At long last. A blog post. I am alive and well. VERY well, in fact. Today is our second day in Barcelona. We just spent three glorious days in San Sebastian. Five amazing days in Lisbon was before that. We’re two thirds into the culinary adventure and it’s been quite the ride. Sorry for no blog posts until now, but in Lisbon, my life took a hard left turn. By hard I mean painful (initially anyway). By left turn I mean I was dutifully headed in one direction and suddenly found myself heading in a very different one.
Dan and I were sitting in a cafe outside the Museu da Cerveja (Beer Museum) in Lisbon. We were having, of all things, a beer. The weather had been incredible, sunny and warm. We were hot and beat from walking the hills (Lisbon is the paternal twin of San Francisco, lots of hills, cable cars, similar weather patterns and even their version of the Golden Gate Bridge – designed by the same guy, same color and everything – that is, if your twin could be a few centuries older than you).
Looked over to see a twenty-something street urchin making his way through the tables nearest the street, asking for money. As he approached our table I waved him off and said NO. He persisted, of course. He came even closer with his handmade sign inside a plastic sleeve and sat it on the table right next to me. I quickly moved my glasses out if the way and said no again.
By this time he was seen by the waiter who gave him a shout to get lost. The young man had been through this experience a thousand times and knew the drill. Took a couple of minutes of the waiter berating him before he finally went back out to the street. Waiter apologized to us and we went back to our beers. Life in the big city.
Maybe five minutes later I went to take a picture with my phone and it was gone. I knew immediately that the kid had taken it, but it took some time for me to figure out what had happened, which was then echoed knowingly by the cop filling out the police report. Happens all the time he said and demonstrated the technique. When the boy sat his sign on the table it blocked my view of my phone, which he lifted with his other hand. Smooth as silk.
So my phone was gone. My one tool for communicating with the group. My camera. My lifeline. As tour director, I was in a panic.
The most painful part of that whole thing was the shame I felt for having been stung…again. If you remember two years ago I was stung in Istanbul as well. The deja vu of it meant making an extra big effort to keep my head above water; to keep from drowning in a whirlpool of shame and to NOT have it mean something about me. Plus Dan was outraged. We both shared in the anger for having been violated…again. Those nasty waters were quite turbulent for a few hours.
Lesson #25436: Don’t set your phone on the table, especially in a public place. Oy.
Thank God this was Lisbon and not Istanbul. They have an entire cop shop dedicated to tourists. When we got there we had to take a number and be seated. A long queue ahead of us. Lisbon is notorious for being the pickpocket capital of Europe, so they had a solid system in place and readily available to us.
I was fascinated by the different moods of the folks ahead of us. Everyone in stages of anger, shock, embarrassment and looking at each other with compassion and some kind of reassurance in their eyes. Despite our different cultures we connected through the common experience of having been put to the test.
The cops were great. Friendly, patient, helpful and omg CUTE!! Those Portuguese men! We got our report quickly. No baksheesh needed, as it was in Istanbul. Within minutes of getting to the desk I received the document I needed to send to my insurance company to replace my phone. Easy peasy (where as Istanbul took most of two days). Plus big gorgeous smiles to go with. Lisbon vs. Istanbul? Night and day.
Called AT&T to shut the phone down. Phone was password protected. Thieves generally just replace the Sim card and use the body anyway. I wasn’t in a lot of danger of ID theft or anything.
So. No phone. Six cats to herd. No photos. A zillion sites to see. Meant a whole lot of depending on the kindness of strangers. Dan had WhatsApp so we could communicate to the group. He had a good camera, as did everyone else, including a big complicated professional model. Most are foodies and food photos, as well as photos of the amazing sites in Lisbon, were plenty. Everyone was compassionate and gracious and reassured me that all was not lost and that their photos would be available to me. On we went.
With all of my internal drama, that first evening was quite painful. But by the next morning my mood had lifted. I chose to embrace the opportunity; the silver lining of it all. Much more rewarding than a shame spiral. That next evening was to be our Welcome Dinner, so time to get back on the horse.
We made it to a fabulous place called Biarro Avillez. Young chef Avillez already has five restaurants, including two-star Belcampo. In his Biarro there are three restaurants, including a Peruvian place. I informed our waiter that I’d read it was possible to ask for a chef’s choice menu. It ended up being our waiter’s choice, and it was incredible. In fact, we loved everything put in front of us so much we had to ask him to stop, even before the heavy meat dishes came out. He was surprised. We were groaning. Everyone was fat and happy…literally. lol
You don’t know what you got…
I was now truly paying attention to life without a cell phone and I have to say it was lovely. Got to see as a tour director how much of a helicopter parent I’d become. Got to see that instead of paying attention to the people, the food and the atmosphere, my attention was on turning every moment into a photo opp. I felt a strong sense of freedom. I was loving it. Still am. Dan had even made the point early on that I really only needed to communicate to everyone when there was a specific structured event, and there weren’t that many.
The next day was even better. We did our first walking food tour with this wonderful local foodie and a bit of a celebrity, Celia Pedroso. In fact, she’s Bureau Chief for Culinary Backstreets, Lisbon. She also authored a popular book called Eat Lisbon. We were in excellent hands. She guided us through a neighborhood away from the crowds and the noise and took us to little hidden gems none of us would have found on our own. Without my phone I was more present to the sites and sounds and smells and flavors.
We visited a bakery that was like being inside a jewel box with colorful, ornate tile work, old wooden cabinets, silver mirrors and chrystal chandeliers. On the menu were breads made with chestnut flour as well as acorn, two flours that have been used since before the Moors brought wheat to town hundreds of years ago. We climbed up to a small restaurant, through winding stairways and multiple rooms to the top of a building that looked more like an old community center. It was called The People’s Bakery, a business started by one of the Queen’s specifically to help feed the poor. The food leaned towards Goa, a state in India, which was a major Portuguese asset for years and years. We had in essence curried samosas.
One of the treats she presented to us at the beginning of the tour was a small box of pastries, created by a local nun a hundred years ago who wasn’t so keen on the Catholic tradition of fasting so she created a sweet eggy filling for a little pastry made from…get this..to ease her guilt for breaking the fast early…communion wafers. Check them out. They’re called Ovos Moles.
We sampled Ginjinha a sweet liqueur made of sour cherries at a tiny shop owned by an ancient little man who been in the same store since 1930. We paid a visit to a young chef’s place where we had a lovely lunch of assorted salads including creamy chickpeas and cod, a grilled octopus salad and broad beans with chorizo.
Celia told us of the political history of the city and how Portugal was a major influence on the high seas and in trade. We got to taste the results of hundreds of years of an evolving food culture.