doors covered with several layers of clothing, I noticed something very odd. There seemed to be a strange light coming over the horizon, filling our little beco. I threw the doors open eager to explore this phenomenon further. As I leaned out over the beco, the air felt light and airy. Quickly I did some googling and learned that I was experiencing a rare sighting of this mysterious thing called “the sun”.

Quickly, I ran to my drying rack, grabbed my wet clothes and hung them from the line on my balcony. Wanting to share this happy moment with my neighbors/prisoners of our apartments, I headed down to the café for my daily galão. I grabbed my usual seat by the open doors and sat enjoying my coffee drink while letting the sun warm me. Some of my neighbors got drinks and headed to the street outside to stand in the sunshine. 

Suddenly, my neighbors were coming in from the street, filling the café. I was confused as I could still feel the sun on my shoulders. I looked towards the heavens and noticed a mist was descending on the beco. My clothes that were partially dry before this rare gift of sunshine would be completely soaked before I could reach them.

Knowing I was defeated, I sat and made the most of my café outing.

Vasco da Gama Mall, Lisbon

Vasco da Gama Mall, Lisbon

Shopping Success!

On Sunday after finishing a rainy “unplugged” brunch at Green Café, I jumped on the subway and headed to check out Vasco da Gama mall. A friend suggested I go there to get a few things I needed including a better pillow than my Incompetent Portuguese Slumlord left me. I’d only been able to find pillows at the popular El Corte Ingles store. When the shop lady told me the shockingly high price of their pillows, I asked her what other evening services they came with for that large amount. As her face filled with a look of annoyance, she huffed off. I assumed that no additional services were going to be included and left the pricey pillow behind.

With the hope of finding a pillow fit for a regular Joe like myself, I exited the subway and headed toward the Vasco da Gama mall directly across the street. The first thing I saw as I entered the electronics store, was three crock pots. After a massive search for one during my first months here, the crock pots had been sitting here all along, a short subway ride away. Instead I’d taken the more difficult and costly route and had one shipped in from Spain. On the bright side, the postman had to carry the crockpot up the hill to my beco saving me the effort.

Quickly I got sucked into store after store, finding all sorts of things I needed–a new converter for my electronic devices, a wireless headset so I can study my online Portuguese lessons in more places, and at long last, a pillow! I knew if I was persistent, I could find a pillow that does not cost the same thing as a hooker but is not as cheap as a nickel bag.

The Home of the Whopper in Lisbon

The Home of the Whopper in Lisbon

An American Food Court in Lisbon

After my shopping successes, I headed toward the food court. Sadly, it felt like home, full of American fast food options including Taco Hell, Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald’s and, of course, the Colonel (KFC). I broke down and hit the BK Lounge, ordering a cheeseburger and onion rings. No one takes orders here at the Home of the Whopper in Lisbon. You must punch your own order into the machine. After entering mine, I grabbed the receipt the machine spit out and headed to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, I saw my cheeseburger being placed on the tray behind the order for the guy who had punched his order in just ahead of me.

The cheeseburger sat there, and sat there, and sat there. I imagined how cold the poor thing must be getting. Apparently, these people were not trained as I was during the time I worked at the beloved Golden Arches. We had to keep everything under heat lamps until the entire order was ready. Now my little cheeseburger was growing cold and there was not an onion ring in sight.

Learning the Ways of the Whopper

As I was about to inquire as to the status of my o-rings, they finally appeared in the heating racks. The counter worker collected them, without haste, and put them on my tray. Wanting to be anywhere but Burger King at this point, I tried to collect my tray hoping my cheeseburger was at least lukewarm.

Not so fast! The Gestapo at the counter blocked me from taking the tray and insisted on seeing my ticket. I gave her my receipt but apparently it was not the paperwork she required in order to release the cheeseburger and onion rings, valued at a whopping 2.65 euros, into my custody.

So started a completely unnecessary exchange that eventually required her calling in her supervisor. I was “schooled” on the proper way to utilize the machine at the home of the Whopper and collect my counter ticket, not to be confused with my receipt. Both listed the contents of my order, but the counter ticket had the critical order number without which the counter worker could not release the food into my custody. I felt like I was back at McDonald’s in my 100% polyester uniform, undergoing new employee training.

Resisting the urge to point out to her that no one watching this debacle was claiming the now cold cheeseburger and onion rings, I looked at them both and asked them to please enjoy the items on me. I no longer required them as my lunch.

I considered that the universe telling me not to eat fast food.

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