Thursday, July 30, 2009

Purines, balcaulhau, and life

Open me up and you will see, I'm a gallery of broken hearts, I'm beyond repair, let me be, And give me back my broken parts

The table was set for 20 people. We were a mixture of master students, professors, doctors, Germans, Portuguese, Brazilians and one elegant crazy redneck American. It reminded me much of what the last supper would be like. We were in a back room, the middle seats of the U-shaped table were occupied by the heads of the lab, who always called all the shots and the seats were full of all sorts of different people and personalities brought together through one common thread... purines. The unspoken rule that was accepted as we sat down was that despite this common thread we were not there to talk about work. We could have talked about the enzymes that were hard at work trying to metabolize the alcohol that was consumed, or even the areas of the brain that were firing signals to let us keep lifting the forks full of balcaulhau to our mouths. But that was all off limits. Tonight's dinner, like every other mea in Portugal, is strictly for enjoying the company of those you are with. For learning from them, not methods that are useful in the laboratory, but things ways of thinking, experiences, and what one expects of Obama.
The amount of portuguese spoken was directly proportional to the amount of alcohol induced. As the beers and wine kept coming the english decreased until I was the only one speaking my native language. I smiled and watched the faces that I have come to love.
There was Mize who was always the life of the party with a smile that makes the whole room sparkle, and Andre who would get a sly grin on his face and look my way with knowing eyes when someone would say something worthy of a "that's what she said", then Rita with her constant chatter that feels more like a security blanket than an annoyance, around the corner were my lunch buddies Vania and Diogo who always made sure I sat down to eat with them. Then there was the Professors Riberio and Ana, the heads of the lab who told stories of their children and hatred of TVs, then the ever-so serious Natalia and the mysterious Vasco who has an easier side to him that I love, but it is kept hidden. Then Sandra who always laughed at the "work" Andre and I did at the computer before coming to see what website we were perusing to pass the time. Then Claudia and Ricardo and Ana Rita, Tiogo, and Susane.
As I was watching the group finish dinner, the word family came to mind. These people work together, fight together, fail together, publish together. Their lives are forever entwined, not just because they share space on a published journal, or in the same building, but because they share their life with each other.
They have a hierarchal system that makes sure everyone knows their place, but tonight it was left in the lab. The directors talked with everyone, the professors with students and the ever feuding medical doctors with the Phd's. It was good to see everyone as people and not just as scientists.
Unfortunately tomorrow is another day. The system will be back in place, and I will be forced to say goodbye to my new family. But my life gets to be intertwined with theirs. My name will follow theirs on a journal article, i've worked in the same building, and i've shared my crazy american life with them. Most importantly though, they have a piece of my heart, and I have a piece of theirs.

I got a nickel hey hey hey hey

I found a nickel in my bag today. It took me a good 30 seconds to figure out what it was. I don't like it.

I'm packing my bags for Paris and leaving Saturday morning. I know even less French than Portuguese. It's a little exhilarating to be walking into a world I know nothing about.

Croissants and berets here I come!

Monday, July 27, 2009

cinco dias cinco quilos...

Boy I hear you in my dreams, I feel your whisper across the sea, I keep you with me in my heart, You make it easier when life gets hard...

The pain wakes me up at 4 am. Again at 6, 7 and finally 9. Normally sleep is my solace, the pain usually isn't strong enough to wake me, but not tonight.

To be fair, it's not all my stomach's fault. It could be the fact that I ate more meat this weekend then I have in the last three months combined.

Two steaks, almost an entire chicken, and pork chops...

It could be the fact that I spent hours at the beach in the sun and salt water...

Or it could be the octopus or pastries, or a combination of all of these things...

Portuguese hospitality is brutal, at least for my stomach. My hosts for the weekend decided that I was to gain a kilo for every day I had left in Portugal. The mantra for the weekend, despite my protests was cinco dias cinco quilos. They pushed and pushed to make me eat more and more, but despite their best efforts the kilos didn't stick. The more food they made me eat, the faster it came out. That's the cause of the pain...

It's four in the morning and the pain forces me to the balcony of the house in Ramalhal, pacing back and forth stopping to double over only when the pain becomes too strong before starting again. The green hills stretch out before me, hiding the ocean from my view. In the morning the hills will be full of tractors and farmers in their cornfields. They don't take the saying knee-high by July very literally. The corn stalks are tall enough to hide nearly the entire portuguese population. This is probably why I feel so at home here. Just like home....only different.

This is Portugal. Where the beaches capture my heart, the people look you in the eye, man bags are completely acceptable, silverware is always wrapped in aluminum foil, and soup is served at every meal. Where the cobblestone sidewalks are worn smooth and there is half a dozen eggs in every pastry. Where the buses don't run on time because the driver had to stop for coffee, and one serving of food is an insult to the cook. Where the language is spoken in a sing-song way and anyone is willing to help you if you have the pinta de um americana. It's been my home and has part of my heart. And it just might kill me to say goodbye.

It's funny to think that at this time last year I was leaving a different part of my heart in another place. I've come to the decision though that I'd rather leave pieces of me heart in different places so that I have an excuse to go back and collect them at a later time. Yeah, I'm gonna run with that one....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

goodbyes or badbyes

When you sail across the ocean waters, And you reach the other side safely, Could you smile a little smile for me? 'cause I'll be thinkin' about you...

It's quiet tonight. Eerily quiet. There's hardly any traffic, no blaring music and no little kids screaming under my window. There's a half eaten bag of peanut m&m's on my bed and a glass of wine within arms reach. Tonight, I'm relishing in the time to be by myself, I'm stuck in my head, but it is different than before, it's more of a reflective stuck, one that is easy to come out of. Like floating on your back in the kiddy pool, no worries of being overwhelmed by the next wave or apprehension of not being able to touch the bottom. A comfortable safe place for me to think about the future, the past, and the direction I want to go, and all the goodbyes that I have said, and have yet to say

I was walking down the metro steps today when a memory washed onto me with a power known only to the really good memories that have been forgotten for too long. It was a good one. I was in the metro saying goodbye to a good friend. We were both a little tipsy from the shots of cafe liquor that we took because they weren't allowed on his carryon. He hugged me tight in a way that gave away his anxiousness at starting a new adventure. He took my face in his hands and told me to go out every night, live it up, and cause trouble. He then kissed me goodbye and without a second thought, walked through the gate. The doors shut with a slam that closed the chapter of life that we had been allowed to share together. He looked back at me and tossed his head back in laughter brought on from the homemade alcohol. He waved goodbye and got onto the early 8 am train.

Today I said another goodbye. It wasn't one that was heavy with finality or closure, just a simple ate amanha, with an easy punch on the shoulder. We haven't been able to cross the culture barrier into saying goodbye with dois beijinhos on either cheek. I ruined that the first week I was in lab, but despite that it isn't awkward. It's one good friend saying goodbye to another. See you tomorrow friend where you'll call me a redneck and I'll make you laugh from my ridiculous serenades. Or where I'll embarrass you by using a stirring rod to play beakers full of solutions, and your steady hand will fix whatever mistake I've made. Where you'll share your cookies and I'll fix your english. We'll laugh at my stories about my landlord, or at Barbie the resident fake beauty who controls the second floor bathroom, or at a new slang word or my Portuguese pronunciation. A comfortable goodbye that holds promise for tomorrow.

The goodbyes that I have to say will most likely not be good. I'm not ready to end this adventure and say my last ate logo, not knowing how soon that will be fulfilled.

While these goodbyes may be hard they bring with them the hope of hello. There are people that I am dying to see. I'm ready to see their smiles, ready to be in their arms in hugs that will last forever, and to hear about their lives. Where I know that when I say see you soon, I can measure that soon in the amount of time it takes me to walk two hundred yards.

So I'm going to not worry about amazing hellos or heavy goodbyes. I have two weeks until I have to leave my dreamworld and come back (at least a little) to reality. So goodbye good friends, until tomorrow.....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

chaves não estão na porta

Well, I don't like living under your spotlight, Just because you think I might find somebody worthy, Oh, I don't like living under your spotlight, Maybe if you treat me right you won't have to worry

It was two o'clock in the morning. I heard him stumble up the flight of stairs, drop his keys and attempt rather loudly to try and unlock the front door. I heard the english curse words come out of his mouth and his unsteady steps once he made it in the door. He fought his way to his new bedroom steadying himself by dragging his hands across the hallway using them as support and direction.
The american has discovered the nightlife of Lisbon.

When I hear him snoring I get out of bed and lock the front door leaving my keys in the lock so everyone can get out if they need to. I turn off the lights and head back to bed.

The morning comes peacefully without the usual noisy roosters in the park or the wail of ambulances down the street or even the usual morning howling from Hugo. I have the house to myself. The American went to Coimbra for the weekend, Hugo is at work and I have nothing but a glorious day to spend in Lisbon. I take my time getting ready and planning my day. When I'm ready I head for the door expecting my keys to be in the inside lock of the front door.
They aren't.
Confused I make a thorough search of my bag and room. No keys. My phone twerps and the message says...
"Baby, I have your keys. Come visit the museum. kisses."
I'm furious. See since Hugo has my keys I can't get out the locked front door. I'm not jumping out the window two stories up and there is no other way out. I tear the house apart looking for an extra set of keys, knowing they don't exist. I'm climbing through windows into the shed, throwing things out of closets and letting all sorts of foul language come out of my mouth in three different languages. No success. I call Hugo and it goes like this...
-Hugo, you have my keys
-Yes yes. haha. I have your keys
-Where are your keys Hugo?
-I have them
-Fodas, what am I supposed to do?
-I'm working. hahaha You just wait for I to get home
-How long are you working Hugo?
-When will you be home?
-I work at 2 then beach to 8 or 9
- (lots of cursewords here)...I'm not staying LOCKED in YOUR house until 8 pm, that is 10 hours Hugo. I will kill you
silence. The laughter stops.
-I come home instead of the beach. I come home at 2.
-I'll be here. Click

After a minor...well major meltdown I pull myself together and cook an exquisite lunch, make peach pie and do all my laundry. When Hugo walks in at 2:30 I'm waiting at the door. I take my keys, walk down the stairs, and hit the streets of Lisbon without a word, relieved and exhilarated to be out of my temporary prison.

I still might kill him, but in the meantime my keys will stay in my pocket for the next two weeks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

coffee, ray-bans, and routine

We live on front porches and swing life away, We get by just fine here on minimum wage, If love is a labor, I'll slave til the end, I won't cross these streets until you hold my hand.

The shower takes approximately 1 min and 52 seconds to get warm, most mornings I plunge into the cold and let it shock the sleep out of my system. 14 minutes and 18 seconds later I'm clean. In 15 minutes I have eaten breakfast, had a cup of coffee, and lunch made. The next 4 minutes and 41 seconds are spent fighting with contacts, and a toothbrush. 3 minutes and 8 seconds to pack my bag, find shoes and get Hugo out the door. All routine, all normal. Then we go for coffee. 

The walk starts with the song Hugo was listening to this morning. He sings a line, then i'll sing the same line with the right english words. He echos with a smile that stretches from one side of his ray-bans to the other. He may not be fluent in english, but we tend to communicate by song, his made-up lyrics and me teaching him the right ones. As we wait for the crosswalk Hugo will point out my "husband." In his funny little way he has decided that the homeless man who goes from bench to bench down our street is my husband. We look for him every morning and usually find him in Largo Do Mitelo under a tree with a bottle in his half-consious hand or wandering in search of a new comfortable spot to sleep. After we find him, Hugo grabs my hand and pulls me across the street into the cafe. He orders his coffee with a small drop of creme. I take mine black. He smokes a cigarette and drinks his coffee while I listen to the Portuguese swirling around me. I sit in the plastic green chair with my feet propped on the one across from me. He stands protectively nearby eyeing anyone who dares to get too close.  When we have drained every drop from the cup we walk to Hugo's car and head to Marquis Pombal, the metro stop that he insists on dropping me off at everyday. We spend the car ride listening to news about Gripe A or traffic reports or singing to music on the radio. The ride ends in the obligatory two kisses after the car has jumped the curb to get out of the flow of traffic. I wait for the walk signal to turn green and he drives away flashing a smile and blowing a kiss, the green specks in his blue eyes sparkling with a sly grin on his face. 

It takes me 57 seconds to get to the metro platform. 10 minutes and 49 seconds for the next train towards Rato to pull up. 17 minutes and 43 seconds to get to Ciudade Universitaria. 4 minutes to walk through the hospital to my desk. A morning routine that will be routine for only 11 more mornings. 

Saturday, July 11, 2009

To arms

Her high-pitched little voice sings out the Portuguese national anthem as we careen around curves up the Arribida mountain in Steubal. To the right are high steep walls of rock waiting to be used for the concrete factory, to the left is arguably one of the most beautiful bays in Portugal, quite possibly the world. The water is protected selfishly by the mountain we are currently climbing, it stretches out to the Atlantic Ocean, but the only sign of the larger body of water is a faint ripple that lazily moves the sea weed near the base of the mountain. 
As armas As armas! 
Sobre a terra, sobre o mar, 
Her little voice calls again, pulling me out from my daydreams. There has been a lot on my mind lately but Lucia always succeeds in stealing my attention. She is three years old and speaks only Portuguese. I speak English. Yet I am amazed at how much we actually communicate. We play hide and go seek, tag, and Princesses. She makes a mean sand castle and when she falls asleep in the car her little mouth hangs open showing off the irresistible gap between her two front teeth. 
Levantai hoje de novo
O esplendor de Portugal!
Entre as brumas da memoria...
Between the mists of memory... Lucia's defiant walk, the way she smiles right before she turns to run away from my chase, her fish face, the Minnie Mouse swimsuit that she decided to take off ten minutes after getting to the beach, her squeal of happiness when Pai comes home, the headstrong decisions, all of these convince me that the decisions I am fighting with are going to be okay. 
Que ha-de guiar-te a vitoria!
...That shall lead you to victory... Her voice convinces me to fight for happiness and peace of mind, for security and strength and for what I want. Currently I have no clue what I want, but I feel secure in that. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bom Dia

Elevator straight into my skull, the escalator rises as it falls, i swear our jet is crashing in my mind, you can hold on but i wouldn't waste your time... 

The blue door swings shut with a force so violent it shakes the entire building. Four stories up the vibrations jar me from my comfortable dreams. 

I'm awake 

My eyes blink away the sleep as I roll over and stretch my legs out from the ball that I've folded them into. They stretch past the end of the comforter and keep going until the the mattress comes to the middle of my shins. I yawn and listen to the traffic outside my window, then check the time on a watch. It's only a face, it has lost the wristband that makes it useful during the day, but this morning the glaring green light says 6:45. 

6:45, fodas

The legs slink back up, slowly until the toes reside completely on the mattress. The comforter is allowed to fall where it may. My back bends to protect my legs and my head gets tucked back under the pillow, where it has been for the past four hours. 

The blue door slams. The building shakes. 
the watch says 7:13

This time the legs come undone only long enough to scratch a bite left from a mosquito that took advantage of the open window. 
A new sounds wakes me. A familiar sound that pulls me from my dreams of beds of pickup trucks, gravel roads and fishing poles. It's a raw scratchy sound that comes quickly before fading back into the nothing it came from, but then it comes again, and again. 
By the fourth time I recognize the noise.... Just Beat it... beat it... no one wants to be defeated...showing how funky and strong is your doesn't matter... 

Bom Dia Hugo. Thank you for the morning serenade.   

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

elefante branco

I’m all at sea, Where no one can bother me, Forgot my roots, if only for a day, Just me and my thoughts, Sailing far away

The breeze is a constant here. It is cool and refreshing, almost cold this evening. My fifty pound suitcase did not include any sweatpants or sweatshirts, so I'm wrapped in a white comforter from IKEA that barely covers the area of my bed. When I sleep, my toes stick out from underneath it, but sleep evades me now, much like success and the portuguese language. Today no experiment went right. Everything failed. When i say everything, i mean everything. One right after another, boom boom boom, fail fail fail. The first involved a microscope, the second a pregnant rat that was definitely not pregnant, and the third a membrane that glowed in the dark. In the states, i'm used to failure. Science never tends to work out the way it is supposed to, but in the states you have support, you have others who can commiserate in your failure and help you move on. Here I get a pat on the shoulder and then get banished to my desk to figure out what went wrong. 

I spent the entire day in my head. Things floating through it. They never lingered for long, just enough to miss them after they were gone. People's faces, places, street names in Wichita, the smell of fresh cut grass, english words, portuguese curse words and spanish all jumbled together. I didn't listen to the portuguese going on around me, I pulled away and became an introvert. I didn't think about the failure of our glowing membrane or what i should have done differently. I didn't think about the 400 euros that just got pulled out of my bank account to pay for rent, I didn't think about what i would eat for dinner or how i was all alone. Just let my mind wonder from one thing to the next. 

Portugal is an interesting world. There are no words to describe it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I really am in another country, I am in fact the one sticking out, the one who doesn't fit, the one who doesn't know. 

I made it out of my head long enough to get on the metro and head home. I've been riding the metro to different stations everyday and then trying to find my way back home. It let's me see the city and the people, as well as become more comfortable with being by myself. Today as I was walking up a hill I was hit with a wave of emotion so strong that i couldn't keep walking. All the people and the memories came back in a wave of frustration and exhaustion and anger. Wave after wave hit me, forcing me to stop mid-climb. I came to a stand still in front of the Elefante Branco restaurant letting the emotions take over. The tears started. It wasn't that I was lost or homesick or disappointed. It was that there was no one to give me a hug when i came home, no one who would understand what the inflection of my voice meant, no one who could understand my every word. I guess this is what growing up and being on your own means. 

I'm tired of being strong, and brave, and being okay with not being in my comfort zone. But tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow brings new experiments that cannot fail, new portuguese words to learn, new and different things to see. Tonight however, i'm going to stay wrapped in my comforter, wrapped tight enough to keep the emotions out. I'm going to watch a portuguese movie and just sit. No thoughts, no memories, no emotions. Just me. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ode to the Shoulder Kissers

Cause I always have to steal my kisses from you, Always have to steal my kisses from you, Always have to steal my kisses from you, I always have to steal my kisses from you

The count is now officially up to 3. Three men have decided to show their love by kissing my shoulder. I don't know if it is some kind of cultural thing i am missing or what. At first I thought it was just because the first guy couldn't reach any higher. Than someone who was almost as tall as I was leaned in a put a peck on my broad freckled shoulder. I'm not sure what to do with this. Hopefully they don't migrate (if they can) any higher because i don't think i could handle that...