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Tis vs. The Vapors: Kickoff at Sundown

Updated: Apr 8


Casa Tis: Lisbon…Before the Vapors (photo by author)


In week 31, I fought a war with the vapors…


Overcome By the Vapors

One day I was working from home with the French doors open to my beco, enjoying being a small part of the action while getting things done. As to not be left out, the chain-smoking neighbor was puffing away under my window all morning, filling my apartment with smoke.  To add to my delight, a foul smell had been coming from the sink and shower for some time now. Either it was in fact, a smelly back up in the pipes or My Portuguese Slumlord had placed the dead carcass of a small mammal somewhere in my apartment that I had yet to locate. The combination of the chain-smoker and the foul smell, forced me to dig out my mask which I had started wearing when the vapors were about to overcome me.  To get some relief, I’d been spending more time at the local café. While there is not much I can do about the chain-smoker, I do have to deal with the plumbing problem and/or find the decaying carcass. While I have taken on all sorts of institutions both in and out of Lisbon, for some reason a trip to the hardware store terrifies me. I am certain they will speak mostly Portuguese and I will come back with something that eats the pipes. Then My Portuguese Slumlord will really be on a tear and I’ll be forced to go into hiding in some rural village where I cannot keep in touch with immigration and will eventually be found and deported. 


The “Scary: Hardware Store in Lisbon (photo by author)

Tackling My Fears

Finally the time came when I would have to wear the mask full-time or put on my big-girl panties and tackle the hardware store. I opted for the latter, hoping that the European Portuguese translator tool I subscribed to could handle some plumbing language. I’d passed the hardware store many times, and seen it full of what looked like locals, and not English-speaking transplants from other countries which added to my anxiety. When I arrived outside the store, I adjusted my big girl panties and pushed open the door.


After entering, I took my place behind the few people waiting. While in line, a local woman barged in and jumped in front of me. Knock yourself out lady. I am not taking on more than I can handle here. Finally, one of the men working offered to help me. I asked if he spoke English, and was delighted to hear he spoke some. However, as I tried to describe my problem, he just looked overwhelmed. I realized he did not speak enough English to get me where I needed to be.


He told me to wait and headed to the phone. Please don’t call immigration on me because I have not mastered the language yet! I’m really trying! I listened, trying to pick up any bit of the conversation I could. Finally, he handed me the phone and said “Tell my colleague.” Hesitantly, I took the phone and said “Óla” to the person in the void on the other end. Thankfully, he was not with immigration and seemed to have a decent grasp on my problem and the potential solutions. He discussed the items the store sold that could possibly eliminate my problem. He said he would tell his colleague to offer these to me and I could choose which one I wanted to try first.

I thanked him and handed the phone back to his colleague. When presented with a small hand-held plunger and a bottle of what I assumed was Portuguese Drano, I thought it best to take them both. Besides, I knew from how long I’d avoided solving the problem that Portuguese Drano was going to be a part of the solution. I told the man I needed both. Surprisingly, I said it in Portuguese which delighted me and made him smile. I paid him and thanked him in Portuguese as I collected my purchases and headed to fight the stench is Casa Tis: Lisbon.


Pitstop at the Local Café

Back at my beco, the local café was busy with a lively crowd. Procrastinating, I stopped in for my second galão of the day and a little late-afternoon people-watching. One of the neighborhood regulars was having a beer outside. They seemed to drink beer and smoke cigarettes a lot in the afternoon. The girl looked at me and yelled “BENFICA”! I may have watched a Benfica game with her and her crew once and not shared that I support the other local Lisbon team, Sporting CP…. I yelled back “BENFICA!”. That will be our little secret…


After I finished my galão, I headed up the beco, passing the chain-smoking ginja seller. She was working an English-speaking cruise boat crowd. When I first arrived in the Alfama, I thought this lady who stands at the bottom of my beco daily, was not very friendly. While she still may not be, she’s grown on me. I like her. She seems tough and she’s out there every day working the tourists. To help boost her sales, I told the cruise boat crowd that she had some of the best ginja in the neighborhood and they should not only try it in the chocolate cups (more money than just a shot) but take a bottle home!


Truthfully, I’ve never had her ginjinha but how bad could it be. From what I can tell, many of the ginja sellers in the neighborhood just buy a big bottle from the liquor store and repurpose it.


My Incompetent Portuguese Landlord’s Idea of a Shower Drain (photo by author)

My Portuguese Landlord’s Idea of a Shower Drain (photo by author)

Tis vs. The Vapors

The final battle upon me, I pulled out my mini-plunger and the Portuguese Drano and headed to the kitchen sink. I poured almost half the bottle down either side of the sink, saving the largest portion for the major problem around the corner. Next, I stood in the shower and tried to plunge clear the gray abyss of my shower drain as much as I could. The liquid that has backed up in there could qualify my shower to star in Stephen King’s next effort.


While I got some results, they were not gained easily. You really need a long-handled plunger to work the shower drain in that bathroom unless you are a Smurf (yeah I know, I come close). Finally, when any further plunging seemed futile, I pulled out the rest of the Portuguese Drano. Staring into the gray abyss, with of course no proper drain cover because the place belongs to My Portuguese Slumlord, I poured the rest of the bottle in and hoped for the best. When the bottle was empty, I opened the French doors and went back to work on my computer, hoping for the magic to happen.


As the vapors cleared and the gray liquid receded, I realized how silly I had been not to tackle this challenge sooner. Not to put off any other challenges, excuse me while I go accidentally pour out my mop bucket on the chain smoker below.


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