Road Trip Europe II 23/11/10-23/11/12 — I Become a Servas Guinea Pig

Prior post:

In the course of reading host profiles, I’ve become aware what a popular place Portugal is for expatriates, especially US retirees. The perceived proportion is much higher than I’ve seen in other countries.

When I asked Servas member Jai Parekh if he’d like to host me, he came back with a counter-proposal. He has friends who are possibly interested in being Servas hosts but would like to try it out before joining. As he put it, “You would be their first hosting experience and their decision to join Servas hinges totally on how engaging you are, how easy it is to get along with you, your eagerness to help with house chores, get along with their bratty pet bitch, etc. etc.  But hey, no pressure.” He then added, ” Then again, the husband is from Hannibal, MO so he shouldn’t be difficult to please.” I knew right away I would like Jai. By the way, to be clear, “bitch” referred to their dog.

When I responded, half jokingly, that there might be some possible misalignment in sending a Brooklyn-raised wise ass to stay with a “Missoura” native, his immediate answer was, “Don’t worry John, you will not have any issues with this Mississippi River local Hick [strike that, I mean “worldly citizen”].  He is well traveled, open minded (except when it comes to Portuguese food) and during his younger years, couldn’t wait to get the ***k outa good ol’ Hannibal, MO.”

This is not going to be your typical Servas visit. I got in touch with Paula and Mark and arranged the details. Rolling in about 5 PM, they show me their spacious home, introduce me to their adult son, and let me get settled in.

Paula is native Portuguese but having married an American, and lived in the US and England for years, her English is outstanding — and she’s not afraid to use it. Mark was career army, stationed in Germany and decided many years ago that he preferred living in Europe. Not long after I arrive, Jai, the instigator of this visit, and his wife Lynne arrive as well. Jai was born in India but has lived in the US for many years. Lynne was born in Brooklyn and has carried the brassy personality with her during her long residence in Europe. She and I have a lot of background in common.

The five of us sit around the table and the conversation is loud and continuous, with all of us frequently talking at the same time. It ranges among the Portuguese, expatriate life, American politics, Mark’s army stories, and Lynne’s Brooklyn background, and more. One topic is the ridiculous expensive egg creams in the millennial era. When I was in grade school, they cost 6 cents.

Jai is frequently outrageous, never more so declaring (I think sincerely) his political view that “if you put a gun to my head and made me choose between the clown and sleepy senile Joe, I would vote for the clown – only for his entertainment value.” This is the basis on which he would vote for Trump. Fortunately, although he’s a US citizen, he hasn’t voted in decades. He and I certainly agree on our view of the future — what I call cheerful pessimism and what he refers to as being a “doomer”.

The conversation is lubricated by wine, port, beer, and roasted chestnuts. It’s my first closeup view of expatriate thinking. Many Americans find living in Portugal, and other European countries, much more tranquil than in the US (even before our current political insanity). There seems to be an affinity for a less frenetic society. Of course, in many of their chosen countries, the US dollar buys a lot more, too. I have much more to learn about this topic.

I tried to capture the enjoyable intensity of the evening in one clip but it was just impossible. Thus, at the risk of overdoing it, I present several below. To get the most realistic effect, it’s best to turn the volume up full blast

Saturday afternoon, the five of us pile into the Berlingo and I’m taken sightseeing in the Marinha Grande area. First stop is the Atlantic coast which we reach by driving through many square miles of burn scars from the spate of deadly 2017 wildfires. It’s always nice to see the ocean and its ceaseless activity, especially since I live inland.

[NOTE: To enlarge any image, right click it and choose “Open image in New Tab” or similar.

Atlantic coast near Marinha Grande
Atlantic coast near Marinha Grande

Next, Batalha, where there’s a well known monastery which to my untrained eye looks a lot like a cathedral. Apparently, the monks have abandoned ship. That vow of poverty, celibacy, and silence is a tough sell, although I did meet one genuinely devout monk in Bilbao, Spain.

Batalha monastery
Batalha monastery (not my photo)

By the way, “ship” is not necessarily an inapt reference. We learned in Scotland that the vaulted roofs of cathedrals and churches often used marine engineering to provide the long unsupported spans between the walls, i.e. they were essentially inverted ship hulls.

After a coffee stop, it’s on to Alcobaça for another scenic walk. Our final destination is another part of the coast, Nazaré to watch the sunset from the bluffs above the beach, along with many other lookers. We finish up by returning home for dinner. A nice guided tour.

Nazaré sunset (not my photo)
Nazaré sunset (not my photo)

Sunday morning, I cook a big batch of pancakes which are quickly devoured. I’ve decided to head back north (Portugal is a small nation) and accept the invitation from Rita’s aunt in inland Lamego, so Sunday morning I say my goodbyes and drive northeast on slow hilly roads. Only time will tell whether my stay persuaded Paula and Mark to become Servas hosts or permanently dissuaded them. I’ll watch the membership lists to see if they appear.

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