Well, it was the holidays – I am just a teeny bit late.
Our holiday began with the ugliest cinnamon bread ever. I brought Special Ingredients and Arcane Baking Equipment from the U.S. with the express goal of making these pretty little cinnamon bread cakey things in gift-giving size for all our friends in Tunis. But the damn things wouldn’t solidify!
So I punished them. I gave them more baking than they thought they could handle, then added some more. I ladled on the baking. I cranked up the heat. I ovened them into submission. They came out looking like adobe bricks or, more seasonally speaking, coal.
Oddly, the substitute sugar I’d used (due to an unexplained grocery shortage) had caramelized – which, isn’t that weird in itself? – since sugar is already, essentially, caramel. Anyway, they were wicked delicious, and completely un-gift-able. So, we ate them all.
To hide our shame, and get some calorie-burning exercise, we escaped to Madrid.
Ramon’s city is beautiful at Christmas, and it doesn’t hurt that his brothers and sisters treat me like one of their own.
We had our traditional Christmas Eve blowout dinner and red wine drinking contest at Tita and Gonzalo’s house and then, in a twist, went to Midnight Mass. Tita and Gonzalo had been recruited at the last minute to replace the choir. I would have thought I’d be asleep before the first hymn was finished, but it was a beautiful and engaging hour in a packed house. The Afterparty was the best – we hung out drinking and making jokes, and there was a wayward 70-year-old soprano flirting with Ramon and stealing furtive looks at me to see if I was going to call her out.
When we had quite recuperated from all that holy merriment we set out for Lisbon – my first visit. The weather was perfect: sunny skies and a little bit of winter chill. We walked up and down the hilly, cobblestoned streets and took a couple hundred pictures.
Lisbon has wee trolley cars, the Tiber delta waterfront, the 2.7-kilometer Golden-Gate-like bridge, beauteous churches, plazas and parks with kiosks selling some kind of cherry wine, and a Christ On A Really High Pedestal. (Can anyone tell me why the pedestal is so much bigger than the Christ? This seems a really strange design choice.)
Also, there’s this, which was on little deep-fried snack shops all over town:
We had a bit of an unfortunate run-in with the tourist bus company:
An hour later we were able to get off the damn bus when a furious mother harangued the driver: “My kid is about to pee on himself!” The only thing she didn’t do was beat him about the head with an umbrella. I was grateful to her: if she hadn’t harnessed her child’s small bladder in our favor, we might now be in Liechtenstein.
I loved the LX Factory neighborhood with fab little shops and restaurants, not least because of the high coffee shop to person ratio.
There were amazing paintings to buy:
and one of the “best bookstores in the world” according to the Interwebs, Ler Devagar.
Another day we went to the Time Out Market, a big empty warehouse into which a couple dozen stellar little restaurants have been stuffed, along with approximately one-third of the total population of Lisbon.
Ramon worried we wouldn’t be able to find a seat; I told him not to worry, seats would turn constantly, we would just have to wander till we were in the right place at the right time.
It was WAY worse than that – we experienced open hostilities over cafeteria-tray-sized parcels of table space. I was almost about nearly on the verge ready to cry when a saintly gentleman across the way motioned to us – would you like our spots? he asked, eyebrow raised. I thought he was going to ask for payment (and I wouldn’t even have haggled) but, no, this was simply a Good Person. He saw me fretting and was done with his fancy vittles.
From the moment he started to move his foot from the bar stool rung to the concrete floor no less than eight people harangued him for the place, but he held true, a twinkle in his eye for the weird teary American woman with a bowl of caldo verde balanced precariously on top of her handbag. (You can imagine Ramon is just rocking with laughter at me through all of this. No, not with me – at me.)
(Just for that I’m including these awesome pictures of him dancing. So there.)
On the 31st we took a long, winding walk to St. George’s Castle. The winding, cobblestoned, nonsensical, unmarked streets were clogged with foreigners. Google Maps was not up to it. Everyone had their phones out but we all went in various dead end directions, either getting or giving bad advice to other foreigners along the way. There was a polyglot chatter all around us as we went up, down, around, through, under, over and beside little unmarked streets. The castle was inexplicably closed; still, there was an array of hawkers, buskers, sellers of bacalao fritters and port, and “handmade, original” and yet somehow completely identical A4-size black-and-white drawings of the charming city (often with a yellow trolley painted in). We had a blast.
For New Year’s Eve I found an incredibly cheesy gold lame skirt – made, I think, of the same material as Shane’s highly flammable Barranquilla Carnaval confection. At Ramon’s suggestion, I turned it a quarter of the way around to put the garishly unnecessary flocking on the side instead of at the front. Ramon said this helped me avoid looking like I was wearing a tiger-striped fanny pack.
We bought one of those hotel packages for dinner and dancing. Just our speed – no crowded city squares or half-obscured fireworks or crazy drunks, but mounds of seafood for Ramon and, for me, low-heeled shoes and a wide open dance floor.
And thus was 2020 rung in in style by the Culver-Gonzalez-Aller family!