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Random Times in the Beco

Updated: Apr 8

The Lovely Graça (photo by author)

In week 33, we had some challenges along with a little fun on the beco.

Paintings in The Museum of Life

With the weather cooling from the heat of summer, I love spending time on my beco’s bench. I sit there working on my laptop or watching random people hike up the hill in search of the popular viewpoint above. Most of all, I love getting to play with Graça, my neighbor’s dog. Sometimes my neighbor comes to join me on the bench with Graça in tow. Graça runs over and waits at my feet until I pick her up and give her the attention she deserves. 

A popular time for us to meet on the bench is just after lunch. Conveniently, this is also a popular time for one of the many walking tours to trek up the hill, stopping to fill our little square as the guide tells them the history of our neighborhood. The guides all give the same speech about how beautiful and peaceful the neighborhood is given that it is so far away from traffic. The tourists are all required to be still for a moment, listening for the lack of noise. The only sounds are the banter of the locals having heated discussions in the café and the chain smoking ginja seller shouting “Ginjinha!!” at passing tourists.

After the moment of silence, the tour guide points out the entrances to our apartments, explaining how most have multiple doors because they are 2 or 3 apartments combined. When first built in the 11th century, they were one room apartments with the sole purpose of providing shelter. Now people require such luxuries as kitchens, bathrooms, living areas and bedrooms, so many apartments became one. As they look around, eventually their eyes rest on my neighbor and me. Sitting there under their stares, we feel like paintings in The Museum of Life. 

Finally they reach the end of the tour and the guides teach the tourists to say “Alfama é linda” which means “Alfama is beautiful.” One day as the tourists dutifully repeated the phrase, I wagged my finger saying “Não, Graça é linda!” while giving the cute canine a hug. My neighbor almost fell off the bench, laughing and saying “Sim!! Graça é linda! Graça é linda!”

Now whenever a tour group invades our little space while we are giving Graça her well-deserved attention, we change the script for them, substituting a little love for our beco’s favorite dog.

Rain Shower…It was good while it lasted. (photo by author)

The Skies Above My Shower Clear…Unfortunately

It would not be a week in my new life without some challenge regarding My Incompetent Portuguese Slumlord. One evening, I was looking forward to a hot shower at the end of a long, rainy day. Since I am vertically challenged, I usually just adjust the hand sprayer to hit me instead of using the rain shower. In order to warm up after the cold, wet day, I wanted the full rain shower experience.  

After finishing up some work, I was ready for those precious moments of solitude when you turn off the TV, leave your cell phone on silent in the other room and just escape for a bit. I reached into the shower and turned the water on, waiting for it to reach a nice, warm temperature. After the water heated, I turned the handle to the rain shower setting. I listened as the water made its way up the pipe to the shower head, waiting for the water to warm me.

Suddenly, I thought I was under attack. A loud noise that sounded like a cannon firing erupted from overhead. I looked up and saw spray coming from the edges of the shower head, quickly ending in one sad stream. The shower head had exploded and died. 

Fabulous. My Incompetent Portuguese Slumlord will never fix that. I turned the handle to the hand-spray setting, saying farewell to rain showers.

Speaking the Language

One day I was sitting at my table working with the French doors open, letting in the sunshine. My neighbor emerged from his apartment and waved as he and Graça headed to the bench to enjoy the nice weather. I decided to take a work break and join them as it is hard for me to resist a playdate with Graça, especially on a beautiful day.

Lately, my neighbor had been puttering around the beco, looking a bit melancholy. Recently, in my language studies I learned how to say “appear/seem”. As I sat beside my neighbor and took Graça on my lap, I said to him in Portuguese that he seemed sad. That opened a floodgate for which I was not prepared. 

Speaking rapidly, he launched into a long description of what I assume were the causes of his low spirits. While I caught a few words here and there, it was nowhere near adequate enough to understand what he was trying to communicate so I just nodded sympathetically.

Regardless of my shortcomings in that situation, I celebrated the fact that I am working hard and learning more of the language every day. One day, my neighbor and I will sit on our bench and have a nice, long chat about his life here in the beco.

I cannot wait.

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