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Under Attack on the Beco

Updated: Apr 8


The Beco’s Big Green Can of Caution (photo by author)


In week 41, the beco was under attack on many fronts. I distracted myself with language lessons and new tourist friends.


The Beco Is Attacking Us

Have I mentioned the rains in Lisbon lately? The sidewalks with those charming little polished stones are so slick that at any moment I am at risk of sliding down the hill and into the River Tejo. 

When I first moved in, I found the orange tree in the beco cute and charming. It reminded me of how I felt in Italy when my hotel terrace had an olive tree. Now, that cute, charming tree is heavy with what I’ve learned are sour, inedible oranges that are now raining down upon us. The beco is covered with the fruit at different stages of rot. After I navigate the treacherous steps up to the beco, I must make my way through the orange carnage to reach my doorway next to the crater…

What once was a large hole in the beco that the city covered up with a wood plank, is now growing. The city workers came to replace the plank with a big green trash can that they rolled over the crater and wrapped in caution tape. Now the view from my neighbor’s only window has been replaced with a big green bin of caution. What joy must fill his heart every time he peeks out of his only window. 

As the days passed and the rains continued to punish us for some ungodly sins we must have committed, I watched as the trash can rapidly descended into the ever-widening crater. The base of the trashcan is now fully inside the hole and the stones up to my neighbor’s door have completely disappeared with it into the abyss. Every day as he emerges and takes a step out onto the side of the crater, I fear more stones will fall away and take him in with them and the trash can. 

I cannot help but wonder if leaving plank was a better idea as the presence of the trash can has just precipitated the growth of the crater. Perhaps one day soon the crater will extend to my front door and swallow me whole, adding me to its collection.

Orange Carnage on the Beco (photo by author)

Language Lessons Around Lisbon

My commitment to learning the Portuguese language is still strong. Daily, I head down to the “Living Room of the Alfama”, order my galão, and open one of my Portuguese learning apps. As the spoken language swirls around me, I’ve started to understand a tiny bit of what the residents are saying. I get as excited as a kid at Christmas when I decipher a bit of the conversation which firms my resolve to master this incredibly difficult language. 

Several locals are committed to helping me with my challenge. Sauro, who works in the pharmacy, will not let me escape without a bit of practice. Recently, I went in for a flu shot and the line was quite long. That made no difference to Sauro, who forced me to have as much of our conversation in Portuguese as possible. This tripled the time that our transaction might have taken but there was no charge for the added language lesson. I even got applause for my efforts from him and his co-worker as I left which was offset by irritated looks from customers waiting in the now long line. 

Carlos, from York Burger is one of the strictest teachers. Every time I come in, he makes me practice some word or phrase, usually one that is difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce. I am always pushing to start with some of the easier words and phrases, get a couple of “wins” under my belt, and then tackle the harder challenges. Carlos does not agree. After much repetition, I usually get the current challenge right or close enough that Carlos thinks I can be understood by the locals. 

Often, as I struggle with the harder pronunciations, I have flashbacks to when my mother was trying to teach my nephew how to say “yellow”. He simply could not pronounce that word. They practiced and practiced, with Mom breaking it into syllables and my nephew responding perfectly. When he had to put it all together, he would proudly say “LELLOW”. Mom would correct him, saying “YEL-LOW” to which he would reply, “THAT’S WHAT I SAY!”. Sometimes, when I am trying to pronounce the most difficult of Portuguese words, I experience the frustration my nephew must have had.

Tourist “Locals” at York Burger

Occasionally, a tourist will stumble into York Burger, and fall in love with the place as the locals have. Some choose to spend extended amounts of time in the neighborhood and end up becoming frequent visitors during their stay. Recently, a couple from Minnesota became our latest tourist regulars of York. Sarah and her husband Tommy joined me and Ricky one night as they had come in to have a drink before heading up the hill to their rental apartment. Sarah has traveled the world extensively and Tommy goes along with her despite seeming to have a slight preference for being home in his beautiful house in the countryside of Montana. They are a fun and interesting couple, making for good pub mates. That night, Ricky had his iPad set up on the table so we could watch the NFL game. We had a fun evening, if you omit the “mansplaining” session I had to endure from Tommy, as he elaborated on all of the reasons he thinks “soccer” is unwatchable. When he got to the inevitable whine about “soccer” being a low scoring game, I interjected that the Sporting game that just finished ended 7-0, which by American “football” standards would be 49-0. I could not resist saying “Pretty high-scoring game, huh?” On Sarah’s final night, she came to York to enjoy her last evening. Tommy’s flight was a day earlier so she was on her own. Carlos had offered to make one of his special dinners for Sarah and invited me and Guilherme to join her. We had such a fun night! Guilherme has lived in the neighborhood all of his life and had been giving Sarah and Tommy travel tips during their stay. She shared her experiences based on Guilherme’s tips with us that evening as we ate the incredible meal Carlos prepared. Of course, the evening ended as all good last night of vacations do, with Sarah drinking a flaming shot of something before heading home to catch a nap before her early morning flight. I love meeting interesting travelers like Sarah and Tommy! I try to keep in touch with them hoping to cross paths again and share travel and life stories.

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